I wasn't necessarily so interested in the life of Margaret Gelling until I read the following in the Telegraph obit:
"Margaret Gelling revealed the extent to which Anglo-Saxon names were invented by ordinary people and established the myriad connections between place names and features of the local landscape. She established, for example, that the Anglo-Saxon peasant farmer had as many words for "hill" and "valley" as the Inuit has for "snow". Just as importantly, by going out and actually looking at the landscape, she established that none of these was a synonym. Each of the 40-odd different terms which can be translated as "hill", for example, referred to a different size and shape of hill.
The topographical vocabulary of the early Anglo-Saxon settlers was highly nuanced and exact, she argued, because in an age without maps or signposts, the distinctions between a "knoll" and a "creech", a "don" and a "brough" or an "ofer" and an "ora" would have been very important navigational concepts. As a result of her work, place-name scholars no longer indulge in etymological speculation without looking at the landscape first."
I love the idea that our ancestors knew the shape of the land well enough to fit their language around it. That kind of relationship with one's surroundings is, I think, sorely missing from our life today. I have this bizarre idea that if we were closer to the land, we might treat it better. *sigh*