On the road to Twatt, a message arrives from a resident there. Am I making the pilgrimage up through Scotland to this hamlet on the island of Orkney only to admire its notorious, unwittingly rude road sign? If so, don’t bother. “Our council was so frustrated by that sign being stolen, they have now not replaced it,” says Judith Glue, who runs a gift shop selling pictures of the old Twatt sign to tourists who might otherwise leave the region disappointed. Grateful for her warning, I thank Glue and read over a list I’ve made of those other dwelling places in the UK that through some quirk of linguistic evolution have found themselves with fantastic, filthy-sounding names. At Cock Bridge, in Aberdeenshire, they have the same trouble as in Twatt. “Our sign is constantly being pinched,” says Geva Blackett, a councillor for the region. “People have been taking them away as mementoes. Why do they do it?”

It’s an early lesson from my road trip around these towns, villages, parishes, hamlets and farms, many of which are irresistible to Insta-tourists and sign thieves – always phone ahead. One autumn day, I drive for over an hour to visit an Ass Hill in Dorset, just to find it’s an unremarkable and uninhabited lane between hedgerows. The village of Shitterton, about 20 miles away, is much more interesting. Residents here are quite accustomed to hobby-horse types like me wandering through to have a nose around and ask questions. Most are proud, even defiant about this startling name of theirs, which derives from the fact that about 1,000 years ago the site was an open sewer.

One local, Peter Gordon, tells me he always makes sure to include Shitterton on his driving licence, because it’s a reliable conversation starter if he’s ever

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