All of a sudden the scales fell from my eyes: OxFORD and CamBRIDGE. Is there a serious reference for this - not so surprising, but linguistically amusing - fact that these two prominent university cities (by the way both of them doubled across the ocean) share their names by ways to cross a river?
A rough count using the List of towns in England gives:
- ~30 town names with bridge; and
- ~120 with ford.
The earliest clear evidence of occupation in the area of Cambridge is the remains of a 3,500-year-old farmstead. There is also evidence of widespread Roman settlement, including numerous farmsteads and a village. It would also seem that the bridge was originally built by the Romans.
After the Romans had left, Saxons took over the land ... and renamed it Grantabrycge – 'Bridge over the river Granta'. Over time the name evolved to become Cambridge, while the river Granta became known as the river Cam to match the name of the city. 2
The City of Oxford is, however, quite young compared with Cambridge, having been settled only in Saxon times (400 - 1066). It was initially known as Oxenaforda, meaning "Ford of the Oxen", and began with the foundation of an oxen crossing in the early 900 AD period. 3
It's noteworthy that the older, Roman, place had a bridge, whereas the more recent, Saxon, place only had a ford. The Romans were great builders of towns, bridges, fortresses, etc., but after they had left much of this fell into disrepair, the country became divided into various kingdoms, and much more fragmented. By the time Oxford was settled, fords were more common than bridges. 4, 5, 6
It is also not surprising that many older places were built next to, and took their names from, rivers and their crossings, because rivers were important routes for travel and trade prior to the coming of the railways.
So, no, it's not particularly surprising that two prominent British university cities have reference to river crossings in their names.
Both words can be found in etymological dictionaries. Have you looked at what etymonline says? Another serious reference is A Dictionary of British Place-Names by Anthony David Mills of University of London. He is quite dedicated to demystifying the toponyms of the UK. In the mentioned book, he records:
Grontabricc c. 745, Cantebrigie 1086 (DB). ‘Bridge on the River Granta’. Celtic river-name (see GRANTCHESTER) + OE brycg. The change from Grant- to Cam- is due to Norman influence. Cambridgeshire (OE scīr ‘district’) is first referred to in the 11th cent. The later river-name Cam is a ‘back-formation’ from the place-name.
Cambrigga 1200-10. ‘Bridge over the River Cam’. Celtic river-name (see CAM) + OE brycg.
Oxnaforda 10th cent., Oxeneford 1086 (DB). ‘Ford used by oxen’. OE oxa (genitive plural oxna) + ford. Oxfordshire (OE scīr ‘district’) is first referred to in the 11th cent.
[Cambs. — Cambridgeshire; Glos. — Glaucestershire; Oxon. — Oxfordshire]
The British Isles have the most unsettled and unpredictable weather in the world, the forecasts can completely change within one hour. But extreme cold or heat, and storms, are rare, hurricanes unknown. This is perfectly explained by the situation : rather tiny islands, on the west side of an large ocean, with a latitude in the range of 50° North. You may have a sunny morning and strong showers in the afternoon, or the reverse.
They are therefore notoriously rainy, and there are a number of rivers, wetlands too, many of strategic importance (see the battle of the Boyle, for instance) ; then, of the fords and bridges where you can cross them and have to control.
And the coast is very indented in a number of places, then a number of town's names ending by "wich" (for the Scandinavian "-vik" = bay), or "-on-sea" too. No point is further than some 100 miles from the sea.
Nothing is similar in continental Europe, America, etc., where everything is big.