Most readers probably anticipated that after slogging through Manly Places, Even More Manly Places, and Ladylike Places, that the next in this series would be Even More Ladylike Places. That seemed absolutely necessary in my mind so I could create symmetry and closure. However I’d written a variation on this theme already with the recently-published Ladysmith. I tried to keep things on the more obscure side this time around, sidestepping better known ladies by design.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef offered a case in point. I noticed a couple of different islands that fit this topic. Lady Musgrave Island (map) took its name from the wife of a colonial administrator, Sir Anthony Musgrave. He served as governor of South Australia 1873–1877 and then of Queensland 1883–1888. From those dates, Lady Musgrave must have been his second wife, Jeanie Lucinda Field. I don’t know how she ended-up in Australia. She was born in New York City.
Another spot along the reef became Lady Elliot Island (map). This one featured a roundabout derivation. Lady Elliot definitely existed although I don’t think she ever set foot in Australia. She married Sir Hugh Elliot, governor of Madras, 1814–1820, then a crown colony on the Indian subcontinent. I’m going to go out on a limb and say she was probably Margaret Jones, his second wife, because his first marriage ended in divorce long before his diplomatic career took off.
However, the name of Lady Elliot Island didn’t come from Lady Elliot directly. It came from the name of a ship. Captain Thomas Stuart, commanding a ship registered in India and named for the lady in question, first spotted the island in 1816. Later, on the return voyage, the ship struck a reef farther up the coast. It sank and everyone died. That dangerous feature also got its name at that time, Lady Elliot Reef (map).
Namibia’s highest point of elevation occurred at the Königstein (King’s Stone) on Brandberg Mountain. The mountain hid a secret, the renowned White Lady. Indigenous people, probably bushmen and probably living two or more thousand years ago, drew representations of their world in thousands of images. Much of their artwork survived in remote, dry, desolate corners of the Namib Desert (map).
One image in particular caught the imagination of archaeologists and then tourists after its rediscovery in 1918. It showed what appeared to be a shaman in white, in an energetic ritual dance. Researchers noticed its similarity to depictions that came from Egypt and the Mediterranean during a similar time period, although that proved to be coincidental. Nonetheless the White Lady continued to captivate many who gazed upon it. Ironically, later interpretations seemed to demonstrate pretty conclusively that the lady was actually a man.
A little village in Ireland’s County Wexford got its name, Our Lady’s Island, hundreds of years ago in reverence to the Virgin Mary. As the village explained,
Tradition has always existed that Our Lady’s Island was founded by St Abban, nephew of St Ibar, in the sixth century and its reputation as a place of pilgrimage and of devotion to Our Lady was established by or before the year 600 A.D.
However, I decided to focus on the lake (map) where the little village — now connected to the mainland — grew and prospered. Perhaps not too creatively, it came to be known as Lady’s Island Lake. The lake more properly qualified as a "back-barrier seepage lagoon." Various sources on the Intertubes claimed only one other lake in Ireland fit that same definition. I couldn’t prove it so I’ll just leave it at that.
The lake doesn’t have a natural outlet although water seeps into it from the ocean, creating brackish conditions. It offered a great environment for birds such as Sandwich Terns and Roseate Terns. Occasionally the barrier between sea and lake must be breached.
Breaching of the barrier, which has been carried out since at least the 17th century, is needed to relieve flooding of farmland and also the pilgrimage route around Lady’s Island. The cut is made in Spring when water levels are highest and the water level then falls until the lake becomes tidal for variable lengths of time. The practice has become contentious, however, because water levels sometimes fall too low, allowing predators to cross over the exposed bed of the lake to the important tern nesting sites.
I’m surprised they hadn’t figured out a way to accommodate both the birds and the pilgrims.
I could look for ladies in other languages, too! Dames seemed reasonable. I probably could have written an entire article on the hundreds of places and features named Notre Dame ("Our Lady," for the Virgin Mary). It might have featured the university in Indiana, the cathedral in Paris or the island in Montréal.
Instead I focused on Dame Marie (map) in Haiti. Twelve Mile Circle included very little Haitian coverage so this offered a rare opportunity for me to add a pushpin to my Complete Index Map. Otherwise I found very little information about Dame Marie. It fell pretty much at the end of the road, about as far west on Haiti as one could travel. Unfortunately Hurricane Matthew damaged it rather extensively in October 2016. Hopefully Dame Marie will recover.
I’ve begun to plan a long-distance road trip for April that I’m not quite ready to reveal to the Twelve Mile Circle audience. However, offering just a hint, I noticed an oddly named town in Indiana called French Lick. It fell remarkably close to Santa Claus, the subject of one of the earliest articles on this site. I figured the fine people of Indiana must have a sense of humor.
The named sounded familiar for some reason. Once I looked it up I knew immediately why I’d heard it before. Basketball legend Larry Bird grew up in French Lick. They even named a street after him there. Nonetheless, this being 12MC, the more fascinating tangent seemed to be the name of the town itself.
I figured the Lick part probably came from a nearby salt lick somewhere. Indeed, that seemed to be the case as I researched it further. Bison herds roamed this area in the days before people of European descent started pushing over the Appalachian Mountains and paddling through the Mississippi watershed. Bison and other animals gathered at these natural licks to literally lick the ground for essential mineral nutrients. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to decimate local bison populations: "The last historical account of killing a buffalo east of the Mississippi occurred in 1830 at French Lick, Indiana."
The French part seemed more problematic. No definite French population settled at French Lick although the general vicinity fell within French control for awhile. Later American settlers just thought it sounded plausible that the French must have lived at that particular spot. An entrepreneur applied French Lick to a resort he opened at the lick — mineral spas being quite popular at the time — and the name stuck. The spa continues to exist today (map).
There seemed to be a definite time and place for the word Lick to be appended to towns. The names were applied during a period when people still remembered that Bison once roamed east of the Mississippi River. That seemed to coincide with the early to middle Nineteenth Century. Licks clustered in places such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and especially Kentucky. I found a bunch of Kentucky place names in the Geographic Names Information System. There, all sorts of specific Licks existed: Bank; Bee; Blue; Deer; Flat; Grants; Grassy; Knob; Lees; Log; Mays; Mud; North; Paint; Rock; Salt; Slate; Sulfur; Wolf. I never did learn why they seemed to concentrate so predominantly in Kentucky.
The biggest of those Kentucky places appeared to be the town of Salt Lick (map). Pioneers were drawn there originally by abundant game that gathered at the local licks. One early account claimed that hunters once spotted 500 bison there. The animals left long ago although their legacy survived in the name of a town where several hundred people still lived.
Appending the word Lick to various place names seemed pretty unique to this region, too. I found only minor geographic references anywhere else in the world, and certainly none included town names.
Every once in awhile 12MC resorts to Beavis and Butt-Head behavior. Please forgive me. It might be best to jump entirely to the next topic. Nonetheless, I felt that I should note the existence of Big Bone Lick, a State Historic Site in Kentucky (map). It’s on Beaver Road. Seriously.
Actually it sounded like a really fascinating place, and something right in my area of interest. It’s called the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology." An ancient mineral lick drew megafauna including mammoths. However, the lick occupied a rather marshy area and large animals sometimes got stuck. They died there and their bones remained in the muck waiting to be discovered several thousand years later. Settlers came to the area and saw those big bones so they named their nearby town Big Bone. It seemed logical enough. The unfortunate situation met by those ancient animals reminded me of the Mammoth Site in South Dakota that I visited a couple of years ago. I’ll need to keep Big Bone on my list of places to see someday.
A mountain in Georgia’s Appalachian region bore the name Young Lick, reaching an elevation of 3,780 feet (1152 metres) (map). Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail could reach its summit –the knob — with just a minor detour. SummitPost described it as "a mellow hump along the ridgeline forming the Tennessee Valley Divide."
That’s not what made it special, though. It marked the tripoint for Habersham, Rabun and Towns counties. It also marked a triple divide for Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. Water flowed to the Atlantic via the Savannah River. In another direction it flowed directly towards the the Gulf of Mexico. A final option also flowed to the Gulf, taking a circuitous route through the Mississippi River watershed instead.
If that wasn’t motivation enough, it’s located near Hellhole Mountain.
A long time ago Twelve Mile Circle featured the Highpoints of the Crown Dependencies, specifically Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. At the time I figured I’d quickly move to the island of Great Britain itself and the highest points of elevation of its three countries, England, Scotland and Wales. Several years passed and I decided to clean out some of the clutter on my potential topics list. Better late than never, I supposed. Plus I figured I’d give a little attention to the UK audience. I’ve focused too much on North America lately.
Ben Nevis sounded like some guy’s name. However I figured that couldn’t be the case, that it probably derived from Scottish Gaelic for something completely different. Ben-Nevis.com offered an explanation. It came from Beinn Nibheis. Beinn meant mountain or pinnacle, logically enough. Nibheis, well, that could mean one of several things. Maybe it meant "malicious," perhaps "in the clouds." Whatever the case, no mountain in the British Isles overshadowed Scotland’s Ben Nevis (map) at 1,344 metres (4,409 feet).
The Ben — its affectionate nickname — attracted about 125,000 full ascents and 100,000 partial ascents each year. If I quickly did the math in my head, and considered most people hiked to the top during warmer months, then there could be hundreds of people on the summit on a nice day. People might be tripping over each other.
I drove through the Scottish Highlands a number of years ago on my way to Fort William and passed right by Ben Nevis. I didn’t climb it though. If I had I would have seen the ruins of an old observatory that operated on top at the turn of the last century. That reminded me of Mount Washington the highpoint of the US state of New Hampshire. I did reach that summit although I drove up. The 12MC audience knows I’m a lazy, often reluctant highpointer.
I loved Wales because Welsh words looked so strange to my untrained eye. The English language version of its highest point of elevation went by Snowdon (map). In Welsh it became Yr Wyddfa. I couldn’t even begin to consider how to pronounce it. Snowdon derived from Old English, just a version of Snow Hill. The Welsh version offered a much more interesting situation.
The current Welsh name for Snowdon is Yr Wyddfa (the tomb). In the past, it was also known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr (the great tomb) and Carnedd y Cawr (the cairn of the giant). The tomb and cairn in question are said to mark the grave of the fierce giant Rhita Gawr (or Fawr), who made himself a cloak from the beards of the kings he had killed.
That must have been quite the ancient character on its summit, 1,085 m (3,560 ft) above sea level, with a homemade king-beard cloak.
On the other hand, I’d never been anywhere near Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain (map). The Scafell part probably came from Old Norse, perhaps meaning the maintain (fell) with the bald summit. The word Pike came from Northern English as used in the Lake District, simply meaning Peak. I guess by that logic, Pike’s Peak in Colorado USA would be redundant, except that it took the name of an early explorer, Zebulon Pike. Regardless of that completely arbitrary non sequitur, Scafell Pike reached 978 m (3,209 ft.)
Lots of people liked to hike Scafell Pike too, particularly because of its easy accessibility and abundant rewards.
Not only is the Scafell Pike walk modestly challenging, it has invariably been described as exhilarating, beautiful and breathtaking. The view from the top, has inspired writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Baines and Wainwright as, on a clear day, you can see Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
The name itself derived from an error. Nearby the mountain Scafell or Sca Fell — without the word Pike attached to it — was once thought to be the tallest mountain in the range. Scafell Pike got its name because the appendage Pike implied a lesser status (i.e., just one subsidiary peak of greater Scafell). Later surveys demonstrated that Scafell Pike actually rose a couple of metres higher than Scafell.
None of the three seemed particularly daunting from a mountaineering perspective. They might dissuade the unmotivated such as myself, although I bet lots of 12MC readers could conquer any of these slopes. In fact, many people do undertake those efforts and want to make the task even more difficult. Increasingly lots of them wanted to scale each of the summits in a single 24-hour period, an event called the National Three Peaks Challenge. That seemed rather more difficult although not impossible. It involved about 42 kilometres (26 miles) on foot with an elevation gain of 3,000 m (9,800 ft).
Another group offered an even more interesting proposition, the Three Peaks Yacht Race. Participants do not use motorized vehicles. They sail from one mountain to another. However, those mountains don’t abut the sea exactly so participants have to run from dockside to summit trails. At Scafell Pike they can use bicycles because they need to cover a longer distance.
Teams of four or five per yacht sail from Barmouth to Fort William, with two of the crew climbing the highest mountains of Wales, England and Scotland en route, running the equivalent of three marathons in 3 or 4 days.
The team Pure Attitude won in 2016 with a time of four days and a few minutes.
I’ve become increasingly enamored of the Wendover Productions site on YouTube. Their latest is "Every State in the US."
It cites lots of geo-oddities, many of which have also been featured in Twelve Mile Circle in the past. The big difference here is that Wendover Productions comes at if from a much more professional angle. If you haven’t seen any of their videos you should check them out. You’ll enjoy them.