Ardvreck, Ochil, Spittal of Glenshee, Tulloch, Brechin, Amulree, Glamis. All are Scottish names of some of the most interesting places we’ve visited in the past 19 trips to the land of haggis, bagpipes, castles, and heather. But what do the names mean? Is there significance to the name of the Highland cascades called the Falls of Dochart? This post is really a chance for me to highlight a new set of photos and photo technique in the guise of explaining the background of place names. I’ll start my photo journey of Scotland in our home base of Crieff, Perthshire, central Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The name Crieff comes from Old Scottish Craobh Cnoc meaning “Hill of Trees.” The town originated as a trysting place (October cattle sale) which attracted drovers from all over Scotland. It grew from the High Street up the knock (cnoc) or hill where the present Hydro Hotel and one of town’s golf courses resides. The second largest town in Perthshire is now a perfect example of an historic Scottish village. Just seven miles west of Crieff is another picturesque village, Comrie.
Right on the Highland Line, the division between the Highlands and the Lowlands and designating both the geographical and a social division of Scotland, Comrie is also known as Earthquake Central for its seismic activity. In the 1830s, for example, local siesmologists recorded 7300 tremors “sometimes accompanied by a loud report and sulphureous smells.” In fact, one of our favorite restaurants in the area is named Deil’s Cauldron (The Devil’s Cauldron). The name Comrie comes from Scottish Gaelic comer meaning "river confluence"--at Comrie the Water of Ruchill, the River Lednook, and the River Earn all meet. A few miles up the road from Comrie is the Highland village of Killin (Cill Scottish Gaelic for “church” and fionn for “white”), home to one of the most scenic waterfalls in the country---the Falls of Dochart.
Especially in spate this Highland river cascade earns it name. Dochart in Scottish Gaelic means “evil scourer,” and anyone seeing the river in full flow would know that anything in the water’s path would certainly be scoured. Heading north from Crieff up through Sma’Glen (a tourist trade name for part of the Glen of Almond) will bring you to the hamlet of Amulree--a couple of houses, and old tearoom, a deteriorating hotel, and a church.
The Amulree Church and its spectacular setting is what takes us back to the spot originally called Ford of Maelruabha, a crossing point of the River Braan named for a 17th century missionary who became the area’s patron saint. From Amulree we continue north to Aberfeldy (from aber meaning “river mouth” and feldy a reference to a 5th century missionary St Paldoc) then west past Loch Tay to Weem and Castle Menzies.
Castle Menzies, ancestral home of Clan Menzies, is sited in the hamlet of Weems which in Scottish Gaelic means “cave.” There are plenty of tales of Scottish cattle theives and reivers hiding in the local caves. Traveling northeast from Crieff Glamis (glahmz) Castle is one of the major attractions.
Glamis Castle, the home of the Queen Mum and Queen Elizabeth’s childhood home, is a lovely castle named for its location. Glamis in Scottish Gaelic means “wide gap,” which refers to the situation of the village in the center of a broad valley between Sidlaw Hills and the edge of the Highlands. Two more sights with interesting names are half a country apart. First is the village of Crail on the East Neuk of the Kingdom of Fife (the original and maybe official name for the county of Fife) about ten miles south of St Andrews.
Besides having its own challenging golf course, Crail is known for its picturesque small port. In fact, the name Crail comes from Old Gaelic carr meaning “boulder.” The dangerous Carr Rocks lie three miles offshore in the Firth of Forth. Last for this post we travel north and west to the other side of Scotland to visit one of the most photographed castles in the UK, Eilean Donan Castle on Donnan’s Isle.
Built on a small islet at the entrance to Loch Duich, this castle’s name comes from a simple combination of location and family names. Eilean in Scottish Gaelic is “island” and Donan refers to the the Donnan family who were associated with the castle. Whether from Old Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, or family names, whether referring to places or saints, the names of Scotland’s sights add to and fuel our fascination with Scotland.
The next post on this blog will be from Scotland, where our friends in Crieff have been basking in wicked sunshine while we languish in waterlogged Oregon. Wait to see if our first post talks about the rain we brought with us or the sun we snuck into. Slainte! (Scottish Gaelic for “Good Health.”)