The Language of the Watershed

I was relaxing watching ‘The Lord of the Kings’ Trilogy this past week whilst wintry weather raged around our cottage. It seemed to me that Tolkien was using the landscape of Scotland to invent his mythological Hobbit landscape. I then watched the documentary about Tolkien and it became apparent he never referred to Scotland as an inspiration. Nevertheless, the last time I watched this film I was in England. Now I am in Scotland it seems incredible that he did not draw on the 300 years of violent warfare in the Scottish Borders during the Medieval Period. James 4th of Scotland was the last Scottish King to speak Gaelic. To quote,
An Act of Parliament in 1597 was typical of James’ approach to “civilising” the Gaelic areas of Scotland. This leased the Island of Lewis to lowland nobles called the Fife Adventurers and authorised them to use all means necessary, including what would today be called genocide, to “root out the barbarous inhabitants”.

As Scots replaced Gaelic, and as Gaelic became a forbidden and considered ‘backward’ language, all evidence of Gaelic words slipped away from use in the Borders during the didactic reign of James 6th of Scotland, 1st of England. But Gaelic remains to describe this ancient landscape because, I think, they could not use Scots to describe it any more poetically, nor accurately.

Reading the wonderful travels of Peter Wright as he describes his journey across the Watershed of Scotland, I decided to pick out all the landcape descriptive words which remain the names of landmarks along the Watershed. None is repeated. Each one defines the shape and often past historical use of the land. To me the language is very beautiful. Tolkien invented his own language for the Elves to speak. He used his knowledge of countless languages he had learned. Surely the end result sounds more Gaelic than anything else?
Borders words

Bucht: a sheepfold

Carlin Tooth: witch’s or old woman’s tooth

Causey: crown or prominent place

Cote: a house or cottage

Dean: a small valley or defile, sometimes shortened to ‘den’ as on Dryden or Frogden

Fell – from Fjall: Viking word meaning a mountain

Gill: a ravine with a stream running at the bottom

Hart: deer

Hass: a narrow place

Haugh: an open, often flattish parcel of land, sometimes by a river or stream.

Hope: a hollow found amongst the hills

Knowe: a kind of hummock

Law: a rounded hill of somewhat conical shape, and frequently conspicuous among others

Mains: from the French ‘demesne’ (originally from the Latin ‘mansio’) meaning home or central farm.

Pap or Ciche or cioch: hills resembling breasts

Peel: boundary or border

Pow: head

Rig: a ridge, but also used for old style cultivation areas and often found in farm names

Shaw: a flat piece of ground at the foot of a hill

Sheils: a permanently occupied hill farm or holding

Sheiling: temporary huts for shepherds

Swire: a sheep pass between two hills, as in Redeswire

Sike: a marshy bottom where several small streams rise

Whiteyard Head: hill of the old white mare


Aonach Eagach ridge: notched ridge

A Cruach: the heap or stacks

A Chailleach: the old woman

Allt Synbaich: rough stream of the broom

Bealach Cumhain : narrow bealach

Bealach Dubh Leac: bealach of the black slab or grave

Bealach na h-Imrich: bealach of the flitting or moving house

Beinn Achaladair: mountain of the soaking field

Beinn Chabhair: mountain of the antler or hawk

Beinn a Chreachain: mountain of the clam shell

Beinn Dorain: hill of the streamlet

Beinn nan Ramh: hill of the oar

Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich : the big grey mountain of Fannaich

Beinn Dearg: red mountain

Beinn Direach: the straight or upright mountain

Beinn an t-sithein: the sharp pr cone shaped mountain or the fairy mountain

Beinn Tharsuin: transverse hill

Ben Alder: mountain of the rock or water

Ben Arrow : the long mountain (also known as Beinn Fhada)

Ben Dubhchriag: mountain of the black rock

Ben Hee: fairy hill

Ben Griam Beg: small dark hill

Ben Lui: mountain of the calf

Ben Oss: mountain of the stag

Bidein a Choire Sheasgaich: little peak of the corrie of the barren cattle

Bidein Clann Raonaild: the pinnacle or boundary of Clan Ronald

Biggar: soft land

Braemore: big upper part

Breabag: hill with cleft or little kick

Cadha Dearg: red pass

Carn Liath: grey hill

Cloich Bheag: peak of the little breast

Cnoc Biodaig: hill of the dirk

Cnoc na Moine: hill of peat

Cnoc na Ghlas Chlille: hill of the green forest

Cnoc na Saonhaidhe: hill of the fox’s lair

Coire Gaothach: windy corrie

Colan: the companion’s nose

Creag nan Damh: rock of the stags

Creag an Duine: crag of the man

Creag Ghrianach: sunny craig

Creag Megaidh: bogland crag

Dirrie More: the great ascent

Eididh nan Clach Geala: covering or web of white stones

Fionn Bheinn: white mountain

Garbh Chloich Mhor: big rough place of the breast

Glen Docherty: place of scouring

Glen Douchary: the black and broken moor

Gobernuisgach: branching river of the waters

Groban: top of a rock hillock or a mugwort

Guilann: the shoulder

Iorguill: the uproar or skirmish

Knockfin Heights: heights of the fair hill

Loch Braigh na h-Ainhne: the loch of the hill of the river

Loch a Chroisg: loch of the crossing

Loch an Daimh: loch of the connection

Loch an Droma : loch of the ridge

Loch an Laogh: loch of the calf

Loch Mhadaidh: loch of the dog

Meall a Bhuird: hill of the roaring

Meall a Bhuirdh: hill of the roaring

Meall a Bhuirich Rapaig: hill of the bellowing stags

Meall nam Bradham: hill of the salmon

Meall nan Ceapraichean: hill of the lumps or little tops

Meall a Charra: hill of the friend

Meall na Feith Faide: hill of the longest bog

Meall an Fheur Loch: loch of the hill of the cattle grazing

Meall Liath na Doire: hill of the grey thicket

Meall nan Ruadhag: hill of the young rose

Meall nan Uan: hill of the lamb

Mhaoraich Beag: little peak of the shellfish

Moine Mhor: big morass

Moss maigry: moss of the big paw

Rappach: the noisy place

Rhidorroch: the dark hill slope

Sail Riabhach: brindled or grizzled heel

Scaw’d Law and Meall Oldhar: dappled hill

Seana Bhraig: the old mountain or old upper part

Sgonnan Mor: the big lump

Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg: peak of the red pass

Sgurr Breac: speckled mountain

Sgurr nan Ceannaichean: peak of the merchants

Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan: peak of the quarters

Sgurr nan Chaorachann: peak of the field of the berries

Sgurr Choinnich: mossy peak

Sgurr na Ciche: peak of the breast

Sgurr nan Clach Geala: peak of the white stones

Sgurr nan Coireachan: peak of the corries

Sgurr an Doire Leathain: peak of the broad thicket

Sgurr nan h-Eige: of the file or tooth

Sgurr an Lochain: peak of the little loch

Sgurr Mhurlagain: hill of the wool basket

Sgurr Mor: the great peak

Skein dubh: Knife

Sron Leachd: nose of the grave

Stob a Choire Oldhair: peak of the dun corrie

Stob Ghabhar: peak of the goat

Stob nan Losgann: post of the toad or wretch

Stob Poite Coire Ardair: peak of the pot of the high corrie

Strath nan Lon: strath that is worthy

Stronend: end of the nose

Tomtain: hill of fire

Toman Coinnich: little meeting or assembly

Tom nan Broc: hill of the badger

Uisge Labhair: loud water

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see
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