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Thorny issue at the root of a Viking settlement
THE village of Thrintoft, three miles west of Northallerton, has a name that takes us back to the Viking age.
Certainly, its name is Scandinavian and was first spoken by the Norwegians, Danes and Swedes who invaded Britain in the ninth and tenth centuries.
Working backwards, toft is a modern version of the Viking topt, that could mean farm, building or even ruin.
Thrin, meanwhile, comes from another Viking word, thyrnir, meaning thorn bush, giving us the Thorny Farm in North Yorkshire.
Now thorns today may seem a simple annoyance, a little like wasps or traffic wardens.
But to the medieval inhabitants of Britain, they were a positive good.
Thorn-bearing trees such as hawthorns and blackthorns were employed in remedies – blackthorn bark especially was used and, indeed, is still used by herbalists.
Then, crucially, thorny trees were employed as barriers to keep cattle in and thieves, raiders and rustlers out.
The hedges around modern gardens are a strange, suburban memory of the thorny enclosures that our ancestors grew to defend themselves at places like Thrintoft.
It is no accident then that thorns were a preoccupation of one of the earliest recorded English poets, who wrote 1,000 years ago: Thorns are sharp for all Fighting with them is agony for the warrior And they are most cruel to those who live among them.
Pity, then, the inhabitants of Dark Ages Tirnetoft, as it was called in the 11th century, our earliest record.
Surrounded and protected by a wall of thorns, they must have been constantly cursing their spiky defenders as they stumbled on their way in and out of the settlement.
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