After visiting a small village in North Wales famous for its railway station with the longest single name, SOMA BASU dares readers to say it loud! Less than 4,000 people live in this tiny village on the island of Anglesey in Wales. Locals describe it as a big village with a quaint railway station, because it is the name of the train station that makes the place world-famous. Out of curiosity, when I ask Michael John Wilson, who chauffeured me around the Welsh countryside, to take me there, he lays down a condition.... more...
“First pronounce the name correctly. Try saying it, first slow and then fast,” he challenges me. And mind you, he does not utter the word himself, but writes it down in my notebook. I watch him write that single word: it takes up five lines. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch: one word with 58 letters, and the most unpronounceable one I have ever heard. Obviously, I fail the test, but Mike is kind to the visitor from India. As we cross the Britannia Bridge from Bangor (a small university town 30 minutes away) and go past heritage houses, lush green parks and the autumn spectacle of fallen leaves, two things strike me. The village — dating back to the Neolithic period — is still signposted Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. It was the original name that was converted into this long form in 1860, around the time the station was built. A lot more syllables were added, purportedly to promote the place and attract visitors. Michael shares stories about how people joke that the person who coined it must have fallen asleep at the typewriter. But interestingly, the name not only has a meaning, but is also recorded as the longest town name in Europe and the second-longest one-word place name in the world. The narrow, deserted road suddenly gives way to small shops and workshops on either side. This is the newer part which is built around the railway station and is the hub of commerce. The original medieval township was decentralised and split into the Upper Village, consisting of mostly older houses and farms, and the Lower Village, which blended into modernity with shops, small hotels and restaurants. Each building, no matter how big or small, has a very long signboard to accommodate the new name of the village — it makes everything else seem Lilliputian. Some boards also provide the meaning. The railway station is unmissable. The full name is displayed on every side of the red-brick heritage structure. The façade retains its old-world charm, while the interior offices and the platform have been given a facelift in recent times. Not a soul is to be seen. Only an electronic board announces the arrival time of the next train. Michael tells me that tourists come here on touch-and-go visits to pose with the signboards. Some attempt to spell the word or learn the meaning from the locals. In Welsh, the word has only 51 characters, because “ch” and “ll” are considered single letters. The word apparently describes the location of the town: “By the Church of St. Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio by the red cave”. There is not much else to do here besides gawk at the railway station and gather fun facts about the place. And yes, I was lucky enough to see a train chug in. Shakespeare may have asked, “What’s in a name?” But here, this town’s glory rests in its name. Try your luck Break up the word to say it in English: “Llan-Fair-Pwll-Gwyn-Gyll-Go-Ger-Ych-Wyrn-Drob-Wll-Llan-Tysilio-Go-Go-Goch” can be read closest as “Clan-Vire-Pull-Gwin-Gill-Go-Gear-Itch-Win-Drawb-Pull-Clan-Twisilio-Go-Go-Goch” Fun facts The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s former home is in Anglesey. It is reported that a UK weatherman pronounced the name perfectly in one go during a live report a few years ago and brought the place back on the tourist map Actress Naomi Watts briefly lived here with her grandfather, and could pronounce the name of the town without skipping a beat. The town was featured in French-Italian sci-fi Barbarella and the British comedy film The Road to Hong Kong. The village has also been a seat for pop culture and artists. The Welsh psychedelic rock band Super Furry Animals named their debut EP after the town and the American experimental rock band Yeasayer referred to the town in their song ‘Red Cave’. Other long names A hill in New Zealand has an 85-letter single word name: “Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu” Sri-Venkata-Narasimha-Raju-Vari-Peta is the railway station with the longest name in India. Look out for it on the Renigunta-Arakkonam section of Southern Railway, near the Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu border.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysilio gogogoch: one word with 58 letters, and the most unpronounceable one I have ever heard. Obviously, I fail the test, but Mike is kind to the visitor from India.
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