ON Wednesday, feeling my way along the foot of the Cleveland Hills which rose gloriously green in the September sun, I travelled to Kirkby-in-Cleveland to talk to the Stokesley Friendship Group.

It’s not an area I know well, so I navigated with the cast iron North Riding fingerposts marking my progress on the map laid out on the passenger seat. The painted signs – some freshly white, others rusting with age – pointed to intriguing places: Potto, Enterpen, Busby and Sexhow.

Then – momentarily – I was lost. The roadside signs announced that I had arrived in Skutterskelfe, but Skutterskelfe is not on my Ordnance Survey map.

It should be. What a name, Skutterskelfe!

But what could it possibly mean?

Most names round there are a thousand years old or more, but with a smattering of ancient vocabulary, you can understand them.

In Old English, a lea was a clearing in a wood. So where a chap called Stoke lived in the wood was obviously Stoke’s lea.

Then the Vikings invaded. In their language, a byr was a homestead or a farm.

So Busby was the farm where a Viking called Buski lived. Thoraldby is Thoraldr’s farm. Kirkby is the church farm, and a by-law is the local law.

Hutton Rudby is an amalgamation. A hoh is an Old English hill and a tun is a farm. So a high farm is called Hutton. There are at least 11 high farms in North Yorkshire and several more in Durham. To distinguish them, a further description was added, so Hutton Rudby means in full: “Rudi’s homestead at the high farm.”

In fact, just as Newcastle and Gateshead are separated by the Tyne, and Stockton and Middlesbrough by the Tees, so Hutton and Rudby are properly separated by the Leven.

Rudby’s on the north bank, Hutton’s on the south and Enterpen is an unexplained suburb.

All three, though, formed a den of iniquity, according to an elderly rhyme: Hutton, Rudby, Enterpen Far more rogues than honest men.

Next, a metal sign pointed towards sniggerworthy Sexhow.

There are lots of hows which derive from the Old Norse haugr, a burial mound. Ingleby Greenhow is Angle’s farm near the green burial mound, and Ainderby Quernhow is Eindrith’s farm near the quern-shaped burial mound (a quern is a rounded millstone).

Potto, which is easier to pronounce than Pothow, is a pot-shaped burial mound.

Thus Sexhow is either a chap called Sek’s burial place or the location of six important people’s graves.

But what of Skutterskelfe itself? The excellent Institute for Name Studies on Nottingham University’s website (www.nottingham.

ac.uk) enlightens.

To a Viking, a skjalf was a shelf. There are several in North Yorkshire: Henderskelfe, near Castle Howard, is Hender’s plateau, and Raskelf, near Thirsk, is apparently a flat piece of land inhabited by roe deer.

Skutterskelfe, say the experts, is the shelf belonging to Skavathra, “the chattering one”.

Whether Skavathra was a talkative Viking or a noisy stream is unknown, but Skutterskelfe stutters off the tongue like a brook babbling over a stony riverbed.

■ Chris Lloyd is leading Darlington Historical Society’s walk tomorrow in Hurworth (“a hurdle enclosure”). Waterhouse, Backhouse, Rockliffe and Railways sets off from Rockliffe Doctors’ Surgery at 1.45pm. All welcome.