Shropshire is a county stooped in legends and it is interesting to study some of the tales that have been handed down. The Welsh for The Wrekin is Caer Gwrygon, a name older than the Welsh language. The earliest mention of the Wrekin (pronounced locally as REE-KIN) occurs in a charter of 855, as entered in a late 11th century Worcester cartulary, spelled Wreocensetun. Its modern form is believed to have come into modern English by way of Mercian, and that is likely to have been taken from the early Celtic Wrikon. The minor Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Wreocensæte existed in the area prior to Mercian reign. For several centuries the hill was known as Mount Gilbert, a name given to it by the Normans after a hermit who lived there. (Wikipedia)
The Wrekin is a very distinctive 400m hill which dominates the views of mid Shropshire near the new town of Telford. So strong is its presence that it has entered the language of the Midlands people. “All round the Wrekin” means ‘going the long way‘ or ‘not explaining something clearly and directly‘, i.e. “He went all round the Wrekin“.
At the time of writing, The Wrekin is jointly privately owned by Raby Estate and a neighbouring estate. Access is via public rights of way or permissive footpaths or by specific permission, like in most areas of working countryside.
The Wrekin was also the inspiration for Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the acclaimed series of books – The Lord of The Rings. Tolkien used to live nearby and drew inspiration from the magnificent Shropshire landscape. Who would have guessed that Shropshire folk-lore tells us it was built by a giant who took a dislike to Shrewsbury, the County town of Shropshire.
How did The Wrekin come to occupy it’s isolated position on its plain ?
The Wrekin is made of very ancient ‘Uriconian’ volcanic rocks (though its shape does not in fact come from having been ‘a volcano’). The north side of the Wrekin has lovely oak woodlands with associated wildlife, and there is rough grassland and fragments of heathland on the open hilltop.
Myth & Folklore – Wrekin Giants
The story goes that two giants set themselves a task of building a hill to live. In a very short time they had piled up the Wrekin. The Giants, however, quarrelled and one of them struck the other with a spade. Whilst they were fighting a Raven came and pecked at the eye of the one who was brandishing the spade.
Photograph: Wrekin Giant taken at Wonderland, Telford Town Park.
The pain made him shed a tear which hollowed out a little basin in the rock which is always full of water to this day. This located on top of the Wrekin. It is called Raven’s Bowl or the Cuckoo’s Cup and contains water still in the hottest weather.
Photograph: Raven’s Bowl or Cuckoo’s Cup.
The other Giant won the battle, so he built Ercall Hill located nearby and imprisoned the defeated Giant within it. There the Giant remains to this day, and by the dead of night you may sometimes hear him groan.
While the victorious Giant was hurling his spade at the other, he dropped it and in doing so split the surrounding rock with the spade, making a narrow cleft which is called the Needle’s Eye. All True Salopians’ have climbed through the Needle’s Eye and any girl who looked back when going through the Needle’s Eye would never be married.
Photograph: Needles Eye
Before imprisoning the defeated Giant, the triumphant one scraped the earth off his spade, thus creating a small hillock.
Another mythical legend suggests that The Wrekin was a creation of a wicked Giant who disliked the people of Shrewbury. Consequently he decided to block up the Severn with a load of earth to flood the town.
“A giant called Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr with a grudge against the town of Shrewsbury decided to flood the town and kill all its inhabitants. So he collected a giant-sized spadeful of earth and set off towards the town. When in the vicinity of Wellington he met a cobbler returning from Shrewsbury market with a large sackful of shoes for repair. The giant asked him for directions, adding that he was going to dump his spadeful of earth in the River Severn and flood the town. “It’s a very long way to Shrewsbury,” replied the quick-thinking shoemaker. “Look at all these shoes I’ve worn out walking back from there!” The giant immediately decided to abandon his enterprise and dumped the earth on the ground beside him, where it became the Wrekin. The giant also scraped the mud off his boots, which became the smaller hill Ercall Hill nearby”
The Wrekin is not the highest hill in Shropshire, several are higher, but is supposed to be the highest in Britain for the circumference of its base. The Wrekin is perhaps Shropshire’s most significant hillfort. Once home to the Cornovii a British tribe (originally from Iberia), the fort was stormed by the Romans under Ostorius Scapula around the spring of AD47.
Previous settlements house a Bronze Age barrow, a Bronze Age cairn, a Holy Well and possible calendar stone.
The Wrekin today attracts families and walkers from all over the county and further afield. A thousand years ago, The Wrekin was the centrepiece of a vast Royal hunting forest where a strict code of practice existed to protect the ‘venison and vert’. Unsurprisingly, deer and their habitat (which is what that archaic phrase refers to) are still cornerstones of the modern day woodlands around the hill.
Everybody has their own favourite antedotes about this hill, as a family, every Easter Sunday when we were younger we would climb to the summit with hard boiled eggs and have a competition who could roll theirs down the hill, without breaking. Being one of four children, every year I would try to win this little family competition, however, I never did!#
For generations of visitors to The Wrekin, the opportunity to take a well earned pit-stop on their way from the Forest Glen to the summit was something they perhaps took for granted — for not one but two catering establishments once offered much needed sustenance for weary travellers. Until recently, such luxuries had become something of a distant memory, with even the public toilets disappearing from this ever busy visitor attraction! Now, thanks to a hard working team dedicated to restoring some much needed balance, the situation is finally changing for the better. Half way up the hill, there is a delightful little watering hole serving tea / rolls with the added bonus of toilets.
Resources and further reading
- Explore the Wrekin, https://explorethewrekin.co.uk/
- The Wrekin, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wrekin
- Wrekin Wakes, https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/96463/folklore/wrekin.html