The Norse York Moors

The geography of the North York Moors has had a direct influence on language and dialect. Bordered by the North Sea to the east, this part of Yorkshire has been influenced by Scandinavian invasions, and many place names and words are a legacy from that time. 

The scar of Scarborough comes from the Old Norse word for a rocky outcrop, while the skel of Skelton means a flood or a spill. The -thorpe of Ainthorpe and Gristhorpe comes from the word for a remote farm, and the -by of Whitby, Ellerby and Barnby means settlement or holding in Old Norse – and town in modern Norwegian! Many dialect nature terms and words for features of the landscape have Viking roots too: barf (a hill), keld (a spring or well) and syke (small stream or gulley) all come from Old Norse. 

Tricky terrain

The high ground of the moorlands is divided into a number of dales (valleys), including Eskdale, Bransdale and Rosedale, many of which are accessed via brant banks (steep hills).

In an age before motorised transport, travel between the dales required physical effort at the best of times. In the winter months, it became particularly gruelling and sometimes impossible. In these isolating conditions, dales communities became very close-knit. Each had its own traditions, differing from dale to dale and with dialect variation to match.

The ‘stereotypical’ Yorkshire accents that are familiar to people from television and radio broadcasts usually hail from urban centres such as Sheffield or Leeds. The language of the North York Moors is much less well-known and recognised.

Ryedale Folk Museum is located in the picturesque moorland village of Hutton-le-Hole. The ‘le’ itself is a dialect word for ‘in the’ and also found in nearby Thornton-le-Dale and Appleton-le-Moors. A beautiful beck (stream) winds its way through the village, and sheep continue to graze freely, following the traditions of heft-farming. 

Heather in these parts was often known by the name of one of the three main heather varieties – ling. Flying above it you might find crakes (crows) or crukes (rooks) and to mark the arrival of spring you could look out for a terfit (lapwing); there are thought to be around three thousand breeding pairs currently in the region. By the back end of the year (autumn/winter) these move to the lowland fields after breeding season. If you pick up a pebble on your walk, you could call it a clemmy. But make sure you don’t get yourself in bother with a plother (deep mud).

A landscape of hills and fields

‘View of Great Fryup Dale looking south.' ( LAVC/PHO/P0048)

A Landscape of hills and fields

‘View of Fairy Hill and Fairy Cross Plain (North Yorkshire).' ( LAVC/PHO/P0050)