Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Some curious names . . .

Although my children speak Welsh fluently, my command of the language is limited to a few topographical names. Sometimes the translation is fascinating and very descriptive. Maes-mawr simply means "big field", but Maescletwr means "field of the rough water." I wonder what used to happen in Llwynmerched? ("Field of the maidens.") Llannerchpesgi was a "glade for fattening animals", whilst Twyn Mwyalchod was "mound of the blackbirds." Wainlapra was the "meadow of tatters" and I'm still pondering that one, though it may have a connection with the Clootie trees of our Celtic past, when strips of people's clothing, having been dipped in the nearby holy well, were tied to "magic" trees in the hope that healing would result. The descriptive Wernddwyfog means "marsh of betony", a beautiful pinky-lilac flower which blooms on waysides in this area. Here is a link to help you in the pronunciation: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/welsh.htm

You would think that English place names were straightforward. However, you might be surprised to know that Ramsbottom in Greater Manchester, does not refer to the hinder part of a male sheep, but in actual fact has a more poetical meaning: "wild garlic valley". This derives from the Old English hramsa (wild garlic, which I know as Ramsons) and bothm 'valley bottom'. Now we know how cricketer Ian Botham's name came about. There is also a Ramsey island off the Welsh coast and that too is linked with hramsa (only this time an Old Norse word for wild garlic) and ey - island. Its Welsh name is Ynys Dewi - St David's Island. Merthyr Tydfil in the Welsh valleys, famed for coal production until the latter half of the 20th C., means "Tudful's burial place." merthyr is Welsh for martyr. St Tudfil was a woman saint, reputedly one of the daughters of Brychan (who probably gave his name to Brecon). She was buried here, after being killed by pagans in the late 5th C.

Minehead in Somerset is apparently derived from "headland of a hill called Myne" and there are links with Wales (which can be seen the other side of the Bristol Channel from Minehead) where mynydd means high land, "mountain" though it is just higher rough land hereabouts.

Up in Scotland, Cambuslang in Strathclyde, means "creek of the ship" and is derived from the Gaelic camas - creek, bay, riverbend and long - ship. Campsie Fells, also in Strathclyde, is the name given to a range of hills and can be translated from the Gaelic as "crooked fairy hill". Cam - crooked and sith - fairy hill.

My thanks to Adrian Room's "Guide to British Place Names" and Dewi Davis' splendid Welsh Place-names of Breconshire and their meanings, which have been rubbing shoulders on my bookshelf along with others of that ilk.

The photograph heading the page was from the walk to Llyn-y-Fan-Fach my husband and I took last Sunday afternoon. The river is a little quieter in the summer (unless it has been very wet) and the banks are a mass of wild Foxgloves.


Kim said...

That's very interesting, BB, thanks :) When we were househunting in Wales, we loved finding out what the house names meant.


Mrs.T said...

That is so interesting about the place names and what they actually mean. I always wonder about the names of places and why they were named as they were.

The photo is absolutely gorgeous. What a place to visit on a Sunday afternoon walk! You and your husband are blessed to have such beauty so near you.

MammyT said...

Hi Jennie. Fun with words! I wish the spellings were not so un-pronouncable. I really love spoken language even if the speaking is only in my head. I tried to get used to the Gaelic when reading Gabaldon, but it never became really clear. Thanks for the post.
In a book I've been reading, it talks about serious paramilitary-type training that went on in Brecon - survival and all that. I really need to look at that on a map. Don't know just what Brecon/Brecon Beacons is about in terms of size and geographical features.

Bovey Belle said...

Kim - house names can be fascinating round here. There's a place called Penrhiwmelyn which is something like top of the yellow slope. Which it is. Sadly ruinous now.

Mrs T - we are very, very fortunate to live in an area of such outstanding natural beauty. We never take it for granted.

Nancy - the photo taken on Sunday was inside the Brecon Beacons National Park. This area stretches from just behind Llandeilo in the West to around Abergavenny in the East. To the South it edges the Welsh Valleys - above Ebbw Vale and Merthyr Tydfil - and to the North extends in the direction of Builth Wells, but I don't know the full extent. I'll have to check my Brecon Beacons map. There is army training in the area (army camp at Sennybridge) and the mountain of Pen-y-Fan is used to get soldiers fit.