Cats, bells and old oak trees

I honestly don’t think anyone knows who’s going to read their blog until they get writing it. This one is mostly read by folks with a storytelling bent, whether it’s a local with a romantic soul, a teacher or volunteer guide looking for history’s interesting bits, a journalist, a whole load of spammers telling tales about loans and boots and yachts, a writer of novels, a politician, an historian, a neighbour, or a lover of the discipline of local history, wherever it is found.

Woods, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

Woods, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

If you love stories, I can’t recommend a better source of inspiration than a map and a copy of Diana Whaley’s Dictionary of Lake District Place-Names (which actually includes much more of Cumbria, not just the Lake District) or Ekwall’s Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. There are other books on place names, but a lot of them aren’t very well researched, so do yourself a favour and invest in a good one.

So: see that picture? This is Cockshot Woods at Keswick, but there are several others in the county with the same name.

‘Cocke shott, the Cockshott 1677, 1746… Cockshot Point 1851… a glade or path in woodland “through which woodcocks, etc, might dart or ‘shoot’ so as to be caught by nets stretched across the opening” ‘ (Whalley)

And this very famous view, of Cat Bells (or Catbells, depending on your map). That’s the mountain, for people not familiar with it!

Catbells over Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

Catbells over Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

‘Catbel(close) 1454… Catbels 1794… “the bell-shaped hill frequented by wild cats”… the two summits could explain the plural name.’ (Whaley)

And now, let’s shoot back in time to something rather less ‘oh, of course!’. This is Derwentwater, a lake fed by the River Derwent; there are a number of rivers Derwent around the country, all with the same derivation.

‘(River:) Derventione (applied to Roman for at Papcastle, on the Derwent), Deruventionis fluvii, 8th century… possibly Derwennydd, late 6th-early 7th century… Derwentfelles 1256… Darwen Isle 1695… Derewentewatre, Derwentwater early 13th century. “(River) with oak trees” traditionally explained from British *derwa “oak” plus suffixes… the names may be still more ancient, ascribably to an “Old European” stratum’ (Whaley)

View from Friar's Crag, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

View from Friar’s Crag, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

‘Derwent R, Cumberland [Deruuentionis fluui c 730 Bede, Deowentan stream c 890 OEBede, Derwent] … A British river-name Derventio… derived from the British *derva “oak”, Welsh derw &c. The name means “river where oaks were common”…. From Derwent Cumberland are names Derwent Fells [Derewentfells 1292] and Derwentwater [Derewentewater 1210, Derewentewater 1243].’ (Ekwall)

There are lots of beautiful, old oaks around Derwentwater still, many of much must be several hundred years old. Descendants of the oaks of Derventio, I hope.

Oak, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

Oak, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

 

Copyright D McIlmoyle 14.04.2014

 

 

Our history gets a look-in on BBC Radio Cumbria

Yesterday, Dr Tim Clarkson, who has been kind enough to dig me out of many a comprehension hole without making me feel stupid, got a slot on the Mike Zeller show on BBC Radio Cumbria.

Tim Clarkson is an expert – possibly the expert – on the kingdom of Strathclyde, that is to say, the Brythonic (early Welsh)-speaking, ‘dark age’ kingdom that stretched from Glasgow to northern Cumbria, including the sub-kingdom of Rheged, between roughly the 5th and 10th centuries.

You can hear Tim’s bit on the radio show for another 6 days on the BBC i-player on the internet. (Slide the slidey thing along to 48mins 10 seconds to reach this bit).

He talks about:

The meaning of the word, Cumbria and its predecessor, Cumberland, and its ancient links to Wales (home of the ‘cymry’).

The language of Cumbria up until the Norman invasion, which was Cumbric, a dialect of Brythonic, itself a version of early Welsh.

Rheged – here is a guest blog piece on early medieval Cumbria  (he’s not that keen on the locating of Rheged in Cumbria, or at least, not all of it) that Tim Clarkson was kind enough to let me filch from him for this blog.

Urien – the 6th century Cumbria ‘hero’ who led an alliance of northern, Brythonic-speaking kingdoms against the invading Angles, but lost in the end when he was betrayed by an ally.

The Battle of Arthuret – which is the story of Gwenddoleu, and his bard, Lailoken.

Merlin – or, at least, one of the historical bards known as Merlin – who was, in fact, Lailoken.

You can buy Tims’ books here. Support our supporters!

01.04.2014

The Vikings are here…

Silver thistle brooch from Flusco Pike, Penrith. British Museum.

Silver thistle brooch from Penrith. COPYRIGHT British Museum.

Just a quick post today, mostly because I’m a bit freaked out by the slew of material on the ‘net yesterday and today claiming that this-that-or-the-other group is x% Viking, or that Penrith is 5% Viking (if you’re a man), or Yorkshire something more. The fact is that if you ask a scientific expert  – for which I recommend Sense About Science for a quickie – they say that it’s not that straightforward. The DNA testing companies that offer you and me the chance to decide we’re Celtic or Viking or Egyptian or whatever are being massively simplistic. We’re all probably related to the Vikings somewhere along the line, never mind the million that the headlines were talking yesterday.

Having depressed you all nicely, I remind you of these rather wonderful, actual Viking things that were found in a field, traditionally known as Silver Field (hah!), near Newbiggin, Penrith. One brooch was Continue reading

Happy Valentine’s Day

Did you get a gift for Valentine’s Day? I got two 70-year-old folklore books, a box of Fondant Fancies and a card. So, the first thing I did (well, maybe the second) was look up Valentine’s Day in my new book.

Advert for Prang's Valentine's Cards, late 19thc

Advert for Prang’s Valentine’s Cards, late 19thc

I was aware that our grandparents’/great-grandparents’ generation – in the extreme north, anyway – set little store by Valentine’s and regarded it as a bit common and certainly inconsequential. I’d no idea why, as my Jackie magazine insisted that we Continue reading

How the Mighty Fall

Iron Age Sword, Yorkshire Museum

Iron Age Sword, Yorkshire Museum

Since I last visited Tullie House in Carlisle to view the Crosby Garrett Helmet1, a curator’s comment has stuck in my head. There was a lot of controversy about the helmet, found by a metal detectorist in a field in the Eden Valley; some of it is worthy and true, and a lot of it is unmitigated codswallop and it’s the curator’s musings on the codswallop that caught me. He said he thought the root of some people’s determination to disbelieve that the helmet was found right here, as validated by a pukka archaeological dig and tentatively linked to a bona fide Roman fort at Carlisle, is that they just don’t believe that anything special – never mind exceptional – could be found right here in Cumbria.

In a similar vein, people have long imagined that Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Penrith Castle, Or, why it’s Not a Good Idea to have Royal Relatives

Penrith Castle, Cumbria

Penrith Castle, Cumbria

I would have been happy to tell you about Penrith Castle last year, if it wasn’t for the fact that there was a point when I was being hounded by various members of local press and radio anxious to establish that St. Andrew’s Church in Penrith should be putting in a bid to be the burial-place of the newly-disinterred Richard III. Now, I like to make my historical connections as much as the next gal, but I do not get into that kind of politicised argy-bargy.* However.

Penrith is an interesting castle. It’s not really on the Continue reading

Popular History Abhors a Vacuum, but Accurate Historians Can’t

Celtic head from Netherby, at Tullie House. Copyright D McIlmoyl

This is how I feel about this subject.

One of the things you have to deal with if you’re interested in early history, especially of a small part of Britain, is that Aristotle’s line about abhoring a vacuum applies. We find that in the absence of easily proven facts, stories flood in to fill said vacuum  – often in the Victorian period, but sometimes earlier  – and as a result an awful lot of people have had many years to write books, speculate on the internet and generally promulgate stuff which has remarkably little evidence to back it up.

There are some subjects where lack of hard facts remains so troublesome that Continue reading