The special quality of the Malverns lies in its contrasts. The distinctive, narrow, north-south ridge, a mountain range in miniature, thrusts unexpectedly from the pastoral farmland patchwork of the Severn Vale.
The highest point is Worcestershire Beacon (425m) and walkers along the ridge crest enjoy views as far as Wales and the Cotswolds.
Within a few square miles, notably varied geology gives the AONB a series of differing landscapes. The ridge, with its high open stretches of semi-natural grassland, owes its hogsback skyline to heavily folded and faulted pre-Cambrian rocks. Sandstones and marls underlie the fertile arable plain to the south-east. To the west, alternate limestone and sandstone beds undulate in pastoral scarps and vales with a pleasing rural pattern of meadows, fields and orchards and a maze of narrow lanes.
The geological variety and centuries of traditional farming have given the AONB great ecological value. Herb-rich, unimproved pastures and native woodland support a wealth of habitats, species and wildlife. Also a historical landscape, the ridge is crowned by three ancient hill forts, the most famous being the ditches and ramparts of British Camp.
This is an area of pastoral farming, with dairying and stock-rearing, plus fruit growing, mixed crops and forestry. Large areas are grazed as ancient commons. The AONB has a population of approximately 13,000 and villages such as Malvern Wells have experienced considerable growth in their retired population and in workers commuting to Birmingham and Worcester. The towns of Great Malvern and Ledbury fringe the AONB and the rural economy includes light manufacturing and prestige office development together with the important conference and holiday tourism sector.
Tourists have flocked here to ‘take the waters’ since the early 1800s and Great Malvern’s formal paths and rides give the nearby slopes the air of a Victorian pleasure garden. The ridge and hillside paths and the commons are traditional Midlands ‘day trip’ country. The Worcestershire Way footpath is an important new recreation resource in the AONB.