I found some border weirdness between Pontrilas in Herefordshire, England and Pandy in Monmouthshire, Wales. All would be fine in an automobile. Drive between the towns on A465, cross an unremarkable bridge over the border and continue on one’s way for an eight-minute journey (map). No big deal. Take the same trip by train however and watch the magic begin.
From Pontrilas, start in England and go 0.80 miles to the border, then into Wales for 0.37 miles, then back into England for 0.45 miles, then back into Wales for 0.52 miles, then back into England for 2.45 miles, and finally into Wales, arriving at Pandy after 0.78 miles. Discounting the two end sections, a train will cross the border an amazing 5 times in 3.79 miles (6.10 kilometres). The map I made shows English segments as blue lines and Welsh segments as red.
Both automobile and locomotive follow the valley of the River Monnow (Afon Mynwy in Welsh). The roadway remains south of river on the Welsh side, crossing into English territory just outside of Pontrilas on the way to Hereford. In contrast, the railway remains north of the River Monnow primarily during the same stretch. However, its tracks clip the River Monnow to avoid a sharp bend at one point, accounting for two of the border crossings. Additionally, the river must have changed course sometime in the past. The border deviates slightly from the watercourse and the railway clips that section too.
Completing this border-defying feat shouldn’t be daunting although it would involve more than simply hopping a train in Pontrilas and riding the rails to Pandy, or vice versa. I couldn’t find evidence that there was ever a regular station at Pandy. Pontrilas had a station although it stopped serving passengers in 1958 and closed altogether in 1964. Today it’s the Station House bed and breakfast inn. The establishment caters to railfans and notes that "some 50 trains pass during the 24 hours on weekdays, approximately half comprising the hourly ‘Express Sprinter’ service from Cardiff to Manchester." That would be a drawback for most inns. That’s a selling point here!
The route followed a very old railroad line, with the border-crossing segment originally constructed as part of the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway, circa 1853. It passed through several iterations eventually becoming known commonly as the North and West Route, and now the Welsh Marches Line (Llinell y Mers). The Welsh Marches of the middle ages formed a frontier between England and Wales, and to a degree maintained its independence from both. Today the term describes an amorphous and imprecise borderland more generically.
A casual railway passenger on Arriva Trains Wales (Trenau Arriva Cymru) would find it completely feasible to experience the anomaly. Hundreds of people probably traverse this section every day without realizing its significance. One could board at Hereford, England and disembark at Abergavenny, Wales, covering a distance of about 28 miles with the anomaly included near its midpoint. Arriva posted a cheapest one-way fare of £9.60 when I checked this evening. It offered different travel options practically twice per hour.
Somehow I managed to capture one of the most remarkable geo-oddity Google Street View images I’ve ever witnessed (above). Don’t bother to click it. I recorded it as a screen grab because someday Google will overwrite my discovery with new imagery and it will be lost. Feel free to refer to the original image until that happens.
What makes it so special?
It’s on the border with a "Welcome to England" sign clearly visible.
An Arriva passenger train can be seen in the background just exiting the anomaly.
Did somebody say beer festival? — lower, left corner: "Bridge Inn Kentchurch Beer Festival 1st-4th May. 15 Real Ales, Food Available, Free Camping, Live Music Every Night." The Bridge Inn does have a website and I checked it. The establishment usually holds a beer festival during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
What a lovely scene. Trains, real ale and border weirdness; a trifecta of 12MC enjoyment. I need to put the Welsh Marches on my visit list. Absolutely.
I noticed an interesting geographic prefix as I explored Minnedosa, Manitoba in Triple Letter – Canada. The same prefix also applied to one of the individual United States, specifically Minnesota. In both cases the "Minne" portion derived from a Siouan word for water. Minnedosa was Flowing Water and Minnesota was Cloudy Water. I wondered if other place names derived from the same watery source.
The search began in the upper Midwest of the United States and in the upper Great Plains on both sides of the U.S. – Canada border where Siouan languages flourished during the pre-contact era. Siouan wasn’t a single language and the Great Sioux Nation was not a single tribe. Three distinct groupings with numerous subgroups formed the Sioux: Lakota, Western Dakota and Eastern Dakota. The term for water seemed to be substantially similar across them set of them, though: Mni.
Mni seemed to be pronounced closer to MNee. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that modern place names using Mni as a root tended to anglicize its pronunciation.
Actually, as I dug further, Minnesota turned out to be a little more complicated than my original findings. Both variations still tied back to Mni.
There are a variety of opinions about the Dakota word for Minnesota. Some Dakota speakers pronounce the word Mnisota, which can be translated as clear water referring to the Minnesota River. Others say it Mnißota, or cloudy water, describing the morning mist that rises over the lakes and valleys in Southern Minnesota during the warmer months
By far, the most common geographic adaption of Mni as a prefix was Minnehaha. I found Minnehaha in dozens of locations and geographic features on both sides of the border, with many situated well beyond the traditional Siouan range. They were so common that it wasn’t worth listing them. It would have taken-up the entire article with 92 occurrences in GNIS alone, including towns, counties, streams, ponds, islands, schools, churches, parks, and cemeteries.
"And he named her from the river,
From the water-fall he named her,
Minnehaha, Laughing Water."
One can thank Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his 1855 poem, The Song of Hiawatha, for the endless proliferation. Minnehaha was Hiawatha’s lover in this immensely popular poem and it became fashionable to name things in her honor during the latter 19th Century. Minnehaha was fictional, however Longfellow named her for a real feature: Minnehaha Falls (map) near Fort Snelling, Minnesota
SOURCE: Flickr by zman z28 via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Longfellow had been inspired by a photograph of Minnehaha Falls (not this one, of course) although he chose to set the poem on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the southern shores of Lake Superior. Minnehaha did not translate as "laughing water" — contrary to Longfellow’s misconception — it actually meant falling water, or waterfall. Minnehaha Falls created a redundancy, a Waterfall Falls.
Mni found its way into several other places:
Minneapolis, the largest city in Minnesota translated as Water plus the Greek term polis, or city. Minneapolis is Water City.
Minnewaukan, North Dakota (and presumably Minnewakan, Manitoba) translated as Spirit Water.
Minnetonka, a suburb near Minneapolis, translated as Big Water or Great Water
Minnetrista, Minnesota translated as Crooked Water.
Minneiska, MN translated as White Water, for turbulence at the confluence of the Mississippi and Zumbro rivers.
I think my favorite was Minneota, Minnesota. It translated as Much Water. That’s not why I liked it, though. I simply enjoyed the close similarity between Minneota and Minnesota; and it rolled of the tongue nicely. The town seemed to have fun with it too. They can be fans of their nearest professional American Football team, the Minnesota Vikings, and their local high school team, the Minneota Vikings. I imagine that football alumni who say they once played for the Minneota Vikings probably don’t mind when people hear it wrong and assume they played professionally.
I stumbled across an article in the Washington Business Journal a few days ago, Over the river: Reagan National runway to be shifted into the Potomac. This probably wouldn’t mean much to most people. One of DCA’s notoriously short runways will be adjusted slightly. That’s a good thing from a public safety perspective, however geo-geeks may wonder what that has to do with them. Plenty. The Potomac River defines a border between the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Virginia and Maryland began as English colonies long before there was a United States or a District of Columbia. Maryland gained control of the Potomac River through a 1632 Royal Charter from King Charles I to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore. The river was not shared between the two states; it was completely part of Maryland. The Potomac passed through the new District of Columbia after Virginia and Maryland ceded land for its creation in 1790, and that segment of the river became part of the District. It remained within the territorial boundaries of District even when its former Virginia lands returned to Virginia in the retrocession completed in 1847. Only the former Maryland territory remained within the District, and Maryland’s prior ownership of the river was not in dispute. Maryland’s previously-established ownership of the Potomac within the area conveyed to the District.
Logically one might conclude that land created within DC’s stretch of the Potomac River should become part of the District automatically. That would undoubtedly be true if the District was a State. Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution placed interstate disputes directly with the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Cases will go straight to the top if two states disagree on a resolution. There have been numerous territorial quarrels over the years, and the Court has ruled repeatedly on matters involving water boundaries. Generally, boundary lines remain the same even when water shifts or new land is created, naturally or artificially, assuming sovereignty has been asserted in a timely manner.
State of New Jersey v. State of New York, 118 S.Ct. 1726 (1998) seemed particularly apropos. The two states agreed in 1834 that Ellis Island would be part of New York and all of the water surrounding the island would become part of New Jersey. That was great when Ellis Island was a speck. New York began to expand the size of the island as it evolved as a processing center for new immigrants arriving in the United States in the late 19th Century. Eventually Ellis Island grew to 27 acres. New Jersey argued that everything except the original plot should belong to New Jersey.
However the District is not a state and it lacks voting representation in the U.S. Congress needed to press its interests. For years, DC license plates have protested this inequity of "taxation without representation." With that, I wondered, would DC get the new land or would Virginia? Loyal 12MC reader "Greg" (known to baristas everywhere as Gerg) researched the statutory underpinnings, and I’m sad to report to my friends in the District that they will get shortchanged again. Actually, a different word came to mind although I like to keep 12MC family friendly so feel free to fill in the blank yourself.
The boundary between the District of Columbia and Virginia was last clarified by an Act of Congress in 1945, 59 Stat. 552 (included within a very large document I don’t recommend you necessarily download). The pertinent section said:
…that whenever said mean high-water mark on the Virginia shore is altered by artificial fills and excavations made by the United States, or by alluvion or erosion, then the boundary shall follow the new mean high-water mark on the Virginia shore as altered.
This was the Act that also placed what was then called simply National Airport within the boundaries of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The future runway shift at the current Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — since it will be created "by artificial fills and excavations made by the United States" — would seemingly become part of Virginia. That’s they way I interpret it, bearing in mind I’m a purveyor of geo-oddities and not an attorney or legal expert by any stretch of the imagination. Arlington County, Virginia will likely grow in land area by 4.51 acres and the District of Columbia will decrease in water area correspondingly sometime in late 2015.
This will not jeopardize Arlington’s standing as the smallest completely self-governing county in the United States. Mathematically, it takes 640 acres to cover one square mile so a growth of 4.51 acres is only .007 square miles. Currently Arlington stands at 25.97 square miles and the next contender, Broomfield County, Colorado, is at 33.03. They’d have to fill in a hundred times more river to get into Broomfield’s range.
The District of Columbia can take some small solace in knowing that the newly-created land will still have a tenuous connection to DC: the entire airport has a Washington, DC mailing address, even though it’s in Virginia.