SOME years ago, I was having my vehicle’s petrol tank filled at a local garage when a car eased to a halt nearby. Its driver hailed the young mechanic who was dealing with my tank-filling operation and asked, “Where’s the nearest bank please?”
“It’s at the end of the village, quarter of a mile or so from here,” was his reply as he pointed in the right direction.
“Thanks,” and off went the motorist. With my order completed, I went into the garage to pay when the same motorist returned. “I can’t find the bank,” he grumbled. “Where did you say it was?”
The mechanic explained then led the fellow to the edge of the forecourt and pointed. “That’s the bank”, and he indicated the steep hill that led from the village.
“I didn’t mean that,” grumbled the visitor. “I meant a bank where I can cash a cheque and get some money!” And so he was directed to Helmsley, our nearest market town.
What he had been shown by the helpful lad was Oswaldkirk Bank, a well known location. It ranks with many other noted ascents and descents in and around the Yorkshire Moors, Dales and Wolds as well as County Durham and the Lakes.
These notes follow my recent references to the differences and occasional confusion between the North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales (DST 19/08/16). There is similar confusion between hills and banks but I must admit I do not know the precise distinction between the two. For example, I would never describe the famous Sutton Bank as Sutton Hill; likewise, I would never refer to Blue Bank at Sleights as Blue Hill, although I would always refer to Limber Hill (33 per cent gradient) at Glaisdale by that name, but never as Limber Bank.
Hills and banks do appear in some of the loftier regions of our moorland but in the Yorkshire Dales and beyond into the Lake District, they are often known as fells. The word “fell” in my thesaurus does not refer to its meaning as a high area of ground although my Concise Oxford Dictionary includes the word, giving its meaning as “a hill or stretch of high moorland, especially in Northern England”. Apparently it is derived from the Old Norse language.
Some of the hills in the North York Moors do not carry roads – yet bear the name of hill. A splendid and sometimes puzzling example is Freeborough Hill not far from Guisborough beside the A172 road to Whitby. The hill is not far from Moorsholm, a village whose name has been accredited with a variety of origins but which might indicate a collection of houses on the moor. Freeborough Hill, however, is ancient and extraordinary.
The hill is conical with a height of 821 feet yet its distinctive profile has provided it with a mystique of its very own. Despite its appearance, it is not man-made but is an ancient and natural part of the moorland. Due to its distinctive shape and prominence, it is not surprising that Freeborough Hill is rich with legends and mystery, plus far too many tales to include in this short article. However, my point is that it bears the name hill and not Topping as in some cases, or mound or even mountain. Its name might come from the fact that the Anglian (not Anglican!) Courts or Freeburgh assembled here in ages past.
Our rivers have also produced a series of names which are most descriptive. Many originate in ancient references to water – eg Wiske, Esk, Usk and Ouse, a source that also gave name to the Water of Life – Whisky – which derives from usquebaugh. However, some of our rivers have produced splendid and very descriptive names for short sections of their journey, eg Aysgarth Falls, High Force and Mallyan Spout to mention but a few whilst flat grassy areas beside our rivers are often known as holmes to give us names like Lealholm, Airyholme, Bridge Holme, Brockholme, Eryholme, Whinholme, Redholme and others.
In short, the names of places within our countryside can often reveal something of their history. It is a subject far greater than the space in this modest column allows.
A COOLING drink in the hot August sunshine of our garden a couple of weeks ago as I was about to settle down to produce today’s diary, was rewarded by the arrival of a willow warbler.
This is probably one of our most numerous summer bird visitors but one that is so rarely seen. That is because its colouring matches the maturing foliage of many trees and so the little bird, the size of a blue tit, can easily disappear from sight. Its upper plumage is a soft greenish-brown with paler underparts that can appear as yellowish in some lights.
In our case, the bird announced its arrival with its familiar call that sounds rather like coo-ee. It is a loud and clear single note (its song is entirely different) and in our case it uttered this call constantly as it went about its business of picking greenflies from our rose bushes.
I was enjoying my lunch only yards away and my presence did not disturb our visitor who spent a lot of time hunting among our garden foliage, the roses in particular. He left his work from time to time, but always returned, announcing his arrival with that now familiar coo-ee call. I was able to call my wife to come and watch from close range as he continued his exploration among our roses. And then the bird – a male I think but I’m not sure – decided to take advantage of the hot sunshine. He squatted on our patio, only feet away from me, then spread his tail and wings upon the warm stone surface and settled down to some serious sunbathing.
He flew away several times but always returned with his signature call, and always engaged in a new bout of hunting food among our rose beds but also spreading himself on the patio for more sunbathing. He entertained us for most of the afternoon and then disappeared. I have not witnessed his return but he may be out there now, sunbathing and catching greenfly as I write.
Similarities between willow warblers and chiffchaffs invariably lead to some confusion between these birds. They are the same size and almost identical in colouring but the call of a chiffchaff is a short but harsher note, and its song is very familiar. It constantly repeats is own name!
One positive means of identifying each bird is to look at their legs if you get the chance. Those of the willow warbler are a pale tan colour whilst the chiffchaff has dark brown legs.
The wood warbler is very similar to both but it produces a distinctive yellow appearance particularly when in flight, and its legs also have a light yellowish-brown appearance.
These All are summer visitors to these islands and will be soon departing for the warmer climate of Africa. It remains a mystery how such small birds find their way over such huge distances.