Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The poetry of names

I think I discovered the beauty of language while listening to the radio as a child. In particular I remember the shipping forecast, although I didn't understand what it was about. That solemn, dignified voice:

"The general synopsis at 0100. Low Denmark Strait 974 expected 180 miles west of Iceland 980 by 0100 tomorrow. Ridge of high pressure lying southern Sweden to Shannon slow moving with little change."

Then the magical list of names:

Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties,

Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight

Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight

Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Fitzroy, Trafalgar

Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea

Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides

Bailey, Fair Isle, Faroes, South East Iceland

I used to recite them like my times tables and skipping rhymes. Now, I can conjure up a map to see their reality and that is not nearly so magical as listening to the names.

We have lots of lovely village names around here. Yesterday we had lunch at The Globe Inn in Sampford Peverell and I'm about to book our traditional post-Christmas rendezvous with friends at the Five Bells Inn in Clyst Hydon.

Some of the fascinating names I encountered when visiting village schools include Newton St Petrock, Buckland Filleigh, Peters Marland, Sheepwash, Sampford Courtenay, Nymet Rowland, Morchard Bishop, Wembworthy, East Worlington (I never found North, South or West!), Washford Pyne, Cheriton Fitzpaine, Newton St Cyres and Holcombe Burnell. Studying a road map of North Devon can be as inspiring as reading a book of poetry.

Tell me your collection of interesting place names and perhaps I can get our family poet to weave them into something special.


  1. Oh I used to love these too and agree they sounded magical as a child. mrs Bale in As Time Goes By is also an afficionado

  2. I'm not familiar with Mrs Bale, Elaine, I didn't watch that series. I shall have to tune in to the repeats on Sky.

  3. Goodness, what a coincidence; two weeks ago we had a recording of the BBC's Shipping Forecast as the starting point for one of our writing group sessions!

    On the subject of village names, Dorset offers very rich pickings. How about Toller Fratrum (and Toller Porcorum), Winterborne Tomson, Melcombe Horsey, Worth Matravers, Chaldon Herring, Melbury Bubb, Piddletrenthide, Ryme Intrinseca, Sixpenny Handley and Gussage St. Andrew for starters? Wonderful!

  4. I've given up being surprised at our coincidences, D!
    What a lovely collection of Dorset names - all new to me. If only I had more time, place name origins would be a fascinating study.


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