Whose experience of that glorious strata of warm water would not be enhanced by being able to describe it by its equally glorious proper name, the epilimnion? Our relationship with the landscape is undoubtedly strengthened by our ability to accurately evoke it to others.
Tyler’s book, a robust little paperback designed for the glove compartment or haversack, seeks to illuminate the rich heritage of vocabulary used to describe the British countryside. In assembling this collection of endangered words and phrases he celebrates and protects the language which has connected us to our surroundings for millennia. Beyond the obvious; the glens, copses and dells, are the thundereggs, sastruga and tombolo. Verglas is the thin varnish of ice formed when water flows over rocks cold enough to freeze it. Wellum is a word for the gently radiating ripples caused by a surfacing fish. Some of them, like the pingo (a growing blister on the land which occurs only in permafrozen soil in Arctic regions) we are less likely to see than others, but the book should prove as useful indoors as it is in the field.
Uncommon Ground will appeal to landscape lovers and word lovers alike, and is illuminated with Tyler’s own expressive photography. What most readers will have in their hands is a treasure hunt of sorts. A handful of the words contain such beauty in their meaning that you will be reaching for your wellies before the final page. For most of us, the search for a sgeir, a holloway or a sarn should prove irresistible.
UNCOMMON GROUND: A Word-Lover’s Guide to the British Landscape by Dominick Tyler, Guardian Faber, £16.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine