138. A winter Sunday on the North Downs

It was a perfect winter’s morning as I headed across the hills from Guildford towards Newlands Corner yesterday. The weather was just perfect for running, even if the combination of sun on frosted Chalk downland proved a tricky one.

The cinematographer duly went for a purler, very shortly after filming this clip. Fortunately, both plodder and camera emerged unscathed, if distinctly muddier.

Related articles:
58. Running in the North Downs
112. Forests of fire and iron – Surrey Hills 1
83. Seven Bridges Road – the Wey floodplain
113. The Pilgrim’s Progress – Surrey Hills 2
123. Bridge on the River Wey

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12 responses to “138. A winter Sunday on the North Downs

  1. I got back to la Suisse from Guildford last night, having spent a week there (unfortunately for my brother’s funeral…), but it was lovely to be back and see the family despite the circumstances.

  2. I’m very sorry you had to return under such sad circumstances, Louise, and I hope the skies lift for you soon.

    ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills for salvation.’

    I hope that the mountains can offer you some comfort now.

  3. Thanks, Roads – and thank you for the photo of the clock in Guildford High Street!

  4. What a lovely place to run, Roads. You’re very lucky.

    Define “purler,” if you don’t mind … I’m guessing it’s the same as a tumble, but perhaps more artfully executed.

  5. Hi, Ed. Yes, I wasn’t sure of the spelling of ‘purler’, so I was relieved this morning to confirm that I had it right.

    My dictionary defines a purler as ‘a heavy or headlong fall’, noting that it is an archaic form.

    The Australians sometimes use the word as a term of wonder and praise – ‘an absolute purler’, for which you could probably substitute ‘beaut’ (in Australian) or ‘peach’ in British English.

    But the British usage to describe a fall is more widespread. An internet search on ‘purl’ reveals a giant haystack of wrestling links. That figures. It’s certainly a word I can remember my grandparents using, perhaps even whilst watching the wrestling on ITV’s World of Sport on Saturday afternoons in the 1960s.

    It’s possible that I’m revealing my roots again – if you can take the boy out of Romford, perhaps you still can’t quite take the East End out of the man.

    The ultimate derivation of the word remains obscure to me for the moment, as does any potential connection with woven threads (‘knit one, purl one’ – incidentally, my grandmother was a ferocious knitter).

    I’ll try to find a larger Oxford English Dictionary to investigate that further. Or if that quest fails, maybe I’ll just ask the other Hammers fans here. And then I’ll report back.

  6. Oh what I would give to be able to see such beautiful green grass right now. Heck, I’d settle for brown grass.

    Looks like a gorgeous place to run, lucky you!

  7. I’m afraid it wasn’t quite so green at 5am yesterday, Elayne, as I slid down the hill out of Guildford towards the airport, which lay under a rare blanket of London Snow.

    That has all but gone here now, but Norway was still comprehensively frozen and completely white as I left Oslo at the crack of a very chilly dawn today.

    Of which – more later …

  8. How wonderful to be able to run on the Downs! I remember walking on the South Downs and thinking that my heart and lungs were in imminent danger of bursting out of my chest…

    I looked up “purl” and found this:
    verb, intr purled, purling

    1. To flow with a murmuring sound.
    2. To eddy or swirl.

    Etymology: 16c: imitating the sound and related to Norwegian purla to bubble

  9. Oh well, welcome to my world.

  10. Thanks very much, Gigi and Elayne.

    That usage is in Skeat’s Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (1882), and is related to the word purr, describing a rhythmic sound.

    But it’s another word we are seeking here.

    Purl (4), to upset (English). Better pirl; from Middle English pirle, a whirligig, formed by the frequentative suffix –l from the imitative word pirr, to whirl. See Purr, Pirouette. So also Italian pirlare, ‘to twirl round;’ Florio. See Purl (1). [to flow with a murmuring sound].”

    So a purl, or pirl, was a whirligig, with that name taken most likely on account of the whirring, or purring sound which it made.

    Then, by association of the word purl with the whirligig, a purler must then logically have come to mean a heavy upset, a twisting fall – and thus be linked etymologically, but certainly not in terms of grace, with the much more elegantly cultured alternative pirouette.

    Now, I could just as easily have said that I had ‘come a cropper, with that also being a word used to describe a heavy fall.

    But whether that would imply that I had been literally harvested, or cropped (as in the French word croupier), sadly Skeat leaves me as yet none the wiser …

    Any thoughts on that one, Gigi ?

  11. There seems to be a link with hunting…I’m pasting the following from the site World Wide Words because I’m too lazy to rewrite it!

    We use come a cropper now to mean that a person has been struck by some serious misfortune, but it derives from hunting, where it originally meant a heavy fall from a horse. Its first appearance was in 1858, in a late and undistinguished work called Ask Mamma, by that well-known Victorian writer on hunting, R S Surtees, who’s perhaps best known for Jorrock’s Jaunts and Jollities.

    The earliest easily traceable source of cropper is the Old Norse word kropp for a swelling or lump on the body. This is closely related to the Old English word for the rounded head or seed body of a plant, from which we get our modern word crop for the produce of a cultivated plant. In the sense of a bodily lump, it was applied first to the crop of a bird but then extended to other bodily protuberances.

    This is where things get complicated: the same word travelled from a Germanic ancestor through Vulgar Latin and Old French back into English as croup for the rump of a horse. From this we also get crupper, the strap on a horse’s harness that passes back from the saddle under the tail.

    At the end of the eighteenth century English developed a phrase neck and crop, with the sense of “completely”. This is first recorded in a poem by Lady Carolina Nairne:

    The startish beast took fright, and flop
    The mad-brain’d rider tumbled, neck and crop!

    (You may not know her name, but she’s best remembered for writing, among others, the songs “Will you no come back again?” and “Charlie is my darling”.)

    Now neck and crop is a rather odd expression, and we’re not sure how it came to be. It could be that crop is a variant of croup, suggesting that a horse that fell neck and crop collapsed all of a heap, with both head and backside hitting the ground together. Or perhaps crop had its then normal meaning, so the expression was an intensified version of neck, perhaps linked to an older expression neck and heels that’s similar to head over heels.

    It’s thought that come a cropper derives from neck and crop, with cropper in the role of an agent noun, referring to something done in a neck-and-crop manner, and that the phrase developed from there.

    Sounds pretty convincing don’t you think?


  12. ‘Convincing’ is an understatement – that’s fantastic, Gigi.

    And whilst I may not have a multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary to hand here, with you available to consult on-line, maybe I just won’t ever need one …

    Many thanks
    – Roads

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