I’m just back from a week in SW Wales on the border of Cardigan and Carmarthen and not far from Pembrokeshire in the little village of Hellan. I was staying in a caravan in the yard of the winery of Celtic Country Wines and have just opened a bottle of their Welsh Elderport (aka Portysgawen Cwmraeg) to finish off the evening. At 20% alcohol it’s gently warming as well as being full of flavour. The bottle was a present at the wedding reception of the son of the family, Richard Shipp, which is the reason I was there.
There were 4 National hives on the far side of the yard, unsupered and on sloping pallets. The beekeeper isn’t local and I didn’t meet him. Bees were flying strongly from one of the hives in the latter part of the week when it had warmed up a bit and weakly from the other on the same pallet but the other two hives were beeless.
During a week of exploring that part of Wales I saw only a couple of other hives in gardens, and they may just have been ornaments. I saw no ‘Honey for Sale’ signs at all nor any bees apart from those I have mentioned.
This is strange as the countryside would be brilliant for beekeeping as there is very little industrial agriculture and lots of small fields, hedges and woodland and masses of wild flowers with just the occasional field of rape. I’d love to keep bees there.
The local enterprises sell each others’ products, for example the winery sells spirits from a local distillery (have you tried seaweed gin?) which has a cheesery and dairy attached to it. It was a pleasure to sample cheeses or butter made by the person selling them to you. I did mention that my Mother got her certificate in cheesemaking back in 1931. I bought many small cheeses from two such mongers and had some for my supper this evening.
If there had been a local beekeeper I’d have expected these places to have the local honey on their shelves but there was none to be seen.
Last night I was in a pub, the Red Lion, where most of the conversation was in Welsh. As always, the subject of beekeeping came up and I was told that honey is ‘mel’ in Welsh. Many other languages, French and Irish spring to mind, also use that or a similar word. I think it comes from Latin but I don’t know where they got it from. I guess we got the word ‘honey’ from the Saxons as the Germans call it ‘honig’ but what’s the root and why is it different? Is there a linguist reading this who can enlighten me?
I’ve now been enlightened by my clever linguist friend, Isabel, who tells me that the words are different because they do not describe the same thing. The Latin mel and Greek melis come from the proto Indo-European word for honey, melit. The German branch of the family for some reason began to describe honey by its golden yellow colour – k(e)neko, which became ancient Germanic huna(n)go, which became Old Norse honung, which became Old English hunig. Voila!