Neil Mcal­lis­ter heads to the Wrekin

Neil Mcal­lis­ter takes a re­ward­ing walk on this land­mark Shrop­shire hill.

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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.

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