The Wrekin - Hillfort
Plus I also have a mini gazetteer on 6 other Cheshire and Shropshire sites as well. not as much info even as this article has on the Wrekin.
The Wrekin is a hill in eastern Shropshire that has a three hundred and sixty degree view of the plains, and the hills of the area and beyond. The site itself tops out at 407 metres high.
Those travelling down to London from the north pass it as a major landmark. If anything the communications mast on it makes it more recognisable.
It would also have been so in Iron Age times, as then it was a hillfort, with those ramparts and entrances still visible in part today. It's interior rampart line holds 3 hectares inside of it. While the outermost line of those 2 major lines of ramparts makes a larger total of 8 hectares enclosed within the complex. The slopes towards the west help the ramparts as well. The site is a great location for walkers, not just for the hillfort, but for the fantastic views you get atop it on a clear day.
Up here, you can see Caer Caradoc that great Close encounters of the third kind shaped mountain in the Shropshire hills, of the south of that county 12 miles or so away. Then behind there on a clear day, hard to see, the hills of Mid Wales do pop over the horizon. Indeed to the left and south of there, according to http://viewfinderpanoramas.org/ it seems you can see Ysgyryd Fawr, 59 miles away in South Wales, in the Brecon Beacons, though I would not recognise it. Then in the other directions you see the sprawl of Telford below you, and from the view from the gates I mention below. With in other directions, fields and tractors aplenty. Indeed Beacon Hill, the site of a fine castle and hillfort site is 32 miles away to the north west, and Jodrell Bank may be that white spot to the north west that I could see, I think it is.
So places most of which here you can not see well from here, but well or even at all, in terms of distance are as follows. Manchester is 59 miles away, Stoke 29, Telford 5 (of course you see it well) , Shrewsbury 9, Oswestry 25, Crewe 29, Llangollen 33, Liverpool 54, and Birmingham 30.
So the Wrekin is a quite close central location to get to for a lot of populous places. Indeed many think it was a capital for the Late Iron Age Cornovii tribe, a confederation of hillforts and valleys, communities and chiefs, noted by Roman sources. A tribe that like many such in comparison county sized confederations in Britain and Celtic Europe as a whole of the time, covered much of the area of Shropshire and beyond, though maybe capitals were not around in the strictest sense, if you think about it. Though the fact Wroxeter a great Roman town of the area, is so close by, at about 7 miles, and the fact it was a kind of regional centre for the time, makes that capital status for the Wrekin as well seem possible. With some speculating Wroxeter was the Wrekin's successor site, a capital for the Romanising, and being Romanised, tribe. As sometimes the Romans made sure tribes had such Roman style capitals, to bring them into their society, ways, and authority.
On a clear day you can even see the Malverns where British Camp is, way south 56 miles by road. Some say you can see 17 counties at most, though that depends on the definition of counties, what with all the changes that have occurred with them over the years.
The hillfort is a rare one in England, and actually Britain as a whole where it is also a name for the district, as in Telford and the Wrekin, a government area of Shropshire in 2021. Yes you could say it is after the hill it sits on, not the fort, but I say that counts.
Also, it is theorised by some that Tolkien was inspired by the landscape here, with his writings of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Some counter that and claim other sites for that, or in just a addition to that. Though they were of similar hills, in this Midlands region of England.
The hillfort itself, has landmarks associated to it, there is a heaven's gate, through the inner ramparts, into the inner area, and a hell's gate, that you pass earlier into the slightly lower down part of the area just below the summit interior area, the more exterior ramparts. You know you are passing through them as of the banks either side of you that you pass through. Banks that in their encircling route around the fort, which make up the aforementioned ramparts that these gates or rather gaps, are for those walking up the fort's paths. On the other side of this not huge, or tiny but respectable sized, and long plateau of a summit, there is the less poetically named South West Gate, that sits near some large rocks. you may say crags. It must be said, it is a pleasant walk up from the car park, that curls up past some lovely woods, and wide at times rutted paths, and then as you near the top, the summit clears to a grass and dirt top. Often there will be walkers from across the places I just mentioned earlier, and sometimes beyond.
The fort's name comes from a Celtic term, that was mutated into Old English, then modern English. Indeed as is stated on many sites, it's old name was what I say below.
Uriconio was a prior name for the site, which comes from a similar origin as a name to Wrekin, as look they do sound the same.
The site was in use 2,000 to 2,500 years ago in the Iron Age, and contained roundhouses granary stores, and the general basics of Iron Age life. As I was talking of earlier, it is felt it was maybe a capital site of the Cornovii, if they had such things. These a tribe that like most confederations of hillforts of Britain held a modern county sized area. These neighboured the Deceangli confederation of North Wales for instance, according to Roman sources.
There is speculation that a patch of pebble covered road in between here and Old Oswestry was a major paved road, extending for longer than that between these 2 forts, but that is only a theory.
You can also see the Wrekin from Wroxeter, which is a fabulous Roman and Post Roman site in Shropshire, half a dozen miles south. Of which some wonder if members of the population here would have been moved to when the Romans arrived. As, as I said earlier, of course the Romans liked to set up Roman style towns, to Romanise the natives. Wroxeter seems to have had occupation after the Romans left, in the age variously known As the Dark Ages, Arthurian era, and Early Middle Ages. When it would have been occupied by surviving Romano British groups.
In keeping with that subject there is no real evidence of note of Roman or post Roman reuse of the hillfort site.
The level of iron age pottery on the site indicates it was a permanent site, not just a refuge as some such locations to their credit were.
As I say in my fun facts page, The composer of the classic "lark ascending", Vaughan Williams, also put 6 poems of Housman's " Shropshire Lad " to music, of which 2 of his songs by chance refer to hills with hillforts. They are Wenlock Edge, referring to the Wrekin, and another part called Bredon Hill ( Not spelt Breddon Hill ).
All photographs on this site are mine, except for one, I explain below and you need my permission to use them. This site was written in March 2021. There is also a picture I saw on the internet by a early 19th Century painter, so my reading of copyright law says I can use it, maybe I am wrong. So I am using it, obviously that is the whole hill, not the 2 photographs that I took that are both on the fort, including my picture where I have placed a roundhouse there for you to see . Hillforts.co.uk
THE Articles on hillforts
landscape and lay of the Iron Ag, it's people and art and ways times
Mini Gazetteer on some Cheshire and Shropshire Hillforts and other historic sites
So I have entire articles on Old Oswestry and The Wrekin, and Offa's Dyke. Plus British Camp, just to the south of those counties, in Herefordshire, (See links above, for those much more info packed pages on those four ancient sites or monuments) . Then again I have been to Helsby, Beeston Castle, and Caer Caradoc (Church Stretton) so I have done a small gazetteer on them. And hey, also Chester and Poulton, then finally Wroxeter.
Helsby Hillfort is a site that overlooks Ellesmere Port and the motorway that heads between Manchester and North Wales. From it's top you can see the outlines of planes landing at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and a number of major industrial sites, including the refinery, the train, and the windfarm.
Well in 2021 anyhow.
The fort itself is on the hills that run parallel to the motorway, and it has it's own recognisable cliffs within it's trees that you can see as a passenger from there. The summit hits 141 metres high, and is way above the local plain. From that motorway you can often see Moel Famau up on the Clwydian hills. Though it is only 8 miles from Chester which is right on the border. Frodsham is also near the hillfort as well.
It seems those steep cliffs protect the north, with double ramparts to the south and east. The site is also near a quarry and woodland park, Mountskill Quarry. Which produced stone for the growing metropolises of this area in the 19th Century. It is among a number of hillforts on the Mid Cheshire ridge, including Eddisbury Hill. I was not here for long, all I did was go up and down, I think I saw some ramparts, but I got a idea of the view. The site is also known as Helsby Hill.
It was with certainty a Iron Age site.
Beeston Castle Hillfort
This another fort site in Cheshire. It is a fine castle site I have seen from the train, and visited, and was pleased to see it was also a hillfort site. This lump of a hill sits very prominently in the Cheshire plain. Indeed when coming down from Queensferry just over the Welsh border you see it's lump, on that flatness. Pllus you see it from the Wrekin as well. It is 9 miles east of Chester. I was happy to see the Clwydian Hills, and Penycloddiau and Moel Arthur from it's castle. Though not as a high a hill at the Wrekin, it is as noticeable from many views.
It was then with certainty also a Iron Age site. It is not that far from Kelsborrow Castle and Nantwich.
Caer Caradoc (Church Stretton)
When people talk of Caer Caradoc, or Caer Caradog, they usually are referring to the one near Church Stretton that is in Shropshire. Even though there is also one in Conwy County, North Wales, which is also known by other local names like Pen Y Mont, and also another in Shropshire, near Clun.
I am referring here to the one by Church Stretton. It is a site that from some directions points like a pinnacle above the area, and is very noticeable and recognisable. I am sure I recognised it from the Wrekin as well.
I arrived there saw some of the book shops and antique stores below, and we went up the nice path, to the top. It kind of curls from the village / town, and sweeps up the cone to the peak. From it, you brilliantly see the many times on this page aforementioned Wrekin.
This Caer Caradoc is 459 Metres in elevation, and 271 metres above the town.
The road by it, also is a road many use when going from North to South Wales. Apparently on a clear day you can see high rise buildings of Birmingham from it, though I did not. It is just east of the Stretton Gap.
The Iron age fort atop it, which is noticeable by it's ramparts and cliffs, is famed as the site of Caratacus and his battle. There is no evidence he did fight here, but the battle is said to have occurred by Tacitus. Some claim the evidence ties it to this site. Well it must have happened somewhere, or if it did not happen, battles like did occur in sites like this. It is nice to have a place to battles like this which did occur, no doubt of the Romans v the Britons. It's rival for the claimant of this title is mainly British Camp, and numerous other sites. Indeed Mynydd Y Gaer in South Wales, at Bridgend area, has a tumulus that is marked Caer Caradoc, as of some idea that the story links to that hill, that would have been in Silures lands it seems.
So Caer Caradoc is also famous as nearby is Caractacus' Cave. where in legend Caratacus / Caradog / Caradoc made a last stand. It must be said Caratacus was a king of the tribe the Catuvellauni, which led parts of South East England, north of where London is today. He in Roman histories took up rebellion, then went to help the South Wales Silures, after much of what is today Southern England had been taken into Rome. Then he was defeated in battle in Ordovician territory, supposedly where Caer Caradoc or British Camp feature. He then was handed over by the Queen of the Brigantes, that huge North of England confederation, to the Romans. Here he was nearing the fate meted out to many of Rome's enemies, but was lucky enough according to the histories to have survived after he made a great speech to the Roman senate.
Apparently it was a fellow called Camden in the 18th Century who was among those deciding this was the site of the battle. I think it may also have been called the Gair, once, which happily is another Welsh name, surely from the Cymraeg term, Y Gaer. According to a 18th Century work by a author, Salmon. called A New Survey of England, wherein the defects of Camden.. .. I mean it does make sense as the idea the locals always called it Caer Caradoc is almost fanciful. Even if it ever had been the site of Caradoc's battle, such memories get mixed up with other legends over time. So Y Gaer makes sense, and is a typical Welsh name for a fort. Likely, Caer Caradoc was a name added by romantic thinkers. and good on them. So nice to know despite it being just over the border it had a kind of Welsh name, just like the official title.
Chester and Poulton
So Chester is a regional centre of Cheshire, and even North Wales traditionally, right on the west, right on the border with Wales. It sits on the Dee, and is famed as Deva the Roman site, that like Caerleon, was one of the rare legionary centres in Britain.
Like Caerleon it would have a population in the very low tens of thousands in the Roman era, at it's peak, including shanty town surroundings. It has today it's baths, it's Roman centres, and amphitheatre. With a population today of about 80,000 and a race course and all sorts it is reasonably large place. It still has the great walls, which was partly built by the Romans, but carried on by later groups. Such as the Britons, who may have had Chester as a base, but also the English, the Normans, and even by the Royalists in the civil war. With more of late English heritage and the like.
The Roman fort started here with the walls at about 75AD. There is a great museum, just like Caerleon here as well.
The amphitheatre was rediscovered in the 1920s, and a road scheme was stopped, as of demands to preserve it from people such as PM, Ramsay MacDonald.
It was built in 2 main goes. It arrived first in the 70s AD, and then was abandoned in the 350s or thereabouts. So a amazing site, that with the fact Chester still has so much of those walls. The site is now celebrated as part of it is followed by the line of the road, as this road skirts round it, which of course helps you identify the shape of the structure. In 2021, that area is still left as a area where you can see where part of the circle of this structure was. So it is not like Caerleon where the whole "round table" shape is there, but it is still a case where part of the shape is honoured in this open air way.
Poulton nearby is a site that sits on the bend of the Dee, just south of Chester. It has seen archaeological excavations, and even seen Iron Age, Medieval Roman and later finds. Including roundhouses, and all sorts. It is set on a very rural landscape of fields, so way out of Chester really.
Maiden Castle, Bickerton, Cheshire, after reading this page, and others, maybe see my article on Maiden Castle, Dorset, and it's following glossary on other Maiden Castles, such as this example in Cheshire.
Wroxeter Is a Roman site in between Chester and the Wrekin. It is in a rural location, and has the fine site of a standing wall, like a façade still standing from the old Roman baths. Plus excavated signs of the baths and other sites., It sits quaintly in a field, unobstructed by large or even small settlements. I have been there myself, and was happy to see the fine site. It was established around 55 AD, and was a centre of the Cornovii, as their civitas. "Viroconium of the Cornovians", It may have hit 15,000 people at it's peak. Vaughan Williams, not spelt Vaughn Williams, with Housman not spelt Housmann or Houseman, reference this city in their works, titled Wenlock Edge, ( Not spelt Wenclock Edge, or Wenlockedge) by the name Uricon.
So this ancient Roman site, seems likely to have survived a while after the fall of Rome, and was used by post Roman, British kings, of their small kingdoms, within this "Arthurian age". Later the land was taken into the orbit of England, but with elements of the old Britons surely. Indeed the name Wrekin and likely Wroxeter comes from the Britons times in terms of it's roots. Plus that old title, Wreocensæte a name given for a old Anglo Saxon kingdom, that developed from the old Celtic name, Cornovii. Indeed that name Uriconio is a name rooted in that name as well. What I am saying is all those terms to a extent developed from a name for the civitas and the Celtic tribe, well maybe more so the name for the civitas. Just like how Gwent developed from the name Venta Silurum, for the Silures. Well that is the theory anyhow.,
I have also been to Llanymynech Hillfort, of which a part is in Shropshire, but most is in Wales. I mention it in my North Wales glossary.
Other fine sites in the Shropshire and Cheshire area, which unlike above, I have not been to
include Bury Walls, which is a site on the south of Shropshire, that has a circular look to it. Sadly in the 2010s, and early 2020s, it has been shut off to a extent, so this site upon forests is hard to get to. Also the Titterstone, in south Shropshire, not far from Ludlow. It has been mauled by quarrying and by unusual buildings upon it, though it it is one of the largest enclosures of the Iron Age of Britain, and has some great traditions to it, like the old Titterstone wake. I would love to visit if passing. Then there is the Wall Camp, in the far south of Shropshire, that may have had connection to the Wrekin. It is so low lying some calls it a marsh fort or marsh camp.