Opposite an unassuming lay-by, nestling on the west side of the Malvern Hills, people wait patiently at one of the many historic wells. Like thousands before them, their huge containers overflow with a magical life-giving elixir.
For hundreds of years, Malvern spring water has been considered the ultimate cure for a whole range of conditions - from skin complaints to digestive diseases.
References date back to 1622 when the monks of Great Malvern Priory began distributing it to the town’s elderly residents. Such healing properties quickly caught the attention of surgeon Richard Bannister:
A little more I'll of their curing tell,
How they helped sore eyes with a new found well,
Great speech of Malvern Hills was late reported,
Unto which spring people in troops resorted.
Before too long, it was bottled and sent all over the Country. A 17th Century hymn celebrated its divine nature:
To drinke thy waters, store
Lie in the bushes,
Many with ulcers sore,
Many with bruises,
Who succour find from ill,
By money given still,
Thanks to the christian will,
O’ praise the Lord!
A thousand bottles there,
Were filled weekly,
And many costrels rare,
For stomachs sickly,
Some of them in Kent,
Some were to London sent,
Others to Berwick went,
O’ praise the Lord!
By the early 19th Century, Malvern was home to its first Water Cure hydrotherapy centre. Treatments consisted of mildly torturous cold showers and intensive hill hikes. The town thrived and hotels were overrun. Notable visitors included Lord Tennyson, Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens, who wrote:
It is a most beautiful place. Oh heavenly to meet the cold waters as I did this morning when I went out for a shower bath.
Then came the Great Exhibition where the mysterious brew reached its high point, in more ways than one. Schweppes, the event caterers, launched it from a magnificent 27 foot fountain made entirely of crystal and silver. Queen Victoria first sampled its qualities that day and it remains a regal tipple still.
Tragically however, the life-restoring properties of Malvern water began to unravel as serious diseases were neither cured or impeded. Nothing could halt the onset of Annie Darwin’s Scarlet Fever when her father sought help as she began to deteriorate.
Every evening as I wander atop the undulating hills, it’s obvious that the magic lies not in the water that trickles beneath them - it’s embedded into every single breathtaking view. This astonishing place, where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis both found inspiration, is for me, one of the most uplifting on Earth. The entire environment heals through its peace-inducing qualities.
There’s something special in Malvern, but you can’t take it home in a flask.