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The Language of the Lakeland Fells

by admin on July 13, 2015

In another article about the Lakeland fells I referred to my rather unsatisfactory dictionary search for the word “fell”.

Having lived and worked for much of my life close to, and indeed at times among, the fells I didn’t need a definition myself. However, some people may come across the term in the titles of the many books of Wainwright’s walks and wonder where the word “Fell” comes from, not being familiar with north of England vocabulary. Many of we Notherners are descended from the Norse settlers of a thousand and more years ago. We have some “funny” words – or at least that’s what some non-Northerners think.

Yes, the word “fell” comes from old Norse and means a barren area of upland. Or does it? Well, actually there’s a bit more subtlety to it, and I think an extract from the Wikipedia article might well help.

“In Northern England, especially in the Lake District and in the Pennine Dales, the word fell originally referred to an area of uncultivated high ground used as common grazing. This meaning is found in the names of various breeds of livestock, bred for life on the uplands, such as Rough Fell sheep and Fell ponies. It is also found in many place names across the North of England, often attached to the name of a community; thus Seathwaite Fell, for example, would be the common grazing land used by the farmers of Seathwaite. The fellgate marks the road from a settlement onto the fell.”

“Fell” can refer to any one of the mountains and hills of the Lake District and the Pennine Dales. This meaning tends to overlap with the previous one, especially where place names are concerned: in particular, names that originally referred to grazing areas tend to be applied to hilltops, as is the case with the aforementioned Seathwaite Fell. In other cases the reverse is true; for instance, the name of Wetherlam, in the Coniston Fells, though understood to refer to the mountain as a whole, strictly speaking refers to the summit; the slopes have names such as Tilberthwaite High Fell, Low Fell and Above Beck Fells.”

“In northern England, there is a Lord of the Fells – this ancient aristocratic title being associated with the Lords of Bowland. …”

[Credit to: Wikipedia; there’s more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fell]

So there we are. We now know a bit more about the terminology of the Lakeland fells. This site, of course, is devoted principally to A. Wainwright’s walks as described in his “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells”. Yes, even after sixty years or so Alfred Wainwright’s eight volumes are an ideal way to experience the fantastic scenery of the Lake District.

True, some of them can be tough on the knees and ankles, especially elderly ones, but not all are terribly strenuous. Why not plan to tackle a few Lakeland fells yourself if you haven’t done so yet with the books of Wainwright walks as your guides.

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