Lover’s Leap

On July 8, 2015 · 1 Comments

A photograph and a quote used on the recent Hot Springs article referenced Lover’s Leap in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Twelve Mile Circle has noticed numerous other Lovers’ Leaps over the years. I wondered, in all of those dozens of examples, had there ever been a verifiable case where an actual lover leapt? Or is it leaped? In every legend in every location it always seemed to trace to the tragic tangled consequences of star-crossed Native American couples, often the same couples in multiple places.

Mark Twain, in his memoir Life on the Mississippi (1883), wrote, "There are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped." I couldn’t have agreed more. That’s why I decided to ignore the United States where pre-Columbian inhabitants apparently rained down from the tops of every summit in more-or-less continuous fashion. I focused on other parts of the world instead.


Andalusia, Spain


Peña de los Enamorados
Peña de los Enamorados by El Primer Paso Blog, on Flickr (cc)

A large mountain jutting above the surrounding plains in Andalusia north of Málaga reached 880 metres (2,890 feet) above sea level (map). The locals called it Peña de los Enamorados, translating into English as something akin to "Lover’s Rock." One imagined it must have an associated legend to go with the romantic name. It had no relation to The Clash, much to my disappointment. However, I found the an explanation on Andalusia.com.

When Ibrahim was the ruler of the castle of Archidona, he had a beautiful Muslim daughter called Tagzona who was betrothed to the old chief of the Alhama fort. However Tagzona was actually in love with Hamlet (or Tello in other versions), a handsome young Christian man from the Abencerrajes family of nearby Antequera. Some versions relate that she had met him when visiting captured Christian soldiers in prison and she helped him escape from prison. They ran away together and were chased by Moorish soldiers to the top of the rock, where, rather than renounce their love or be captured, they chose to hurl themselves over the edge holding hands – together till the end.

If I were to substitute Muslim/Christian for the names of any two Native American tribes and adjusted the location to any elevated point in the U.S. it would be the exact same story. I wondered if I could find something just a little bit different.


Chepstow, Wales, UK


Wye Valley Walk: Panoramic view near Wynd Cliff and Lover's Leap
Wye Valley Walk: Panoramic view near Wynd Cliff and Lover's Leap by velodenz, on Flickr (cc)

I chose a lovely spot in the United Kingdom. I could have selected any of several candidates and ultimately decided to feature the Lover’s Leap in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The valley spread along the border between England and Wales aside the River Wye, with Lover’s Leap itself located atop a cliff on the Welsh side (map).

This was the creation of Valentine Morris, born and raised in the West Indies, who inherited property in Wye Valley in 1753. The estate was called Piercefield House.

At this time, tourism in the Wye Valley was in its infancy. Morris soon added to the magnificent splendour of the estate and its setting, by landscaping the parkland… Piercefield was developed into a park of national reputation, as one of the earliest examples of picturesque landscaping. Morris laid out walks through the woodland, and included a grotto, druid’s temple, bathing house and giant’s cave. He also developed viewpoints along the clifftop above the River Wye, and opened the park up to visitors.

The Piercefield Walk continues to be a popular attraction today. Lover’s Leap is one of several attractions including the ruins of Morris’ Piercefield House found along the route in the Walking Guide.

The railings here guard a sheer drop of 180 feet, ‘where the Wyndcliff is seen towering above the river in all its height and beauty, and below yawns a deep and wooded abyss.’ (Coxe, 1801) Valentine Morris, whilst surveying his walk, reputedly fell off here and was saved by the branches of a tree!

I inferred a couple of points about this Lover’s Leap along the River Wye. First, it was a fanciful name that sprang from the imagination of Valentine Morris. Second, his own stumble and near catastrophe may have inspired the name.


Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand



A large coastal hill named Sandymount sat just outside of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. It offered a number of scenic vistas and promontories including Lover’s Leap (map) and has become a nice place for walks. I saw vague references to a Maori legend — never did find the details — although I’m sure it resembled the Spanish and American versions of the same story. That didn’t interest me once I encountered a new reason that occurred more recently: When love goes thong! Unlucky seal almost strangled by G-STRING after it was left at amorous spot known as Lover’s Leap

The seal ended up lassoed around the neck by the raunchy red underwear in the seas just off a nature point dubbed ‘Lover’s Leap’ on New Zealand’s South Island. A worried on-looker spotted the distressed pup struggling with something around its neck so called the Department of Conservation. The team hiked for an hour up a tricky 230-metre cliff side to reach the helpless animal before battling in the dark for a further hour until they finally managed to free it… One can only assume that the owner of the saucy underwear had to make a quick exit down the cliff side after a romantic walk to the Lover’s Leap lookout point got out of hand.

Now that’s a Lover’s Leap legend that deserved the name!

It’s Not Always About Abe

On June 14, 2015 · 1 Comments

In the United States, twenty-three states have a Lincoln County (or Parish in the case of Louisiana). That’s nearly half. That’s also to be expected. Certainly a man who led the nation through a traumatic civil war and who died tragically at the hand of an assassin deserved to be honored with numerous place named for him. Geographic features called Lincoln spread far-and-wide. It even took root in the Wild West in places like Lincoln County, New Mexico (map) and by extension to the name of a war — the "Lincoln County War" (more of a feud actually) — involving unlikely characters such as Billy the Kid. However some counties of Lincoln weren’t what they seemed on the surface. Some of them weren’t named for Abraham Lincoln at all.

Several southern states had Lincoln Counties. One might be tempted to conclude that each of them established a county named for their former foe as a sign of reconciliation during the Reconstruction Era. That wasn’t the case. Those Lincoln Counties predated the term of President Lincoln by decades: North Carolina (1779); Kentucky (1780); Georgia (1796); and Tennessee (1809). That was also true for one border state, Missouri (1818).

General Benjamin Lincoln-restored.jpg
General Benjamin Lincoln-restored” by Charles Willson PealeFile:Benjamin lincoln by charles wilson peale.jpg.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

They were all named for Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810). One would be excused for not being familiar with Benjamin Lincoln, so completely overshadowed by Abraham Lincoln. It was unfortunate that someone who contributed to the birth of a nation languished in obscurity at least in part because of the unlikely chance that someone else with the same surname became an icon of history. The reflex action in the United States was to think of Abraham automatically upon hearing the single word Lincoln. Sorry Benjamin. He and Abe weren’t even related.


181 North Street
181 North Street by Timothy Valentine, on Flickr (cc)

Benjamin Lincoln already had a promising career in the years leading up to the American Revolution. He lived in Hingham, Massachusetts where he held various minor political offices and participated in local militias. He found himself overseeing supplies and operations for Massachusetts militias as the Revolution broke out and then helped to supply the new Continental Army. Later he became a Major General and led troops in several battles. As George Washington’s second in command at the Battle of Yorktown, he formally accepted the British surrender. He became the first Secretary of War under the new U.S. government formed by the Articles of Confederation and then later served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Clearly he earned a level of credibility significant enough to get a few counties in growing states named in his honor.

Abraham Lincoln’s home became a national historic site. In fact, numerous places associated with Abe became parks and monuments, drawing visitors from around the world. That wasn’t the case with Benjamin although his old home still stands in Hingham (map). It didn’t become a park, it remained a private residence. Amazingly, it continues to be owned by the same family, having been passed down through successive generations since Thomas Lincoln settled there in the 1630’s. Its nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places noted (1972) that "The house is furnished with the original Lincoln furniture and contains many of the General’s personal items."


Another Lincoln


Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral by Brian, on Flickr (cc)

This might be about the time that 12MC readers in the United Kingdom start wondering about the Lincoln in England’s East Midlands, the county town of Lincolnshire. That city had an impact on a couple of U.S. counties too, one directly and another indirectly. Lincoln County, Maine originated in 1760. It commemorated the birthplace of Thomas Pownall, governor of Massachusetts — Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time. Lincoln County, South Dakota was established in 1867. That would seem to make it a perfect candidate for a connection to Abraham Lincoln who died only a couple of years earlier. However it was actually named for Lincoln County, Maine, which is where W.W. Brookings, a member of the territorial legislature was born. How odd that both counties were named for birthplaces.

I’d still venture to guess that the then-recent death of Abraham Lincoln had at least a subtle influence on the name of Lincoln County, South Dakota.

Avoiding the Temptation

On April 19, 2015 · 6 Comments

It sat there in front of me, so tempting, so wanting to be bestowed with a clickbait title on this 12MC article. I could have called it Sex Folk or maybe Folk Sex. Certainly that would have attracted some undeserved attention and a few extra eyeballs. However, for what purpose? People who came to the site on that flimsy premise would create the classic one-and-done scenario, never to return again anyway. It’s not like Twelve Mile Circle ever tried to appeal to a wider audience beyond its faithful core of geo-geeks. I avoided the temptation. However now I have to describe what this article is all about because I spent the entire opening paragraph on a completely unrelated tangent.

The situation became apparent as I started my research for an upcoming trip to Cape Cod and environs in the next few weeks. Massachusetts, I noticed, had counties of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk. The prefixes seemed directional, east, middle, north and south. The suffixes, well I knew they came from England during the colonial era although I’d never examined their meaning before. What did -sex and -folk mean, anyway?

At this point the UK audience can probably stop reading. This will likely be old news. It may also be old news for much of the North American audience too. I don’t know.

Oh, I have another interesting tidbit since we’re running down irrelevant tangents today. More 12MC visitors arrive on the site from London than from any other place in the world except for New York City. By that I mean 12MC has a surprisingly robust British audience and a lot of people could probably stop reading right around now and get on with their day.


-sex Suffix


Smoots on Harvard Bridge
Harvard Bridge, crossing between Middlesex and Suffolk Counties, Massachusetts (my own photo)

Once on a trip to Boston, Massachusetts I walked across the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River between Middlesex and Suffolk Counties. I’d gone there to observe the birthplace of the Smoot in person. That simple stroll allowed me to travel from -folk (Suffolk) to -sex (Middlesex) and back to -folk. Let’s begin by evaluating -sex.

The geographic prefix -sex came from the Old English seaxe, meaning Saxon. The Saxons were a Germanic people who arrived in Great Britain in the fifth century and formed part of the larger Anglo-Saxon grouping that remained in control until the Norman conquest in 1066. Sorry to disappoint everyone with that rather mundane derivation. Thus, in England, Sussex was south Saxon, Essex was east Saxon, Wessex was west Saxon and Middlesex was middle Saxon. That middle Saxon was centered near London and the other lands of Saxons were correspondingly south, east and west. England in modern times split Sussex into West Sussex and East Sussex which are west and east of each other (generally southwest and southeast of London), all logically enough. It made sense.

Things got a bit turned around in the North American colonies when settlers arrived and brought their familiar English placenames with them. In Massachusetts, Essex was east of Middlesex and that was fine. In New Jersey, Sussex was north, Middlesex was south and Essex was in the middle (although one tiny corner extended farthest east). In Virginia, Middlesex was in the middle and Sussex was south as they should have been, however Essex was north.


-folk Suffix


Boston skyline
Boston skyline by Bert Kaufmann, on Flickr (cc)

The City of Boston was located within the -folk when I crossed the Harvard Bridge. Many counties in New England have been disestablished and Suffolk has joined the list. It exists for various statistical purposes although Suffolk no longer has a separate county government. Nonetheless it retained its historical name with it’s pertinent suffix.

Sometimes the obvious guess provided the answer, and -folk means folk, i.e., people. Suffolk meant south folk, from the Old English suþfolcci. Norfolk, well, meant north people.

Suffolk and Norfolk in England were aligned geographically in an appropriate manner. Massachusetts was completely flipped. Suffolk was north and Norfolk was south. Either the etymology had been obscured or nobody cared by then.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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