Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Ercall & The Wrekin

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Route: Bucktree Farm, The Ercall, Wrekin Cottage, Hell Gate, Heaven Gate, The Wrekin, Needle's Eye, Heaven Gate, Wrekin Cottage

Date: 06/12/2015
From: The Wrekin

Parking: Car park at the foot of The Wrekin
Start Point: The Wrekin
Region: Shropshire Hills AONB

Route length: 4.4 miles (7 km)
Time taken: 02:04
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 513m
Descent: 525m

Summits: The Ercall (140m), The Wrekin (407m)

Other Points of Interest: Ercall Quarry, Wrekin Hillfort

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves

A fairly apt paragraph from Alfred Housman's collection of poems 'A Shropshire Lad' summed up the weather for the day as we made our way to The Wrekin; Shropshire's iconic hill. Wind had been the theme for our weekend in the Shropshire hills but it had died down by the time we had driven the 20 or so miles to The Wrekin.

Rising to a height of 407 metres above the Shropshire Plain, The Wrekin is a prominent and well-known landmark that signals the entrance to Shropshire for travellers westbound. The Wrekin is volcanic in origin though, contrary to some beliefs, it was never a volcano itself. The geology in this area if far too complex for me to understand. I do know that The Wrekin does share some of its heritage with the Stretton hills and the Church Stretton Fault.

There is a large car park that sits in the depression between The Wrekin and a small outlying hill, The Ercall. Though not making for a nice circular walk, we decided to climb The Ercall first and set about trying to find where to start - it's not obvious.
The woods surrounding The Wrekin
The Ercall sits across from us
Through more luck than judgement we found a wide track with a welcoming sign telling us we were on the right route. The track led us to the base of a large quarry, long since disused but now taking on a more educational purpose. Exposed by the workings are 540 million year old ripple beds and ancient pre-Cambrian lava flows, clearly pointed out by some handy information boards. These features, along with the woodland, form The Ercall SSSI which is managed by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.
Following the track through the woods
One of the quarries on The Ercall
The ancient ripple beds
We went off-route finding a route up along the edges of the quarry; part walk and part scramble which certainly came as a surprise. In fact, we tree-covered top in next to no time and set about returning to the start point to begin climbing The Wrekin. We followed one of the way marked paths down through the woods and came to the conclusion that our way up, though steeper, was much more interesting and quicker.
A close up of the ripple beds
Looking down into the quarry
The top of The Ercall
Looking across to The Wrekin from The Ercall
The route back down through the woods
The start of the climb up The Wrekin is much more obvious; a rutted road heads off up into the trees and there were a good number of people out and about. It's a very steady climb with no real difficulties though nothing of real interest unless you're a big fan of trees. Eventually it emerges towards the top and views begin to open up a bit. Despite the weather, the views expand across a huge swath of flat countryside where dark clouds added to the scene. It has been suggested that the Wrekin may have served as some of the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and on a day like today I can see why.
A wide track leads all the way to the top
Woods on The Wrekin
Looking up into the trees
The path eventually emerges from the woods
View across the Shropshire Plain
The top of The Wrekin is far more interesting than anything found on the way up. A large hillfort encircles over 8ha of the top and the ancient entrance (Heaven's Gate) is clearly visible. The Cornovii, the Celtic tribe who lived here at that time, would have seen the Wrekin as the obvious place to build their tribal capital on the high ground away from the River Severn, its surrounding marsh land and the dense woodland.
Ancient ramparts at Heaven Gate
Clouds gather in the distance
There is a trig pillar and a toposcope on the very summit though a large radio mast dominates proceedings. The mast, used for broadcasting, has a pulsating red light at the top which was refurbished in 2000 as part of a project to celebrate the new millennium. It is locally know as 'The Wrekin Beacon'.
Needle's Eye
Distant Stretton Hills
The Wrekin's radio mast
The toposcope
A trig pillar marks the summit
The formation of The Wrekin is a thing of legend; 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.
Flooding in the Severn Valley
Clouds approach
Panorama of the Severn Valley
The sun made a couple of attempts to come out while we were loitering on the top but it wasn't long before the dark clouds I mentioned earlier had made their way across the Shropshire Plain. They closed in, below us at first, before bringing a spell of heavy rain. Suddenly, carrying all the usual walking gear up hadn't seemed like such a bad idea.
Clouds sweep in
The River Severn
A contrast from earlier
In the face of the weather, we decided against continuing on down the other side, instead retracing our steps back to the car. We took a minor short cut through the woods, a route that is obvious on the way down but less so on the way up and it wasn't long before we were back at the car park, airing wet waterproofs over the backs of car seats. We finished not long after lunch which gave ample time to stop off and pick up a Christmas tree on the way home, 'tis the season after all.
Mist shrouds the woods
The Wrekin is a very enjoyable hill, despite its wooded slopes. The open views from the top are superb which belie The Wrekin's relatively modest stature. I'm a big fan of the Shropshire Hills and this one is no exception.