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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
III. Place Names


"WORDS are the servants of things," says Jeremy Taylor. But the words may remain when the things have passed away. Names taken from the sea may be found where the waves no longer roll. Memorials of the wolf and the wild boar may exist where these animals have been long extinct. So it is with peoples and races. The past is found in the present, and the present might be found in the past. We have an illustration of this in the early books of the Old Testament. There we find many interesting notices of the naming of places, and signs of the old giving place to the new. The patriarchs in their wanderings, and the Israelites in their march through the wilderness, amid in their conquest of Canaan, often gave names to places which for some reason or other had become memorable in their history. Some instances may be quoted. Beersheba (Gen. XXI. 31), where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech, is the "Well of the Oath." The mount where the ram was sacrificed instead of Isaac (Gen. XXII. 14), was called Jehovah Jireh, "The Lord will provide." Of Bethel it is said (Gen. XXVIII. 19; cf Judg. I. 23), "The name of that city was called Luz at the first." Massah (Exod. XVII. 7) is "The Temptation." Achor (Josh. VII. 26) is Trouble." Bochim (Judg. II. 5) is "The Weepers"; and Kirjath-jearim, which was first called K Baal, was afterwards, in honour of Samson, called the Camp of Dan (Judg. XVIII. 12). In Genesis XXVI. 18, the touching statement is made, as to certain wells restored by Isaac, "And he called their names after the names by which his father had called them." Something of the same kind took place in England in the days of the Normans, and similar changes may be traced in Scotland and the Highlands. Our parish being so far inland, and fenced round by mountains, was less exposed to such influences than others along the coast. Sigurd, Torphin, and other Norsemen, may again and again have ravaged the sea-board, but they could not have penetrated far into the glens and uplands. Malcolm IV., according to Fordun, carried off "the whole nation of the Moravienses from the land of their birth, as of old Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, had done with the Jews." But this, if not a fable, is a great exaggeration, and whatever eviction took place, could not have extended far beyond "the Laich" of Moray. Even the wave of Dalriadic Scots that swept over Argyll spent its force in the West, and broke in spray on the hills of Perth and Inverness. It never reached Speyside. At the same time our parish could not but be more or less affected by the struggles of rival monarchs, and the strifes of contending factions and clans. The influx of strangers also, and the changes in the social and industrial habits of the people, have made their mark here as elsewhere. Our parish is called The United Parish of Abernethy and Kincardine, and these names might of themselves furnish much scope for inquiry. The River Nethy, which runs from Cairngorm to the Spey, about sixteen miles, gives its name to the parish. The word is obscure. In Gaelic it is "Neithich," and has been variously explained. Some connect it with "Neithe," the God of the Waters, and others with "Nectan," the Pictish King, whose name is associated with the more famous Abernethy in Perthshire. Others again conjecture that it comes from an obsolete word, Neith, force, or nimh, venom. The Rev. John Grant (1792) says: "The meaning is not known; but, on the other hand, Shaw, the historian, a high authority, gives the meaning as "the impetuous washy river," seemingly from the Gaelic words feith, a stream, and fiadhaich, fierce, turbulent; pronounced, when taken together, "'N jheith-fhiadhaich." The remark of Skene is worth keeping in view: "Names of rivers, usually root-words, are sometimes so archaic that it is difficult to fix their meaning," Probably "Nethy" is from a Pictish root, and there are traces of the same root in the Nith in Ayrshire, Abernyte and Abernethy in Perthshire, and Invernethie in Aberdeenshire. - The word Aber has led to endless controversy. Taylor has said: "If we draw a line across a map from a point a little south of Inverary to one a little north of Aberdeen, we shall find that, with very few exceptions, the myers lie to the north of the line and the Abers to the south of it." But this dictum cannot stand on Speyside. Facts are against it. "Aber" and "Inver" are found all up and down the Spey. There is an Invereshie in Badenoch. an Inverlaidnan in Duthil, and an Inverdruie in Rothiemurchus. Then come the parishes of Abernethy and Inverallan, on opposite sides of the Spey. Then lower down there is the parish of Inveravon, and next to it that of Aberlour. The names seem to alternate, but the myers are undoubtedly more numerous than the Abers. Professor Rhys, in a letter to the author, says: "With regard to Aber, you have to discard all that has been said of the word by historians, who undertake to dabble in etymology without any training; for instance, trust the native pronunciation, which you say is obair, and not aber. This last has, perhaps, been imported as the spelling usual in Welsh. When, moreover, they say that inbher is Gaelic and Irish, and Aber is Welsh, that is only a misleading and half truth, for inbher is not only Gaelic, but also Welsh (spelled ynfer); and, on the other hand, Aber is not only Welsh, but also Gaelic (and probably Irish). . . . The only sense in which the historians’ assertion is true amounts to this: ynfer is not a common word in Welsh, and obair not common in Gaelic, except in proper names of places. . . inbhir or inver is from ber, of the same origin as Latin ferre; amid inbhir should be in-put, so to say, or the place where one river flows into another, or into the sea. The etymology of the other word is od-ber, and it was the out-put, so to say, of one water into another. From od-ber the oldest Welsh forum of the word was open; later, it became oper and aber. So you see that your obair conies nearer the original than what the historians wish you to write as Aber after the Kymric fashion, though I should by no means wish to say that obair may not become abair or aber sonietimes, or perhaps often."

The late James Munro, one of our best Gaelic scholars, says in his "Treoraiche" (1843) " Ynver, Wel. Yn mer in mhar (uisge ann an uisge) ; Abar, Wel. Aber (awbior, uisge ri h’Uisge."

Kincardine is also a difficult word. The name is found in Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Ross-shire, and Moray (Pluscardin). It is usual to connect it with Iyrchardus, but there is no evidence that this saint, famous at Kincardine O’Neil, had anything to do with our Kincardine. In the Old Statistical Account, the word is explained "Tribe of Friends" ; but this interpretation, though complimentary to the people, cannot be maintained. The word, when analysed, is found to consist of three parts:

1. Kin, the locative case of  ceann, head; 2. Card, which has the accent, indicating the root, which may be from an obsolete word, card, thicket, which is found in Welsh; and 3, the suffix an. The meaning would be—-the bead of the thicket or brake. It should be noted that there are several other Kins in the neighbourhood. On the opposite side of the Spey is Kinchirdy (caorunn (?) rowan), and Kinveachy (beith, birch), and higher up, Kingussie, Kincraig, and Kinrara. The latter hill, with the Duke of Gordon monument on the top, stands out prominently, and is seen far down Speyside. It has been suggested that Kinrara may mean Kin (or Ceann) dà-shrath, the head of the two Straths.

Leaving this debateable ground, as Shakespeare has it, "We will, fair Queen, up to the mountain top." In an old Gaelic song the bard, who is supposed to be standing on the summit of Cairngorm, gives a graphic description of the view. Here is a fragment— 

"Chi mi poit a Ghlinné-mhoir
Chi mi Bo-chònaich, ‘s Beag-ghleann, 
Chi mi Gleann Ennich an fheidh, 
Far am bitheadh an spreidh air eadradh."

There are several names here of interest. Poit, a pot; Bo-chonaich, the mossy bow or bend; Begglan, the little glen, as contrasted with Glenmore, the big glen. The last line is specially good. It calls up a picture of old times. "Eadradh," i.e., Edar and Trath, between times, is a technical term, used of the time of milking, of separating the lambs, and here, in the larger sense of the season, when the flocks were taken to the glens for summering-—a time of pleasant meetings, looked forward to with eagerness by the young, and looked back upon with pensive regrets by the old; a time of simple, pastoral life and beauty, which the poets, from Virgil to Ramsay, and our own Mrs Grant of Laggan, have loved to depict. We have the phrase "eadradh’ in the dear old lilt of Crodh-Chailein.

"‘S n’uair thigeadh am feasgar, 
‘S àm eadradh nan laogh.
Gun tig mo ghaol dachaidh
N deigh bhi cosgradh an fheidh."

Cairngorm (4084) is the highest point in our parish, and is one of the best known of our Highland hills. The old name was "Monadh ruadh," red or ruddy, in contradistinction to the "Monadh-liath," grey, on the north side of the Spey. The other principal hills are Sgorr-gaothaidh (2602), "The Windy Sgorr," which, standing out prominently, may be said to catch every wind that blows; Gealcharn (2692), the white hill, probably from its quartz rocks; Bynack (3296), beinn’ eige, the hill of the notch or cleft, which rises grandly like a pyramid from the platform of the Larig; and of the lower ranges, Meall-bhuachaill (2654), the herd’s hill; Carn-Bheithir (2656), the serpent hill ; and Creag-ghobhraidh (2237), the goat’s hill ; and Màmsuim (2394). Màm is a large round hill (Lat. mamma, mother, breast). Suim is a difficult word. Duncan M’Intyre has the line, "Far am bitheadh an tuadh len suim," where it seems to mean flocks or herds. We have no end of "Tomms" and "Tomans," "Cnocs" and "Cnocans," "Creags" and "Creagans," "Lochs" and "Lochans," "Torrs" and "Torrans." Tòrr is a common word for a little hill of conical form, and is found not only in the north, but in the south as far as Devonshire. Bynack may be said to be the centre of the region of the "Eags." The Ailnag; into which the Caiplich runs, is the Burn-of-the-Eag (or it may be from ail obs. for rock), and the tremendous rock gorge which the water has cut in the course of the ages, makes the name very appropriate. Then there are the "Eags" on the "Thieves’ Road" ("Rathadnam-mearleach "). First, the Eag-rnhòr, a long narrow gorge in the Braes west of Dorback; next the Eag-chait, the haunt of the wild cat, on the edge of Cam Bheithir, where John Roy Stewart is said to have hid his gun. Then there is the Eag-garbh-choire, on the eastern side of Cairngorm, and Eag-coire-na-comhlach, the corrie of the meeting, on the west. Certain of these "Eags" seem as if they marked the line of an old water course. Perhaps, where caterans drove their prey, there may once have been some "ancient river." Tennyson sings—

"There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O Earth! what changes hast thou seen?
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea."

And an older and greater than the Laureate has much the same idea—

"When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore, 
And the firm soil win of the watery main, 
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store."

We have several Clachs. On the road to Easter Tulloch there is C.-na- Criche, marking the old march between the counties of Inverness and Moray. There is a C.-na-h’ Ulaidh, in the fence at the east end of Balliefurth plantation, where a treasure is said to have been found long ago. Opposite Rhymore there is a stone called C.-an-triuchasdaich; it has a hole in it, and was, of old, resorted to for the cure of whooping-cough. There stood, some years ago, two huge granite boulders, facing each other, on opposite sides of the road to Kincardine, near Knock, which bore the name of Clachan-peathrichean, the sister stones; and on the old Church Road there was another splendid specimen, called C.-na-h’ analach, the resting-stone, where people used to rest and have a "crack" on their way from church; but these have disappeared, being broken up for railway use in 1862. At the top of a ridge on the west slope of Cairngorm, above Coire-chaorunn, is C.-bàrraig, sometimes incorrectly called Parruig or Peter. The name is from bàrr, top. There is a similar boulder resting on the hill above Beglan, in Glenmore, which bears the strange name of C. an-iurnaich, the stone of the hellish man. Tradition says that a certain man, who had his bothy near this stone, was so notorious for malice and cruelty that he was called "Iurnach," and so gave the name to the stone. Both these boulders, the one of granite and the other of schyst, are beautifully illustrative of Wordsworth’s famous lines—

"As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie
Couched on the bald top of an eminence;
Wonder to all who do the same espy
By what means it could thither come, and whence;
So that it seems a thing imbued with sense;
Like a sea beast crawled forth that on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself."

The Gaelic words for a well are Fuaran and Tobair. They are noticed elsewhere.

From wells to streams is a natural transition. Feith is often explained as a "bog." The word means a sinew or vein, and is strictly descriptive of small streams winding their way through the mosses and bogs. Of such we have several. In Glenmore there is the Feith-dhubh (black); on the Nethy is the Feith-scilich (willows); and a stream that runs, not from a bog but a loch, to the Spey, in Kincardine, has the same name.

Next to "feith" is Caochan, streamlet, perhaps from " caoch," blind. Of this we have several with some descriptive adjective attached, such as Caochan-dubh (black); C. fiaclach, (jagged-tooth-like); C. ghuib (from gob, a bill or mouth) ; C. nan-Easgan (eel); C. na-saobhidh (the fox-den). Of "Allts" there are many, such as Garbh-allt (rough); Grom-allt (crooked); Glas-allt (grey); Fionn-allt (the fair burn); Ant-alIt bàn (white or fair) A. iomadaidh, A. Clais an Eich (hollow of the horse); Allt-ghealaidh, probably from bealaidh, broom, A. dearcaige, berry. Mr Macbain suggests that " allt" is properly a height or glen side, and allied to " altus" (Latin).

Some names of streams have the ending "ag," a diminutive, but which may be a contraction of "amhainn." There is a Rabhag that runs into Loch-Morlich, and a Luinag that runs out of it, and that joining the Bennie, at Coylum (Coimh-leum)— (leaping together), forms the Druie. Then we have the Dubhag (dark), and the Dorback, tributaries of the Nethy. The latter is in Gaelic Doirbag, same as Dorback that flows from Lochandorb, and seems derived from doirb (do-soirbh, harsh, mischievous Doirbheag, is a cross, ill-tempered woman). This exactly describes its character. It has a short run, and comes down at times with great quickness and force. It is said that a farmer who had suffered much from its depredations, used to make this part of his daily prayer, "From the storms of Gealcharn, the floods of Dorback, and the wrath of the factor, good Lord, deliver us." The climax is significant. The storm was bad, the flood was worse, but the wrath of the factor was worst of all. Times are changed. The power of the factor is still great, but it is not dreaded as it used to be. The Celt is going back to the faith of his fathers, Is treasa tuath na tighcarna, "Tenants are stronger than lairds."

Names are often descriptive. In some cases they are pure word pictures, such as Sithan-dubh-dà-choimhead, the sithan of the double outlook ; in others they mark some peculiarity of form, colour, or situation. One place is called Lùb-Aitinn, from the juniper growing in it richly ; another is Coire-chuilion, from the holly, now rare in the district ; another is Tomchalltuinn, from the hazel; another is Culraineach, as abounding in fern, and so on.

Names are given not only from plants but also from animals. We have Creag-an-fhithich to mark the haunt of the raven; Torr-an-iasgair, the osprey’s torr; and Stac na h-Iolaire. the eagle’s eyrie. We have also Lag-mhadaidh and Foil-mhuc, also Muc-rach, to mark where the wolf and the wild boar once had their dens ; and Creagan-chait, Ruigh-na-feoraige, Innis-broc, Caohan-na-saobhidh (den), indicating the haunts of the wild cat, the squirrel, the badger, and the fox.

Many names are given on the principle of resemblance. Some are taken from the bodily organs. The face, aodainn; the nose, sron; the throat, slugan; the breast, uchd (sometimes confounded with uachdar; the surface, top); the back, druim; the shank, lurg, and others have their representatives. Other names of a similar kind are an diallaid, the saddle, at the entrance to Glen-Avon; An Crasg; an across place; Bathaich-fioniag; the byre of Fiontag in Glenmore; Sabhalan-Bhynaig, the barns of Bynack, huge granite rocks standing out like buildings; and Mudachan Chathno, the chimneys of the Cath-no on Cairngorm, where the rocks are worn so as to look like stalks of massive masonry, piled up on the verge of the grand shelving precipices of the Garbhallt, precipitous, black, jagged rocks, for ever shattered, and the same for ever. They are well worthy of a visit, but lying apart from the ordinary track, they are generally overlooked.

Deaths, murders, funerals, and incidents connected with social and church life are commemorated in names. The dominance of the old family of the Cummings is preserved in Castle Roy and the Mod Hill. The wars of Montrose are remembered in Campa Choll, Coll Kitto’s Camp, and Tobair-nan-damais, a well near Forest Lodge, which hears this curious name from some soldiers having been seen there playing draughts at the time when Montrose and Argyll were playing hide-and-seek in the woods of Abernethy (see Spalding, vol. II.). The Roman Catholic times have their memorials in Tobair chailleach, the nuns’ well; Stair mananach, the monk’s stepping stones; Crois-parraig-an-Ailean, a wooden cross on the old road from Glenbroun, above Dirdow, marking where Peter of the Ailan’s funeral had rested; and Baile ‘n t-seipeil, Chapelton, in Tulloch, where there are the remains of a chapel. The Sassenachs who were engaged in the great wood and iron works of last century have left their mark here and there. There is a point in the Kincardine Slugan called Cadhaig Nicoll, where one of their men lost his life. The place where their forges were erected is still called Baile ghobhainn, Smith’s town, and higher up on the Nethy is the Old Mill Croft, which Sir Thomas Dick Lauder has celebrated. There is also a spring of delicious water at the foot of the bank at Aldersyde, which, to mark the kindheartedness of a certain John Crowley, who had spent some pains in fencing and decorating it, still bears his name.

Agriculture and the industrial and social habits of the people account for many names. The old name for Pytoulish was Pitgaldish. This may have been the original designation, Pit meaning "farm," "portion" (compare Book of Deer), land of Galdie. The word may have then changed to the descriptive form, pit being taken in its common sense of hollow (Latin, puteus, well). It is curious that at Pytoulish there are several very marked cup-like hollows, probably formed by boulders in the glacier age, and one of them, near the dwelling-house, has been ingeniously converted into a beautiful garden. The old people disliked the name Pytoulish as having an indelicate meaning in Gaelic, and substituted a less offensive form. This change may be compared with what is recorded as to the names of Baal and Molech, that is, Lord and King, where the old names were changed as implying homage (Exod. xxiii. 13; xxxiv. 13-14; Numb. xxxii. 38; Hos. ii. 17 ; Zech. xiii. 2). There is another "Pit" in Kincardine, Pitvarnie, from fearnn, alder. The Pictish Pit gave place to Baile, and this word is found in many names. There is Balliemere, near the church, i.e., the "Big-town," being the principal farm, which used to be the residence of the bailie or factor. Then there is Balliefurth, the town of the port or ferry (Latin, portus), where the old road to Inverallan and to Ballintomb, the gathering-place of the clan, crossed the Spey. Other names are B.-an’ tuath, the town of the tenants; B. -nan-Croitearan, the town of the crofters; B.-an--tuim, the town of the heap or hillock, perhaps of old a mote-hill; B.-an-luig, the town of the hollow; and B.-nan-croigean, the town of the frogs. Cul, back, and Cuil, a corner, not easily distinguished, are often used as affixes. There are C.-bhardaidh, the bard’s croft; Culnakyle, from Coille, a wood ; Culriach, from riach, grey ; and so on. There are several "Achs"—from achadh, a field. In Tulloch is The "Ach," as if the field there had at one time stood alone in the waste, worthy of bearing the name from its very singularity. Achernack (in Gaelic, Achiarnag) was a notable place as the seat of the Clan Allan. The derivation is difficult. It may be Ach, field; iar, west; eag, cleft—the field on the west of the cleft or gorge, and this exactly describes the situation. Achnagonalan, a little to the north, is equally difficult. There is a tradition that duels used to be fought here in a field by the Spey, and it may be that the name means "the field of the duels," from Gaelic, gon, a wound; or comhlann, a combat. Of Loinn, the locative case of lann, a meadow or enclosure, there are several examples. Some of these may be given: Lynbeg, beag, little; and lower down, Lynmore, from mor, big; Lynamer, from amar, a trough, channel, or mill-lead; Lynma-gilbert, which commemorates some notable Gilbert’s son; and L..-torran nam-broc, from broc, badger. The Gaelic name of Birchfield is Cùl-mhuillion, the back of the mill. There were several other mills, as M.-lon, in Kincardine, from lon, a marsh; M.-garroch, from garbh, rough; M. chalcaidh, the walkmill; and M.-cheardaidh, above Lettoch, once a carding-mill. The most notable was M.-Gharlinn—the mill of the Garlin. There are many "Ruighs" (an aim, slope, out-stretched part of a hill—a shieling) in the parish, indicating that the system of grazing and summering largely prevailed in the upper and hill districts. These "Ruighs " or shielings were generally attached to the larger farms. Thus we have Ruigh-chaillcach, R.-nuidh, R.-leothaid, R.-naitinn, R.-nirich, R.-nuain, R.-nangillean-dubh. (The Camerons), and so on. One place bears the pathetic name of R.-briste-cridhe, the Ruigh of the broken heart. It is on the north side of Meall bhuachaill, rugged and steep, and doubtless got the name from the difficulty of working it. Another croft in Kincardine has a similar name, Croit na h-aimhleas, the croft of misfortune (am-leas).

Eilan-coirn, on the Nethy, may be the place where barley was first grown. The Gaelic name of Nethy Bridge is Ceann-trochaid —Bridge-end. When the new bridge was built (1804), the first house erected was that of the Ceannaich, merchant; then came the Ceardaich, the smithy; and then the Tigh-osda, the public-house. Now the place is the centre of a thriving village, with a post-office, telegraph, railway station, shops, and several handsome villas and cottages.

Wordsworth says: Two voices are there; one is of the sea, one of the mountains, each a mighty voice," and this may be applied to our place names. Though far inland, we have names that echo the voice of the ocean, and form a link with its shores. Cambus is found with us, as at the seaside. Innis, island, is also found, as in Inch-tomach, and Inch-droighinn (thorn). There is a narrow strip of bog in Kincardine which is called the "Caolan," or little gut, the same word which figures in so many of the kyles of the west. One of the corners of Loch-Garten is called Geothag, little creek, which, Mr Macbain says, is from the Norse gja, a chasm; and on the Altmore there are two crofts called the Upper and Lower Plottas, words which seem to have affinity with the floddas and ploddas of Sutherland and Ross. Another word which it is strange to find at the foot of the Cairngorm is Ros, a headland. There is a ruined shieling near the Green Loch, which is called Ruigh-dà-ros, the Ruigh of the two points or promontories. An old story of this Ruigh may be given. About the end of last century there lived here a man called James Robertson. He had been in the army, and had a small pension. Being a hard man, and a woman-hater, he dwelt by himself quite alone. But he was believed to have a charm for healing sore eyes, and people sometimes came to him for help. Once a woman of the name of Macqueen took courage to call on him. She knocked timidly at the door, and was told in a harsh voice to come in. Robertson was mending his brogues. When he looked up and saw that it was a woman, he cried in a fury, "What brought you here ?" The woman trembling told her errand. He paused for a moment, and then answered with a scowl, "I’ll give you an obaidh (charm) that you wont forget."

"Na faiceadh do shuil go bràth
‘N darna te na sgladhair odhar
An te eile na sgleodhair bhàn."

The woman rushed out, glad to escape with her life, but tradition says she never recovered her sight. She was "Ealasaidchàm" to the end of her days.


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