When meanings of place names stretch imagination
I know it's not exactly Paris-Dakar in terms of distance but driving in the Cotswolds can be if you lose your way. In such eventualities you should always be ready with a parlour game so your children think it's a good thing whenever you arrive at signposts they're sure they've seen already.
The game is to guess what a place name means by taking it at face value, such as Andoversford, off the A40 just east of Cheltenham, where kids can imagine it was once a river crossing where highwaymen bailed up coaches. Then again, some names are literal, like the Gloucestershire hamlet of Ready Token, near Poulton, which the Cotswold District Council website says was "named after an inn where ready cash or tokens were required."
This doesn't mean that in Little Wolford, near Todenham, there once lived a little wolf. After all, this is England where our ancient world has developed through a mixture of fable, cold logic and spelling mistakes and you can't really assume anything. Did a miser in a den live in Miserden or a Turk called Dean live at Turkdean?
Frankly, the truth is often so hard to get at it is sometimes more fun to invent our own versions of how place names came about. So, just as there are no old sods in Old Sodbury or little ones in Little Sodbury, here is my spurious explanation for the origin of the names of nearby Widley Farm and Ladyswood. One day a mysterious woman arrived and whispered in the farmer's ear telling him to meet her in the wood; but the farmer got into such a state of nervous anticipation he had an accident and never actually went. A sad story, I know, but it has a happy ending. She rang him the next day and asked where he'd got to and they got talking about how he wasn't enjoying farming any more and they moved to a bungalow in Eastbourne where he hired out deckchairs and they lived happily ever after. Now why can't British history be nice and simple like that?
Still keeping to complete fantasy, my guess is that Splatt's Wood is where people's driving's terrible; Famish Hill and Starveall attracted pessimistic farmers; and Little Solsbury Hill, just north of Bath, is a shortening of Little Sozzlebury Hill where a local tradition was fermenting berries. I'd also like to believe that there was once a Cotswold kleptomaniac – perhaps a giant who named places after things he stole and/or where he hid them – such as The Shoe, Nutterswood, Pew's Hill, Ford, Rat Hill, Hen's Cliff, Pen Hill, Bagpath, Ham, Pancake Hill, Horsepools, The Oranges Farm, The Fork, Fish Hill and Goose Hill. Giant's Cave being where he used to live, near Badminton, and the long barrow being the last thing he stole before running out of storage space.
Some names simply give praise to the joy people feel about living in the Cotswolds. One village near Bath is liked by residents so much they named a place just north of it Wick Rocks!
Best of all, what does sometimes appear so effortlessly, for the delight of everyone that passes, are some of the sweetest names imaginable, like Tiddleywink, which consists of eight houses near the village of Yatton Keynell in the south-eastern Cotswolds, in Wiltshire. You will pass the Tiddleywink sign at each end of this hamlet on the B4039 as you enter, blink and miss it.
By contrast, a few miles north of Bath you get quite the feeling that visitors might not be that welcome in one area with almost sadistic names like Hanging Hill, Freezing Hill, Beach (where there is no beach) and Lower Hamswell where your lower hams swell if you go there.
Then again, place names can simply be a charming way of telling you what once happened there, like Upper Slate Pits, Hill Barn, Mill End or Prison Copse. Others give the impression that they were the product of a less stable mind, perhaps someone on a medieval planning committee, none of whose fellow members was really concentrating whenever they proposed a name. They probably only raised their hands when it came to a vote because they thought they were being asked, "Who's going to the pub afterwards?" not, "What about 'Macaroni Wood'?"
I suspect it might also explain Twatley Manor Farm, Bangup Barn, Creephole, Dunkirk, Pennsylvania and Nibley Knoll as well as the 20 or 30 places in the Cotswolds whose second name is 'Bottom'.