We spent last Saturday walking in Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales, starting from Gunnerside. Our walk book pointed out that this name comes from Norse “Gunner’s saetr”, meaning “Gunner’s slope”, which reminded me of the recent death of Margaret Gelling, an expert in the field of place names and their origin, which fascinates me. I love how language allows us to see a very real connection between a place and its past, and this is particularly evident in Yorkshire, where traces of Viking settlers are everywhere.
Her main theory was that English place names were coined with reference to the geographical landscape: she studied them not just from a linguistic point of view, but also took into account their archeological and physical contexts. Her work covered mainly the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Shropshire. Her obituary in the Economist is an excellent read.
Place names in the Yorkshire Dales.
swaledale
Swaledale, near Crackpot (Old English Kraka, a crow and Norse word Pot, usually a cavity or deep hole often in the bed of a river, but in Crackpot’s case refers to a rift in the limestone)
muker
Swaledale, near Muker, from Norse Mjor-aker (narrow piece of land)