Take a Word.... Wold or Weald: Etymology; Local Words Reflecting Landscape in Yorkshire and Sussex, England
Two Words With a Link
I’m cheating a little as there are two words here instead of one. However, they have a link. The difference comes in the regional language. Landscape has a huge influence on our local tongues and thus words evolve through local usage and historical influence.
I am English; half north, half south. My father was a Yorkshireman, my mother from Sussex. To me, there is no north/south divide as is so often talked about in England. I am both. I love both.
In fact, there is a geographical characteristic which links these two ancient words; the varied woodlands, high and low. Maybe that’s why I love trees so much!
We'll travel from north to south to explore the landscapes of these words but first, let’s look at the etymology of each.
Etymology of 'wold'
An Old English term for a forest or an area of woodland on high ground; it is cognate with the Dutch ‘woud’ and with the German ‘Wald’ as well as low German ‘Wohld’, all meaning forest. It became ‘weald’ in West Saxon and Kentish (see below). The Dutch & German derivatives are more prevalent in the North East.
The development of meaning from ‘forested upland’ to ‘rolling open country’ (c.1200) is possibly from Scandinavian influence, or a testimony to the historical deforestation of Britain. The word survives mainly in place names, such as ‘Cotswold’.
Etymology of 'weald'
Old English (West Saxon) ‘weald’ meaning ‘forest, woodland’, specifically the forest between the North and South Downs in Sussex, Kent and Surrey; a West Saxon variant of Anglian ‘wald’ (see ‘wold’).
Yorkshire and Sussex
Now let's look at what these words mean in our lives. Not just words, they have a concrete foundation - actually, a chalk foundation - and a significant personal meaning to me.
We'll visit the Yorkshire Wolds in the North first, then transport ourselves south to the Sussex Weald.
Both have hills formed from chalk. The wolds have a harder chalk, as well as clay and limestone. The lower weald comprises of clay, sandstone and greensand.
The Yorkshire Wolds are low hills in the counties of the East Riding of Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, giving their name also to the district in which the hills lie. They form an arc north-south from Filey, between Bridlington and Scarborough, to Hessle, near Hull.
Go westward and you’ll find that the Wolds rise to an escarpment which then drops sharply to the Vale of York, Yorkshire’s county town. The highest point on the escarpment is 807 feet (246 m) above sea level. Travel north and you come upon the North York Moors, inhospitable in bad weather but a landscape to inspire. To the east the hills dip into the plain of Holderness and take you to the coast where the beaches such as Bridlington are popular with tourists.
This area offers a variety of leisure activities, from gentle walking to rambling and climbing, from beautiful lush green landscapes to coastal headland and views.
Topography and Farming
The Yorkshire Wolds comprise mostly of an elevated, gently rolling plateau, divided by deep, steep-sided, flat valleys formed by ancient glaciers. The chalk provides excellent drainage, with the result that most of the valleys are dry and therefore surface water is scarce.
The valleys are hard to see from above, so the landscape appears flatter than it is. This topography results in the sheep and cows grazing in the valleys, whilst the hills are used for crops, an inverted way of farming.
This is a chalk headland with sheer white cliffs, sporting two lighthouse towers. Amongst the cliffs can be found nesting sites for seabirds such as northern gannets, kittiwakes and Atlantic Puffins. It is part of the Heritage Coast and a wonderful area for twitchers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Driffield and Fridaythorpe
The largest town in the Wolds is Driffield and the highest village has the charming name of Fridaythorpe, at 550 feet (170 m) above sea level. It has a picturesque church and is on the Yorkshire Wolds Way National Trail, a long-distance footpath.
The trail takes us through the rolling hills and the valleys, along chalk tracks, into open country and delights us with wide vistas. Indeed it is not unlike 'my' South Downs.
On this path, walkers are invited to sit on Poetry Benches, take a piece of paper, write their own little poem, leave it in the box and feel part of the landscape. It's called Secret Art. What a lovely idea!
Church in Fridaythorpe
Make the Words Match the Landscape!
My Poem for Wold and Weald
Sweep of rolling green,
a touch of barley cream,
then slatted wood, unseen
just round the corner.
Bench under open sky,
surprising to the eye,
makes me wonder why,
I sit down and I ponder.
Verse carved in the wood,
and then I understood,
invited to, I could
pen words describing yonder.
So here goes; I look,
like reading, as a book,
all round me nature took
my breath away, thoughts wander….
Wold and Weald have much alike,
sweeping green, translucent rays,
folds and tufts, dark green, sage, lime
horizons cool and lofty.
Rough grass crunches underfoot,
short-cut by sheep, trodden flat
by boots of ramblers revelling
in lungsful of air, passing through
as history paves the way.
Lazy stroll down chalk-rut tracks,
puffing climb to reach stony brows
to stand and gasp, eyes wide, full of space,
surveying yet more stretching beyond
imagination, in its infinite variety.
Thus marks the landscape upon our minds.
Thus we imbibe all that lives and grows,
thus we become more a part of, more connected to,
this land, be it Wold or Weald.
Area of the Weald
Let's move south to the Weald, an area of South East England between the parallel chalk escarpments of the North and the South Downs. As well as crossing county boundaries, it has three separate parts:
- the sandstone "High Weald" in the centre,
- the clay "Low Weald" periphery
- and the Greensand Ridge, which stretches around the north and west of the Weald and includes its highest points.
Long ago, the whole area was covered with forest, used as a place of refuge and sanctuary during Anglo-Saxon times. Much still remains though it has suffered from deforestation. Farms and villages often refer to the Weald in their names. There were settlements all over the area as well as along the coast from Hastings to Hythe.
This is my home, the Sussex Weald north of Brighton, where chalk meets clay and a little sand, between the North and South Downs. ‘Downs’ is a common word for hills, despite implying the contrary!
Many parts of the Sussex Weald are designated as ‘Areas of Outstanding Beauty’, a name which is well-deserved. It covers about 85 miles (137 km) from west to east, and about 30 miles (48 km) from north to south, an area of roughly 500 square miles (1,300 km2) and boasting rolling hills and sandstone outcrops.
The landscape is described as ‘cut through by streams to form steep-sided ravines, known as ‘gills’, with small irregular-shaped fields and patches of heathland, as well as abundant woodlands, scattered farmsteads and sunken lanes and paths’. Stand atop Devil’s Dyke on the South Downs and you will survey the whole area on a clear day. A village not far away with the tall church spire is Hurstpierpoint, a typical Sussex village and where I spent most of my childhood and teens.
Across the WealdClick thumbnail to view full-size
HurstpierpointClick thumbnail to view full-size
Rivers which cut through this area, familiar to me, are the Ouse which runs through Lewes (pronounced loo-iss) and down to the English Channel at Newhaven, the Arun flowing through Arundel and reaching the Channel at Littlehampton and the Adur, rising at Ditchling and reaching the sea at Shoreham-by-Sea. Ditchling is close to Hurstpierpoint and I was born in Shoreham and a pretty little place it is, still dominated by a high chimney on the harbour.
Ashdown Forest and Winnie-the-Pooh
If any of you are familiar with A A Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, you might have heard of Ashdown Forest, known as the Hundred Acre Wood in those stories. The forest is in the east of the Sussex Weald and is where Christopher Robin and Pooh play ‘pooh-sticks’ on the bridge, throwing a twig each from one side and running to the other to see whose emerges first.
Ashdown Forest's origins are as a medieval hunting forest created soon after the Normans’ conquest of England.
Pooh-Sticks Bridge and Ashdown Forest
Two Words for Two Halves
I still live in the south, though in Somerset, not in Sussex. I go back there once in a while though and still feel I’m going home. My sister lives in the north, in York, near where she was born and brought up. She knows the Wolds, I know the Weald.
So this is a story of two halves: my sister and I, north and south, two words, two accents, two coasts, two forested areas with open aspects, both including chalk hills and splendid open countryside.
What a diverse and close country we live in: near and far, wide open and valleyed, green fields, craggy hills and long coastlines with beaches, some sandy, some pebbly.
We also have such a diverse language. Be it wold or weald, the forests and the open greenland give us room to explore, fresh air to breathe and a heritage to value and preserve for as long as we can.
The richness of our language also deserves to be cherished by passing on specific words such as these at every opportunity.
Wold or Weald?
Have you heard of these two words before?
Words of North and South, East and West
Do you know of words which are close in meaning but come from separate parts of your country?
© 2018 Ann Carr