Thoughout time we have always felt a need to explain natural phenomena. The sun has been described as a fiery chariot driven across the sky and even the passage of a dung beetle rolling the sun from horizon to horizon. Folklore is full of stories of how various landmarks were created which, if we’re honest, are far more interesting than how they really did come about. PHILIP DAVIES looks into just one of these folk stories: the tale of The Wrekin Giant in Shropshire.
A Wrekin Giant with a Grudge
The Wrekin is the name given to a large hill situated between Shrewsbury and Telford which rises to some 1335 feet at its summit and is a popular site for hill walkers and ramblers. The scientific explanation for the creation of the hill is that it is something to do with volcanism, but this is The Spooky Isles and we don’t settle for those easy, scientific explanations. The real story of how the Wrekin was created is far more interesting.
There was a Welsh giant with the impressive name of Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr. This giant had for some reason taken a dislike to the town of Shrewsbury and its people and so he had resolved to dam the River Severn that circles the town and drown everyone who lived in the town.
A Long Meandering Trudge
Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr scooped up an enormous spadeful of soil and set out toward Shrewsbury. However the journey from Wales to Shrewsbury was long, the spadeful of soil was heavy and Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr wasn’t the brightest of giants and so after some hours of walking he realised he was lost.
It was about 10 miles outside Shrewsbury that Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr came across an old cobbler who was heading from Shrewsbury to a nearby village (somewhat appropriately called Wellington!) The cobbler was bent double under the weight of the worn out shoes he had collected from Shrewsbury and was taking to his workshop to repair.
A Watery Pile of Sludge
Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr called out to the old cobbler and asked him to tell him where Shrewsbury was.
‘What business do you have there?’ The cobbler replied.
‘I mean to dam up the River Severn with this soil I am carrying and wash the town away!’ Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr said.
The old man scratched his chin. The people of Shrewsbury were good customers and if they were all drowned then that would be terrible for his business. He looked up at Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr towering above him and took a deep breath.
An Old Man Who Would not Budge
‘Shrewsbury you say? My goodness you are way off course! Shrewsbury is a long, long way away! You see these shoes on my back?’ The cobbler gestured to the enormous sack on his back. Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr nodded. The old cobbler continued: ‘Well I wore out all these shoes walking to where I am now from Shrewsbury!’ Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr groaned. He was already exhausted, and from what the old cobbler had told him it would be a long time before he reached his destination.
‘I am already very tired’ Wrekin Giant told the old cobbler ‘and this soil is very heavy. If Shrewsbury is indeed as far away as you say I am afraid I will never reach it! What do you suggest I do?’
A Final, Gentle Nudge
Seeing an opportunity the old cobbler suggested that Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr turn out his spadeful of soil where he stood, which was exactly what he did. And having placed the soil on the Shropshire plain, this Wrekin Giant cleaned the mud off his boots (which became the Little Ercall Hill next to The Wrekin) sighed and headed back home.
Ok, I admit it, there is no real evidence to support this story but I’m sure you agree it is a great deal more exciting than the rational, scientific explanation for how one of Shropshire’s famous hills came to be!