SOME time ago, a correspondent from the Midlands contacted me with a query about the links between eagles and the names of some villages or locations in the North-East.

In particular, she referred to Arncliffe which lies in Littondale high in the Pennines and also Ingleby Arncliffe near Northallerton. In addition there are some woods near Glaisdale in Eskdale known as East Arncliffe and West Arncliffe, with the name also cropping up in inns and house names.

Down the years, the spelling and pronunciation of Arncliffe has changed. In 1086, it was Erneclive, Gerneclif or Lerneclif becoming Ernesclive in 1160. In 1170, it became Earneclive and by 1291 it was Arneclive and Arneclyf. Literally, whatever the spelling, it means eagle’s cliff and both Eaglescliffe and Egglescliffe are well known locations between Darlington and Middlesbrough.

The old English word for an eagle was erne and in some areas, the sea eagle is still known as the erne or earn.

Arne is derived from erne and in some cases, the countryside around the Arncliffe in question could have been the haunt of eagles. Even if Ingleby Arncliffe is not in the high ground of either the dales or the moors, it does lie in the shadows of the western escarpment of the North York Moors. Cringle Moor and Whorlton Moor are nearby.

Once upon a time, eagles might have flown above the villages that bear that name; nowadays, an eagle is a rare sight in this region although I have seen a golden eagle in the Lake District, and there is an interesting variety of birds of prey in this region. For example, buzzards were once a rarity hereabouts but now they are regularly seen, often in pairs. But an eagle would be a rare sight!

In this context, it is difficult to know precisely to which type of eagle the old word erne would apply. Probably it dates to that period before birds were classified thus referring to eagles in general rather than any particular species.

Another bird whose name appears in northern locations such as farms and other areas is laverock, laverack or lavrock. These are variations of an old word for the skylark. This bird was once a common sight on our open moors and uncultivated grasslands.

It would seemingly hang or bounce in the skies whilst singing its delightful song, sometimes too high to be seen with the naked eye even though its music could be heard.

Rather difficult to see on its favourite haunts due to its brown colouring with dark streaks, numbers of skylarks have fallen dramatically in recent years. Various explanations include different farming methods, the use of pesticides, an increase in the numbers of grazing animals and the early cutting of grass for silage.

Other birds whose names appear in place-names include geese, ducks, robins, wrens, ravens, rooks, crows and others. There are probably some names that are disguised because they are referred to in their local dialect names. For example, corby means raven, allan is a skua, linny is a linnet and rood is the Brent goose. In some areas, starlings were known as stars or stares whilst a barn owl was an ullot. There are several Throstle Nests among our farms, throstle being a local name for the thrush and a wallchat is a flycatcher.

Animals appear in names like Otterington with fruit showing up in Appleton and Applegarth, cattle in Cowton and sheep in Woolmoor. Hoggs make an occasional appearance as do mowdies (moles) and conies which are rabbits. In addition, however, there are many other reasons that places were given name such as Woodhill, Underwood and Little Leake.

I don’t think cats have any links with Felixkirk although in the sixteenth century the village was known as Fillyxchurche but probably this name has no links with horses. Kirk is an old word for church and in this case, it is one of few churches dedicated to St Felix. It is uncertain which of the saints called Felix is commemorated here as the Roman Martyrology contains sixty-seven saints by this name although one of them gave his name to Felixstowe.

Experts will disagree with the origins of these lists which, I must say, are rather tongue in cheek or even thrallopy.

Season of Easter

Continuing with curious names, last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. The season of Lent continues until Easter Sunday which falls on March 27, and on this occasion it is also when British Summer Time begins with our clocks going forward by one hour.

Easter, one of the world’s major religious festivals, is still a moveable feast despite regular attempts to fix its date. The fact it changes year by year means the days of Lent are also variable, but some of the days in between (and relevant others) have quite wonderful names.

Septuagesima Sunday is the third Sunday before Lent and is so called because, in round figures, it means there are 70 days to go until Easter. In fact, there are nine weeks.

Sexagesima Sunday is the second Sunday before Lent because there are 60 days until Easter (in fact there are eight weeks). Quinquagesima Eve, sometimes known as Egg Saturday or Brusting Saturday is the last Saturday before Lent and is followed by Quinquagesima Sunday with around fifty days before Easter. This is sometimes called Shrove Sunday because it was the final day for feasting before the Lenten penance and fasting began. It is followed by Collop Monday, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.

In fact in Yorkshire, Collop Monday marked the end of feasting. It was when all the remaining meat (collops), vegetables and other edible things were cooked and eaten in a massive meal. When that meal with all the left-overs was finished, the Lenten fast began in earnest. Collop Monday was also known as Blue Monday because some drank to excess on this day. It was also known as Nickanan Night when children knocked on doors and ran away, hence another name of Dappy Door Night. Another name was Lent Sherd Night when children knocked on doors and expected some sweets to eat before Lent.

Shrove Tuesday followed when pancakes were eaten to use up any of the left-overs and so began a period of penance and fasting until Easter Sunday. The first three pancakes were set aside – “one for St Peter, one for St Paul and one for Him who made us all.” There were other events on Shrove Tuesday such as egg shackling, skipping races, cockerel throwing day, crockery smashing day, kepping day and others.

A type of street football was played at Sedgefield in Co. Durham and in Bainbridge in Wensleydale, the blowing of the horn ceases until September 28.

Lent begins in earnest on Ash Wednesday, the day when Pope Gregory the Great instituted the sprinkling of ashes on the heads of the faithful as a sign of their penitence. In parts of the Dales, however, it was called Fruttace Wednesday when fritters called fruttaces were eaten whilst in the East Riding, a type of football called Tutt-Ball was played.