Place Names

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and Honeybee

Reading one of my Christmas pressies, the fascinating Dictionary of English Place-Names, it struck me how odd it is that we think of the “everyday” as being so unremarkable. We live in an area that’s been occupied for – well, at least 4,000 years – so it’s not surprising that we are surrounded by a rich and odd sounding collection of village names. We live in Lamyatt (pre Domesday Book, meaning “lamb’s gate”), next to Ditcheat (before 842, “gap in the dyke”, which was presumably on the Fosse Way running past the village) and Castle Cary (from the River Cary, pre Iron Age). We live on Creech (Celtic for “mound”) Hill, where there is an Iron Age fort that looks over to Chesterblade, derived from the Old English for “fort” as well. I’ve lived there for nearly 10 years and have an interest in archaelogy and local history, but hadn’t really thought much about the derivations of the words. I suppose it’s a fact of modern life that we’re not more aware of our surroundings.
I have the same problem getting people to think about buying native plants. Despite the fact that most of us couldn’t remember the last time we saw a wildflower meadow, because we treat these plants as commonplace we don’t bother thinking about them. Which is a pity really, because like the Cornflower I snapped in our cornfield annuals last year, many are no longer commonplace at all. At least our place names won’t go extinct – which thought gives me an excuse to play some Flanders and Swann…

Oh dear – I had hoped for a cheery missive to greet the New Year. Happy 2010!