Pokémon Sword and Shield: A Grand Tour of Galar

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As we’ve already seen, the first few Pokémon games were set in regions modelled after particular regions of Japan, but from the New York-inspired Black and White onwards, the series has looked more globally. And Sword and Shield is no exception.

Specifically, the Galar region that forms the setting for Pokémon Sword and Shield is modelled on the United Kingdom, particularly mainland England, Wales and Scotland.

As most regular readers will probably know, I am a British person, so who better to explore the locales of Sword and Shield and try to figure out if they have real-life counterparts on our grotty little island? Well, I’m sure you can name several, but you’re stuck with me for now, so read on…

I’ll preface this by saying most of what I’m going to talk about here is based on my own experiences rather than knowing specifically what exact places Game Freak had in mind when designing the locales — but there are definitely certain “trends” in British architecture and history that can be seen in numerous locations.

Let’s begin by looking at where your journey begins: the village of Postwick. Due to the fact that the majority of Pokémon Sword and Shield, much like the earlier games, constricts you to set paths rather than being completely open world, we only get a fairly limited look at Postwick on our adventure. So limited, in fact, that it appears to consist of just two houses: ours, and our rival Hop’s. But, you know, suspension of disbelief and all that.

Postwick is a small farming community where people live off the land and, of course, in harmony with their Pokémon. Its name in various languages reflects this fact, with the Japanese original name along with its Korean, Chinese, German and Italian localisations all making reference to “furlong”. This is a mostly obsolete unit of measurement traditionally used to measure open fields — like the ones where you’d plant crops or graze animals — and which is still used in horse racing, marked by, yes, posts.

Interestingly, several languages — including those other than English — make use of traditional British toponymy for places in Sword and Shield; most of these prefixes and suffixes have their origins in Latin or Old English, reflecting the fact that many British towns and cities have been around for thousands of years in some cases — though their modern incarnation might be unrecognisable from their original form that inspired their name!

The “-wick” of Postwick is a suffix that simply means “place” or “settlement”, for example, while the “-ham” of German and Italian’s “Furlongham” refers specifically to farms or homesteads. Meanwhile, the French name “Paddoxton” combines “paddock”, an animal enclosure, with “-ton”, which can also mean “enclosure” or “estate”. Spanish, on the other hand, simply calls it “Pueblo Yarda”, or “village yard” — appropriate, if rather literal.

Despite the fact we don’t see much of it in the game, Postwick is a very authentic-feeling rural British hamlet. Your house is the sort of traditional country cottage that was all over the place in the village I actually grew up in in the real world, while Hop’s house is very obviously modelled on that of an affluent farmer.

It’s kind of interesting that Hop and his family are dark-skinned in this regard; many upper-middle class rural settlements of this type in real-life Britain have traditionally been overwhelmingly white in terms of demographics, but the presence of Hop and his family in Sword and Shield is an accurate reflection of the fact that over the course of the last 30-40 years in particular, Britain as a whole has been becoming considerably more multicultural, with many second- or third-generation immigrants seeing plenty of success (and, by extension, enjoying affluence) in a wide variety of fields and careers.

Demographics aside, Postwick certainly looks the part. Here’s your house, where you start the game with your mum (yes, mum, not “mom”, we are in Britainland now, so speak proper, like!):

Image via Bulbapedia

And here’s a nice little country cottage in the village where I grew up, courtesy of Google Street View (hence the mangled street sign):

The weather is nicer in Galar, as you can see. Meanwhile, here’s Hop’s house in-game:

Image via Bulbapedia

And here’s a jolly nice farmhouse, again from my home village — not identical, but you can get the idea.

Next stop on your journey is just down the road; it’s Wedgehurst, a small country village that actually has some facilities as well as just houses. It’s here that you encounter your first Pokémon Center, a train station and a clothing boutique.

Image via Bulbapedia

Wedgehurst’s name, regardless of language, stems from golfing terminology plus, in the case of English, the suffix “-hurst”, which means “wooded hill”.

Interestingly, again the English localisation differs a little from both the original Japanese and non-English localisations; English’s “Wedge” refers to an iron club for shorter/higher shots, while Japanese, German, Italian, French, Korean and Chinese all refer to “brass” or “brassie”, which is a slang term for the number 2 wood club, for longer, lower shots. Spanish once again does its own thing — though still golf-related — by being called “Pueblo Par”, or “Par Village”.

The association between golf and rural areas is a natural one; the rolling green hills of Wedgehurst are exactly the sort of place an expensive and exclusive golf club would probably set up shop — though we don’t see any sign of any such thing in Sword and Shield.

Wedgehurst’s rather “traditional” feel calls to mind small British market towns. The architecture of the train station in particular looks like it has a slight amount of Gothic influence similar to this church from St. Ives in Cambridgeshire.

Image via Story of Leicester

Alternatively, and more logically — what with there not being any trains in the Middle Ages — it can be looked at as an homage to Victorian-era architecture, such as Leicester’s London Road station. Victorian architects were very much taken with styles of the past, so their work’s frequent resemblance to Gothic influences is no coincidence!

Image via Bulbapedia

Next stop on your journey is Motostoke, which, as the first big city you visit, is quite a contrast from the previous areas where you’ve been hanging out. It’s a huge, industrial city dominated by steam power and machinery; a metropolis of red brick, iron and steel.

Image via The Black Country Living Museum

Motostoke’s distinctive red brick look is strongly reminiscent of the towns that played a leading role in the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In particular, it strongly resembles the buildings of the “Black Country”; an area of the Midlands in England that, up until about 1960 or so, remained fiercely traditional in both its appearance and its industrial activities.

Nowadays, most of those towns and cities have been renovated to such a degree as to be unrecognisable, but the region’s history is preserved at the Black Country Living Museum, a large-scale interactive exhibit where you can explore painstakingly reconstructed buildings from the era and participate in a variety of activities.

The various factory and mining towns of the Black Country were responsible for a lot of noteworthy things while industrialisation was taking hold: perhaps most significantly, the first successful, working steam engine was built there, but they also take credit for building the anchor on the Titanic, constructing London’s Crystal Palace and even introducing the idea of a minimum wage. Not bad for a bunch of people who talk funny.

Your next destination is Turffield, a quiet town in the rolling hills whose main distinguishing features are the variety of mysterious stones scattered around the place as well as the enormous geoglyph carved into the hill.

In English, German and Italian, Turffield keeps the same name, in keeping with the fact that it is the home of the Grass gym. In Japanese it’s very similar, too: Turf Town. For some reason, Spanish and French continue running with the golf theme from Wedgehurst, being known as “Pueblo Hoyuelo” (roughly, “Golf Ball Dimple Village”) and “Greenbury” respectively.

That geoglyph is a reference to one of the several surviving hillside figures scattered around Britain — most likely the Cerne Giant in Dorset, which is one of the most famous. These figures often have somewhat murky origins that are shrouded in mystery or open to interpretation; the Giant, specifically, is believed to have been a work of political satire, though it’s difficult to find any conclusive proof one way or the other.

Some other figures around the country are very old indeed; the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, for example, is believed to have been carved in 1000 BC.

As for the mysterious standing stones, they’re most likely a reference to Stonehenge, the famous prehistoric monument near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Wiltshire’s landscape is also home to the sort of pleasantly green rolling hills you see around Turffield, so it’s likely that this whole area was inspired by the countryside of south-west England.

Image via Bulbapedia

Continuing your journey in pursuit of the Gym Challenge next takes you to Hulbury, a pleasant little town by the sea, featuring a lighthouse, a famous restaurant, and streets that extend right out into the water atop artificial causeways.

Most of Hulbury’s localised names around the world relate to boating. In the original Japanese, it’s known as “Bow Town”; in Germany, it’s “Keelton”; in French, “Skifford”; and in Italian, “Keelford”. Again, these all follow the formula of “thematic word – British toponymy suffix” regardless of locale; they just all use slightly different ones.

English’s “-bury” refers to a fortified enclosure — perhaps a reference to many of the town’s streets are artificially constructed rather than on natural land — while German’s “-ton”, as we’ve already seen, means “homestead”, and French and Italian’s “-ford” refers to a shallow river crossing and thus is associated with water. Spanish once again does its own thing, though once again keeping broadly within the theme; “Pueblo Amura” means, literally, “Tack Village”.

There’s probably any number of British harbour towns that could fit the bill as inspiration for Hulbury, but for me, the moment I stepped into the town I was reminded very, very vividly of Padstow in Cornwall, a frequent holiday destination for my family and I when I was a young ‘un. It remains a popular place to go and relax even today.

Padstow is not a large town, but it’s always been thoroughly pleasant, and the fact it’s clearly grown around its central harbour gives it a very distinctive feel. It also, much like Hulbury, plays host to several well-regarded and famous restaurants — most notably Paul Ainsworth’s Michelin-starred No. 6 and Rick Stein’s imaginatively named The Seafood Restaurant.

Image via Serebii.net

After another visit to the central Wild Area, Pokémon Sword and Shield introduces you to Hammerlocke — though it doesn’t actually become relevant to your Gym Challenge until later in the story. Hammerlocke is a town clearly constructed a long time ago and renovated respectfully to maintain its Middle Ages appearance; modern structures like the Pokémon Centers look especially out of place here.

Hammerlocke’s name is a little peculiar in context because it relates to fighting-related terms — a hammerlock is a form of arm lock — while the city’s gym is Dragon-type. The Fighting gym is only available in Pokémon Sword, and is situated in Stow-on-Side, which we’ll come to in a moment. And this isn’t a purely English issue, either; the Japanese original name is “Knuckle City”, in German it’s “Claw City”, in French it’s “Kickenham” and Italian “Knuckleburgh”. Spain, as we should come to expect by now, eschews British-inspired terms in favour of “Ciudad Artejo” — “Knuckle City”, much like its Japanese counterpart.

Image via Earth Trekkers

In terms of style, Hammerlocke is strongly reminiscent of Scotland’s capital Edinburgh, with its grey stone buildings and its castle walls. The real-life Edinburgh is a city that remains very proud of its old, classic buildings and has resisted “modernisation”; this is firmly in keeping with Hammerlocke’s old world look.

Hammerlocke’s role as something of a “hub” for the northern part of Galar reflects Edinburgh’s status as a city of culture, too; every year, the real Edinburgh plays host to an international festival, where one can see theatrical plays, stand-up comedy, music and all manner of other on-stage fare. While Hammerlocke’s “culture” mostly seems to consist of Pokémon battles in the large central stadium, it’s still clearly a place that people come from far and wide to visit.

Image via Serebii.net

The most British thing about next destination Stow-on-Side is its name; it’s strongly reminiscent of towns that have taken the very literal naming approach of being “[something]-on-[something else]”, with the “something else” usually being a river. Stoke-on-Trent, for example, is on the River Trent.

Stow-on-Side is not on a river. It is, however, on the western side of the overall Galar map, and also on the side of some formidable-looking rocky cliffs that make further progression to the north impossible… unless of course you go round them through the conveniently placed forest.

Getty Images

Stow-on-Side might not look particularly British at first glance, appearing to be in an almost “desert” region with an overwhelming red-orange tint to everything. It also features architecture with certain Hispanic influences such as wooden shutters and the like, and this is complemented by festive bunting that we can presume is present most of the year round, since it doesn’t appear to be a particularly “special” occasion when we arrive.

But Old Red Sandstone exists throughout Britain, particularly in its north-eastern regions. This is a rock of a similar hue to the distinctly orange-red geology that surrounds Stow-on-Side. It was often used for construction, particularly throughout the 19th century, and is most famously seen in this regard forming some of the many tenement blocks throughout the city of Glasgow, Scotland.

Image via Bulbapedia

After confronting the challenges of Stow-on-Side and proceeding through the mysterious Glimwood Tangle, you’ll come across Ballonlea. This tiny village, built among the enormous trees and glowing toadstools of the Tangle, is probably the most fantastical location you’ll visit in Pokémon Sword and Shield, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of British influences.

The village’s name in all locales relates to ballet — including in Japanese, where the village is known as Arabesque Town, after the ballet position. This is presumably due to it being the home of the Fairy-type gym, and fairies can be particularly associated with ballet. You almost certainly know Tchaikovsky’s tune Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy from his famous ballet The Nutcracker, for exampleeven if you never knew the actual name of it until now.

In English, “ballon” refers to the appearance of being lightweight and light-footed during ballet dancing, while “-lea” is a suffix that means “woodland clearing”. In German, the name “Fairballey” is a portmanteau of “fairy”, “ballet” and “-ley”, the latter of which is an alternative spelling of “-lea”. In French, “Corrifey” is a deliberate misspelling of “coryphée”, a term for a ballet dancer who has progressed beyond the basic corps de ballet rank, along with “fey” for fairies and the suffix “-ey”, meaning “enclosure”.

Italian, meanwhile, plays host to “Piquedilly”, a deliberate misspelling of “Piccadilly”, the famous road in London, and a pun on “piqué”, another ballet term referring to a foot “pricking” the floor and springing back upwards. And Spanish’s “Pueblo Plié” literally means “Plié Village”, with “plié” referring to the smooth and continuous bending of the knees outwards in ballet.

Image via Booking.com

To my knowledge, there are no actual glowing fairy forests in Britain; the main British influence that can be seen in Ballonlea is the architecture of the houses, which is very obviously Tudor in origin.

Tudor houses date back to the 15th century and are immediately recognisable by their decorative black and white timbering, with the gaps between the timber frames being filled by wattle and daub. They’re most commonly seen in rural areas, but you can sometimes find surviving examples in city centres.

Image via Bulbapedia

The next step on your Gym Challenge takes you to Circhester. This is a rather old-looking town whose most prominent feature is its steaming hot spring bath; it’s a dramatic centrepiece, for sure.

Circhester’s various localised names all relate to the “circus” — indeed, in Japan, it’s simply known as “Circus Town”. It’s not the kind of circus you might immediately think, though; rather, it’s referring to the older use of the word to describe an open-air sports arena from Roman times. Further credence is led to this by the fact that the French name “Ludester” stems from the Latin “ludi”, used for public games in the Roman empire, and the Spanish name “Pueblo Auriga” is drawn from the Spanish word for “charioteer” — a type of sportsman that frequently appeared at the Roman circus. On top of that, the suffix “-chester” refers to fortifications of Roman origin.

Image via The Roman Baths, Bath

There’s really only one place in Britain that Circhester could possibly be inspired by, and that is the imaginatively named Bath, a city in Somerset. Bath is so called because of its Roman baths, which were built around 60 AD and are still preserved today as a popular tourist attraction — though modern visitors can’t go in the actual water.

Circhester’s climate is a little harsher than Bath’s, though; the latter’s location in the south-west of England means it enjoys a temperate, even warm climate most of the time, while Circhester’s geographical situation in Galar means that it is perpetually beset with snowfall.

Image via Bulbapedia

Next up is Spikemuth, a cramped town seemingly perpetually clad in darkness that provides a strong feeling of “nightlife”. Most localised versions of the name have some sort of twist on “spike”, a reference to its inhabitants punk-inspired spiked hair; French, meanwhile, rather charmingly calls it “Smashings”, and in Spanish it’s “Pueblo Crampón”, after the shoe-mounted spikes you wear for ice climbing.

Spikemuth is a unique location in Sword and Shield in that it’s not really a town in the traditional sense; the town itself is the gym you need to challenge. The whole of Spikemuth is also an elaborate reference to the Streets of Rage series; the background music is strongly reminiscent of Yuzo Koshiro’s iconic soundtrack to Streets of Rage II’s first stage, your entire traversal of the area is in side-scrolling 2.5D and there’s even a sequence where a neon sign featuring a pointing finger and the word “GO” appears on the side of a building after you beat one of the local trainers.

Image via Liverpool Echo

The neon glow and narrow streets of Spikemuth bring to mind a number of British cities known for their nightlife, such as Brighton on the south coast and Liverpool (pictured) in the north-west. In many cases, these are old cities built for pedestrians rather than vehicles, leading to a vibrant and sometimes chaotic time after the sun goes down — perfect for Team Yell.

Image via Bulbapedia

Finally, we end up in the capital of the Galar region, Wyndon. I’m sure you don’t need to tell me that this is based on London, with the English name being a portmanteau between “London” and “Windsor”, the latter of which is both a place in England and the name of The Queen’s family.

Elsewhere in the world, though, the city has a distinctly football-related theme. In Japan, it’s “Shoot City”; in German, it’s “Score City”; in French it’s the puntastic “Winscor” and in Italian it’s Goalwick. Spanish, meanwhile, goes for “Ciudad Puntera”, literally Kick City. All of these are entirely appropriate for two main reasons: firstly, football is far and away the most popular sport in real-life Britain, and secondly, the Gym Leader battles throughout Sword and Shield all unfold in distinctly football stadium-inspired arenas, complete with crowd chants similar to that which you’d hear at a Premier League match.

Getty Images

Wyndon provides the most obvious, direct reference to a real-life British locale, with the clock tower on top of the hotel a clear homage to Elizabeth Tower, which houses the famous Big Ben bell, and the giant ferris wheel a direct parallel to the London Eye, a tourist attraction originally constructed to celebrate the new millennium and the transition to the 21st century.

Rose Tower is also pretty obviously inspired by the 95-storey The Shard, a building constructed in 2012 which subsequently became the tallest building in the United Kingdom, the tallest building in the European Union (Brexit or not-Brexit notwithstanding at the time of writing) and the sixth-tallest building in the continent of Europe.

Wyndon provides an eminently suitable way to cap off your journey through the main story of Pokémon Sword and Shield. It’s an iconic and immediately recognisable location that captures the intimidating and exciting spirit of its real-life counterpart, and it marks the completion of your long journey from unknown country bumpkin to regional champion.

Of course, becoming champion is just the beginning…

More about Pokémon Sword and Shield

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