Looking over the Langdale Pikes into Langdale
Though many Lake District landscape terms and place names are likely to have an Old Norse origin, it is not always possible to disentangle a Norse from an Anglo -Saxon etymology. Tun, for example means field in both Old English and Old Norse, knott (O.N.) and cnotta (O.E.) both mean rocky knoll. Two extremely widespread words for Lakeland landscape features, coombe (or combe) and crag, have an even older – Celtic – origin (cwm and creag).
Remember also that place and landscape names do not necessarily date from the time of the Norse settlement in the 10th century. Many farmsteads and other settlements were built in Lakeland in the centuries that followed, but Norse words like Garth and Thwaite would still have been in common circulation and used for these new place-names.
In the following list, the presumed Old Norse root is given in italics
Beck (bekkr) – a stream
Birk (birka) – birch tree (e.g. Birk How in Eskdale)
Blea (blar) - blue (e.g. Blea Tarn)
Both (both) – a shack or cabin (Armboth)
Brant (brattr) – steep (e.g. Brantwood)
-break (brecca) – a slope (e.g. Melbreak, see also Mell)
Crook (krokr) – a bend (e.g. Crookdale)
Dale (dalr) – valley
Dyke (diki) – trench or bank of earth (e.g. How Dyke , Bassenthwaite)
Dub (dappi) – small pond or pool (e.g. Lambfoot Dub, on Scafell)
Erg (erg) – hill pasture (e.g. Sizergh, originally Sigarith’s Erg = Sigarith’s Pasture)
Fell (fjal) – mountain
Flow (floi) –marsh or swamp (e.g. Wedholme Flow on the Solway Coast)
Force (foss) – waterfall (e.g. Aira Force)
Gate (gata) – roadway or passage (e.g. Gatesgarth)
Garth (garðr) – enclosed space, usually referring to the pasture around a farmstead (eg. Dalegarth). Guards (eg Grassguards in Dunnerdale) has the same root.
Gill or Ghyll (gil) – ravine. Gale (as in Gale Fell) probably has the same origin.
Grains or Grain (grein) – forked (e.g. Grainsgill)
Hag/Hagg (hagi) – a pasture (e.g. Hagg Gill)
Hause (hals) – pass (e.g. Esk Hause)
Holme (holmr) – meadow (e.g. Home Wood, Loweswater) or island (Lady’s Holme, Windermere). The link between the two usages may derive from a meaning of holmr used to describe an area of valley meadow that lies above flood level.
Hope (hopr) – small creek/inlet (e.g. Hopegill)
How or Howe (haugr) – small hill, or a gravemound
Ing (engi) – a strip of low-lying meadow land (e.g. Ings)
Intack or Intake (intaka) – intake (e.g. Great Intake)
Keld (kelda) – spring or well (e.g. Cold Keld, Threlkeld)
Knipe (gnipa) – peak or top (e.g. Knipe Tarn)
Knock (hnukr) - peak or knoll (e.g. Knockmurton Fell)
Knott (knottr) – rocky knoll
Latter or Lat (latr) – an animal’s lair (e.g. Latterbarrow)
Mell or Mel (muli) – a conical hill (e.g. Mell Fell, Melbreak). The similar O.N. word melr means ‘sandbank’ and may be the origin of Mealsgate or Melbecks.
Mire (myrr) – bog (e.g. Mirehouse near Keswick)
Moss (mosi) – moorland, mossy area (e.g. Mosedale, Mosser)
Nab (nabbi) - projecting peak (eg The Nab, Nab Scar)
Ness (naes) - promontory (e.g. Bowness). Also Anglo-Saxon.
Pike (pic) – peak
Raise (hreysi) – pile of stones or cairn (e.g. High Raise)
Rake - a steep rocky track, possibly from O.N. rekja (v) to track or to follow. (e.g. Jack's Rake).
Rigg (hyggr) – ridge (e.g. High Rigg)
Sca or Scar (skaer) - isolated rock or cliff (e.g. Scafell, Whitbarrow Scar)
Scale (scali) – a shieling, or temporary summer dwelling (e.g. Scale Force = waterfall by the shieling)
Scout (scuti) – a jutting or prominent rock. (e.g. Scout Scar near Kendal)
Scree (scritha) - landslip
Seat or Side (saetr) – sheiling (temporary summer farmstead) e.g. Carl Side (Carl’s Saetr) Hawkeshead (Haukr’s Saetr)
Seeves (sefs) – rushes (e.g. ? Seathwaite = rushy clearing, Seascale = rushy shieling). Cumbrian farmers in living memory referred to cutting the seeves (pronounced ‘siffs’). Alternatively, perhaps more plausibly, Seathwaite may derive from Saetr þveit (= farm in the clearing).
Scarth (skarð) - notch or pass (e.g. Scarth Gap in Buttermere)
Skel (skel) – ledge (e.g. Skelgill)
Slack (slakki) – a shallow depression between hills (e.g. Witherslack)
Swarth (svartr) - black (e.g. Swarthmoor)
Sty (stigi) – steep ascent (e.g. Sty Head Pass)
Syke or Sike (siki) – wet ditch or drain (e.g. Syke Head)
Tarn (tjorn) – small lake
Thwaite (þveit) – Literally 'a piece cut out of', referring to a woodland clearing, or parcel of land. (e.g. Applethwaite, Thackthwaite).
-ton (tun) - meadow around farmstead, enclosed meadow (e.g. Ulverston - Ulfr's Tun) . Also Old English.
Wither (vðir) – wood (e.g. Witherslack = wooded shallow valley)
Wath (vaða) – a river ford (Wath Brow)