A Shropshire classic with added value - The Wrekin and The Ercall.
Distance 8.5 miles (13.7km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 1,585ft (485m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Woodland footpaths, urban streets, quiet lanes, 2 stiles
Landscape Hills and woods on the edge of Wellington
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 242 Telford, Ironbridge & The Wrekin
Start/finish SJ 651113
Dog friendliness Dog heaven, except on firing days
Parking Belmont or Swimming Pool East car parks, both on Tan Bank, off Victoria Road, Wellington
Public toilets Victoria Street car park, between bus and train stations
Notes Rifle range on The Wrekin - warning notices posted, but take care on firing days
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1 Walk along Tan Bank away from the town centre. Cross Victoria Road and go forward a little way, still on Tan Bank, before turning left on a path just after the police station. Walk to New Church Road and turn right. At Holyhead Road, turn left, then cross to Limekiln Lane, noticing the Old Hall School (built in 1480) on the corner. Soon the slopes of The Wrekin appear, as Limekiln Lane heads under the M54 into open country.
2 At the end of the lane, go straight on into Limekiln Wood; the path leads along the edge of the wood at first. When you reach a junction, go to the left, but a few paces further on fork right into the heart of the wood. Ignore any branching paths, sticking to the well-trodden main route. Arriving at a T-junction by some ruined buildings, turn right, descend to a junction and turn left, then left again when you come to a road.
3 Turn right on the access road to Wrekin Farm. When you reach Wenlocks Wood, leave the farm road, turning right on a field-edge footpath which heads towards The Wrekin. A stile soon gives access to its eastern slopes. Go forward a few paces, then turn left.
4 Branch right where a signpost indicates a permissive path. Follow this round the hill to a cross path; turn right, joining the Shropshire Way for the climb over the summit ridge. As you approach the northern end, keep left when the path forks, then left again by a prominent beech tree, descending through woods. At the edge of the woods, leave the Shropshire Way and turn right to meet a lane.
5 Turn right to a T-junction, join a footpath opposite and pass between two reservoirs before meeting a lane, where you go left. As you draw almost level with Buckatree Lodge, turn right into The Ercall Nature Reserve. Go straight on along a bridleway, past some impressive former quarries and a pool. Before long you come to a junction: ignore a path doubling back towards the quarries and go forward a few paces to find that the main track swings left and climbs to the top of The Ercall.
6 As Wellington comes briefly into view through the trees, turn right on a ridge-top path. As you begin to descend, the path forks. Go to the right and shortly join a track which passes under the M54. Keep straight on along Golf Links Lane to Holyhead Road. Cross to a footpath opposite. When you reach a road (Roseway) turn right, then left on to Tan Bank.
Those who live in Shropshire know that The Wrekin is more than just a hill. For all true Salopians it is a sort of focal point and symbol of Shropshire, the embodiment of home, a sentiment implied in the traditional toast 'To all friends around The Wrekin'. Although it reaches only a modest 1,323ft (407m), its splendid isolation makes it seem higher. This illusion is strengthened by its shape: while basically a whaleback, it appears conical from certain angles, like a mini-mountain, giving the impression of an extinct volcano. It isn't, though it is volcanic in origin, an eroded remnant of a vast chunk of rock thrust to the surface around 700 million years ago, putting it among the oldest rocks in the world.
If that origin seems a bit mundane, you might prefer the alternative provided by local folklore, which tells of the giant Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr (or the Devil in another version) who was on his way to Shrewsbury to dam the River Severn with a shovelful of soil. He met a cobbler who guessed what he was up to, showed him the sackful of shoes he was carrying and told him he had worn them all out trying to find Shrewsbury. Frustrated, Gwendol dumped his shovelful on the spot, sparing Shrewsbury from flooding and creating The Wrekin. (It didn't work, however - Shrewsbury floods nearly every winter.)
The return leg of the walk takes you through The Ercall Nature Reserve. The Ercall (pronounced arkle) is a small, steep, wooded hill important for its geology as well as its woodlands and wildlife. It has been much quarried and the sheer quarry faces are exciting to explore. Much of The Ercall is composed of Wrekin quartzite, a hard, white, crystalline rock around 535 million years old. It also has what geologists call an intrusion of granophyre, a fine-grained granite formed 560 million years ago, and a source of china clay. The great civil engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834) used Ercall granophyre when he resurfaced the Roman Watling Street to create his much admired Holyhead Road, on which the modern A5 is based. Do stop to read the information boards in the nature reserve if you would like to know more about the geology and ecology of The Ercall, which is managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with Telford and Wrekin Council.
Limekiln Wood is full of intriguing humps and hollows, overgrown now by ferns and ivy but still hinting at its former role as a quarry. Coal and limestone were dug here and much of the limestone was burnt on site in kilns, two of which survive (they're not on the route of this walk). The resulting lime was used in agriculture and building.
The Dun Cow on Duke Street and the White Lion on Crown Street in Wellington are traditional pubs. Café del Manso next to the bus station has outside tables, very pleasant on sunny days. But my vote goes to Flapjacks, a friendly tea room and restaurant on Bell Street at the end of Tan Bank. No dogs allowed, unfortunately, but children are welcome and there is a reasonable veggie selection.
Why not visit one of the National Trust's more unusual properties? You'll pass close by it when you cross Holyhead Road towards the end of the walk. A Victorian suburban house called Sunnycroft, it is typical of many built for prosperous professionals and businessmen, and has survived largely unaltered, its original contents still in place. The garden has pigsties, stables, orchards and even a wellingtonia avenue.