Neil Mcallister heads to the Wrekin
Neil Mcallister takes a rewarding walk on this landmark Shropshire hill.
AS giants go, Gwendol wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. From his full name of Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr, you might guess his origins, but this Welsh monster bore a grudge against the Saesnegs (English) of Shrewsbury.
He set off for the town with a huge spadeful of earth to dam the Severn valley and flood the town, but on his journey he met a cobbler, returning home from the town’s market with a sackful of shoes to repair.
The dim giant asked directions, but was fooled by the cobbler, who suggested it was a very long way – he had worn out all those shoes en route!
Gwendol, disheartened, let down his shovelful, creating the hill we know today as the Wrekin, whilst soil cleared from his boots formed the adjoining Ercall Hill. Shrewsbury is still troubled by flooding, despite the quick-thinking shoemender’s actions that day.
You don’t need to travel to Shropshire to see the Wrekin, as on a clear day this landmark hill can be spotted from elevated viewpoints as distant as Lancashire and Gloucestershire, rising steeply from the River Severn plain.
Not surprisingly, the hill has given its name to the surrounding area, which includes the new town of Telford and the prettier heart of historic industries around Ironbridge. We started our visit in the compact village of Wrockwardine, a few miles north of the Wrekin, where we discovered the church swathed in scaffolding.
I wanted to start here to take a look at a very unusual war memorial, formed from a huge boulder.
My original intention was to start a walk here, following the Shropshire Way through Wellington before ascending the hill, but, when I measured the route on the map with a bit of cotton, Hazel pointed out that even if our legs lasted long enough to get to the Wrekin, they would surely stop working before we returned.
Instead we drove a little closer to Sunnycroft, a late Victorian mansion given to the National Trust in 1997.
A short walk towards the golf club took us under the M54 motorway to the entrance of Ercall Wood. As the path winds upwards between the trees, we had to negotiate rocks and roots and I was ready for a rest when we encountered Oliver and Mary Dougal’s memorial bench in a grassy clearing.
As I perspired gently, we paused to enjoy a squirrel hopping down the path and the sessile oak trees, which are a feature of these ancient woods.
Many years ago, the hill’s stone was quarried, opening up the trees into a rocky amphitheatre flooded by sunshine, before the worker’s access road made the descent off the hill a little easier.
The geology here has been described as a “Happy Unconformity”, which is unusual as pebbly sediments are topped with lava flows. You will have a fruitless fossil search here as the rocks are incredibly old, dating from before the time when living creatures started to appear.
The early name of Day House Coppice hints that the woods have long been used as a source of fuel. Today, the same practice is
undertaken to let light into the forest floor, allowing insects and wild flowers to flourish.
By the time we reached the Wrekin’s main car park we had only passed one other walker, but that soon changed. The hill is a very popular walking spot and the car park can quickly fill up.
Because it is popular it is almost impossible to take the wrong route, despite the signpost beside the isolated cottage showing “This Way” in one direction and “That Way” in the other.
The path zigzags steeply up the hillside and has been described as “challenging”. We have a reasonable complement of age-related ailments, but walking slowly were able to make good progress up the stony road. If we can do it, then I reckon most people can!
After the final turn, the path widens out, passing below the shade of beech trees towards Hell Gate, which in the Iron Age was the entrance to a hill fort. Heaven Gate, a little further on, is a more obvious entrance, shortly before our efforts were rewarded by spectacular views in all directions.
The trig point and toposcope are like magnets for souvenir photographs. The first is a good place to lean on and rest; the second is a kind of viewfinder, identifying surrounding landmarks.
Hazel spotted a kestrel expertly riding the wind, motionless, its brown speckled back unmistakable from our elevated position.
The reason most people don’t descend to the east could be that the path is steep and shaly. As we chatted to a chap who had moved nearby from Bury St Edmonds, my feet slid away and I ended up on my backside!
Beyond Little Hill, the path flattens through shady woods until we turned on to the Quiet Lane leading to Little Wenlock.
Our route back included a short section of B road but we needn’t have worried, as there was almost no traffic, and after a 10-minute stroll we joined a beautifully cool path through Limekiln Wood – another avenue of mixed woodland – until we found three lads staring at a mobile phone trying to get their bearings.
Together we found their lane leading them back to the Wrekin and our turning, which led us up past the golf course to our parking place.
Most walkers make the Wrekin an hour-long hike,
and to go “all round the Wrekin” is a local saying used when a journey takes a long route. Our five-hour jaunt, whilst hardly relaxing, had given us an insight into this lovely part of Shropshire along with some muchneeded exercise! ■
What a view!
A great way to spend a summer’s day!
A brick-built former school house in Wrockwardine.
Quiet country roads make for a peaceful walk.
Passing through Ercall Wood.