Wales’s wacky place names
The liberal use of consonants in its language makes Wales a terrific Scrabble challenge – and also the home of some of the oddest and funniest place names in the world.
Where else would you find the UK’s longest place name? That’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch in case you were wondering, a town in North Wales that means “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St Tysilio’s of the red cave”. And if you can pronounce that, you’re probably due some kind of award from the Welsh Tourist Board!
But ridiculously long names aside, Wales has few rivals when it comes to picturesque but often baffling place names. Many are based on the Welsh language but the centuries-old influence of English is evident, along with some leftovers from the Romans and the Vikings among other invaders.
Speak up, you’re mumbling
Mumbles, a district of Swansea, is most famous today as the birthplace of Hollywood A-lister Catherine Zeta Jones. Thankfully Catherine’s enunciation in her movies is much better than that of her town …
Meanwhile, Golly, near Wrexham, sounds more like an exclamation of surprise than an actual place. If you’re feeling particularly chirpy, then Happy Valley, near Llandudno, has to be the place for you and the more romantic will find Red Roses, in Carmarthenshire, hard to resist
Screw Packet Lane in Newport once did exactly what it said on the tin – was a lane leading down to the port where steam packets (ships) once docked to unload their cargo. And St Mellons in Cardiff takes its name from the 6th century saint St Melaine who is presumed to have been born in that area.
Mold, the county town of Flintshire, can trace its name back to the Anglo-Normans who pushed into Wales in the 12th century. It might sound like something that’s slightly off but the actual meaning is “high hill”.
Quirky though these names might be, they don’t quite always capture how hilarious some Welsh place names can actually be.
Hilarity, with knobs on
In the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons stands the unfortunately named Lord Hereford’s Knob. Surely it’s only the bravest of hikers or hill walkers who will happily tell the world they’re going to conquer the “Knob”?
At least the Knob stands alone – no one has to put that down as his or her address. Unlike the unfortunate residents of Sodom, in Flintshire, who might be expecting the wrath of the Almighty to be visited upon them most days. Biblical wrath can be very debilitating.
And while Sodom is worth a giggle, you’ll really struggle to contain your mirth at the revelation that Three Cocks, Bullyhole Bottom and Penisarwaen are actual places and not creations of The Goon Show or Little Britain. Absolutely 100 per cent real too is Tarts Hill, in Flintshire.
But it’s not all tittering – there are also pants, lots of pants. Pant in Welsh means hollow or valley so, naturally, many place names incorporate this. And when combined with other names, there’s no doubt that pants makes us laugh – a lot. So there’s Pant-y-Felin Road in Swansea – say it fast and you’ll get the gag. The caravan park allegedly called Pant-y-Girdle near Prestatyn may indeed be an urban myth!
Splott on the horizon
In Cardiff you’ll find the working class district of Splott – like a lot of Welsh place names, its origins can be traced to English, meaning “blot” or “patch of land”. If you thought about it, it’d be rather obvious, a bit like Stop-and-Call, now part of Goodwich and Fishguard. No one seems quite sure of how it came by its name but it does seem rather obvious when you realise there’s a railway station nearby.
Fiddler’s Elbow is even more obvious. This nature reserve in the Upper Wye Valley is known for its shape, a sharp right turn, leading you to assume it was named simply because of its geography.
And if you consider the “w” can be read as a “u”, Plwmp makes a whole lot more sense. Actually it makes even more sense when you realise pwmp is Welsh for “pump” – seems a statement of the bleedin’ obvious but in the land where the consonant appears to have vanquished the vowel, sometimes the obvious needs pointing out!