One of the things I love about the UK is its preponderance of crazy place names. During boring car journeys, I often pour over the road map to find the most ridiculous-sounding place name in the vicinity. I have a soft spot for Westward Ho! just because of its exclamation mark, and I still giggle when I see the sign for a village called Pink Green. Near my brother’s house in Lancashire there are two hamlets beside one another called Nook and Cow Brow.
We all know what the longest place name is in the UK, but do you know what the longest place name is in England?
Here are some of my favourite place names. Many of these are local to me, and I enjoy seeing the names on road signs.
You just have to see this name to start laughing, as Richard Whiteley did on Countdown–his mirth at the village’s name ended with him being invested as Wetwang’s mayor! The name also turns up in The Lord of the Rings (described as “a desolate lonely place between Rohan and Gondar”), and it’s mentioned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In the Domesday Book, Wetwang is listed as Wetuuangha, though no one can decide what the word actually means. Some believe it derives from the Norse vaett vangr, ‘field for the trial of legal action’, while others think the word has its origins in Old English, meaning ‘wet field’ (there’s Driffield, ‘dry field’, not far away). Wetwang’s archaeology is rich, including Iron Age chariots and the skeletons of two men and a tribal queen, plus an earlier Bronze Age burial of a chariot and its rider.
The Land of Nod is a hamlet at the end of an unmetalled road—I went to find it yesterday afternoon and was singularly unimpressed, for there’s nothing there to indicate why this place was named the Land of Nod (unless it’s so boring that visitors fall asleep).
The original Land of Nod appears in the Old Testament as the place Cain fled to after he murdered Abel: And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. (Genesis 4.16)
‘Nod’ is the root of the Hebrew word ‘to wander’, and some scholars believe this passage refers to Cain being cursed to wander the land forever rather than settling down in a specific place called Nod. Quite why a hamlet in the East Riding of Yorkshire should have the same name is anyone’s guess.
Ryme Intrinseca is a village in Dorset, though in 1086 it was located in Somerset as ‘a manor called Rime’. In 1102, now called Ryme, it became part of the Diocese of Salisbury in Dorset. The name is a combination of Saxon and Latin—Ryme comes from the word rima, meaning a rim, border, or ridge, and probably refers to the hills nearby. As there were two adjacent manors in Ryme, they were identified by the prefixes ‘In’ and ‘Ex’ (in and out) and became known as Ryme Intrinseca and Ryme Extrinseca, though Ryme Extrinseca no longer exists.
Ryme Intrinseca was immortalised by John Betjeman in his poem ‘Dorset’.
So, what’s the longest place name in England? It’s half the size of Llanfair PG’s name and it’s a village in North Yorkshire—Sutton-Under-Whitestonecliffe.