So here’s a puzzle.
I was wandering around in the snow in the Sidlaw Hills, back in February when random wandering around was still a thing people did, when I noticed an odd placename on my 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map: “Lundiecra Wood”. I’ve been nigglingly half-aware of it before, but on this occasion its peculiarity really sank in. That ending -cra is not at all common in Scottish placenames. (In fact, a later search of the GEOnet Name Server turned up only one UK placename ending in -cra—Pencra Head in Cornwall, which is about as far as it’s possible to get from Scotland and still be in the UK.)
I did wonder if it might be a reference to the local dialect word pronounced cra, for “crow”.* But Lundiecra Wood is poised above the cliffs of Lundie Craigs. Shouldn’t it perhaps be called Lundiecraigs Wood?
Well, yes it should. The original entry in the Ordnance Survey Name Book: Forfar (Angus) Volume 52 lists exactly that name, right next to Hallyburton Hill and Drumsuldry Wood, which also appear on my little map excerpt above.
And here it is as “Lundiecraigs Wood” on the Ordnance Survey’s old 1:25000 Pathfinder mapping series in 1985:
When I got home, I discovered that “Lundiecra Wood” appears on all my recent copies of OS 1:25000 Explorer-series mapping—the map on an SD card in my GPS receiver, the map that comes with my Anquet Maps subscription, and my paper OS Explorer Sheet 380. But it doesn’t appear in the Ordnance Survey’s free vector dataset from OpenData. That uses the name “Lundiecraigs Wood”:
So what’s going on? The clue, I think, is in the comparison between the 1985 paper map, above, and the current appearance of the Explorer range of maps, shown at the head of this post. All the placenames in 1985 were neatly centre-justified, including “Lundiecraigs Wood”. In the modern maps that’s still true of every placename except “Lundiecra Wood”, which looks for all the world as if the “igs” at the end of “Lundiecraigs” has simply been amputated, while leaving the underlying word layout unchanged.
It looks to me as if, at some time during the preparation of recent 1:25000 maps, two raster sheets have been combined into one, with a degree of overlap that neatly amputated the “igs” of “Lundiecraigs”. So everything now appearing to the right of “Lundiecra” was at some time on a different map sheet. The amputation seems to have taken place along Easting 327500. Which is interesting, because the current OS Explorer Sheet 380 is a double-sided map, with the eastern half printed on the back of the western half. And the left edge of the eastern sheet finishes at Easting 327500. The area that would contain the “igs” of “Lundicraigs” is blank, because the OS remove partial names at the edges of their map sheets.
I’m guessing that the edge of the eastern sheet, with its missing “igs”, reflects the location of the original sheet margin that was overlapped on to the western sheet, amputating the “igs” of “Lundiecraigs”, some time in the relatively recent past.
So I emailed the Ordnance Survey about it. And within a day they had bounced back to say that they had logged this as an error to be fixed in their next map revision. So that was good.
I fear it may be too late, however. The artefactual “Lundiecra” has already escaped into the wild—it now appears in OpenStreetMap:
And a little web-searching turns up a number of people posting photographs and walk reports from “Lundiecra Wood”.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in future. Will “Lundiecra” die out after the OS map is revised, or will it have achieved enough traction to eventually overwhelm “Lundiecraigs”?
Addendum: Dave Hewitt got in contact to point out the existence of Cacra Hill (NT317173, 471m) in the Scottish Borders. There’s also, I discover, a Cacrabank Hill (NY148919, 273m) in Dumfries and Galloway, suggesting that “cacra” has some small geographical significance in southern Scotland that I haven’t been able to root out yet. My curiosity piqued, I plunged into the Database of British and Irish Hills at the Hillbagging UK website, and turned up Meall nan Cra (NC378590, 490m), way up in the far north of Scotland. And a search of the Ordnance Survey Open Names dataset turns up one more -cra location in Scotland—a couple of houses near Achnashellach that form a hamlet named Balnacra, which I must have driven through many times without even noticing. Gaelic crà can mean either “enclosure”, “fish trap” or “blood”, and Balnacra is locally rendered in Gaelic as Beul-àth nan Crà, which I figure is most likely “Ford of the Fish Trap”, given its location on a broad reach of the River Carron. So Scotland is not as devoid of -cra toponyms as I had thought, but is still hardly teeming with them.
* A lot of terminal syllables converge confusingly on the “ah” sound in this little corner of eastern Scotland. “Crow” and “snow” are cra and sna; “wall” and “ball” are wa and ba, “jaw” is ja, and “two” is twa. Little wonder, then, that visitors display an expression of anxious incomprehension as they wander around town. My uncle’s German wife, who had learned her English with a posh RP accent at school in Germany, acquired all these dialectic variants after she arrived in Dundee shortly after World War II. The overall effect was, reportedly, quite surreal.