The Wrekin In Poetry

The Wrekin has been an abundant source of myth, legend and folklore for at least two millennia. For centuries, many of its stories would have been embroidered and passed down by word of mouth before ever finding their way onto paper.  For the last two to three hundred years, however, the advent of mass printing has offered writers a ready medium for sharing their often memorable Wrekin-inspired prose with a much wider audience.

A Shropshire Friend 

Anne Stevenson’s description of the famous Shropshire hill in her poem The Wrekin (2000) as “a stone bridge out of pre-history, coloured thickbrow” hints at its dominant presence in both the local landscape and our hearts and minds — providing a connection to distant forebears, and a powerful, symbolic visual reminder of the place we Salopians call home. Indeed, The Wrekin’s permanent role as an aide to memory, place and a general sense of nostalgia for all things lost has been an evocative and rich seam of inspiration for countless writers.


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)

With its dramatic images of heaving forest fleeces and saplings plied double, AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad (1896) is perhaps the most well-known poetic example to mine The Wrekin’s sense-of-the familiar in order to suggest discord with the past (real or imagined!). Yet, it is far from the only one. When he wrote the Shropshire Friends (1966), former Poet Laureate John Masefield’s disconnection was set in very personal terms.  For despite revisiting the treasured landscape in which from afar he had “longed to be” he was left staring into the night ahead “where Wrekin lifts in the air”, knowing his estranged companion was “somewhere there” separated from him by time and tide.  As a favourite annual meeting place for thousands of people, where memories are made day-in-day-out, it isn’t too hard to imagine there are others who would instantly recognise such feelings when re-treading their own steps on the hill.

Of Shaggy Hair and Savage Jaw

Happily, not all Wrekin-related poetry is imbued with such abiding melancholy. Edward Lear, the originator of the Limerick, in his Book of Nonsense (1846), penned some particularly memorable verse dedicated to an old man of the hill, “whose shoes were always creaking.” Indeed, a trip to the famous peak seems to have left no mark at all on other literary greats. Philip Larkin, who was a frequent visitor to The Wrekin during the 1940s, in his three – year tenure as Wellington’s librarian, recalled that a nature ramble there had left him “feeling like a piece of chewed string.” Needless to say, the experience did not figure in his first collection of poetry, published while he was resident in the town.

Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense (1846) immortalised The Wrekin in limerick

As a sentinel, keeping watch over the landscape since time immemorial, The Wrekin’s role as a witness to history is something that has captured many writers’ imaginations.  In Uriconium: An Ode (1913), Wilfred Owen is left to ponder a multitude of historical scenarios taking place “under Wrekin’s shade”, from Roman occupation to Druidic chanting and the activities of “men of shaggy hair and savage jaw.” Thomas Babbington Macaulay was even more definitive when he recalled “streamed in crimson on the wind the Wrekin’s crest of light” in his poem The Armada (1842), when a hilltop beacon was lit to forewarn of the impending arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Unfortunately, historical accuracy was not a facet that concerned Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton who in Poly-Olbion (1622) incorrectly assigned to the hill, site of a three-thousand year-old Celtic hillfort, the role of defender against invaders from beyond the “haughty Cambrian Hills.”

The Long Slow Line

While The Wrekin’s brooding presence has for many writers inspired loss, longing and ennui, for others the area’s wild charms speak of more simple pleasures and a return to nature.  Looking southward towards The Wrekin’s “long slow line” Frederic Vanson, in The Shade (1994), reflected on Housman’s “pity for all the cosmic wrong” but found only a sundanced landscape and a wood untroubled, full of birdsong. The final word on the subject however should perhaps go to local poet and master storyteller Jim Hatfield. In The Wrekin (1994) he dutifully lists an array of everyday activities taking place within the watchful gaze of the old hill before concluding:

“Friends in Telford, from Japan, talk at length about Mount Fujisan, and how uplifting a hill can be. I understand. The Wrekin does the same for me.”


Shropshire’s Mount Fuji: The Wrekin and St Lawrence’s Hill from the summit of The Ercall (Gordon Dickins)

Wellington Local Agenda 21 Group will launch a brand new Walking With Giants heritage trail celebrating the cultural connections of the market town and its near-neighbour The Wrekin in 2022.

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