Random Islands

On February 19, 2017 · 2 Comments

Something needed to be done about the clutter. My list of potential topics grew to unmanageable proportions once again so I decided to keep pruning. I discovered an island theme as I sorted through the pile so I lumped a few items together. Nothing much unified them except that they involved islands with unusual twists. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t really need any more than that to get things going.

Lord Howe Island Group

Lord Howe Lagoon
Lord Howe Lagoon. Photo by David Stanley on Flickr (cc)

My mental island journey began with the Lord Howe Island Group first (map). They sat within the Tasman Sea off of the eastern coast of Australia, unknown until spotted by Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 as he sailed towards Norfolk Island to establish a penal colony. He named the tallest of the islands, a jagged volcanic peak rising mightily into the sky, Ball’s Pyramid. He named one of the more dramatic peaks on the main island Mount Lidgbird. His legacy secured, he decided to suck-up to his superior by naming the main island after Lord Howe. Richard Howe, First Earl Howe, was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time.

Ball claimed the island group for Britain. Whalers began using it as a convenient place to replenish provisions. A permanent settlement followed soon thereafter. The group became part of Australia as that nation formed. It’s now an unincorporated area of New South Wales. Few people live there though — only 360 residents as of the 2011 Census — and the government limits tourism because of the fragile ecosystem of such a small place. Given that, a maximum of about 800 people occupy the space at any given time.

The Twist: Lord Howe Island made a credible claim to being located within the world’s least populated time zone. This island group uniquely occupied Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +10.5. Fewer than a thousand people ever set their watches to observe this time zone at any given moment. That contrasted with UTC +8 (the one with China) with a population of 1.7 billion.

Smith Islands

Lindeman Islands & Smith Islands NP
Lindeman Islands & Smith Islands NP. Photo by portengaround on Flickr (cc)

I remained in Australia momentarily, focusing on the coast of Queensland near Mackay. There I found the Smith Islands (map), the site of a national park of the same name. Those unspoiled islands offered very few amenities other than their natural beauty. People traveled there by boat, private or charter, for fishing, diving and wildlife excursions. They needed to be self-reliant during these excursions. Visitors might be completely isolated with little help available anywhere around them should any difficulties arise. Nonetheless, the park attracted a certain type of adventurer who relished unspoiled experiences and abundant solitude.

The Twist: While I never discovered who named the islands or how they chose the theme, they did follow a consistent pattern. Imagine every kind of smith — skilled metal workers — and it had its own island named for it. I saw Ladysmith, Blacksmith, Silversmith, Coppersmith, Goldsmith, Anchorsmith and Tinsmith. Some readers may remember the 12MC article I called Ladysmith, and yes that’s how I found this island group. I liked Blacksmith Island most of all, however. Nearby stood Hammer Island, Anvil Reef, Forge Reef and Pincer Island, enough tools to create an entire blacksmith shop. Other features figured into the general theme as well, including Ingot Island and Bullion Rocks.

Ada Kaleh

Ada-Kaleh on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

Ada Kaleh experienced a convoluted history. This small island sat in the Danube River between modern-day Romania and Serbia, just downstream from Orșova (map). It became a strategic point along the river, a place taken and retaken repeatedly by the Austrian and Ottoman empires starting in the 17th Century. The name of the island itself came from a Turkish word, Adakale, meaning Island Fortress.

The real weirdness started in 1878 when the Ottomans lost control of the surrounding area as a result of losing the Russo-Turkish War. Everyone just sort-of forgot about Ada Kaleh during the peace talks so it became a Turkish exclave. It transformed into something of a lawless territory, a haven for smuggling and other nefarious activities. The situation remained that way for about a half-century when another treaty corrected the error. However, even afterwards it retained its distinct Turkish attributes and culture even though if fell within the physical confines of Romania.

The Twist: Ada Kaleh no longer exists. The waters of the Danube rose considerably along this stretch of the river after construction of the Iron Gates Dam in 1972. Most of the island’s residents chose to relocate to Turkey rather than remain in Romania.

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs, London, United Kingdom
Isle of Dogs, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Alvin Leong on Flickr (cc)

In east London the River Thames took quite a curve, enclosing a small area on three sides (map). Technically this wasn’t an island at all so it probably shouldn’t even be on my list. I found it while Marking the Meridian. The Isle of Dogs wasn’t that distant from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and the meridian came oh-so-close to crossing through it. Despite its name, somehow it attracted commercial enterprises in the modern era particularly for banking and finance.

The Twist: Well, other than the fact that it wasn’t actually an island, nobody knew how it became the Isle of Dogs. East London History said,

The original name for the island was Stepney Marsh or Stebunheath. It is thought that the Isle of Dogs name originated in the 16th century. Nobody really knows where this name came from, but there are plenty of theories. Some say that the name was given to the area because of the number of dead dogs that washed up on its banks. Others think that the modern name is a variation of other names given to the area, such as the Isle of Dykes or the Isle of Ducks.

Dogs or Dykes or Ducks (or others). Take your pick.

Three Peaks

On February 5, 2017 · 2 Comments

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; Scotland’s Highpoint

View from Ben Nevis Peak (1)
View from Ben Nevis Peak. Photo by Simon Caulton on Flickr (cc)

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.

Snowdon; Wales’ Highpoint

Snowdon summit
Snowdon summit. Photo by Gerald Davison on Flickr (cc)

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.

Scafell Pike; England’s Highpoint

View from Scafell Pike Summit
View from Scafell Pike Summit. Photo by Philip Milne on Flickr (cc)

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.


Three Peaks Yacht Race Start
Three Peaks Yacht Race Start. Photo by Mark Hughes on Flickr (cc)

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.

Completely Unrelated

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.

On the Feast Day

On January 29, 2017 · 2 Comments

Recently I highlighted a couple of places named for holy figures because they were discovered on those particular saints’ feast days. Those included Saint Martin in Southernmost Bangladesh and various Christmas designations discovered on December 25. Many of the European nations with strong seafaring traditions participated. The Spanish, Portuguese, French and English all "discovered" distant lands and used saints as inspiration for place names. Only locations found and named on actual feast days interested me for this exercise. I wondered how many I could find. Well, I found a lot. I don’t pretend to include an exhaustive list although I think I recorded several of the most popular ones.

Here are a few presented in chronological order by feast day.

Saint Helena of Constantinople; May 21

St. Helena Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 5/7/09)
St. Helena Island. Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr (cc)

Saint Helena of Constantinople earned reverence primarily because she gave birth to Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire. She influenced the son who in turn allowed Christianity to flourish without persecution across a massive geographic area. That right there probably should have been enough. However, legends needed to be created and stories needed to be told to further accentuate her sainthood. As the tale went, she traveled to Jerusalem where she supposedly discovered the true cross. Actually the stories said she found all three crosses used in the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves executed with him. A miracle revealed Jesus’ specific cross, so they said.

A remote island in the South Atlantic, way out in the ocean all by itself between Brazil and Africa, took her name. This place was so far in the middle of nowhere that the British exiled Napoleon Bonaparte there in 1815 for the remainder of his life so he couldn’t cause any more trouble. Today St. Helena (map) forms part of a British Overseas Territory, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

Conventional wisdom noted for the longest time that João da Nova — sailing on behalf of the Portuguese — discovered and named St. Helena on her feast day, May 21, 1502. Recent research seemed to cast doubt on that claim, however. It may have been mathematically impossible. Still, many sources continued to make the argument so I kept it on the list.

Saint John the Baptist; June 24

St John's, Newfoundland
St John's, Newfoundland. Photo by Robert Ciavarro on Flickr (cc)

I felt I probably didn’t need to provide an in-depth introduction to John the Baptist. He baptized Jesus and served as an immediate forerunner and influence. Naturally several faiths including Christianity and Islam considered him a prophet. His feast day became June 24 based on passages from the Gospel of Luke (specifically Luke 1:36 and 1:561:57). This established John’s birthday as six months before Jesus, so a simple subtraction from Christmas led to the selection of June 24.

John Cabot, an Italian explorer sailing under the English flag, arrived at Newfoundland during his 1497 voyage. He sailed into a harbor on June 24 and named it for John the Baptist. The city of St. John’s later formed there (map). Twelve Mile Circle "explored" St. Johns back in 2010 in St. John’s at Long Last. Today the province of Newfoundland and Labrador celebrates Discovery Day on the Monday closest to June 24.

Portuguese explorers first recorded the St. John River in Liberia on June 24 sometime in the 15th Century. Also the Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón did the same thing at a river in South Carolina on June 24, 1520. He named the river Jordan to honor the spot where St. John baptized Jesus. Later, English settlers changed the name to the Santee River to recognize a local tribe of native inhabitants.

Saint Augustine of Hippo; August 28

St. Augustine
St. Augustine. My own photo.

Saint Augustine, one of the early Church Fathers greatly influenced Christianity through his theology and philosophy. The Hippo part came from an area he served as bishop, now in modern Algeria. He became the posthumous namesake and primary influence of the Augustinians, and his teachings greatly influenced Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church. St. Augustine died on August 28, 430, so August 28 became his annual feast day.

Spain grew concerned about French incursions on Florida and sent conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to the New World to protect its colonial claims. He spotted land on August 28, 1565, a date that coincided with St. Augustine’s feast day. In recognition, he named his settlement St. Augustine (map). I decided to feature this location because I went there a couple of years ago. Also the name of a local shop amused me: The Hyppo Gormet Ice Pops, in playful honor of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Saint Ursula; October 21

Virgin Islands 2009
Virgin Islands 2009. Photo by Mike Buedel on Flickr (cc)

Saint Ursula might have been my favorite. Well, maybe it could have been the 11,000 virgins. A couple of legends existed. In the more common one, the princess Ursula along with ten ladies in waiting — each attended by a thousand maidens — went on a pilgrimage to Rome sometime around the year 451. They arrived successfully and did whatever pious things 11,011 virtuous women would do when visiting the Pope. On the way back, however, vicious pagan Huns captured them near Cologne. Ursula refused to marry the Hun leader so he ordered all of them slaughtered. Scant evidence of such a massive carnage ever existed so modern church historians took it all with a grain of salt. October 21 became her feast day although the Roman Catholic Church removed the event from its General Roman Calendar in 1970.

Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage, encountered and named a Caribbean archipelago on October 21, 1493: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes. Later cartographers shortened it down to the Virgin Islands (map). Something similar happened on October 21, 1520. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered a straight at the tip of South America that he named for himself. The cape at the end of continental South America, however, became Cabo Virgenes (Cape Virgins).

There were plenty of other places discovered on feast days. Those involved more obscure places so I’ll stop writing now.

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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