Terranean homesick browns

While discussing the double naming, in Greek then Latin, of the moth species selenia lunularia, Martin of Martin’s Moths mentions Pendle Hill, commenting that name consists of the word “hill” in three different languages: Cumbric, Old English and then current English.

Pendle Hill looms over my childhood, not unkindly; a stooping, occasionally morose, distant uncle you might just about remember from your fifth birthday. From the west, it basks in the variable Lancastrian climate like a baleful, dun-coloured whale, its sigmoid snout rearing out to the north, quizzing the passing air for any scent of invading Yorkshireman.

In that way it looms almost literally too, but my memory of seeing it from my panoramic bedroom window is probably a false one. I know I could see Mellor Hill, but I’m almost certain that the undulations of our housing estate would have kept me from seeing quite so far to the north-east, although the direction seems to have been roughly correct. Anyway, I only had to venture near my friend’s house in Clayton-le-Dale to see as well as feel the gravitational pull of that sinister, vigilant feature of the landscape.

When my grandma died, K. came home with me, to keep me company and (which could have been awkward but wasn’t) meet my extended Catholic family for the first time. To entertain her guest, and also to take her own mind off recent events, my mother took K. and me out to Clitheroe Castle one day, to hear about the Pendle witches and also see the hill. Although she didn’t realise it at the time, Mum was therefore introducing K. to my extended pagan family too.

Only much later than that even, long after a childhood in its shadow and an early adulthood much further away, did I (or maybe it was K.) work out the linguistic trickery of hill-hill-hill. But that’s the problem with those queer, unfocussed relatives from days long gone by, introduced to you by odd-sounding names when you were still in your crib: in retrospect, you have a hard time working out what they were really called.

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