Saturday, 20 November 2010

Pub names are a great source of local folklore

When I'm travelling around I love to find out about the folklore of the places I visit. Usually I'll do some research in one of my books or online before or while I'm there to try and glean some folklore factoids about the area. But one of the best ways to learn interesting tidbits about the town or city you're in, especially in the UK, is to look at pub names.

The names of pubs often have a traditional link to the location. Take Kingston Lisle in Oxfordshire, for example. If you are wandering through the area, you may come across a pub called The Blowing Stone and wonder "why the hell is this pub called The Blowing Stone?". Close to the pub is Blowing Stone Hill, atop which lies a perforated sarsen stone boulder that, if done right, when blown into can produce a sound not unlike a horn. Apparently not very many people have been able to create the sound, and I have yet had the chance to try, but the stone has a rich legend attached to it. Legend tells that Alfred the Great used the stone as a horn to summon his Saxon army to fend off the Viking invaders in the Battle of Ashdown. Apparently this became to be known as the King's Stone, which is reputedly where the village got its name.

Sometimes it's difficult to discern whether the name is unique to the location. There are probably a dozen pubs called The Dun Cow scattered across England as many areas have their own spin on the legendary tale of the monserous cow and how they are linked to the story. But it's definitely advised that you check out pub names as a source of local folklore. Also, it's a good excuse to go on a pub crawl.