Scandinavian terms for landscape features in the Danelaw

Not only did the Old Norse language influence the naming of places such as villages and parishes in The Danelaw, but it also had its effect on the terms used for landscape features, both natural and agricultural.

Because such terms are now firmly enshrined in the works of the map-makers, their survival seems more certain than other Danelaw dialect words of Old Norse origin.

Natural features

DALE This term for a valley occurs widely in all the upland areas of The Danelaw. The Yorkshire Dales are particularly well known as a National Park. Individual dales normally take their name from the river which runs through them, such as Wharfedale, Nidderdale, Eskdale and so on, though there are some exceptions. The river names are not, themselves, of Old Norse origin, being in most cases very ancient and pre-Anglo-Saxon.

BARF A long, low hill.

BECK A stream or small river.

CAM Bank, slope or ridge.

FELL A high hill, mountain or hillside, particularly where this is a moorland feature.

FOSS or FORCE Waterfall or rapids.

KELD, KELL Spring or well.

LING Heather.

MOSS Bog or marshy land.

NAB Rocky projection.

TARN Upland lake.

WHIN, WHINN, WHINNY Gorse, furze or thorny vegetation.

Natural feature terms which also often occur as an element in the names of settlements:

CARR Wetland, usually with small shrubs or thin tree cover; useless for agriculture.

GILL or GHYLL A ravine or narrow valley.

HOLM, HOLME and –EY An island or drier place in a marshy area. -ey is never found on its own, only as an integral part of a place-name such as Pudsey. Holm and holme are also found mainly as an integral part of a place-name (e.g. Hipperholme) but there are one or two exceptions.

NESS Promontory or headland

SCAR Cliff or steep rock face, on the coast or inland.

SLACK Small valley or depression in the ground.

SYKE, SIKE, SITCH Small stream or gully.

Landscape terms associated with agrigulture

ENG or INGS Water meadows. This is sometimes found as a SEPARATE element in a place-name (such as Fairburn INGS) and should not be confused with the Anglo-Saxon place-name element -ing  (ingas = ‘the people of…’) where it is integral, as in PICKERING.

FLAIK, FLEEAK Fence, hurdles, railings.

GARTH Grass enclosure adjacent to a farmhouse.

GRAIN Where a stream branches (also applies to the fork of a tree).


SCALE, SCALES Summer dwelling and pasture. Can be found in relation to upland fields and also as an element in place-names.

SET, SETT, SEAT, SIDE Similar to SCALE. Summer dwelling and pasture. Can be found in relation to upland fields and also as an element in place-names.

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