The UK offers many attractions for all tastes, but a look at a map of the island shows some pretty unusual and intriguing place-names. Sue Petrie, British Airways’ Commercial Manager for Southern Africa, offers the following selection of oddities, along with clues as to how the names came about, and diversions and attractions nearby.
Travellers take selfies in front of signposts for Pratt’s Bottom (the London borough of Bromley), Bell End and Minge Lane (Worcestershire), Brown Willy (Cornwall), Boggy Bottom (Hertfordshire) Twatt (Orkney), Nob End (South Lancashire), Fanny Barks (Durham) and Scratchy Bottom (Dorset).
But, Petrie suggests starting with the capital, which has a population of around 8,6m people. London has a world-renowned public-transport system to move everyone around, and visitors can get access to all its modes of transport with an Oyster Visitor smartcard.
One of the easiest ways to commute around London is by Tube, the underground railway system, which is a massive, busy and efficient artery running through the city. It’s an excellent way to access the capital’s many wonders and find places with some pretty bizarre names.
Monikers that have teenage boys nudging each other and sniggering include Mudchute, Cockfosters, St John’s Wood, Lickfold and Shepherd’s Bush.
Origins? Cockfosters seems simple enough: it was named for the chief (cock) forester, later shortened to “foster”.
Nearby, at the former Hendon Aerodrome, is the Royal Air Force Museum. As you’d expect, there are plenty of aircraft on exhibit, along with modern, interactive displays. A bonus is the flight simulator, which offers a variety of exhilarating rides, including aerobatics with the Red Arrows team and an air-race from the pioneering 1930s. The museum has a small restaurant, but if you fancy something more substantial, Skewd Kitchen offers Mediterranean and Turkish food and has had good reviews.
Goodge Street, in Fitzrovia, Soho, sounds like slang for something saucy, and it’s also two minutes’ walk from the Salt Yard, a tapas-style eatery that also offers charcuterie and cheeseboards. Its expansively-named Hot Smoked Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly with Smoked Apple and Cider Glaze has helped it score four stars on TripAdvisor.
Golders Green is pretty straightforward: it was the surname of a local landowner and the “green” simply refers to the open land on which housing was later built. Golders Road was the site of the Lido Picture House, a cinema beloved by locals and known for a bit of unintended humour in 1988. One night a high wind blew the ‘t’ off the sign advertising the screening of the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, much to the mirth of the area’s predominantly Jewish population.
Some visitors and locals joke that another Green – Turnham Green this time – is the ideal place to meet environmentally friendly people (greenies). It’s also where you’ll the find Sipsmith Distillery, which has been making London gin since 1820. Nearby is the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery, reputed to be the last family-run brewery in London, operating since 1828. Both venues offer tours and tipples.
Curry Mallet is in picturesque, rural Somerset, so not on the London Tube-line. The name has nothing to do with tenderising ingredients for a korma though, as any of its 300-odd residents will explain. The tiny village’s history is intertwined with events that shaped Britain, like the Magna Carta and the Battle of Hastings and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book (essentially the first survey of land and population in Britain) in 1086. The area also has plenty of Roman history.
Also noted in the Domesday Book was the North Norfolk village of Great Snoring, slightly larger than its neighbour, Little Snoring. Both are small, but neither are particularly sleepy.
No Man’s Land Fort looks like the lair of a Bond super-villain, but it’s also a luxury hotel. It juts out of the sea just off the Isle of Wight, near Portsmouth, like a concrete-and-steel cupcake that belies the opulence within. It was built 150 years ago in response to the threat of invasion by the forces of Napoleon III. Being stationed there at the time, and in the conflicts that followed, was pretty grim and the garrison was selected on the basis of being unable to swim to freedom. Now a luxury hotel and spa, its most sought-after accommodation is the lighthouse suite, with 360-degree views over the Solent.
One way to help decipher some of the UK’s names, is to understand their origins in the languages of yore. For example, a “chester” or a “caster” was a fortified Roman camp, hence Manchester, Doncaster, Gloucester and so on.
“Mouth” refers to a river-mouth: Cockermouth in Cumbria is so named because it’s where the Cocker River flows into the Derwent River. Not only does the area offer splendid views for hikers and road-trippers, but Wild Zucchinis Bistro gets 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor for its crispy duck wrap and other fare.
“Beck” also refers to a river, hence Troutbeck, Holbeck, Beckinsale and the delightfully named Tooting Bec. “Aber” in the prefix to a place-name refers to a river-mouth, hence Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Aberdyfi and so on. Aberfeldy is a small town in the Perthshire Highlands of Scotland, so scenic that the Scottish nation’s national poet, Robert Burns, wrote a poem about it. You can hike through a forest – the Berks of Aberfeldy – to a bridge directly over the Falls of Moness.
On your return to the village, you can reward yourself for braving the great outdoors by visiting the Dewar’s Distillery, which offers tours, interactive multimedia exhibitions on whisky, and of course, tastings galore.
British Airways flies to the UK from South Africa daily.