Welcome to Narnia: The Malvern Hills, England

Thursday, December 13th, 2012. Filed under: Europe Legendary Landscapes Myths & Legends

Illustration by Pauline Baynes, 1954.

“It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion.” So author C.S. Lewis explained the inspiration for his epic children’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. One of the books’ most memorable images is that of a gas lamp glowing in a snowy wood just beyond the wardrobe that serves as a portal to Narnia’s magical land.

As a boarding school student in Malvern, Worcestershire, Lewis (1898-1963) was enchanted by the Victorian gas lamps that illuminated the old spa town’s streets and quiet, wooded places. Lewis loved Malvern and visited often, even as an adult.

Great Malvern is one of England’s historic spa towns.

Leaving a Malvern pub one night with fellow Oxford faculty member J.R.R. Tolkien, a gas lamp glowing in the snow caused Lewis to comment, “that would make a very nice opening line to a book”. It did, featuring in the Narnia series’ first book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as a beacon of safety for Lucy and Mr. Tumnus the faun.

Even today, Malvern seems an enchanted place that draws Lewis’s fans to follow the Malvern Gas Lamp Trail in search of vignettes straight out of Narnia. Visitors can pick up a brochure on the Malvern Gas Lamp Trail at the Tourist Information Centre in Church Street, Great Malvern.

Steep steps with lamp, Great Malvern.

Though many of Malvern’s Victorian and Deco-era gas lamps have been converted to electricity, the surviving gaslit ones (approximately 100 of them spread throughout communities of the Malvern Hills District) have long been a subject of local controversy due to their inefficiency, potential for fire and high cost of maintenance and operation. A recent decision by the Malvern Hills District Council to upgrade the much-loved lamps should see them illuminating Malvern – and hearts of Narnia fans – for the foreseeable future.

A Malvern lane marked with small lamps.

The Malvern Hills District has been famous for its therapeutic waters since 1622 and enjoyed a heyday in the 19th century as a hydrotherapy spa frequented by Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale. Still famous today for containing ‘nothing at all’ (its absolute purity), Malvern water is the only bottled water used by Queen Elizabeth II. Visitors can try it, too. Malvern water is available in shops and vending machines all over England including London’s Heathrow airport.

Modern snow queens will want to pull their sleighs into The Malvern Spa, a most modern spa at the foot of the Malvern Hills. Come for the day or stay for a night or two. The spa offers themed evenings at the on-site brasserie and welcomes guests for stays at Christmas or New Year’s. Floating in steaming water as snow flakes fall is sure to inspire a few fantasies of your own.

For more to do in the enchanted Malvern Hills, See Visit the Malverns.

And for more on England’s historic spa towns, see Visit Britain.

Victorian architecture in Great Malvern, with a lamp on the far left.

The churchyard in Great Malvern. Charles Darwin’s 10-year-old daughter Anne is buried here.

The Malvern Hills are covered with lush English forest and ivy.

Locals maintain the ancient tradition of decorating the area’s wells in Spring.

C.S. Lewis frequented the Unicorn Inn, the oldest pub in Great Malvern.

Gas lamps of different eras in Malvern, UK.  Photo credit: BBC

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