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The Wrekin Stories
The Wrekin Stories
The Wrekin is probably Shropshire’s most famous hill and so, not surprisingly, it features in some of the most popular stories concerning the county’s landscape.
The first and best known Wrekin Tale is about a Welsh giant who was making his way towards Shrewsbury carrying a huge spade full of earth with which he planned to dam the River Severn and flood the County town or, as some say, to bury it under a great mound of soil.
The reason for such monstrous behaviour was this. For a long time the giant had demanded a regular supply of young maidens be sent to him from Shrewsbury as tribute. Unbeknown to the good townsfolk their daughters were sacrificed to satisfy this giant’s cannibalistic appetite and when one managed to outwit him and return home with her terrible news the people refused to send any further girls to the evil creature. Now he had set out to wreak vengeance upon the town.
Fortunately however, even giants get tired when carrying heavy loads, and this one was resting some miles short of Shrewsbury when he met a cobbler coming from the town. The cobbler too was struggling, weighed down by a huge bag of shoes he had collected for repair.
The weary, or perhaps just idle, giant asked the cobbler how far it was the Shrewsbury. The quick witted craftsman, realising what was afoot, replied that it was no use the giant thinking he would get there that day, or the next, nor even the day after that. To prove his point the cobbler opened his pack and tipping the shoes out into a great pile said that he had worn them all out since leaving the county town.
The giant groaned in despair and complained he could go no further. There and then he tipped his load of earth onto the ground, scraped his boots on the spade, and lumbered back into Wales, never to be seen or heard of again. But the pile of earth is still there today and we call it the Wrekin, while the mud from his boots made the lesser hill known as Little Ercall.
There is another Wrekin story concerning giants, and this time there are two of them.
It seems that this pair were planning to build themselves a nice hill inside which to live. Now, as well as seemingly being rather idle and somewhat stupid creatures, it appears that giants were also very quarrelsome and as they worked these two began to argue. In his anger the one smashed his spade into the hillside which split to create the cleft known as the Needle’s Eye. Seeing this, the other giant sent his raven to attack the first one and peck at his eyes.
This, as we may guess, brought tears to the eyes of the first giant and these drops fell to form The Raven’s Pool. Which giant actually won their ill-tempered contest we are not told, but whichever it was finished his home within the Wrekin’s bulk and imprisoned his rival beneath Ercall Hill from where, it is said, his groans may still be heard.
The Wrekin is Shropshire’s best known landmark, and the saying, “All around the Wrekin” is in common use far beyond the county boundaries to mean meandering or “Going a long way round”. Given the Wrekin’s fame it isn’t surprising to discover that several individual features on the hill have attracted their own lore and stories.
For instance, the two points along the path known as Heaven Gate and Hell Gate once really were gateways into the Iron Age hillfort which crowned the summit two thousand years ago, and it is still possible to make out the outlines of the guard houses which stood within the inturned banks of these earthworks.
It is also just possible that folklore and history may actually meet at this hillfort because shortly after the Romans arrived the Iron Age site was deserted and its population moved down to live in the new city of Uriconium. Now, the name of the Roman city can be translated as ‘Virico’s Town’, so is it possible that Virico was the name of the last local chieftain who lived and ruled in the Wrekin hillfort?
The cleft known as “The Needle’s Eye” has been mentioned already in connection with the giants, but there is another story concerning its origin and this one states that it split asunder on the first Good Friday when Jesus died upon the cross.
A local custom states that if lovers could ‘thread the needle’ together without stumbling, then their marriage would prove smooth and untroubled. Close to the Needle’s Eye is the Bladder Stone, though some say its real name is the ‘Balder Stone’ thus linking it with the Norse god of that name.
Though the great whaleback bulk of the Wrekin might seem to dominate the landscape folklore of Shropshire, it is in fact just one of many hills in the county and several others have a tale or two to tell.