Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

The Coombs

The moors have been transformed into a vibrant green as bilberries blanket the landscape. From this vantage point in the Esk valley, overlooking a basin resembling an armchair at the northern edge of Danby Rigg, known as ‘The Coombs.’ A captivating scene which caught the attention of Rev. Canon Atkinson, who dedicated fifty years as Vicar of this parish, and penned the following1Atkinson, Rev. J. C. “Forty years in a moorland parish; reminiscences and researches in Danby in Cleveland”. 1891. Page 194.:

There is a locality in the parish (indeed there are two) called by the name “Coums.” The name has been variously spelt, and it is met with, similarly applied, in other dales besides Danby, Rosedale being one of them. But the sound is the same in either case, being that represented by the spelling coombs, the b being nearly silent as in comb. The name is probably coeval with the Celtic occupation of the district. The Coums I advert to is a roughly semicircular gap or hollow, with rather steeply-sloping sides, something like half a basin, scooped out of the side of the moor-bank. It is nearly half a mile wide from one end of the moor-brae semicircle to the other, and somewhere about the same from front to back, or from mid-diameter by the perpendicular radius to the circumference.

The name and the topographical feature remind me of cirques, those steep hollows in high mountainous terrain that are the result of excavation by glacier ice. In Scotland they are known as corries, in Wales as cwms, and in the Lake District as coves and comb(e)s.

As Atkinson alludes, comb(e), as well as cwm, probably derive from the Celtic base word *kumbos2‘Etymonline’. 2023. Etymonline.com <https://www.etymonline.com/word/coomb#etymonline_v_19044> [accessed 14 May 2023].

A view NNW from nearly the same spot, Danby village on the far right. The gulley is obviously man-made, but it seems over the top as a drainage ditch. There is no obvious destination but it may be a leat connected with the reservoir located near the tennis courts above Ainthorpe. At this point, it runs adjacent to an old track called “Mill Way.”



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One response to “The Coombs”

  1. John avatar

    The substantial ditch seems a relatively ‘recent’ addition (late 90s?).
    It doesn’t appear on any 1:25000 maps revised around that time.
    It certainly is subject to periodic ongoing maintenance and I think it is a response to flooding events in the Coombs, in particular the complete collapse of the road just north-west of Joiners Cottage after a period of heavy rain.

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