I found myself in familiar territory once again, with an overflowing backlog of article ideas. That signaled time for another round of house cleaning. In the past I’d featured weird place names that I’d encountered while I searched for other topics. Then I focused on More Weird Place Names and finally Even More Weird Place Names. I thought I could build upon that theme while cutting down the pile. Those weird place names just kept coming.
First I decided to take care of some unfinished business left over from the previous effort. Reader "Kiru" said, "Just a suggestion for the next one – there’s a small village near me in Devon, England called Woolfardisworthy. As weird of a name that is, the pronunciation is even worse!"
That sounded intriguing. The next opportunity arrived today so I decided to check it out. Also I couldn’t even imagine how to pronounce it. I considered I’d probably butcher it with my mid-Atlantic American accent even if I knew. Fortunately things like YouTube existed and I found my answer easily enough. Kiru knew the deal. Woolfardisworthy, when spoken through the mouths of local residents came out something similar to Woolsery.
I solved that mystery quicker than I expected although I encountered something more unusual in the process. Two towns with that same strange name existed in Devon. Was the town Kiru referenced located in mid Devon (map) or north Devon (map). They sat about 48 miles (78 kilometres) apart map.
Their history also intertwined. According to Tour Devon, the name came from the Saxon language meaning Wulfheard’s homestead, "denoting the fact that the village was probably originally founded in 680 when the Saxon Abbot Wulfheard of Crediton was granted two manors." I figured the one in north Devon in the Torridge district was probably the right one. It seemed to be the larger of the two manors granted to the awesomely named Wulfheard of Crediton.
The buoyancy on the Neversink River must be amazing. I supposed someone could fall overboard and literally never sink. Nobody needed life jackets. What magical properties existed in the waters of New York? I pondered that notion as I drove across the Neversink on the way to New England recently. The river stretched about 55 miles (89 km), flowing past Port Jervis before joining the Delaware River. It served as one of the important water sources for New York City, dammed to form the Neversink Reservoir in 1950 (map).
The etymology remained uncertain although it most certainly did not come from the English words Never and Sink, sad to say. It likely passed down from the original Native American inhabitants speaking an Algonquin language. The Intertubes offered various theories and translations. Many of them converged on Mad River or Wild River, or variations on that theme. European settlers Anglicized the phrase into something more familiar that they could actually pronounce.
I’d seen Nanty-Glo spelled with a hyphen and Nanty Glo without, so I consulted the Geographic Names Information Center. That hardly cleared up the situation, however. According to the US Geological Survey, the hyphen should be used when referring to the Borough of Nanty-Glo and dropped for the Town of Nanty Glo. Either way, they both designated the same basic area in western Pennsylvania (map). The name intertwined with the history and geology of the underlying terrain. Local mountains contained large coal deposits that people began to mine in the Nineteenth Century. Immigrant from Wales — another area with a rich coal mining tradition — brought much of the mining knowledge and labor. Thus the name came from the Welsh language, Nant Y Glo, meaning a ravine, brook or valley of coal.
A similarly-named town of Nantyglo also existed in Wales (map).
I’ve driven between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin on Interstate 94 more times than I can probably count. I always wondered about the town behind the exit sign for Ixonia (map). Did it reference a fascination with the number nine, from the Roman numeral IX? No, actually it reflected pure happenstance when a dispute arose as the township formed. According to the Town of Ixonia,
To simplify matters it was agreed upon to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a name could be formed. As the result, "Ixonia" was the name given town 8 on January 21, 1846, and remains the only town bearing this name in the United States.
Thankfully, young Mary Piper selected a random combination that everyone found acceptable. She could have done a whole lot worse as she averted a crises single-handedly. However I still remained skeptical. If Ixonia began life as Town 8 wouldn’t it make sense to name it sequentially the next time, as IX?
Geo-geek conspiracy theory!
I’ve published Twelve Mile Circle on a Sunday morning / Wednesday evening schedule for awhile. I now have a weekly Wednesday evening activity that complicates things so I plan to post on Thursday evenings instead. Don’t panic when nothing appears on Wednesday. 12MC isn’t going away!
I wondered what treasures I’d encounter if I searched on the exact phrase "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank. I chose England for my initial effort. I figured England should produce interesting results because of its long history. I could always use a few more push-pins in my Complete Index Map, too. England did not disappoint me. I couldn’t confirm the veracity of every claim made on the Intertubes although they all produced memorable stories whether accurately reflecting a final occurrence of an activity or not.
The last invasion of England by a foreign nation took place in 1690 according to numerous sources. I found this claim more often than any other one made as a result of my query. The landing spot happened at Teignmouth, a town at the mouth of the River Teign as implied by the name, in Devon (map). A French fleet landed soon after it defeated an Anglo-Dutch fleet at the Battle of Beachy Head. The French turned their sights to the English coastline, landing at Teignmouth and burning much of the town. They remained offshore otherwise and sailed home a few weeks later. Their brief invasion ended.
However Teignmouth wasn’t the last place invaded on the island of Great Britain, just the last one in England. A later force landed in Wales, an encounter called the Battle of Fishguard in 1797. The forces of the French First Republic, the government that rose from the French Revolution, attacked Fishguard in Pembrokeshire (map). They supported the Society of United Irishmen who were attempting their own revolution. The invaders lacked discipline and surrendered unconditionally within a couple of days, causing little impact or damage.
I felt less certain about a claim that Watendlath (map) became the last place in England to get electricity, as some attested. It may have held that title only for the Lake District. Watendlath joined the grid in 1978. Rugged terrain and remoteness contributed to its lack of amenities for much of the 20th Century. Watendlath sounded like a wonderful place, assuming one could get to it.
The little hamlet of Watendlath, owned by the National Trust, sits high between the Borrowdale and Thirlmere valleys. It is 847 feet above sea level, with an attractive tarn surrounded by fells in a classic ‘hanging valley’… The hamlet is reached by a very narrow road with passing places, from the Keswick to Borrowdale road. This is a steep climb at first before crossing the famous Ashness Bridge, then past ‘Surprise View’ where it is possible to park and look out over the whole of the Derwentwater valley.
Once again, however, a place in Wales didn’t hook to the electrical network until later. The National Grid didn’t wire the village of Abergeirw in Gwynedd to the mains until 2008, just in time for Christmas.
Last Place with a Major Outbreak of Plague
England last experienced a significant outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666, a contagion called the Great Plague of London. A hundred thousand people died.
The Black Death remained mostly on the southern side of England during this outbreak. Fortunes changed when a tailor in Eyam (map), a small town in Derbyshire, ordered cloth from London. His shipment arrived with fleas infected by Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for bubonic plague. Fleas bit their hosts and townspeople began to die. Villagers behaved selflessly and heroically in the face of death.
Terrified the disease would spread across the north, wiping out other towns and communities, the villagers realised there was only one option: quarantine. With the guidance of their rector William Mompesson, they decided to isolate themselves, creating a perimeter of boundary stones that they vowed not to cross … even those who were not showing any symptoms.
Plague ravaged Eyam for more than a year, lasting well into 1667 before disappearing as quickly as it arrived. Within Eyam, "267 had been killed out of a population of 344." Their actions contained the plague and halted its northward track although at a terrible price for those living inside their perimeter of stone.
I love the English language. It has a word for everything, and if it doesn’t it gladly hijacks one from another source and adopts it as its own. Gibbet came from Old French. I’ll let the Online Etymology Dictionary explain.
…a bent stick, small stick with a cross” (13c.), diminutive of gibe "club; hoe," perhaps from Frankish *gibb "forked stick." "Originally synonymous with GALLOWS sb., but in later use signifying an upright post with projecting arm from which the bodies of criminals were hung in chains or irons after execution"
Criminals sometimes met gruesome fates in Medieval times, even after death. Executioners invented a gadget called a gibbet, an iron frame designed to hold a dead body as it rotted and decayed in a public setting. It both disrespected the convict and warned others to follow the law. One wouldn’t want body parts falling onto the village green at inconvenient moments so the gibbet held everything in place as crows plucked out the eyes and such. Sometimes, even more ghastly, villains were placed in a live gibbet where they died from dehydration and exposure before undergoing their postmortem display.
The last gibbeting took place in Leicester’s Guildhall in 1832 (map). The gibbet, long since emptied, remains on display at the city’s Guildhall Museum.
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.
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.
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.
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!