New booklet on Berwickshire place names

It may still be January but the year's first snowdrops are a sign of better things to come.
It may still be January but the year's first snowdrops are a sign of better things to come.

Now that the brief wintry spell is over, it’s back to the more familiar wet and windy conditions as I write.

Spring is definitely just around the corner judging by the snowdrops and aconites which came into bloom at the weekend. I remain a bit sceptical however, as America is about to be hit by a major snowstorm and judging by past experiences, we will undoubtedly follow suit shortly afterwards.

Just before Christmas I was a bit excited by the regular visits to my garden by a rare marsh tit. After I was away for a few days over the festive period, it stopped coming and I presumed it had moved to pastures new. However, one day last week, while walking the dog by the river on my usual beat, I spotted one feeding in some alder trees. This small bird with a black cap was thought to be now extinct in the Borders, by those that know about such things, but I can assure them that at least one is still alive and well and living in Selkirk.

Since Michael Braithwaite retired from his job as a chartered accountant in Hawick a few years ago, he has certainly not sat with his feet up. As a keen botanist he has produced several publications on the subject covering Roxburghshire and Berwickshire. He has been botanical recorder for the latter county for 35 years and his knowledge of the area is second to none.

I was therefore a bit surprised when his latest booklet popped through my letterbox last week, and I discovered that the subject this time was not botanical. He has produced a fascinating 40 page booklet called “Howes and Knowes: an introduction to Berwickshire place-names”.

Although not from the county, I found it absorbing discovering how many familiar places came by their names. Many were named after wildlife and it was this aspect particularly which drew my interest, as a lot of the old Scottish names for familiar animals and birds have fallen out of use, but can still be found in place names. Some good examples are gled (kite) in Gledswood, pyot (magpie) Pyatshaw and gowk (cuckoo) in Gowks Cleugh.

The whole book is a great read, interspersed with lovely coloured photographs and whether you hail from the county or not, you will find something of interest in it.

If you would like a copy, send a cheque for £5 including post and packing made out to The Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club, to M.E. Braithwaite, Clarilaw Farmhouse, Hawick, TD9 8PT.