Ouse

On April 12, 2015 · 2 Comments

I came across the oddly named River Great Ouse as I researched Pathway to Bedford. The river ran through Bedford, the County Town of Bedfordshire.


The Great Ouse at St Ives
The Great Ouse at St Ives by sean_hickin, on Flickr (cc)

I was amused even further when I discovered that it was pronounced somewhat akin to "Ooze." A body of water likened to a great ooze seemed awful, as if it flowed with black tar or sewage. That wasn’t the case of course. In fact, photographic evidence made it appear quite lovely.

The Great Ouse became great because there were actually several rivers Ouse located throughout England and this one happened to be the largest and longest. In fact this one was the fourth longest river in the United Kingdom extending 143 miles (230 kilometres) from Syresham to the Wash on the North Sea in East Anglia (map).

One of its more interesting features might have been the Cardington Slalom Course in Bedford, the first artificial kayaking facility constructed in the United Kingdom.

Opened in September 1982, Cardington is a 120m long S-shaped trapezoid concrete channel with movable boulders fixed to the base which can be moved to make different river patterns. The maximum drop is 1.7 meters, but it’s enough for a good white water training facility and you can warm up on the main river. It offers safe moving water for paddlers at any level, and is suitable for up to Division 2 Slaloms, and also for recreation groups to hire.

What about some of those other Rivers Ouse?


River Little Ouse


Little Ouse River, Thetford
Little Ouse River, Thetford by Alan Winter, on Flickr (cc)

One might consider that River Little Ouse would be an ideal name for a tributary of River Great Ouse, and that was indeed the case. Little Ouse flowed into Great Ouse near Littleport in Cambridgeshire after passing Thetford (map). Indeed it was little, a mere 37 miles (60 km). However it also hid a greater significance, the dividing line between Norfolk and Suffolk for a considerable distance. Portions of it were also navigable by canal boats.

The other Rivers Ouse were not part of the Great and Little Ouse watersheds.


River Ouse, Yorkshire


River Ouse at York
River Ouse at York by Tim Green, on Flickr (cc)

The River Ouse in Yorkshire (map) might not have been designated as Great, however it flowed through the rather significant city of York. As the city explained, "The city of York owes its existence to the Rivers Ouse and Foss. These natural barriers made it an ideal defensive site which was settled by the Romans in AD71."

A couple of towns incorporated the river’s name, Newton-on-Ouse and Linton-on-Ouse. A Royal Air Force base located nearby adopted the name by extension, RAF Linton-on-Ouse: "RAF Linton-on-Ouse is one of the busiest airfields in the country. Tasked with the training future fast jet pilots for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, the Station operates the Tucano T1."


River Ouse, Sussex


The River Ouse at Lewes, East Sussex
The River Ouse at Lewes, East Sussex by Henry Hemming, on Flickr (cc)

Another River Ouse existed in Sussex (map). It was notable for a more painful reason.

The English author Virginia Woolf suffered from depression for much of her life. A number of tragic events befell her during the early years of the Second World War including the destruction of her London home during the The Blitz.

These seemingly insurmountable facts motivated Woolf’s decision to, on March 28, 1941, pull on her overcoat, walk out into the River Ouse and fill her pockets with stones. As she waded into the water, the stream took her with it. The authorities found her some three weeks later.


Why were there so many rivers named Ouse? The Free Dictionary offered an explanation.

Ouse is a perfectly appropriate name for a river, but one whose etymological meaning is likely to raise a smile. The name of these two rivers is derived from the Celtic languages that were spoken in England before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles. Their Celtic name, Ūsa, is derived from *udso-, “water,” which is in turn derived from the Indo-European root *wed-, “wet, water.” The same root *wed- gives us the English words water and wet as well. Thus the Ouse River etymologically is the “Water River” or the “Wet River.” Of course, the speakers of early forms of the English language who borrowed the name from the Celts did not know the meaning of the word—as is rather frequently the case when foreign topographical terms are borrowed.

So in a since they were all really the River River.

Highpoint to Lowpoint

On March 22, 2015 · 7 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle received an intriguing question from reader "Cary" a few days ago. Cary, a professional mapmaker, noticed something interesting while conducting research: the amazing proximity of Minnesota’s highest point of elevation to its lowest. This led to a natural question. Was this the shortest distance between a state highpoint and a lowpoint? I’d touched on something within a similar vein way back in 2008 in "Highest and Lowest, Oh So Close" However, I’d discussed only the curious case of California with its astounding elevation difference between Mount Whitney at 14,494 feet (4,418 meters) and Death Valley at -282 ft (-86 m). The two points were separated by only 88 miles (142 kilometers).

That earlier article didn’t answer anything to determine if those 88 miles represented the absolute shortest distance between highpoints and lowpoints; it simply noted that the distance was very small. Fortunately numerous sources existed on the Intertubes so I could steal — with proper attribution of course — wonderful items such as this map that had already been prepared to assist with such a quest.


Map of USA elevations
State Highpoints and Lowpoints
Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License

My quick eyeball assessment created a few observations. The California distance was indeed very short. It wasn’t the shortest. Minnesota was shorter and a couple of east coast states might be viable too. There was also one other curious fact. With the exception of California and Louisiana with lowpoints below sea level, the lowest elevation in each state appeared to fall somewhere along its border where it abutted another state or a large body of water. I supposed that reflected water always seeking the lowest level as it flowed downhill.


Minnesota


Port of Duluth
Port of Duluth, Minnesota along the state’s lowpoint. My own photo.

The Minnesota highpoint mentioned by Cary was Eagle Mountain (map) at 2,301 ft (701 m). The elevation certainly didn’t rival California’s Mt. Whitney, however the summit was only about 12.8 miles (20.6 km) from the state’s lowpoint on the shores of Lake Superior. The lake had a consistent elevation so it was only a matter of finding the closest line between mountain and shoreline.

I noticed that Michigan’s highpoint on its Upper Peninsula also fell remarkably close to Lake Superior. I felt a momentary sense of elation until I realized that Michigan touched several of the Great Lakes including Lake Erie way down at the southeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula. Lake Erie, being considerably downstream from Lake Superior, obviously had a lower elevation and thus the Michigan highpoint and lowpoint were separated by hundreds of miles.


Rhode Island


Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge
Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge by Timothy Valentine, on Flickr (cc)
Located along Rhode Island’s lowpoint

When checking for diminutives one should always examine the smallest of U.S. states, Rhode Island. Right? Little Rhody failed to reign supreme this time around. It’s highpoint was Jerimoth Hill (map). However that was located on the far western edge of the state almost all the way to Connecticut. That put it some distance from the nearest stretch of sea level elevation, which even in this very tiny state measured 19.2 miles (30.9 km) by my rough estimation.


Delaware


Rehoboth Beach in the Winter
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in the Winter
along the state’s lowpoint. My own photo.

Then came the geo-oddity magnet that was Delaware. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I believe Delaware holds more geographic anomalies per square mile than any other place. The streak continues!

Delaware’s highpoint occurred at Ebright Azimuth (12MC’s visit). Its lowpoint was at sea level which I’ve experienced many times along its wonderful Atlantic Ocean beaches. However the highpoint (map) was certainly too far away from the Atlantic coast to make it a top contender. The Delaware River, conversely, flowed quite close to the azimuth. Could the Delaware River along that stretch have an elevation of zero? I figured it might be possible. I knew that the Potomac River at Washington, DC, in an area of similar terrain was only about six inches above sea level considerably farther inland.

I thought 12MC might have to call out to hydrologists in the audience to see if we could calculate the elevation of the Delaware River at the point closest to Ebright Azimuth. Then it dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything like that. I simply needed to learn if the Pennsylvania lowpoint located farther upstream had an elevation at sea level or not. Many sources listed that statistic so it should be easy. Bingo! Pennsylvania’s lowpoint was at sea level on the Delaware River at the Delaware border. Therefore the Delaware River flowing through Delaware, being downstream from Pennsylvania, had to have a sea level elevation by definition. That qualified it as part of the state’s lowpoint.

A rough measurement generated a Delaware highpoint-to-lowpoint distance of approximately 4.3 miles (6.9 km).

Thank you Cary for the suggestion.

Shortest Town + State Combo

On March 11, 2015 · 3 Comments

I wondered what town and state had the fewest letters in its collective name. For example, my hometown of Arlington, Virginia had 17 letters. That wasn’t very short. Why would anyone care? I don’t know. Maybe someone had a job where they had to write down their town and state repeatedly to the point where they’d want to move to a place to minimize their task. Maybe it was a Bart Simpson chalkboard thing.

But oh wise 12MC — I’m sure the audience interjects even as we speak — it wouldn’t matter whether people lived in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations or any other state for that matter, they would still shorten it to a two-letter postal abbreviation. Simply pick the shortest town name and be done with it. Forget about the state. That wouldn’t be a challenge and we don’t take the easy path on the circle. We need to do this the hard way.

States with four-letter names seemed to be the optimal starting point: Utah, Iowa and Ohio.


Utah


Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum. My Own Photo

There were a couple of towns in Utah with three letters. One was Roy; so Roy + Utah had 7 letters. That was pretty good. The Utah History Encyclopedia explained Roy’s short name.

Twenty-one years after Roy’s first settlement, the town’s few residents met to start the wheels of progress turning by obtaining a post office. The first requirement was the selection of a permanent name for the town. Roy had been called Central City, Sandridge, the Basin, and Lakeview. One member of the group, Reverend David Peebles, a schoolteacher, recently had lost a child to death, a young boy named Roy. Peebles exerted pressure to have the town named after his son, and the local citizens were sympathetic to his plea.

Roy may have started small although it now has nearly 40,000 residents (map). It abutted Hill Air Force Base on its southeaster corner right next to the Hill Aerospace Museum which I visited previously. That signified two dimensions for me personally, (1) I’ve been to Roy although I didn’t realize it at the time because one must pass through Roy to get to the museum, and (2) I can illustrate this entry with one of my own photographs instead of borrowing one from some unsuspecting Flickr user. Roy might be in the background of that photo somewhere. Actually I think Roy might be in the opposite direction, behind me.

The other 7-letter combo was Loa, Utah (map). This town appeared previously as one of my bloggy finds. It demonstrated that I should never recommend other websites because it automatically curses them into never publishing again.

The Utah History Encyclopedia also mentioned Loa. The name "… was suggested by Franklin W. Young, who had once resided in the Hawaiian Islands and had been impressed with Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s second highest mountain."


Iowa


N. Side Dows St. W. Ely Iowa
N. Side Dows St. W. Ely Iowa by Waterloo Public Library, on Flickr (cc)

There were many different 7-letter combos in Iowa. Ira, Iva and Ute were amongst them. I focused on Ely, Iowa (map). It had the largest population of the grouping so it seemed to deserve more attention. The The History of Linn County, Iowa (1878) had a simple explanation for the short name. "Ely was laid out June 5, 1872 by T.M. Johnson, Surveyor, on parts of Sections 30 and 31, Township 82, north Range 6, under the proprietorship of John F. Ely."

Too bad Ely wasn’t founded by Chuck D because then it would have scored even better. The awesome 5-letter combination of D, Iowa would have been unstoppable. Imagine how Iowa might may evolved if that had happened. We may never be able to work out the time/space issues necessary to transport Chuck D back to the 1870’s so he could start a town although that would be amazing.

Those vintage buildings shown in the photograph still exist by the way (Street View)


Ohio

Ohio had its share of short-name towns including Aid, Fly and Ray. I was prepared to talk about Ray because it was significant enough to have its own post office (45672). That wasn’t necessary because I found something even better.



Yes, we had a winner: the six-letter combo of Ai, Ohio (map)! Some websites claimed that Ai was a ghost town. Clearly, people still lived there so how could that be true? About the name,

The origin of its name has been a local controversy: some say that it was named after the biblical city of Ai, while others believe that it was named after one of its founders, Ami Richards. Ami was a man, so others dropped the ‘M’ from his name to make the town’s name more masculine.

I had a hard time believing explanations based upon a destroyed city or androgyny. I had my own theory after watching the video. The general store featured the village’s name printed on its side in capital letters, AI. That looked a lot like A1, aka superior. That would be a great town name. Did that expression even exist when the town was founded circa 1843? Etymology Online examined A1: "… in figurative sense of "first-rate," 1837, in Dickens; from Lloyd’s of London designation for ships in first-class condition (with the letter referring to the condition of the ship and the number to that of the stores)."

I guess it might be possible. Probably not. I still like it better.

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