Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Balder, Woden and Thor reflected in Teesdale Place-Names

Baldersdale lies within the traditional English county of the North Riding of Yorkshire, close to County Durham. The river Balder flows through Baldersdale until it joins the river Tees (the boundary between Durham and the North Riding) at Cotherstone on the Yorkshire side of the river. It is speculated in Steel River by David Simpson (1996) that the river Balder was named after the Germanic God of light. Sir Walter Scott makes reference to this in his poem Rokeby:

"Balder named from Odin's son;
And Greta, to whose banks ere long
We lead the lovers of the song;
And silver Lune from Stainmore wild
And fairy Thorsgill's murmuring child

"Beneath the shade the Northmen came,
Fixed on each vale a Runic name.
Reared high their altar's rugged stone,
And gave their gods the lands they won.
Then, Balder one bleak garth was thine,
And one sweet brooklet's silver line;
And Woden's croft did little gain
From the stern father of the slain."

"Woden's croft" is a reference to Woden Croft situated near Cotherstone, south of the river Tees. Cotherstone is an Old English place name, meaning 'Farmstead of a man called Cuthere'. (A Dictionary of Old English Place-Names, A.D. Mills, 1991). The river Greta (meaning 'stony stream' in Old Norse) is a tributary of the Tees and flows through the North Riding. Stainmore (originally Stanmoir) means 'rocky moor', derived from the Old English stan, later replaced by the Old Norse Steinn + mor.

Another verse from Rokeby refers to Thorsgill Beck, a stream which joins the River Tees at Startforth, south-west of Barnard Castle but on theYorshire side of the river:

"To Odin's son and
Spifia's spouse,
Near Startforth
high they paid
their vows,
Thor's victorious fame,
And gave
the dell the
Thunderer's name.

Startforth is derived from Stradford (Domesday Book, 1086) and earlier Stretford (1050), meaning 'Ford on a Roman road', from the Old English straet + ford.  


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