Sunday, September 29, 2013

River names

click photo to enlarge
The names given to rivers are some of the oldest words to be found in the British Isles. Many of them are pre-Celtic in origin, belonging to a time of which we have little knowledge concerning the languages that were used. The river in today's photograph - the River Welland - is one such name. All we know of the word "welland" is that it occurs in the earliest written documents: we know nothing of its meaning. The same is true of the Lincolnshire rivers Ancholme, Humber and Witham.

When we come to rivers with Celtic names we are often in a position to ascribe a meaning, though sometimes this is no more than an educated guess. In Lincolnshire the name of the River Glen is likely to be of Celtic origin and probably means "the clean one", echoing the derivation of the Northumbrian river of the same name. The River Lymn is also Celtic and derives from the Primitive Welsh "lemo" meaning an elm tree, hence the river's name is "the place where many elms are found". The names of the rivers Trent and Nene are also thought to have Celtic roots.

Why should river names be among our oldest words? The answer is that rivers are important and enduring features of the landscape, a source of food and water, useful for transport and an effective and immutable boundary or defensive line. Such a significant geographical feature would be named before settlements, hills or perhaps even people.

I've photographed Deeping St James church and the River Welland from this location before at different times of year. It makes a fine composition and is an archetypal English rural lowland scene.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 37.1mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On