THE monk from the Benedictine Priory at Little Malvern fell in love with a local girl and proceeded to break his vows of chastity.

His implacable prior had prescribed the punishment: every day he had to crawl up to the top of Raggedstone Hill on his hands and knees and say a prayer of penance.

Eventually he got to the end of his tether; after dragging himself up to the 750 feet summit, he looked down at his gaping sores and placed a curse on the hill, “May all upon whom the shadow of this stone falls untimely die”, he proclaimed.

Whereupon, he dropped dead.

Not quite in the shadow of Raggedstone, but only two miles away to the east is Birtsmorton Court. The medieval manor is the birthplace of prominent statesman William Huskisson.

The old Malvern Chase area where it stands was established for hunting as a Royal Forest by William the Conqueror. Since about the time of the Civil War, it had gradually lost most of its trees and the area which the young but sickly Huskisson roamed would have begun to resemble the common which is more familiar to us now.

In public life, Huskisson caught the eye of William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister, and became Under Secretary at War; but when he was 29 and on his honeymoon, he had a brush with death when he contrived to fall underneath a horse. Worryingly, Huskisson was also flattened by the pole of a carriage at the entrance to Horse Guards and tried to leap a moat in Scotland but missed.

The mishap meant he walked with a rather peculiar gait for the rest of his days.

After rising to the offices of President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for War, Huskisson was invited in September 1830 to the opening ceremony of the first double-track railway line, from Manchester to Liverpool.

Now MP for Liverpool, he had fallen out with the Duke of Wellington a couple of years earlier and resigned from the cabinet.

Hoping for some kind of reconciliation, he went up to the Duke’s railway carriage when water was being taken on board and proffered a hand to him.

Unfortunately, in his eagerness, he failed to see Stephenson’s Rocket coming up the opposite track.

Already hampered by inflammation of the bladder and kidneys from exposure at George IV’s funeral in July, he struggled to get out of the way, panicked and tried to clamber into the Duke’s carriage; but the door of the carriage swung open leaving him hanging right in the path of the oncoming steam engine.

He fell onto the tracks and his leg was horrifically mangled under the wheels. The hapless William Huskisson died about nine hours later and he became the first fatal railway casualty to be widely reported.

With all these portents hanging over us, our ramble takes a sunnier route through Golden Valley and across Hollybed Common.

Mill Pond is home to an assortment of birds, moorhens, ducks and geese. It’s a popular spot for fishing and picnicking but the grinding of corn stopped here in 1943.

Beyond the pond, keep an eye out in the areas of hawthorn scrub and coarse bracken for stonechat, goldfinch, lesser whitethroat, green woodpecker and small heath butterfly.

The nearest moat is at Birtsmorton, so the odd jump over watery bits on the common should be harmless enough. After climbing up past the aptly- named Gullet Quarry through a wood which is decked with bluebell and daffodil in the spring, we reach the spectacular viewpoint on Midsummer Hill.

From here we can look across to the doom-laden peak which overshadowed a political life.

If you don’t have an unavoidable prior engagement, why not go and enjoy this relatively serene part of the Malvern Hills.

Hereford Times:

Hollybush, Mill Pond, Gullet Quarry and Midsummer Hill.

Pavement, common, unfenced road, quarry and hill with spectacular views.

4½ mile moderate ramble.

Mostly good terrain.

Map: OS Explorer 190, Malvern Hills.

1. Hollybush Pass. (GR 758368). Leave car park, cross the A438 Ledbury to Tewkesbury road and TL down the pavement into Worcestershire. Pass Manor House, Lilac Cottage, and 120m past Bredon View, re-cross the road and go left on to the left edge of the common. (All Saints Church is down to the right).

2. Golden Valley. Take the gravel track past Bank Cottage, with a dragon in the garden. Keep left down the now grassy common. It is often muddy. (Bredon Hill is ahead on the horizon).

Head for the far left edge of Mill Pond. Turn left.

3. Hollybed Common Information Board. Strike out across the left edge of the common through the bracken. Reach a low bridle marker post. Bear L beyond.

Go further L in front of Tyrus House and keep ahead for 60m along the drive. Where the aggregate drive now bends right, TR along it past Midsummer Farm and The Old Cider House. Follow the winding track R and L. Pass the drive (R) going to Taylor’s Farm. Just past Huntsbridge, follow road R past Damson Tree Lodge and Chandlers Farm to T-junction.

TL to next junction.

4. Castlemorton Common.

Narrow road. Now TL along the delightful unfenced road for Swinyard Car Park. Head for the hills! Keep going gently up past Berrow Downs and keep straight ahead at the junction past the cottage (L) to Gullet Quarry, with information board. Carry on up the wide footpath to the left through two low pillars and bear slightly R up wide track ahead. Climb up through Gullet Wood to the major cross paths.

5. Eastnor Park Boundary.

Instead of keeping ahead for Eastnor, turn back to your left up the wide surfaced footpath. About 50m beyond the drive to a cottage down to your left, leave main surface by turning left up grassy left edge with fence. Now wind up to R to the hut on the summit of Midsummer Hill. After taking in the views, keep ahead along the narrowing footpath, which angles slightly R. The path goes steeply down through trees to Hollybush Pass.