Harehills: What’s In A Name

I started school when I was about five years old. The school was Harehills Junior School on Roundhay Road in Leeds. I used to catch a bus to school down Easterly Road to get there.

Roundhay Road was the main road and if you walked up the hill you came to Harehills Road and then Harehills Lane.

It was not until I was well into adulthood that I thought about the meaning of Harehills. Oh me oh my – it means hills where there are hares.

I had always just wrapped the two parts into one bundle of a word, like everyone did. I never unwrapped it to look at what it meant. I put the stress on the first syllable, just like everyone did. Until I unpacked the parts, it didn’t mean anything at all: It was just a name, Harehills.

And Roundhay Road, a road that went where hay was gathered. And Easterly road – a road to the east!

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Which leads me on to something I read today.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs more or less north-south for thousands of kilometres along the seabed in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean.

The ridge is formed by the Earth’s mantle throwing up material as the tectonic plates move apart. At the same time, the land between the plates sinks.

In effect, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge has a deep score line running along the top of it along its whole length. When I say ‘score line’, I am talking on a geologically large scale. From close up it is a long valley running along the top of the ridge.

An analogy would be a cake that has risen and collapsed in the middle as it is baking.

For most of the length the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is under water. However, it goes right through Iceland and there it is visible on land.

I was just now looking at photographs of the Thingvellir Rift Valley in Iceland, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart.

They are not moving very fast. The Universities Space Research Station says the gap between the plates has widened 230 feet (70 m) and sunk by 131 feet (40 m) in the last 10,000 years.

When I read about the ‘Thingvellir Rift Valley’, I thought of the other rift valley that I know – the Great Rift Valley.

It too is caused by the splitting apart of tectonic plates and it runs from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon down through the Dead Sea in Israel, on through Ethiopia and Kenya and down to Mozambique.

The thing is that I have known about the Great Rift Valley for years, but for whatever reason, I thought the word ‘Rift’ was something from the language of the region.

It wasn’t until today when I thought of the word ‘rift’ associated with Iceland that I realised that the word is effectively an adjective, a description. It is a rift – a crack, a split, a division, a break.

How could my brain have not woken up to realise that?

Maybe I was led astray by the word Rif – a mountainous region in the north of Morocco? (Nice try, David)

Do you do that kind of thing – not see the meaning because you are so ‘close’ to the word?

I think we all do things like that with names, although maybe not as blind as I was over the word ‘rift’.

Coda

Harehills School still exists, but it has moved. Maybe I should write and tell them what I discovered years after I left the school. Maybe children who are there now could benefit from the knowledge.

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