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.
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!
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
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’
The 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.
Features 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.
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.
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