A journey through place names

This month’s day trip was to the Yorkshire Coast!  We started off in Bridlington with a walk along the promenade and it’s wonderful fragments of writing etched into the stone slabs.  I had a very short walk on the sand which was so nice but very hard work so I quickly returned to the path and the wheelchair.

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This was followed by lunch in the car next to some bushes filled with chitter chattering little birds, sightings however remained elusive.

Then up the coast a bit to the fantastically accessible Bempton Cliffs where we think we saw Gannets and Guillemots as well as Corn Buntings, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches.  On the way back to York, we saw a bird of prey, a Kestrel I think, hovering by the side of the road and eyeing up a nice mid afternoon snack!

In terms of weather we had a really strange day!  As we headed to the coast we hit a long patch of dense mist and about a mile from the sea it started to rain but had stopped by the time we parked up.  It was breezy but stayed dry for us.  And then, just after lunch, the light changed and the sun turned into a pinkish reddish ball that looked so much more like the moon that the sun.  As we drove home, the light kept changing and felt so much more like a crisp winter’s day.  I think it was down to sand in the air and such but I’ve never seen it have such a dramatic impact on how the day feels.

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The sun

During the journey, we passed through a vast array of interesting place names which give hints about what the land used to look like, if you know how to interpret them.  Before we dive into some of the detail, I want to give the example of York to show how place names can be important to us.

  • In 71AD, Romans established the city as a fortress and called it Eboracum.  This may have been taken from a Celtic personal name Eburos which is related to an old Celtic word for yew-tree.
  • Romans left in the 5th century and by the 7th century, Anglo-Saxons moved in.  They changed the name to Eoforwic.  One suggestion is that they did this because it was related to their word eofor, wild boar.
  • When Vikings arrived in the 9th and 10th century, they adapted the name to become Euruic, Jorvik and/or Jork.  Over time this became York.

From the history of the name we can hypothesise that York was an area of yew trees which was rich in wild boar.  Neither of which are true today but potentially shed light on what the land looked like in the past.

Another example is Salton, which has nothing to do with salt.  Instead, the place name is derived from the old word for willows, sealh.  Despite the draining of the land and the disappearance of the willows, we get a glimpse into the landscape of the past, remembered in it’s name.

York to Bridlington, a selection of place names:

  • Gate Helmsley – Gate is from the Norse for road or street and Helmsley is Helm’s forest clearing.  It might also refer to a piece of dry land surrounded by marsh.
  • Kirkby Underdale – Kirk comes from the Norse word for church and dale comes from either Anglo-saxon word for valley or the Norse word for valley, they are very similar.  It could be an entirely Viking place name or it could have been altered by them.
  • Fridaythorpe – ‘Frigedaeg’s outlying farm/settlement’, with thorpe being a norse suffix.  This personal name may be based on Frigg or Freya, the name of the Old Norse god of fertility from whom we get the name of the day called Friday.
  • Wetwang – Probably, ‘field for the trial of a legal action’ although it’s controversial as at first glance it seems to suggest the wet field.  However the nature of the land doesn’t fit with this.
  • Garton on the wolds – ‘Farm/settlement on/near a triangular piece of ground’ in the ‘forest’.  A gore was a triangular plot of land, tun comes from a word denoting dwellings and wold comes from the anglosaxon for woodland
  • Nafferton – like with garton, ton means dwelling so we have ‘Nattfari’s farm/settlement’.
  • Bridlington – ‘Farm/settlement connected with Berhtel’.
  • Sewerby – recorded in domesday book as Siwardbi that is to say Siward’s farm.
  • Flamborough Head – Fleinn was possibly a personal name or could be from the noun for hook and burg tells us that it’s a fortifcation or there’s some sort of defensive work there.  Another suggestion is that Flam comes from a word for arrow.
  • Bempton – ‘Beam farm/settlement’ ,ie., made of beams or possibly, ‘tree farm/settlement’, indicating it was near a prominent tree.

One of the key things you can see by looking at Yorkshire place names is how much more woodland there used to be.

Serendipitously, this article popped up on twitter about disabled access to the countryside and using place names and maps to access nature differently. 

The most useful tool I found for looking into place names was from Nottingham Uni.

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Unlocking images hits the marketplace!

So the time has come to unveil the unlocking images shop…!  At the moment, I’m focusing on Christmas cards but in the new year I’ll be opening it up to include more general photographic and art cards as well as prints and other surprises!

In the run up to Christmas, 50% of the profit from any purchase will go to the Violet Chambers fund.  This amazing fund lets children and young people who are looked after in York apply for funding for a meaningful and memorable experience. Previous applications have included spa days, a trip to a show in London etc.

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Historic Objects of Conflict and Desire

Today I went on a one day course with the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the Yorkshire Museum.  It was a writing course but the title was Historic Objects of Conflict and Desire.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect at all but it was a really good day.

We were given a short tour of the museum which focused on particular objects and a bit about the history of them as well as the people associated with them.  For example, we looked at a tombstone which was commissioned by an ex soldier in memory of his wife and two children, a betrothal pendent made from Whitby jet, the York Helmet etc.

One of the exhibits we looked at was made up from things found in the Roman baths that were used by the legions (townspeople used a different set of baths).  There was pieces of jewellery, a jet ring, grooming instruments, buttons and beads.  There were also gemstones which fell out of rings because the steam, and contrasting high and low temperatures, caused the glue to fail.

Once we’d looked at the artifacts and handled some of them we started to write.  After a quick warm up we were asked to choose one of the objects that we’d seen that morning.  I went for the gem that had come loose from a ring in the baths.  The tutor then guided us through some questions to develop a piece of writing from the perspective of the object.  I found the questions really helpful and will try and use them again as a prompt:

  1. What are you?
  2. What are you feeling?
  3. Where would you rather be?
  4. What relationships do you have?
  5. What do you dream of doing?
  6. What worries you?
  7. What would you like others to think of you?
  8. What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
  9. What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?
  10. What makes you feel guilty?
  11. What is your favourite time of night or day?
  12. What is the point of your life?
  13. How would you like to be remembered?

A gemstone in the sewer

I am a beautiful gemstone.  I am feeling lost, cool, dirty.  I would rather be surrounded by silver, not filthy sewage.  I am surrounded by others, also parted from their owner.  We are all discarded.  I dream of sparkling in daylight, shining in the sun.  I worry that I shall be stuck here forever, never be found, never reunited with my soldier.  I hope he misses me. I want others to see me, admire my smooth edges, the hues within me.  The best thing I ever did was bring luck to my master in the fight of his life.  I saw him glance at me, fiddle with me and his face grew braver.  The worst thing I ever did was relax.  I didn’t hold on tight enough and now I’m being punished.  I feel guilty, without me, how will he survive the next battle.  Without me, he has no luck.  My favourite time of day was the golden hour before dusk.  I would shimmer and glow and I know that makes my master proud.  He flashed me around, showing off his status.  The point of my life is beauty and luck.  I hope he remembers he.  I hope he remembers me with regret, with grief.

We then carried on to other exercises which started to bring in conflict.  It turns out I avoid conflict in my writing as much as I avoid it in my life…!

 

Writing Recklessly

“The way to find your true self is by recklessness and freedom”

Brenda Ueland

I’ve attended a few of the York Festival of Idea events and will be trying to get together some poetry from each of them. The first, and easiest to post about, was Writing Recklessly:

The very idea of ‘craft’ seems to assume that all writing should be working towards order, or some form of writerly control over the creative forces within and around us. This big, messy workshop with lecturers in Creative Writing from York St John University will question that assumption, and flip the idea of bringing order to chaos on its head.

We’ll celebrate the disorder underlying even the best laid plans, using exercises and alternative practices to help bring the energy of an unpredictable world into your work.

Recklessness isn’t something that really comes naturally to me so this was always going to be a challenge.

The workshop was a nice mix of poems being read, ideas being talked about and writing exercises.  The first exercise was to write about an experience without imposing order or claiming to have come to understand something or learnt something through it.  I’ve left these pretty much as they came in an attempt not to impose any more order on them:

Caught up in a nebulous

Boundaryless, messy, big bang

Cloud of gas.

Chaotic flashes of rainbow

And star birth engulf.

I stand at the centre

With ruler and notebook

Calculating rapidly

Clutching at changes

Desperate to control

And order that which

Surrounds me.

 ~~~

She has sentenced me to time

In a bleak, black cell

Period unknown.

She oversees every move

Controls every thought

Restricts my life

Holds me in my prison.

In the dark, dank jail,

I see no light.

 The second part of the workshop was looking at describing a reckless action in a reckless way.  As I said above, I’m not an especially reckless person so have very few experiences of my own to draw on.  Perhaps you could share yours in the comments?

Part of writing recklessly is about not following the rules.  One of these rules being write what you know.  To help us with this, we read a few pieces written from the perspectives of animals before writing our own piece.  The examples we looked at were an extract from The Bees by Laline Paull, Honey Cycle by Les Murray and Hive by Carol Ann Duffy.  The animal I chose for my own writing was a dinosaur!  I’ve since fine tuned this to a diplodocus and am still working on it.  I have ideas but I’m struggling to turn them into words.  This seems to be a bit of a general theme for me at the moment.  I’m hoping as my health improves that my brain will return and I will be able to think intelligently and creatively again.

Finally  we looked at ectoplasm.  After a brief discussion we were shown a few photos of ectoplasm and asked to write our response.  I have never really considered ectoplasm and will possibly never do so again:

The figure is headless

Or the photograph is.

Who am I to presume

The body has a head?

Normal circumstances would

Let me take this liberty.

But rules of certainty

Have been broken.

The image displays

The impossible –

Evidencing ectoplasm.

My eyes see clearly

This falsehood.

To engage with one deception

Requires the possibility

That all other truths

Are lies.

The figure is headless.

I really like the idea of writing responses to photographs and art and it’s one I’d like to do again, although probably with less ectoplasm!