Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

The weather and us

We in Britain have quite an involved, emotional relationship with the weather. I imagine most countries have a dependence on their weather in some way but as a Brit, the reaction to this year’s weather has amused me lots.

It was cold. Very cold. For a long time. Now I’m not one to moan about the weather, mainly because it’s all over the place so I figure there’s no point being so attached to it as it’s bound to not be doing what you want it to. Also, as a generally quite hot person, I much prefer things to be a little colder so that my body temperature comes out somewhere in the middle! I love going for a walk when it’s cold and I can see my breath. By the time I’ve walked for five minutes, I’ll be really warm anyway.

So this winter, this long never-ending winter, when it was cold for seven months, I did not complain. I prefer swimming outdoors when it’s raining or cold too, because most people don’t like it so they go to the indoor pool. Which leaves the pool empty for little me and I don’t have to get mad because it’s so full and people aren’t following the Swimming Pool Rules. I like the comfiness of wearing a big cuddly coat, which I can only do in extreme cold because I get hot so easily. I also like dragging out the Downstairs Duvet while watching a film in the evening. The winter forces us to be cuddly and to cook hearty warming dishes like beef stews and cottage pies and apple crumbles. All the things, I like.

When the complaining about the cold continued on into May and early June, it became hard to defend my position, especially given that the garden was looking a little sad, none of the trees were bearing fruit and all the bees were dying. I felt sorry for the bees, as I like them. I’m all into the bee scene.

Small talk during the last weeks of this long winter pretty much only consisted of weather-chat. Whilst in work, when a customer entered the shop with their umbrella and their big winter coat and scarf, they would just look at me with a look on their face and we both knew that weather-chat was on the cards. It became unavoidable. And so I made polite small talk about the weather.

“It’s been too long now, hasn’t it?” I would say.

“I’m still wearing my winter coat, in June!” I moaned.

“Snow?! In May! Unbelievable!” I exclaimed, all the while thinking that I didn’t mind it so much.

When I got up first thing, dressed in my jarmies, and the cold hit me, I’d grumble a bit but it was nothing a cup of tea couldn’t handle.

And then it warmed up. We stopped moaning about the cold and rain and the sun shone. My goodness, did it shine!

And we, the British, we were excited! Brilliant! We sat out in parks and ate icecreams and acted like we were on holiday. We loved it!

Me? I was sweaty and uncomfortable. I was not really having fun. My new job required a half an hour walk and not very much shade along the way. So I arrive at work feeling gross. So I have to take extra clothes to change into. But then I work all day and get hot and disgusting. But I don’t have any more clothes to change into. So my walk home is in already sweaty disgusting clothes. Then I get hot on the walk home and by the time I arrive home, I’m just a mess. It doesn’t make for a very attractive Laura.

And then the weather got really really hot. Too hot. We spent a lot of time inside, hiding from it. We moaned. Yes, we moaned. Because it was too hot.

This time I joined in. I’m not mad for hot weather anyway, as you’ve guessed, so my moaning was genuine.

Then there were thunderstorms so we rejoiced! Ah, what a relief from this overwhelming heat! Thank GOODness! Phew!

Then we saw the forecast for this weekend said there are going to be more storms and rain… And guess what happened?

We moaned. We moaned because we had a weekend away at the coast planned and a birthday party outside down by the river and the damn rain had spoiled it all! Fist-shaking and despairing came into play. And we lamented the awful British weather again!

Are you keeping up with this? I’m not sure I am. Let’s go from the top.

1. It was cold. We moaned.
2. It was hot. We rejoiced.
3. It got hotter. We moaned.
4. It was stormy. We rejoiced.
5. More rain was forecast. We moaned.

Poor weather. When we seem happy about something, he does more of the same and then we moan!

(I personally, am always moaning about extreme heat. I think I was an Arctic explorer in a previous life.)

O is for…

I’m handing over to my regular guest blogger today for O. here goes. Enjoy it…




The title might seem a bit strange since all the other letters so far have referred at least to a word or phrase.

Some of you might remember a post from 2.1.13 called Toponymy where I told you about the furthest points north, south, east & west in mainland Britain. The info came largely from a really interesting present I was given at Christmas – A Dictionary of British Place Names (A.D. Mills). For this week I’ve decided to return to it and have a look at some of the entries under the letter “O”.

First entry in the “O” section is Oadby (appears as Oldebi in the Domesday Book of 1086). The “-by” ending means village or farmstead and the first part is the English version of the Scandinavian name Authi.

Another one is not exactly a place but it gets an entry because of its geographical and historical significance – Offa’s Dyke. It was a rampart forming the boundary separating England & Wales. As you may know Offa was the ancient king of an area called Mercia during the latter half of the 8th century AD. He was quite an aggressive king conquering large areas of central England and finally Wales. He built the 150 mile long Dyke to stop the Welsh sending raiding parties into English (=’his’) territory. Mercia was a large kingdom occupying the Midlands area of England: its southern border was with the West Saxons (just east of Bristol area) and East Saxons (a much smaller kingdom north of the Thames and south of the area inhabited by the East Anglian peoples). Mercia’s northern boundary appears to have been at least as far as a horizontal line through Liverpool but may have extended much further up before meeting the southern boundary of the kingdom of Northumbria (today the NE of England).

There is a 177 mile footpath you can walk if you fancy it that follows the line of the original dyke. Lonely Planet have nominated the dyke as one of the must see sites for 2013. It has also been listed in the top ten great wall walks “in the world”. (The rest can be seen here: )

Those of you who know your history will remember that the area of North Wales is very probably where King Arthur’s ancient kingdom (5th/6th century) of Avalon was located. The locations of many of the stories about Arthur can be traced to places in the North Wales area. One of the books I’m reading at the moment is called The Keys To Avalon (Steve Blake, Scott Lloyd) and it does a fantastic job of debunking many of the claims about King Arthur (father Uthyr Pendragon, mother Eigyr) being related to areas in the south of England around Glastonbury and even as far north as Scotland. They do it simply by returning to the original Welsh source documents used by the early writers and showing how misinterpretations of some words have caused misleading info to bed itself into major historical works. It also shows how political manoeuvring in some cases and straightforward commercialism in others contributed to some areas or places being claimed as the “real” locations of parts of the Arthurian story. It’s a good read but you’ll need perseverance to keep going through some of the necessary but difficult sections of Welsh etymology.

I was surprised to read the entry just a bit further on – that of Ogbourne Maizey. It had an entry in the Domesday Book as Ocheburn (stream of a man called Occa) and later as Ocheburn Meysey. This latter name comes from the family name de Meysey. It is first mentioned in records just after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and has a variety of spellings: Meysey, Meysy, Maisie, Maysey & lastly Maisey. It is first recorded in Gloucestershire having been given Lordships of the manors of Hampton Meysey & Marston Meysey by the Conqueror himself. Tradition says that the de Meysey family came over with William the Conqueror. It appears to have come from Brittainy (or possibly Normandy). The family does have a crest & coat of arms so it seems LLM may have some very important ancestors. However treat this information carefully as it could be seen that your family displaced existing lords of the area of their homes and lands simply because of its connections to the conquering nation which gave grants of land to its own people. I’m wondering at this point, as LLM has just done a volunteer stint at a massive country house estate (Ham House), whether she is actually subconsciously returning to her thousand-year old ancestral roots. Something in her genes might be saying: “I belong here!” Hmmm… I wonder how long before we will have to address her as “Milady”?

Next is Old Wives Lees; this has to be one of the most unusual village names. Originally called Oldwoods Lees no-one seems to know how it became corrupted into its present form. The highest point in the village is called ‘The Mount’ and this area was used in the film Last Orders (2000) starring Michael Caine & Bob Hoskins. The Pilgrims’ Way – a 132 mile footpath from Winchester (Hampshire) to Canterbury (Kent) – passes close by and was used by those going to the Canterbury shrine of Thomas à Beckett (Archbishop of Canterbury 1162-1170 who was murdered by supporters of Henry II).

Oswestry (Shropshire) means ‘Tree of a man named Oswald’ and I suppose you can see how easily, over many years, you get from Oswald’s Tree to Oswestry. There is a possible connection to St Oswald who was king of Northumbria in about the 7th century although it is clearly in Mercian held territory (see Offa’s Dyke para above).

Odd as it may seem there are 3 places in England called simply Over: one in Cambridgeshire, one in Cheshire, one on Gloucestershire.

Next a couple from across the Irish Sea: Owenavorragh (in county Wexford) meaning “river liable to flood” and Owendalulleegh (in Galway) meaning “river of two milch cows”. At first sight you might be tempted to think they have Welsh connections because the start of both is “Owen” but the etymology splits the names after the first two letters. “Ow” meaning river.

Final entry in the “O” section is Ozleworth meaning ‘Enclosure of a man called Osla’ or surprisingly ‘enclosure frequented by blackbirds’.

And there you have it a brief survey of some interesting places beginning with “O”.


Morning all! It’s time for the guest blogger to take over for the day, so here it is. Enjoy it!

I was given a present this Christmas and here it is:

It was a bit unusual in that it came with a veiled challenge (written inside) – to maybe include some of the info in a blog about it. Well I thought for a bit about how you could do that. It would be tricky if it’s not going to be boring. It’s a dictionary, it lists 17,000 place names and how they came about.

It is, though, printed in what has to be the tiniest font EVER! I’ve never had a book with such tiny print. I was intrigued so I counted. Each page can fit 52 lines without headings. I counted an ordinary book – 34/35 lines. That means 50% more lines per page. I also counted the words (just one page in each book as a random sample): the ordinary book had 351, the introduction to the place name dictionary had 711 so just over twice as many words per page! I also measured the area of the text on the page and the dictionary is approximately 1cm bigger on the length and on the width although the outside dimensions of the dictionary are smaller than the one I compared it with. So the ‘tiny-font’ dictionary has only a slightly larger area of text but twice as many words. The intro tells me it has the most up-to-date info on the very latest place name research by the best guys in the field. What is surprising is the number of ways places get their names: sometimes from the age of the place so the name might have a Latin or Saxon origin depending on whether Romans or Saxons were there first; sometimes from the type of landscape where they’re located; sometimes from the name of a person or people originally involved in its founding and so on – that’s toponymy. So, as I’m wondering what to write about, a few ideas came to mind:

Idea no.1 – I could work my way through it doing, say, 10 entries at a time. As there are 17,000 entries, that all appear in the Ordnance Survey Atlas of the UK, there would be enough stuff for 1,700 blogs and at one a week that’s……oh just over 32 years! However I guess readers would get fed up with that very quickly. Idea 1 rejected.

Idea no.2 – pick a random sample say one from each letter of the alphabet so 26 entries. Nah! Too many. Idea 2 rejected.

Idea no.3 – what about something on places which have something unusual about them in terms of their geography? How about starting with 4 significant ones? – The places which are the furthest north, south, east & west, on the mainland of Great Britain. Now if you’re like me you probably don’t know all of them. That became my starting point – to find out where they are.

1. Let’s start at the top, at the northernmost point. Most folks think it’s John o’Groats as it’s the start point for all sorts of people who do what is called the “End-to-end” journey (to Land’s End – about 874 miles) often for charity: walkers, runners, cyclists, wheelchair, skateboard & assorted other journeys. Although there’s not much detail in the dictionary I was curious about how the name came about. It seems it comes from a Dutchman, Jan de Groote. He built a house up there and started running a ferry to the Orkney Islands in about 1496 – the fee four (old) pence so equivalent to about 1½p in today’s money. Four old pence was known as a groat in English and some suggest that the Dutchman’s fee is the actual origin of the John o’Groats name.

However in terms of latitude John o’Groats isn’t the actual furthest point north. That honour belongs to Dunnet Head: the actual latitude north figures are 58.67⁰N for Dunnet Head & 58.64⁰N for John o’Groats. And in case you had any doubts they’ve cast it in stone and here it is:

The dictionary doesn’t have it explained separately. The place is not inhabited and is roughly half way between John o’Groats & Thurso to the west, and is a promontory on the northern coast of Scotland. Its name comes under the explanation for the Thurso entry. Thurso, it says, comes from a river of the same name and it prob means ‘bull river’. That name comes from the old name of Dunnet Head which was known by the Romans asTarvedunum which means ‘bull fort’. I know the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall but I didn’t know they’d actually gone right to the top.

2. Next is the furthest SOUTH. Once again it’s not where you think it is. Most people believe Land’s End is the most southerly but in fact it’s a place called The Lizard. If you want the detail: Land’s End sits at 50.06⁰N and Lizard Point is at 49.95⁰N so it’s basically one tenth of one degree further south. Here’s the National Trust sign. (The National Trust sign

down there specifies latitude 49⁰ 57’ but as there are 60’ in one degree, 57’ = 0.95 degrees which explains the 49.95⁰, in case you were wondering……..probably not.)

There doesn’t seem to be one of those stone or metal signs for the most southerly point so, apart from the NT sign above, this one will have to do:

You can just about see Lizard Point underneath the Gifts & Souvenirs on the shop front.

3. Next is EAST. I had no idea on this one. Research tells me it’s an area of Lowestoft called Lowestoft Ness and the local council have put a notice there:

The town’s name derives from an earlier version in the Domesday Book, Lothu Wistoft. It means: “Homestead of a man called Hlothvér”. The ‘toft’ part of the name means homestead but I know what you’re thinking: who was this Hlothvér guy? Well it’s possible it might have been someone of the same name who appears in an old Swedish poem called The Lay of Volundor maybe someone named after him. Volundwas an artisan also known as Wayland the Smith and Prince of the Elves and here’s the beginning of that poem:

1. Three maidens flew through Myrkvith from Southland,
young valkyries*,             in wars to try them;
they sate by the lake,        their limbs to rest,
fair southron maids,     precious flax spinning;

2. (11) Hlathguth and Hervor,                    Hlothvér’s daughters,
and wise Olrún,           Kíar’s offspring.
Did one of them          wind her white arms
about Egil,    to her bosom held him;

3. (and Hlathguth fair,    enfolded Slagfith); (12)
………… ………………. …………… ……………..
but Hervor, the third          of these sisters,
winded her arms          ’round Volund’s neck.

4. Thus dwelled the sisters             seven winters,
but on the eighth                ay in yearning,
but on the ninth              they needs must part:
longed the maidens      through Myrkvith to fly,
the young valkyries*,   in wars to try them.

*The Valkyries, from Norse mythology, were female figures who chose which soldiers died in battle and which lived.

4. And finally the furthest point WEST: Slight confusion here. Look at the pic below

And then read this entry on the Undiscovered Scotland website:

“And mainland Great Britain’s westernmost point? Anyone suggesting it’s somewhere in Cornwall is well wide of the mark. It is actually a rocky outcrop called Corrachadh Mòr, some three quarters of a mile south (and some 30-50 yards further west, depending on how you measure it) of Ardnamurchan Point,…….”

Looking at the map I can only assume AP gets all the visitors is because of access. If you look at Corrachadh Mòr on a map there don’t appear to be any roads or paths leading to it. Ardnamurchan has a road, a visitor centre and other stuff. Not surprisingly then no entry for Corrachadh Mòr in the dictionary so will have to make do with the one for Ardnamurchan. (It is after all only about 35 metres short of being the most westerly point.) In the 8th century it was known as Art Muirchol and then Ardnamurchin in the 14th and it means ‘Point of the Otters’ (or sea-dogs). In the first version the ‘chol’ ending means ‘sin’ possibly implying that there was piracy around there.

Btw, websites suggesting that Land’s End is furthest point west (eg. should be disregarded. The longitude values are Land’s End 5.71⁰W and Ardnamurchan Point 5.98⁰W)

Anyway, fancy building a house at Corrachadh Mòr to claim the westernmost title then?

And to finish how about this? In 1995 there was even one guy who cycled from John o’Groats to Land’s End via the west, east & south extremities (Ardnamurchan Point, Lowestoft Ness & Lizard Point) clocking up a total of 1568 miles instead of the usual 874 for the direct route.

Have any of you been to any of these Mainland extremities?

And there you have it, my first attempt from the dictionary of British place names.