17: The Wrekin, Telford and Wrekin

Rain and not rain
There was rain, there was not rain…. a summation of the day’s weather. Clare ventures into the clouds.

Date: 18th August 2020 (with Clare).

Weather conditions: Although not grim, due to warmth and a lack of wind, it was certainly wet. Three or four heavy showers passed through in the two hours we were walking and we had to shelter in the woods for one ten minute period on the way up when the rain became dreadful. But we also had periods of clear skies, including, thankfully, when we were on the summit.

County Top bagged: The Wrekin, which at 1,335 feet/407m above sea level (grid reference SJ608082), is the highest point in the unitary authority of Telford and Wrekin.

The Wrekin
The Wrekin, from the road to Little Wenlock.

The hill protrudes nearly 300m (980 feet) above the plain below. You just have to see the Wrekin depicted on a map to appreciate it is a geological anomaly. From some angles it looks just like a volcano, and is of volcanic origin, being one of the only outcrops of metamorphic rock in the whole southern half of Britain.

Alphabetically this comes last of all the 196 Tops, and of all of them, it is the only Top to give its name to the county or authority in which it lies. (Worcestershire Beacon takes its name from the county rather than the other way around, and the summit of Surrey Hill isn’t in Surrey.) Until 1998 the Wrekin was in Shropshire, of which Brown Clee Hill (pictured at the bottom of the page) is still the highest point, but in that year Telford & Wrekin was made a unitary authority and so it then took its place among the list. And it certainly feels like it should be a CT.

Delicate fungi
Some delicate fungi, in the woods.

By altitude, it ranks 67th of the 172 modern Tops, and 85th of the full list of 196.

[ << Langdon Hills, Thurrock (16)  |  (18) Holly Hill, Medway >> ]

Start and end point of walk: The car park at SJ639093, on the road between Wellington and Little Wenlock, west of Telford. This cannot be reached directly by public transport, but it is only about 1½ miles south of Wellington railway station, so the walk could start there.

If driving, be aware that the road to this car park from junction 7 of the M54 is (past a certain point) a one-way street.  To return to Wellington you need to take a different route.

View to Shropshire Hills
View towards the rest of the Shropshire Hills, from the summit.

This had the latest start time of any of my walks (including all the Wainwright ones) as Clare and I did not begin until 3pm. We returned to the car around 5pm.

Pub at end: Nothing at the terminus itself, but there are pubs in Wellington. The Huntsmans Inn at Little Wenlock is also not far away. We did not patronise any of these today as we were staying in Ironbridge, which has many pubs, and we had dinner at the Golden Ball, a very good pub with fine food and beer that has been in business nearly 300 years by now. We were overnight guests of the Tontine Hotel in Ironbridge which is the same age as the bridge itself and also a pleasant establishment (although don’t come and stay if you are obsessed with hypermodern amenities and the idea that a hotel must have an elevator).

Clare on the summit
Clare at the trig point on the summit. A couple of friendly rain showers are on the way.

Distance walked: 4.75 miles/7.6km approximately. Starting at Wellington station adds about 3-4 miles to this.

Feet of ascent: 1,000 feet/305m approximately. The main bout of ascent is about 250m, but the return path through the woods is undulating, and adds additional climbing. If starting in Wellington, there will be another 250 feet/75m or so.

Difficulty: ★★★. For all the popularity of this walk it does have its tricky sections. Had we come up and down the same way (see notes below) it could have made two-star status. The climb to the top is straightforward, but our descent was more difficult, and through the woods there are some very muddy bits.

View north from the summit
Looking north from the summit. These are the Peckforton Hills, including Raw Head to the left, CT of Cheshire West & Chester.

Ease of access: ★★★. Telford is fairly central in terms of British geography but not on principal transport routes, whether by train or car. You probably can do the Wrekin on a day trip from much of England and Wales, with a bit of planning.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. The summit of the Wrekin is brilliant, an elevated perch in the sky with a spectacular view in all directions. This is, easily, the highlight of the walk and gets it three stars on its own. However, most of the rest of the route lies in uninteresting woodland that could be anywhere. I really wouldn’t bother doing this walk on a misty day: without the view it would have little appeal.

In the woods
In the woods on the way up.

The area: Telford was designated as a New Town in the 1960s, so there are plenty of bland anonymous housing and industrial estates in the vicinity.  But it was created around a number of old settlements including Wellington and Ironbridge, the latter home of the world’s first ever bridge to be cast in iron (instead of wood or stone), opened in 1781. The bridge spans a gorge of the River Severn, Britain’s longest river, and is a highly attractive spot, with plenty of museums to make a weekend visit worthwhile. Not to mention a healthy supply of good pubs.  Thanks to amenities such as these I find Telford to be a much more agreeable place than some of Britain’s other New Towns (like Milton Keynes or Crawley, say).

Map: OS Explorer 242: Telford, Ironbridge and The Wrekin covers the walk but you won’t particularly need it.

The Wrekin from the north
The Wrekin from a few miles north, on the road into Telford.

Route: Despite its proximity to a large town, this is a wholly rural walk with no incursions of suburbia. The summit and the view make the walk worthwhile but doing it the way we did it means the second half of the route is an anticlimax. Options for altering this include doing it the other way around, although that will make the ascent steeper. Or, turn back at a certain point, as suggested below, enjoy the summit a second time and go back down the way you came up.

Whether you drove there or walked up the roads from Wellington station, the ascent proper starts at the car park which has both on- and off-road parking: unless you arrive early I imagine the latter will be full. The route starts nearer the on-road section, anyway. This broad path rises steadily through the woods, and comes to an obvious junction at which turn right up the steeper path (unless reversing our route, in which case carry straight on).

Halfway House
The Halfway House (in the rain).

This heads past the Halfway House, a cafe that didn’t look very open when we passed. Immediately after this, turn left. This path rises unloseably through, and eventually out of, the woods, through the ramparts of the Iron Age fort, known as Heavens’s Gate (see the picture further down the page), and onto the summit.

The top is small and neat, although it looks as if a little platform of land nearer the radio mast may be just as high as the patch which holds the trig point and toposcope (viewfinder). With the addition of the magnificent view it can be nominated as one of the best CT summits so far, certainly ranking up there with Ben Cleuch. To the south-west are the rest of the Shropshire Hills including Brown Clee and Wenlock Edge. The hills of mid- and north-east Wales then spread along the horizon to the right (though apparently, the toposcope’s claim that Snowdon can be seen on clear days is a lie). To the east there are seemingly endless plains. In that direction the next land that is as high is in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Rocks near summit
Rocky outcrop on the summit.

There are no routes down the sides of the Wrekin, so to return, either head down the way you came up, or do what we did, go straight on and descend to the south-west. It is worth going on at least some of our way down, for the rocky outcrops and the views, but bear in mind that once you enter the woods again you are going to be remaining in them for the rest of the walk, and that is also the point at which the descent becomes rather steep and awkward. So if you are going to turn round, do so before re-entering the trees.

At the bottom of the steepest part of the descent the path crosses an obvious track. Turn left here. This leads through the woods, through monstrous patches of brambles, which could provide enough blackberries to stock you up through the whole winter, and through some rather muddy puddles, back to the junction you passed below the cafe. So turn right there and return to the car park — or, a bit further on, to Wellington.

Clare in the woods
Clare in the woods on the way back.

Commentary: There’s so much I could say about the potent and unpleasant mixture of propaganda and misinformation being pumped out via national and local media at the moment, re: *o**n*v***s… but I’m on a week’s holiday, so I don’t feel like it. Mostly, it’s easy to ignore. Doing so is not reckless behaviour on my part but a strategy to retain my sanity. Debate about ‘public health’ has descended to ‘is our region top of today’s hit list’ — a list that at some point, any one place is going to be top of, and the reasons why will depend on broader factors like poverty and inequality, not whether x% of its people prefer to drink in pubs or not. I am sick of it.

Clare and I first came to Ironbridge about 15 years ago, when Joe was still very tiny and we were returning from a holiday in Hay on Wye (a place with two CTs of its own in close proximity). We thought then it would be a nice place to spend a couple of days and this trip has been the fulfilment of that. Like the Derwent valley in Derby, but far more apparently, this was one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution. Attracted by ample reserves of ore (after the rain, the Wrekin’s paths ran with rust-red water), engineer Abraham Darby III had the idea of spanning the gorge of the River Severn with a bridge made not of wood or stone, but cast iron. The effectiveness of this idea is proven by the fact the bridge stands there, happily, to this day, and very beautiful it is too.

Heavens Gate
“Heaven’s Gate”, and the radio mast, near the summit.

Indeed the whole Ironbridge gorge is attractive, a happy melding of the natural and the human-made. There is a lush green feel to it — although if the amount of rain that came out of the skies for the first 24 hours of our stay here is typical, I am not surprised. Within these rainforests are peppered many beautiful buildings, whether industrial, commercial or residential.  I rather like the place, and as said above, compared to some of Britain’s other 1960s attempts at ‘New Towns’, Telford has come out pretty well.

We did consider walking again while here, to bag Brown Clee Hill (Shropshire’s CT), but I don’t feel like I have to rush things. I would rather get back to Scotland and Wales, but lockdown on both places has been tighter still and going away like this has not been as attractive an option. Hopefully a day trip (by car, I admit) in September will be the next chance for one of these. Until then — back to work, for a while.

Brown Clee Hill
Brown Clee Hill — for another time…

6 thoughts on “17: The Wrekin, Telford and Wrekin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s