“On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.”
A E Housman, A Shropshire Lad
Geologically speaking the Wrekin and Wenlock Edge are worlds apart. The Wrekin is made up of volcanic rock and forms part of the distinctive Stretton hills ridge, near Church Stretton. Wenlock Edge, on the other hand, is a narrow limestone escarpment that runs for 15 miles from Craven Arms to Ironbridge via Much Wenlock and was formed in a tropical sea some 425 million years ago during the Silurian period – you can still find pieces of coral as you walk along it.
Both are covered with broad-leaved woodland and Housman links the two in perfect poetry. The limestone soils of Wenlock Edge support a huge diversity of plants and flowers including several rare orchids. On a clear day, stand on the summit of the Wrekin, the Shropshire Hills and far beyond are spread out before you. It is a magnificent view and one that has been no doubt admired for millennia and more.
You get a great view of Wenlock Edge heading north on the train just beyond Craven Arms. It runs in an unbroken line for 30km and is one of the best examples of a limestone escarpment in Britain.
Things to do
Your natural destination when visiting the Wrekin is to the top and on a clear day you will be rewarded with spectacular views (said to take in 17 counties). The summit is also an impressive Iron Age hillfort and the path guides you through the distinctive outer and inner entrances, known as Hell Gate and Heaven Gate respectively.
Tradition has it that only when you have passed through the Needle’s Eye, a craggy outcrop near the summit of the Wrekin, can you consider yourself a true Salopian.
Nearby is the Wrekin’s less famous but just as lovely sister hill The Ercall. It’s now a nature reserve and looked after by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Use these leaflets (available from Shropshire Wildlife Trust HQ in Shrewsbury and local Visitor Information Centres) to explore ancient oak woodland and enjoy wonderful views.
Wenlock Edge Walks
Whatever the season, Wenlock Edge is a beautiful woodland walk. There is a myriad of footpaths and bridleways along Wenlock Edge which can be accessed easily from the two carparks on Wenlock Edge and from the car park at Wilderhope Manor. The National Trust produces an excellent leaflet which describes a number of walks and can be purchased at local Visitor Information Centres.
For a spring wildflower walk and bite to eat, park at the Wenlock Edge Inn and walk across to Ippikins meadow – a carpet of cowslips and orchids. Look for the bee orchids in late May at the top of the quarry.