Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A bit of geographical and cultural perspective

Isn't life strange? Perhaps not quite 'a turn of the page' as the Moody Blues sang, but certainly capable of throwing you a curveball.

In the space of a week, earlier this month, I went from being a northerner in the south, to being a southerner in the north. No longer a token Geordie in the English south Midlands, but a recently-fledged ferry louper on Orkney. 

'Ferry louper', literally 'ferry jumper', is a sometimes derogatory but usually light-hearted name used by Orcadians to described non-Orcadians, presumably irrespective of whether they disembarked jauntily from one of the ferries or arrived by air at Kirkwall Airport.

Born and raised in south west County Durham, in the north east of England, I grew up surrounded by 2000 years of history, which I pretty much ignored until much later in my life. The daily walk to school took in a length of Roman road, 100m of Dere Street, still complete with (if I'd bothered to look over the hedgerow into the adjoining field) evidence of the agger. This road was part of the route from York (Eboracum) to the Antonine Wall and took in the nearby fort of Vinovia at Binchester by the River Wear.

As I recall, the only pre-Roman site I visited back then was the Stanwick Iron Age Fortifications, or Stanwick Camp, whose name is actually thought to come from the Old Norse 'steinvegges' or stone walls. And there we have it, the dragon-headed elephant in the room, the Vikings, who left more of a mark on the north east of England in its language and dialects than the all-conquering Romans could've dreamed of. I'll draw a discreet veil over the Norman period and the ethnic-cleansing-esque Harrying of the North, and leave County Durham basking in the glow of its later moniker, the Land of the Prince Bishops.

By the early 1990s and much further south, Our Lass and I were bringing up our family in Milton Keynes, again not too far from a Roman road, this time Watling Street, which was to become a significant part of my daily commute during this past fourteen years. This journey also took in Towcester, the Romans' Lactadorum, a reference to the milky waters of the River Tove, I believe. But in the post Roman period, the area was Saxon territory, and quite genteel in comparison to the rugged topography of the land of my birth.

Fast forward to 2013 (and almost 2014!) and here we are in Orkney, a place which celebrates its Norse heritage above its more recent Scottish history. Certainly, plenty of the Orcadian dialect words have parallels easily recognisable to a Durham lad, thanks to those much-travelled Vikings. Yet here is also a rich Neolithic story, which although it does not really feature in the language, is amply represented in stone. And not a Roman in sight.


Tales of a Bank Vole said...

Maybe not entirely Roman free - have you seen:


Imperfect and Tense said...

Granted, but I was referring to structures or language, really.
But I have promised myself a trip to an Italian restaurant. Does that count?