From the moment that I first looked at Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland's West Highlands I was captivated by what seemed to me to be its wonderful place names. They looked mysterious and exotic, names such as Beinn Airigh Charr, An Teallach, Loch a' Bhraoin, Quinag, and Suilven.
I was young then and growing up in the central belt of Scotland I was not yet aware of the rich language history of Scotland. I now know that place names here have been mainly influenced by the introduction of Gaelic by settlers from Ireland but also by the invasions of Vikings many of whom settled here. There are even some place names that owe their origins to the Picts.
When photographing places I'm always interested in their names and to a large extent I rely on Ordnance Survey maps for that. However, when I looked into other sources of information about West Highland place names I soon realised that there is far more to this subject than just referring to the names on Ordnance Survey maps.
Professor Watson's book, Place Names of Ross and Cromarty (1904), is the book I usually refer to first regarding place names in my home county for their history and meaning. Some of the current names that appear on maps are anglicised forms of the original Gaelic or Norse name. This is to be regretted. Sometimes the anglicised name has no relationship to the original. For example, as reported by the Scottish Place Name Society, the mountain on Skye known as Sgurr Alasdair was originally known as Sgurr Biorach (meaning the pointed peak) and was renamed simply because it was first climbed by Sheriff Alexander Nicholson in 1873.
The loss or corruption of the original names is unfortunate as the original names were frequently descriptive of the landscape to which they were applied or in other cases referred to long past historical events. There is a certain romantic quality to the place names of the West Highlands, even in such a mundane example as my own postal address. My postal address, which is made from words derived from both the Gaelic and Norse languages, when translated to English reads as follows;
The Old Village
On the Long Slope
By the Field of Storms
That is a wonderfully romantic description, however, I would not advise anyone to write to me using that form of my address, mores the pity!
In some cases the experts (toponymists) state that meanings of particular place names have been so long lost in the mists of time that they may now never be discovered. To me this adds to their mystique!
The caption to each photograph that appears in my gallery give the names of the hills, lochs, villages and mountains featured in it. Therefore I have published a series of place name indexes for anyone who is interested in the meaning, origin and history of place names that appear in my photograph captions. My primary source of information has been Professor Watson's book mentioned above. However I have referred to many other authoritative sources as required.
The list of the sources I have referred to is published in my introductory place name page. Also published are a series of place name index pages for place names as follows: place names beginning with A-B, C-E, F-L, and M-Z. Every gallery page has direct links to each of these place name indexes making it easy to quickly refer to them if you are interested in what a particular place name means.
This rather large project is a work in progress and I know there are a few names I've not yet recorded. I will be adding them as quickly as time permits. All the place name pages have comment boxes so if you feel anything is wrong or missing I will be very happy to hear from you.
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