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Take a Word.... Wold or Weald: Etymology; Local Words Reflecting Landscape in Yorkshire and Sussex, England


Ann likes to research the history of words, to experiment with them and to encourage others to use fresh words and idioms.

I’m cheating a little as there are two words here instead of one. However, they have a link. The difference comes in the regional language. Landscape has a huge influence on our local tongues and thus words evolve through local usage and historical influence.

I am English; half north, half south. My father was a Yorkshireman, my mother from Sussex. To me, there is no north/south divide as is so often talked about in England. I am both. I love both.

In fact, there is a geographical characteristic which links these two ancient words; the varied woodlands, high and low. Maybe that’s why I love trees so much!

We'll travel from north to south to explore the landscapes of these words but first, let’s look at the etymology of each.

Etymology of 'wold'

An Old English term for a forest or an area of woodland on high ground; it is cognate with the Dutch ‘woud’ and with the German ‘Wald’ as well as low German ‘Wohld’, all meaning forest. It became ‘weald’ in West Saxon and Kentish (see below). The Dutch & German derivatives are more prevalent in the North East.

The development of meaning from ‘forested upland’ to ‘rolling open country’ (c.1200) is possibly from Scandinavian influence, or a testimony to the historical deforestation of Britain. The word survives mainly in place names, such as ‘Cotswold’.

Yorkshire Wolds

Hilly Region East of York, in Yorkshire, a County in the Northeast of England

Hilly Region East of York, in Yorkshire, a County in the Northeast of England

Etymology of 'weald'

Old English (West Saxon) ‘weald’ meaning ‘forest, woodland’, specifically the forest between the North and South Downs in Sussex, Kent and Surrey; a West Saxon variant of Anglian ‘wald’ (see ‘wold’).

The Weald

Yorkshire and Sussex

Now let's look at what these words mean in our lives. Not just words, they have a concrete foundation - actually, a chalk foundation - and a significant personal meaning to me.

We'll visit the Yorkshire Wolds in the North first, then transport ourselves south to the Sussex Weald.

Both have hills formed from chalk. The wolds have a harder chalk, as well as clay and limestone. The lower weald comprises of clay, sandstone and greensand.

Yorkshire Wolds

The Yorkshire Wolds are low hills in the counties of the East Riding of Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, giving their name also to the district in which the hills lie. They form an arc north-south from Filey, between Bridlington and Scarborough, to Hessle, near Hull.

Go westward and you’ll find that the Wolds rise to an escarpment which then drops sharply to the Vale of York, Yorkshire’s county town. The highest point on the escarpment is 807 feet (246 m) above sea level. Travel north and you come upon the North York Moors, inhospitable in bad weather but a landscape to inspire. To the east the hills dip into the plain of Holderness and take you to the coast where the beaches such as Bridlington are popular with tourists.

This area offers a variety of leisure activities, from gentle walking to rambling and climbing, from beautiful lush green landscapes to coastal headland and views.


Bridlington Harbour & Town

Bridlington Harbour & Town

Topography and Farming

The Yorkshire Wolds comprise mostly of an elevated, gently rolling plateau, divided by deep, steep-sided, flat valleys formed by ancient glaciers. The chalk provides excellent drainage, with the result that most of the valleys are dry and therefore surface water is scarce.

The valleys are hard to see from above, so the landscape appears flatter than it is. This topography results in the sheep and cows grazing in the valleys, whilst the hills are used for crops, an inverted way of farming.

Flamborough Head

This is a chalk headland with sheer white cliffs, sporting two lighthouse towers. Amongst the cliffs can be found nesting sites for seabirds such as northern gannets, kittiwakes and Atlantic Puffins. It is part of the Heritage Coast and a wonderful area for twitchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Flamborough Cliffs

Beach and Cliffs at Flamborough Head

Beach and Cliffs at Flamborough Head

Driffield and Fridaythorpe

The largest town in the Wolds is Driffield and the highest village has the charming name of Fridaythorpe, at 550 feet (170 m) above sea level. It has a picturesque church and is on the Yorkshire Wolds Way National Trail, a long-distance footpath.

The trail takes us through the rolling hills and the valleys, along chalk tracks, into open country and delights us with wide vistas. Indeed it is not unlike 'my' South Downs.

On this path, walkers are invited to sit on Poetry Benches, take a piece of paper, write their own little poem, leave it in the box and feel part of the landscape. It's called Secret Art. What a lovely idea!

Church in Fridaythorpe

Make the Words Match the Landscape!

Poetry Bench: Admire the Scenery, Write an Inspired Poem!

Poetry Bench: Admire the Scenery, Write an Inspired Poem!

My Poem for Wold and Weald

Sweep of rolling green,

a touch of barley cream,

then slatted wood, unseen

just round the corner.

Bench under open sky,

surprising to the eye,

makes me wonder why,

I sit down and I ponder.

Verse carved in the wood,

and then I understood,

invited to, I could

pen words describing yonder.

So here goes; I look,

like reading, as a book,

all round me nature took

my breath away, thoughts wander….

Wold and Weald have much alike,

sweeping green, translucent rays,

folds and tufts, dark green, sage, lime

horizons cool and lofty.

Rough grass crunches underfoot,

short-cut by sheep, trodden flat

by boots of ramblers revelling

in lungsful of air, passing through

as history paves the way.

Lazy stroll down chalk-rut tracks,

puffing climb to reach stony brows

to stand and gasp, eyes wide, full of space,

surveying yet more stretching beyond

imagination, in its infinite variety.

Thus marks the landscape upon our minds.

Thus we imbibe all that lives and grows,

thus we become more a part of, more connected to,

this land, be it Wold or Weald.

Area of the Weald

Let's move south to the Weald, an area of South East England between the parallel chalk escarpments of the North and the South Downs. As well as crossing county boundaries, it has three separate parts:

  • the sandstone "High Weald" in the centre,
  • the clay "Low Weald" periphery
  • and the Greensand Ridge, which stretches around the north and west of the Weald and includes its highest points.

Long ago, the whole area was covered with forest, used as a place of refuge and sanctuary during Anglo-Saxon times. Much still remains though it has suffered from deforestation. Farms and villages often refer to the Weald in their names. There were settlements all over the area as well as along the coast from Hastings to Hythe.

Sussex Weald

This is my home, the Sussex Weald north of Brighton, where chalk meets clay and a little sand, between the North and South Downs. ‘Downs’ is a common word for hills, despite implying the contrary!

Many parts of the Sussex Weald are designated as ‘Areas of Outstanding Beauty’, a name which is well-deserved. It covers about 85 miles (137 km) from west to east, and about 30 miles (48 km) from north to south, an area of roughly 500 square miles (1,300 km2) and boasting rolling hills and sandstone outcrops.

The landscape is described as ‘cut through by streams to form steep-sided ravines, known as ‘gills’, with small irregular-shaped fields and patches of heathland, as well as abundant woodlands, scattered farmsteads and sunken lanes and paths’. Stand atop Devil’s Dyke on the South Downs and you will survey the whole area on a clear day. A village not far away with the tall church spire is Hurstpierpoint, a typical Sussex village and where I spent most of my childhood and teens.


Rivers which cut through this area, familiar to me, are the Ouse which runs through Lewes (pronounced loo-iss) and down to the English Channel at Newhaven, the Arun flowing through Arundel and reaching the Channel at Littlehampton and the Adur, rising at Ditchling and reaching the sea at Shoreham-by-Sea. Ditchling is close to Hurstpierpoint and I was born in Shoreham and a pretty little place it is, still dominated by a high chimney on the harbour.

Ashdown Forest and Winnie-the-Pooh

If any of you are familiar with A A Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, you might have heard of Ashdown Forest, known as the Hundred Acre Wood in those stories. The forest is in the east of the Sussex Weald and is where Christopher Robin and Pooh play ‘pooh-sticks’ on the bridge, throwing a twig each from one side and running to the other to see whose emerges first.

Ashdown Forest's origins are as a medieval hunting forest created soon after the Normans’ conquest of England.

Pooh-Sticks Bridge and Ashdown Forest

Bridge, which inspired the Pooh Sticks game in 'Winnie-the-Pooh- by A A Milne

Bridge, which inspired the Pooh Sticks game in 'Winnie-the-Pooh- by A A Milne

View over Ashdown Forest aka 'Hundred Acre Wood'

View over Ashdown Forest aka 'Hundred Acre Wood'

Two Words for Two Halves

I still live in the south, though in Somerset, not in Sussex. I go back there once in a while though and still feel I’m going home. My sister lives in the north, in York, near where she was born and brought up. She knows the Wolds, I know the Weald.

So this is a story of two halves: my sister and I, north and south, two words, two accents, two coasts, two forested areas with open aspects, both including chalk hills and splendid open countryside.

What a diverse and close country we live in: near and far, wide open and valleyed, green fields, craggy hills and long coastlines with beaches, some sandy, some pebbly.

We also have such a diverse language. Be it wold or weald, the forests and the open greenland give us room to explore, fresh air to breathe and a heritage to value and preserve for as long as we can.

The richness of our language also deserves to be cherished by passing on specific words such as these at every opportunity.

Words of North and South, East and West






© 2018 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 12, 2020:

Hello Peggy. Glad you liked the poem. I had fun doing this and both places are close to my heart so it was a labour of love.

There are places in Yorkshire that I still have to visit, part of my father's and my sister's history, so I'm looking forward to doing that soon.


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 11, 2020:

Thanks for describing the meaning of these words to us. Your poem was lovely. I enjoyed seeing some of the landscapes in your part of the world. It looks so pretty. That is counter-intuitive that the word "downs" means "hills." It is always fun learning things like this.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 28, 2019:

Thank you, Denise, for your kind words. Glad I've brought these words to your attention! Good to see you.


Denise McGill from Fresno CA on May 27, 2019:

Very creative poem. Almost as good as being there. I've never heard these words before but now I feel educated in my ancestry. Thanks for sharing.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on October 09, 2018:

Thank you Dianna. I'm glad to have introduced these words to you.

Lovely to see you today.


Dianna Mendez on October 08, 2018:

Clever poem! I have not heard of these words before and I thank you for the lovely introduction.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on October 04, 2018:

Thanks, Devika! Good to see you.


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 04, 2018:

Vocabulary improvement for me.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 20, 2018:

Thank you so much, Verlie, for that lovely comment.

Everyone, including me, seems to love the idea of the poetry benches. I'm hoping to go to see them next time I go up north to see my sister.


Verlie Burroughs from Canada on September 20, 2018:

And your North, South, East, West words with similar meaning question has me intrigued, I hope to get back to you on that.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on September 20, 2018:

Ann, what an amazing, wonderfully worded, fact-filled write! I've been meaning to explore this page for a week, (feels like weeks) now I'm so happy to finally be here.

"On this path, walkers are invited to sit on Poetry Benches, take a piece of paper, write their own little poem, leave it in the box and feel part of the landscape. It's called Secret Art. What a lovely idea!"

The long distance poetry footpath from Fridaythorpe is totally alluring. As is your poem!

Thank you for this ramble, the photos are beautiful.

Reads like a chapter out of a book everyone visiting, or anyone living in England, would be lucky to have as a travel guide.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 15, 2018:

Glad to increase your vocabulary, Eric!


Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 15, 2018:

Oh my did I have fun looking up all the words. For trees in a group.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 14, 2018:

Thank you, Eric, for your wonderful words.

'Woods' in Britain refers to medium sized batches of trees, sometimes dense, as opposed to a forest. Smaller than a wood, then it becomes a copse, a little cluster of trees. How amazing English is!

I'm sure you could tell us a lot about the countryside and the words from the landscapes you have visited; that would be fascinating.

Lovely to see you today, Eric.


Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 14, 2018:

Outstanding. You may be bad for tourism there. I think reading your work may be better than going. Lol but kind of true.

What wonderful words. It may be of pure coincidence but we call them "woods".

I have traveled around most of the US. It took me two months to get New England/ Never really got Cajun. New York, forget about it! And I grew up Native Americans. And here there sure shooting is whole lot of Spanglish. Alabama - no problem.

I just love this stuff.

Thank You so much. And I read the wonderful poem twice.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 13, 2018:

I'm so glad, Jo! Thanks for your lovely comment.

York is wonderful in itself - the Minster, the walls, the Jorvik Museum are all 'musts'. I haven't explored the countryside as much as I should have yet but the poetry bench really appeals to me too.

When are you thinking of coming?


Jo Miller from Tennessee on September 13, 2018:

I couldn't have picked a better article to read this morning, Ann. We are planning another trip to your country some time soon and one of our destinations is York. I'm going to add Fridaythrope and poetry benches to our itinerary.

Thank you so much for this information. Wonderful.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 09, 2018:

Yes, Doris, Waterhsip Down is a hill in Hampshire, in other words, part of the weald!


Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on September 09, 2018:

You two (Ann and Manatita) are educating us in the world of non-American English. Many years ago I read Watership Down and had no idea of what a "down" was until today. Thank you both.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 08, 2018:

Yes, gently rolling hills are sometimes called 'downs', manatita.

Thank you for your comments and I wish you a great weekend too.


manatita44 from london on September 08, 2018:

Nice take on the history there, Ann. An excellent lesson for me and other foreigners alike. Some of these places are very beautiful and I have ran in a few. My group set out lovely trails whenever we are doing our 'Peace Run', running with a lighted Torch.

I think the Downs are sometimes the same as a green undulating terrain in some areas, no? I see the richness in both 'wolds' and 'wealds.' Have a great weekend.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 07, 2018:

Dora: thank you for your kind comment. I'm glad I enriched your vocabulary; that's what I enjoy doing!

Wishing you a lovely weekend!


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 07, 2018:

Ann, you enriched my vocabulary today complete with illustrations, explanations, geographical affiliation and poetry. This is a great lesson. Thanks!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

RTalloni: Thank you for your lovely comments too and for your interesting input. I love to find out about others' words and meanings.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Thank you, Flourish. Yes, he's alive and well in Ashdown Forest!

I'm so pleased at all your reactions to this hub. I've been smiling for the last hour!


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Doris, you too have blown me away with your comment. Thank you for your kind words.

The 'you' thing is a strange one. When learning French I was happy to find that they have separate singular and plural - 'vous' and 'tu'. It's so much better when people know whether you're talking to all of them or only one!

As for some of the spelling, the American way is better for those who go by sound or have some literacy difficulty, because it's more logical, like 'centre' v 'center'.

Thanks again for your lovely comment.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Wow, Linda! That's a massive compliment. Thank you very much.

Yes, the words are not in everyday use but in several place names!

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your support.


RTalloni on September 06, 2018:

Such a lovely, lovely read. Personal, including your thoughtful poem's perspective, with interesting details and history, not to mention photos that make me want to pack my bags and travel. Thank you for the vicarious visit!

Our USA states may divide their geography with terms such as "The Upstate" or "The Low Country", but aberrations include Minnesota's "Angle", and the Texas or Florida "Panhandle".

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 06, 2018:

Now I know where Winnie the Pooh lives! I agree with Linda that you are a superb writer with a demonstrated love of language.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on September 06, 2018:

Ann, you never cease to amaze me. You begin with etymology of two native words and transition beautifully into a tour of your country by comparing the differences in the two words in the north and south. Then right in the middle you place a lovely poem with such vivid imagery. And your scenic photos are an excellent addition. Very well done.

These two words lend a romantic air to the English language, as many of your words do. I was familiar with them through reading English literature in school. It's too bad that many of them didn't make the cut when our ancestors immigrated to America. Another difference is in spelling. We've dropped the "u" from many words like "flavour" and "colour".

You asked for regional similarities in words that people use. Here in the U.S.A. northerners and southerners disagree on many things, but one thing many of us don't recognize is that "you" also denotes the plural. In the north they say "you guys" for plural, and in the south we say "y'all" and both sides laugh at the other for saying it the way we do.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on September 06, 2018:

Ann, I love these articles and always come away from them so much the wiser. (However, I might have a difficult time of interjecting these two words into the conversation). Your photographs are wonderful and your text is rich and well-written. I do believe that in another life you were one of the English novelists.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

I bet that was good!

Yes, I don't know Lincolnshire very well at all but these two are close to my heart and provide me with an excuse to celebrate both sides of my family. Thanks for the thought though!


Glen Rix from UK on September 06, 2018:

Oh, yes, I see it now. You have jogged my memory. When I was much younger and much fitter I climbed Mam Tor in Derbyshire and found myself very close to overhead hang gliders. It was an amazing view! Wonderful experience.

P.S. I drove through the Lincolnshire wolds a few weeks ago en route to the East Coast. If only I had known, I could have taken photos and sent them to you for inclusion.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Oh, I see what you mean! Sorry, being a bit dense. It does rather draw the eye, doesn't it? It's the awning of a hang-glider and directly below the middle, on the ground, there is a bloke about to take off into the wind, though you can't see the ropes clearly. Many do this from the top of Devil's Dyke. They used to do it near an aerodrome at Shoreham but there were too many problems with the light planes taking off and landing as silly people didn't think they'd be in the way!


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Aaah, thank you bill! My head is growing as I read. I have to get back to earth otherwise I shall be unbearable!

They are quite unusual words, though there are several areas where we find 'wolds' in Britain; Lincolnshire has some, as does Gloucestershire (the Cotswolds) but I'm struggling to remember any more. As for weald, it is used as a general term now and then for wide areas between hills, but there are fewer with that actual title.

My plasterers are here and the loft is being transformed - the end is nigh! In a good way of course, just in case you think the world is coming to an end.

Have a thrilling Thursday, bill!


Glen Rix from UK on September 06, 2018:

What is the yellow object in mid-picture?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 06, 2018:

Oddly, I don't remember seeing either of those words. I'm sure I have, in literature, but I sure don't recall it. Be that as it may, this article, like all of your etymology articles, is excellent. This is what writing should be, in my humble opinion: informative,creative, interesting, and stylish. Well done, my friend. Thank you for the education.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Hello Glenis! Glad you liked the tour. Yes I took up photography at a young age, due to my enthusiastic father.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'what is happening?'; can you elaborate please?


Glen Rix from UK on September 06, 2018:

Lovely, comprehensive tour Ann. Love the pic taken with the Box Brownie! I’m intruiged by the image of the Sussex Weald. What is happening?

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Thank you, Pamela, for commenting and for your lovely words. I too love the architecture but I always prefer being in the great outdoors amongst nature's unique architecture. I'm glad I took you into the scenery. The poem was actually a late addition as when I read over the article this morning it seemed to me that I should have included a poem as I often do with this series of Take a Word...

Good to see you, Pamela!


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 06, 2018:

I loved your descriptions and the pictures. I have always thought of the architecture in England that I would love to see, but seeing the valleys, woods and all the gorgeous scenery was wonderful. Wold and weald were word I had heard before, but I did not remember or really understand their meanings.

Your poem was so special, and it added such a nice touch to the pictures. It made me feel for a little while that I had actually visited the beautiful countryside.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Hello John. I'd be interested to find out what those words of yours are, if you manage to find them.

I think they check the boxes to collect the poems, then they're available to read, all on the basis of anonymity as no one signs them unless they really want to. I'm not sure if they are accessible on the spot as I haven't been. I've been itching to do so ever since I saw it on television a week or so ago.

Thanks for your visit and continued support; much appreciated, John.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 06, 2018:

Threekeys: what a lovely comment: thank you! I like your summary of this too. Being likened to walking through the wardrobe is wonderful - thanks again.


John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 05, 2018:

Ann, I had heard of both words Wold and Weald but was quite ignorant as to what they actually were or their similarities and differences. I know we have similar words that differ from one part of our country to another but for the life of me, I can't think of them right now. If I remember I will revisit this article and leave another comment. I really enjoyed the tour and the photographs, and I also love the idea of the poetry benches and the "secret art" writing poems on pieces of paper and leaving them in a box. Oh, what happens to them after that? Are other's allowed to read poems placed in the box? Great job with this as usual.

threekeys on September 05, 2018:

Ann - I am left flummoxed . Let me echo Rinita's comment Wow!

A poetry bench?

You have made me feel as if I have walked through the wardrobe door within Narnia. Experiencing something surprising, something beautiful and something richly complex within something simple - a word.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 05, 2018:

Thank you, whonu. Accents, as well as the words themselves, are fascinating too. We have many local dialects in Britain and they are all connected to the landscapes, the occupations and the circumstances of their environment. Some are musical, some are slow and extended, some are guttural but they are all wonderful!

I appreciate your visit, whonu.


whonunuwho from United States on September 05, 2018:

A very interesting work you have done, my friend. Loved the pictures as well. The languages that we all have are so interesting in their development. I'm from the Southern United States and our speech is often distorted to many Northerners. Blessings to all. whonu

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 05, 2018:

Wow! Thank you, Rinita, for such a warm comment; I appreciate your support. I must say I thought the poetry bench was a marvellous idea.

I don't think the moors and dales and wolds are that different today, although maybe they've been encroached upon a bit. They still have that aura of romance, as wild places do. Austen is a favourite of mine, as is Charlotte Bronte. Also, the Weald is less spoilt than one would imagine, given its closeness to London and its large population. It is protected by its National Park and its Area of Outstanding Beauty status.

The dialects of local areas are fascinating and I love researching them. Try a book called 'Landmarks' by Robert Macfarlane! It's brilliant.

Good to see you today, Rinita.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 05, 2018:

Thank you, Mary. You understand perfectly. Thanks for your visit today.


Rinita Sen on September 05, 2018:

A poetry bench? Wow! A must visit. For me England's landscape always ignites a certain level of romance. That's probably because of the hefty dosages of Brontes and Austens and Conan Doyles that I regularly put myself through. I realize the landscape now is a lot different than in those books, though. Throw in a couple of old English words, and it becomes a clear winning hub. This hub of yours is by far my favorite. Thank you for the lovely tour, Ann.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 05, 2018:

So interesting to know how language differs and how people express themselves and their world. I am familiar with North Yorkshire as we visit family there. The Moors are beautiful and it is so much a part of your life and that of your sister, parts of a whole.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 05, 2018:

Thank you, Hari, for reading and for your kind comments.

No, I haven't tried doing that - it sounds like a very hard job!


Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on September 05, 2018:

Excellent. Tracing words for their origin and modification over regions is I believe is really a hard and time consuming job. Hats off for your bringing this Ann.

Have you traced any sanskrit influence in Roman vocabulary?

- hari

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