The Wrekin

The best-known landmark in Shropshire is the Wrekin, at only 1,335 feet it has attracted a lot of attention given its modest size. Those of you who have passed Shrewsbury on the M54 heading to mid-Wales will have noticed this volcanic-looking lump by the side of the road and from the Cressage side (south of Shrewsbury) which is my usual approach these days, it looks like a sleeping dragon with the tree-line resembling scales along its backbone. From the top you can supposedly see 15 counties.

wrekin 032
The pink cooling towers at Buildwas in the Severn Gorge

Whenever I drove around Shrewsbury when I first came to the county in 2002  I used to say to the OH that I could never get lost if I could see the Wrekin – I just headed straight for it – so I was amused to find this saying “a Shropshire mon is nivver lost if he con see the Wrekin” Apparently I wasn’t the first to think of it though naturally being from Yorkshire I’d never pronounce it like THAT!

wrekin 043I remember my mother referring to a circuitous route as “going all around the houses”, here in Shropshire it is “going all around the Wrekin”.

There, somewhere, nor-nor-east from me
Was Shropshire, where I longed to be
Ercall and Mynd, Severn and Wrekin, you and me

~ John Masefield on the heaving deck of a ship in Cardigan Bay

wrekin 051 (2)And of course there are tales of giants.

And when he was a little cobbler’s boy
He tricked the giant coming to destroy
Shrewsbury by flood. “And how far is it yet?”
The giant asked in passing. “I forget;
But see these shoes I’ve worn out in the road
And we’re not there yet.” He emptied out his load
Of shoes for mending. The giant let fall from his spade
The earth for damming the Severn, and thus made
The Wrekin Hill; and little Ercall hill
Rose where the giant scraped his boots.

~ Edward Thomas from his poem ‘Lob’

wrekin 045The giant (a cannibal) in this story was Gwendol-Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr and he held off from attacking Shrewsbury as long as the townspeople provided him with a regular supply of young women. After giving him a herbal brew that sent him to sleep one young woman escaped back to the town and told of all the bones she had seen. Incensed by her daring escape the giant filled a shovel full of earth and set off to bury Shrewsbury and this is when he met the cobbler. Still angry after dropping his earth, he sets off again with another shovelful only to drown in the river Severn on his way.

wrekin 050Features on the Wrekin include the Heaven Gate, the Hell Gate, the Bladder or Balder Stone and a narrow cleft, the Needle’s Eye, traditionally this is where lovers who thread the needle without stumbling may hope for a smooth married life together.

wrekin 028
Sugar-beet factory in the distance

And on the south-eastern side is a depression known as Raven’s Bowl or Cuckoo’s Cup. The water is reputed never to run dry and it is considered lucky to drop a pin in it.

wrekin 038Naturally these features can all be ascribed to the doings of giants.

wrekin 064 (2)It has been suggested that the Wrekin may have been the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the acclaimed series of books ‘The Lord of the Rings’, although this is subject to some debate. It certainly has that feel to me especially with the Black Mountains of Wales rearing their heads in the background. This is the ‘Shires’ as far as I am concerned.

And as long as the Wrekin stands Shropshire’s folklore will last, subject to change and decay, but also to rebirth and re-invention.

source: The Folklore of Shropshire by Roy Plamer, printed by Logaston Press


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I live in the UK, but when I was younger I spent several years travelling the world followed by a period living in South Africa. I look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

55 thoughts on “The Wrekin”

  1. Gorgeous captures and fascinating folklore. I’ve only ever driven through Shropshire but I think maybe I need to schedule a proper holiday there… 🙂

  2. I remember similar stories when I visited the area, and I have also heard about the LOTR connection in the past, so I’m with you on that one Jude.
    Regards as always, Pete. x

    1. When I first came to Shropshire and drove around it and neighbouring Wales, LOTR came to mind and this was before the films! Having recently visited the region where Hobbiton was filmed I can see the similarities. Very rural, very hilly and very green 🙂

  3. Absolutely delightful post Jude. I loved it for so many reasons, not the least of which is that my mother too, being a Lancashire lass, would often remark when she had got lost or had been going around in proverbial circles that she had in fact been “all around the houses”. Thank you for that lovely reminder of my childhood.

    I smiled too knowing that before you moved to Shrewsbury, Cape Town was your home and here, if you feel a tad lost, you correct your personal compass by heading either towards or away from Table Mountain. You no doubt did that too while you were here 🙂

    And finally, what a delight that Shropshire folklore is. Makes me a tad homesick for my Motherland 🙂

    1. Hee hee.. funny what small things bring back memories for us isn’t it? My mother would get very impatient if people waffled on! I spent 18 years back in Yorkshire before making Shropshire my home (briefly). I had heard of the county (and actually had a friend in Cape Town who came from Shrewsbury) but I had never visited it. The Shropshire Hills AONB is my favourite area and the whole county is seeped in history.

  4. Your images and stories leave me with a feeling of mystery. I would love to walk along and explore. The idea of seeing 15 countries from one spot is fairly mind boggling in a country as large as Canada. 🙂

    1. I’m sure that was a typo Sue. I’m not sure that you CAN actually see 15 counties, but it is quite flat until you bump into the southern Peak District so I suppose there are a few. There are lovely views from top though, that’s for sure.

  5. I love the first photo where the scenery is unspectacular yet the clear reflection gives it a pop of double vision. I see scenes like this quite often on one trail I walk near home. Not much happening other than the serenity of a reflecting pool.

    1. That’s the River Severn Sammy. The longest river in Great Britain 🙂 Before we moved up here we stayed in a pub with this view on our visits. It is a lovely view.

      1. I really need to get a map of England so I can track you, Jo and others. I need one of Canada too!

        What a nice river memory for you 💘💘🎶

    1. So much history here Tess. Sometimes as I walk around my little town I wonder what it was like in the medieval days as a lot of the streets are the same as they were then. Imagining people walking where I am almost one thousand years ago makes me wonder if it will still be here in another thousand years.

  6. I was totally bowled over by the first photo and thought you couldn’t possibly better that, but each one was better than the last. My personal favorite though has to be the eighth one….there’s something about the angle you shot that at that just says MAGIC. Fourth one looks too painted to be real!

    1. No, it does seem to be one of those places you pass through to get to somewhere else. A bit like Leicestershire! My aim is to visit every county in England and actually stay there if only for a long weekend! Every one must have something worth seeing, surely?

  7. I love the stories and what gorgeous landscape. The pink cooling towers even look okay – but the sugar factory 😦 I suppose you get used to it over time. We don’t have any hills like the Wrekin here, the highest ground is Dartmoor and it’s more gentle curves with granite outcrops.

    1. The cooling towers are very well hidden in the Severn gorge, I like to see the smoke on a cold winters day, rising into the air. You can’t actually see the sugar-beet factory when driving past – I drove past every day for a year and never knew it existed until I went off through the countryside one day! The Wrekin has never been a volcano in its own right, but is composed mainly of volcanic rocks and is a product of volcanism. Its shape has been formed by other natural processes, but it does look like a volcano from some angles.

  8. I’ve only been to Shropshire once and that was for a quick day trip to Shrewsbury, which was fantastic, but of course, not nearly long enough. I’ve always wanted to go back and spend a few days and now I can add this area to my list. Wonderful photos.

    1. I believe Shropshire is the largest landlocked county and the most rural. It has a lot of history being on the border with Wales. And a lot of famous characters are from here, notably Charles Darwin, Clive of India, Abraham Darby.

  9. What a wonderfully mystical post, Jude. Something niggles at my memory. On the one occasion I stayed in Shropshire (at a farmhouse, not far from Shrewsbury) we visited Much Wenlock and then went walking in some low hills that reminded me of the Moors. The name of them escapes me but the lady at the farmhouse told us they were known as Little Switzerland. Do you know where I mean and what they’re called? I’ve such a nice memory of them. 🙂

  10. What a fascinating post this is Jude, having never heard of, much less seen, The Wreckin. Love how the stories link back to giants…thank goodness that horrible giant didn’t bury beautiful Shropshire 😉 I agree with you about Lord of the Rings, can definitely see where Tolkien’s inspiration came from now, something else I didn’t know. See how much I learn when I come over here? Love it 🙂

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