On… Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

If you need any more proof that humans can be incredibly stupid, other than all the wars we wage and the flat-earthers etc, then look no further than the names of places. Some of the names we have chosen (emphasis on chosen – real people made these decisions) to give to the places where we reside are absolutely dumbfounding. For proof, look no further than the longest place name in the United Kingdom – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Yes, you did read that correctly, in the United Kingdom, but not in the entire world. And no, you definitely didn’t read the place name correctly. Who could read it properly? Not even 5% of the Welsh population, I’d bet.

I thought that it was the longest place name in the world when I started writing this. But, to my horror, when looking at the Wikipedia page for the village, I saw that it was referred to as the second-longest place name in the world. My blood started to boil. I felt a need to punish my poor keyboard on my laptop by hammering out my frustrations on this blog and dragging my readers through my unrelenting outrage.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a small village near Bangor. Its name translates to, get ready for it, “St Marys Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave”. Well, apparently it does, but it is impossible to verify for the vast majority of us. If someone came up with it in the modern day, it would be more logical to assume that they spilt their coffee all over the keyboard, causing it to malfunction and start indiscriminately typing letters. But it wasn’t made in the modern day, it was named in the 19th century, which is still far too modern for it to be acceptable.

Quite remarkable how the translation manages to only be 58 characters, yet conveys an entire Lord of the Rings storyline within it. That is actually one thing I am willing to praise it on – as I read the translation, I felt transported to a magical place of mythical creatures and awe-inspiring landscapes. When you consider it in this light, it is actually rather concise, as opposed to being obnoxiously long. Perhaps to the Welsh speaker, it is actually rather beautiful and insightful; a hymn sheet from which the essence of Wales itself is defined – rolling hills of consonants with the occasional vowel, signifying the ‘baaaaaaaaa’ of the sheep that surround the small village.

In actual fact, it doesn’t matter whatsoever how long the names of places are, as it makes very little difference to mine or anyone else’s lives, but it’s fun to get faux-frustrated sometimes. The people who it impacts the most are the locals of the village and the villages surrounding it who have to commonly refer to it. If I lived in the village, I would be writing a strongly worded email to my local farmer/councillor/counsellor (because I assume everyone has to hold a multitude of roles in rural Welsh villages). Most of the character count would be dedicated to writing the name of the village, anyway.

“Dear Mayor/Representative/Neighbour of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. I don’t know if you are aware, but our town name is longer than all 3 of our neighbour’s town names combined. If the government paid me for the time that I spend correctly pronouncing it to tourists in the street, I may be more invested in retaining the status quo, but seeing as you have rejected my many requests for this to be made an official job, I detest doing it. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it myself. I just make sure that I sound extra Welsh as I incoherently blurt out a bundle of letters and watch as the minute hand ticks on my watch, ensuring that the facade goes on for a little over 1.5 minutes, but that it never exceeds 2.”

I’m such a bad actor that even my written monologues come off in an English accent. What a pity.

There is actually a shortened version of the village name – Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. It still looks like total nonsense, but it loses most of the comedy and charm when it isn’t 58 characters long, like its long-form twin. I wonder if, upon realising that they did not actually have the longest place name in the world, and were actually second, they shortened it. The endless letters they had to scribe when writing their address finally wearing them out, and the financial burden of paying 5 times more than the average person when purchasing a new driving licence due to the ‘Address’ section. It’s hard to carry around a driving licence when it has to be in A4 size, you know?

The village’s population was 3,107 according to the 2011 census. Of those people, 71% speak Welsh. I’m assuming that still means that 29% of people can’t pronounce their own village name. I’d even be willing to bet that at least half of the Welsh-speaking population in the village also can’t pronounce the name of the village that they grew up in. I wouldn’t even blame them – who could? They’ve been cursed by some old-school Welsh elitist who felt it appropriate to name their settlement possibly the most ridiculous name on planet Earth. But it ISN’T the most ridiculously named place on planet earth, is it? There is another place, far far away, which towers over this fair Welsh village on the podium of place names.

New Zealand holds the longest name of a place on planet Earth. ‘Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu’ is an actual name of an actual place. Now, even as I write this, I haven’t made it all the way through this place name, but I haven’t made it all the way through the one in Wales either. It isn’t the language barrier that is the problem. I actually just get bored after the first 15 characters. We aren’t predisposed to spend 30 seconds reading the name of a single place. Language is a dynamic, living force within us. Without it, we wouldn’t have ascended to the top of the food chain.

Our ability to communicate complex ideas and understand each other is exactly what separates us from nearly every other creature on this planet. We don’t only have the ability to tell each other when there is danger coming, we can explain why it is dangerous, how it is dangerous, that we find dangerous situations extremely sexy, and then we can agree on a safe word before proceeding with the …danger… Quite amazing really. Yet, these places expect us to sit around, learning every painful letter and syllable so we can pronounce the name of a place that we are very unlikely to go to for any other reason than to take a picture next to the sign. Well, I’m fine thank you, darling. The UK actually hosts a number of funnier names that are far shorter, such as ‘Sandy Balls’ in Hampshire, or ‘Shitterton’ in Dorset.

The number of spaces in the New Zealand name also makes it invalid in my opinion. There’s a reason why we don’t reel off sentences and assign them as place names, and that’s because it’s stupid. Want to know what the name translates to? Do you care? Probably not, but here it is: ‘The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one’. Another Lord of the Rings narrative – what is with these places?

Now, I have since realised that it is often stylised as a single word, so my previous point about spaces is less valid, although still perfectly valid, but I’ve also seen it separated by hyphens, or just split into what I assume are words in the Maori language. In actual fact, it should have numerous spaces in it, because it’s a full sentence, and as far as I’m aware, sentences have spaces, but that might be my limited knowledge of languages hindering me.

Perhaps some languages allow people who name places and make signs to disregard spaces so long as there is a record to be broken. I might email my local council about changing the name of where I live to ‘HomeOfTheHouseWhereCancerDanTheCancerManLivedAfterFightingCancerWithHisPancreasButLostHisPancreasInTheProcess’. At 109 characters, it would be the longest place name in the world, putting my little part of London on the map and encouraging tourism, whilst also catapulting me to minor stardom. There are no losers, only winners. Every time anyone fills in their address in the neighbourhood, they’ll be reminded of my feats against cancer, just like the people of New Zealand are reminded of Tamatea’s big knees whenever they visit Taumata Whakatangi Hangakoau… etc etc etc etc etc.

Come to think of it, we could make the name even more characters… ‘HomeOfTheHouseWhereCancerDanTheCancerManWithTheAverageSizedKneesLivedAfterFightingCancerWithHisPancreasButLostHisPancreasInTheProcess’. Impressive. I can’t wait for the inevitable tourism boom, and interest in just how average-sized my knees really are (I’d actually opine that they are smaller than average, but we’ll see what the press says when they swarm all over the story like flies on rotten fruit).

It’s quite surprising that the length of place names hasn’t become a perpetual pissing contest between smaller places of the world. I picture it going like this: a small village realises that it has a boring old standard name, so changes it to a longer, sillier form, and then earns a place on the podium. Within 5 years, we’ll have a place name hitting the 1000-character mark. It sounds like hell, but it could be interesting. Still, there are some solid entries in the current list. Number 10 in the list is ‘Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya’ in Australia, at a measly 26 characters long. That is very beatable! It still looks absolutely ridiculous, but it is a lot less characters than the top entry which, as we know, is 85. One advantage that 10th place has over all of the others is that it translates to ‘where the devil urinates’. Ok, Australia, you’ve made it onto the bucket list, alongside Sandy Balls and Shitterton. Well done.

Yet for all of my complaining and sarcasm, the reason that I know about these long place names is because of a teacher that I had in primary school who could pronounce the entire of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch from memory. It was very impressive. Granted, I wasn’t in a position to know whether she did it correctly, but she did it with confidence, so I always believed her. I was also under the age of 10 when this happened, so was more than likely susceptible to being duped, alongside the rest of the class who also stood in disbelief as she recited it back to us. I’m pretty sure I saw some of her hair turn grey during the process. By the time she finished, the year had actually concluded, and I found myself getting ready for secondary school. She’s probably only had time to say it another 3 or 4 times since then. Hopefully, she has found some other things to do with her time.

So, this isn’t a post which is particularly in favour or anti-long place names. It is a post to encourage you to look into niche topics because there is always plenty of fun to be had in diving into them. I can’t remember what my life was like before I learnt of where the devil pissed, but I’m sure it was a little less interesting.

Whitby

The ‘C’ Word

English people are quite bad at recognising that their country of origin is very beautiful. I know this because I am an English person and I frequently undervalue the appeal of my homeland. When it comes to holidays, we usually favour taking advantage of cheap flights into Europe to get better guarantees of good weather (and usually cheaper alcohol too, depending on where you’re going). After all, the English have a terrible reputation to uphold overseas. We’ll be damned if any travelling Englishman tries to improve it by learning some of the local language or by not drinking 8 pints at the airport pre-7am flight. But navigating airports is a pain in the bottom, and I need to see more of the wonderful English seaside. I only made it to Dorset for the first time last year and I was absolutely stunned at how beautiful it is. So, I thought I’d try my hand at some domestic holidaying this weekend. That’s why Anna, Lucy and I booked a little Airbnb in Whitby, a picturesque English town situated on the Yorkshire coast in North England. It is really worth a visit.

I didn’t know a lot about Whitby before visiting it. To be honest, I still don’t know loads about it, but I certainly know more. There is an astounding demand for fish and chips. Usually, you cannot walk for 5 minutes in an English town without seeing another pub, which is true of Whitby too. The difference in Whitby is that the pub will have a huge banner outside it stating that they serve the best fish and chips in the country, whilst being sandwiched in-between two other places which also, somehow, serve the country’s best fish and chips. I’m not sure if there is a recorded statistic on how many individual chips are sold in Whitby per year, but I bet it exceeds the total number of ants estimated to exist in the world. And who gets to eat all of the chips that don’t make it into the stomachs of tourists? The fucking seagulls.

Before I start on this topic – yes, I know seagulls aren’t only in Whitby. I even know that the seagulls in Whitby aren’t the worst in the country… that award goes to the Brighton seagulls, who are absolute thugs. Take the worst animal on the planet and give them the diplomacy of a Londoner being told that they have to wait an entire FIVE minutes before the next tube will arrive, and the result is the scum which is a Brighton seagull. The audacity of these things is off the chart. I saw a Brighton seagull divebomb into a young girl’s portion of chips which were in her hand, knock them on the floor and then proceed to eat the chips as her entire family chased it around in circles. The family abandoned the operation when the rest of its gang all flew in to obtain some of the loot. The girl was off crying to the side by this point… I think she had lost her appetite.

I do have a particular bone to pick with the seagulls of Whitby, though. I’ve been woken up by seagulls every single day at 5am. I’m pretty sure no sentient being would make the noises these birds do at this time if they weren’t also aware of how INFURIATING it is. Waking up to songbirds is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I am lucky enough to experience it frequently at my parent’s house in Cheshire, where I currently live. They have a nice sized garden which contains a lot of bushes and bird feeders, the perfect combination for attracting birds. The nice kind of birds. Seagulls, however, seem to have learnt their morning call from someone who hasn’t stopped drinking for an entire year and has now forgotten how to communicate. In lieu of real words, they have resorted to simply making whatever noise they feel they can vocalise the loudest to disturb the most number of people, in hope that one of them understands what they are actually trying to say. “GAH… GAH… GAH,” they call to each other over their morning coffee (which they probably fished out of the ocean). I know that a neighbouring dog also hates the seagulls because it proceeds to bark incredibly loudly back at them all morning. I can only assume the owners of this dog are deaf because they make no attempt at stopping it from doing so. The dog is on my side, though, so I shouldn’t be getting annoyed at it. It’s the seagull’s fault, Dan. Remember that. Seagulls are the most obnoxious animals ON THIS PLANET. If I had been starved of food for an entire month and someone offered me a plate of seagull, I’d throw the meat straight into the ocean and proceed to eat the plate itself.

Despite being a walking zombie due to lack of sleep, I managed to pull my walking socks up and do a beautiful 7-mile walk along the coast on Saturday morning. We got the bus to a place called Robin Hood’s Bay and embarked on the walk back to Whitby. The weather started out a little cool, making us both panic that we had under-dressed as we got off the bus. That theory lasted about 30 minutes before we realised that we were absolutely boiling already and that it was only getting warmer. Anna tied her coat around her waist but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It just looks so weird. I opted to carry mine for the best part of 5 miles.

Lucy absolutely loved it. For such a small dog, she really can walk a long way. I doubted that she would be able to see the walk through and suspected that we’d have to carry her some of the way. We didn’t! There were a few firsts along the way too; the first time she met a lamb up close, the first time she stepped onto a beach, and the first time that she saw the sea. She did not like any of them. At one point, we encountered a lamb which had managed to get through a fence and was on the walkway. It seemed quite distressed and (what I assume was) its family were on the other side, also panicking. They weren’t doing a good job of helping it resolve the issue. As we approached and decided we needed to assist, Lucy went into meltdown mode. She had no idea what it was, but she wanted Anna and I to know that she was not happy about it being there. Lucy has met sheep before, but they have always been far away or on the other side of the fence. I didn’t realise that she took confidence from fences separating her from other threatening animals – it actually makes me think that she’s smarter than I give her credit. I had to pick her up and turn away from the lamb to try and stop her barking and crying whilst Anna opened a metal fence and encouraged the lamb through. The lamb did so and then the entire herd ran as far away from us as possible. We like to think that we earnt ourselves some good karma from it. A couple walking slightly ahead of us totally ignored its plight.

Lucy On the Run – ft Terrible Australian Accents

The walk ended in Whitby. There are the remains of an abbey on a hill overlooking the town. It’s called Whitby Abbey, for some reason. Next to it is a brewery that serves pizza. We decided to call into it and have a pint and a pizza to celebrate. It had just turned 13:00 and we felt accomplished. The second we sat down, Lucy passed out and wouldn’t be stirred (other than when there was pizza on the table – you could get her heart to start beating again by waving food in front of her nose). It made for quite a cute sight and a few people came over to chat to us about her. She couldn’t have cared less and would only briefly open her eyes to give us ‘the stare’ if we were moving her too much or being too loud. The brewery is lovely – I’d really recommend doing the coastal walk and finishing in there. We didn’t go into the ruins of the abbey; It cost £10 to enter the site and we could see it from our table in the brewery anyway.

Another thing I’ve learnt about Whitby is that apparently, it has an association with Dracula. I haven’t read the book or seen any of the films which I assume exist, so I’ve only read what the relationship is about on Google. There are 199 steps up to the Abbey that he walks up in the novel, and they are now famous because of it. I didn’t count the steps myself but I’m willing to concede to what the legend says. There is Dracula merchandise in all of the gift shops and a museum called The Dracula Experience. People go Dracula mad in Whitby. Anna told me to strike a Dracula pose as we descended the stairs from the abbey. The one day that I didn’t wear my cape and fangs to go out walking – how frustrating. I didn’t manage the most convincing image and I’m pretty sure no one would ever guess I’m trying to be Dracula from what I am doing. If I’d just had chemotherapy it would have been better as the process seems to wipe any colour from my face for a day or two.

Dracula Dan Climbing the 199 Stairs

On Sunday we decided to drive to Newcastle as neither of us had ever been there. It’s another hour and a half north of Whitby. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After spending the morning Googling ‘what to do in Newcastle’, I established that the main things were to walk the various bridges over the river and enjoy the quayside. Ok, not really, but that’s what someone suggested on a random forum when someone asked ‘what can I do with a few hours in Newcastle’. We decided to park South of the river and walk over one of the bridges, then find somewhere to eat.

As we made our way over The Tyne bridge, I suspected that we had over-anticipated just how good walking over a bridge could be. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t groundbreaking either. It is essentially a dual-carriageway with a pavement next to it but elevated from the ground. You did get a nice view down the river and into the city, but it wasn’t amazing. In Philadelphia, I used to regularly run over The Benjamin Franklin Bridge. That bridge was much higher, and pedestrians had their own separate walkway which went above the level of the traffic – a much cooler bridge experience. I always did my hill repeats on it.

As we approached the north side of the bridge, I noticed something laying on the ground. Lucy ran towards it with purpose so I assumed it was food. I pulled her back to inspect it closer. To my surprise, it was a used tampon. I didn’t see it on TripAdvisor, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a piece of shock art or a historical artefact. We took the executive decision to not let Lucy anywhere near it and proceeded to the quayside. Quite an introduction to the city. I’ve never seen Geordie Shore, but I assume it is a result of that show somehow.

We spent our few hours there walking around and getting a feel for the city. Neither of us ate breakfast, so we wanted to find a nice cafe quickly. The one we chose didn’t end up being very good. Hunger defeated logic. All of the food was overpriced and the quality was poor. I’m not going to name it as I’m not writing the blog to critique restaurants. Lucy seemed to enjoy herself, though. After incessantly crying because she was on the floor, I decided to pick her up and have her on my lap. She’s well behaved usually but she had been sitting in a car all morning, so I think she was a bit restless. We hadn’t walked around very much at this point. I was eating a cheese and tomato croissant when all of a sudden, Lucy lunged and ripped the top half of the croissant off and wolfed it down. The table next to us were in disbelief and couldn’t stop laughing. A woman on another table just looked horrified, but she looked that way before Lucy nicked the croissant; she didn’t seem too enamoured by the small amount of space inside, the pushy waiting staff or the large, overambitious menu options. Inside my mind I agreed with her, but I doubled down and ordered plenty of food just so I didn’t leave hungry AND disappointed. I had nothing but admiration for the move from Lucy. The croissant was quite average so it wasn’t a huge loss. I also wouldn’t usually order a filled croissant – why mess with something that is already perfect? I think Lucy wanted to teach me a lesson. Lesson learnt. We left feeling full but disappointed. The rest of our time was spent walking around parks and looking at some of the local sights. The only time we recorded anything was when we saw The Angel of the North from the motorway on the way home. It isn’t as big as I thought it’d be, but it was still cool.

Wow – The Angel of the North!

We got back to Whitby at about 17:00 and chilled out for an hour at the Airbnb. The sun was fully out now but it was still a bit cold. As it is our last night here, we wanted to go into the town for a while. We headed back out and went to a dog-friendly beach by Whitby harbour. We figured out how to make Lucy like beaches – show her that you can dig in the sand without consequence. Lucy is a big fan of digging. My dad, however, is not a fan of her digging. He is forever shouting at her for ruining the flower beds and digging up bulbs to chew on. Of course, knowing that she isn’t meant to do it only makes her enjoy it more, comme stealing croissants or trying to eat tampons off the street. Once Anna encouraged Lucy to dig and she realised it wouldn’t get her in trouble, she fell in love with the beach.

Lucy Finally Digging the Beach

So, I’m finishing this blog post off whilst sitting in the Airbnb on our final night here. My family got me a voucher for Airbnb my birthday – what a lovely and thoughtful present from them. We tried to book a few different weekends away but had to cancel, either because I felt too ill or because other medical issues got in the way. It is nice to post all of these pictures and videos and reflect on the past few days, knowing that I’ve successfully got out of my bubble. I like my bubble, but it is so beneficial to break out of it occasionally. We’ll spend a bit of time walking around the town tomorrow morning and give Lucy another run around on the beach, then we’ll make the two and a half-hour drive back to Cheshire before the evening rush hour hits. It’s been great, Whitby. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again in the future.