Cairngorms National Park

View to Braemar

Guide to place names of the Cairngorms published

29th June 2006

Have you ever wanted to know what the name Cairngorm actually means?  What about Balmoral, Lochnagar or Tomintoul?  These place-names and many others are spelt out in a new leaflet produced by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA).

The Park Authority has produced the new full colour leaflet giving residents and visitors a guide to the pronunciation and meaning of a selection of place-names in the Cairngorms National Park including some of the towns and villages, rivers, burns, forests, woods and hills.

The information contained in the leaflet has been compiled by Alison Diack and James Grant from Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore.

“I think that residents and visitors will find the information contained within the leaflet very interesting and it really captures the imagination”, said co-author Alison Diack.

“Take Cairngorm for example; the Gaelic is An Càrn Gorm and this means The Blue Mountain. Lochnagar is likely to mean the Little Loch of the Noisy Sound and the River Livet – or Lìomhaid to use the Gaelic – translates as the shining or flooded one. Furthermore, you have translations like that for Loch Vaa, which in Gaelic is Loch a’ Bhàtha, which means the loch of the drowning or Loch Mallachie which means the loch of the curse!”

Rita Callander, Cultural Heritage Officer at the CNPA said, “The names of towns and villages, topographic features, rivers, forests and so on give us some insight into the rich culture and heritage of the National Park”.

Some of the earliest place-names derive from the languages spoken by the Picts, and while the majority of the current place-names within the Park are Gaelic in origin, Scots place-names also feature.

Some other examples include:

  • Balmoral is probably from Both Mhorail meaning the dwelling of the great clearing.
  • Tomintoul is Tom an t-Sabhail in Gaelic which means the knoll of the barn.
  • Bellabeg – or Am Baile Beag – means the little town.
  • The Gaelic for Loch Pityoulish is Loch Peit Gheollais, which translates as the loch of the settlement of the bright place.
  • The Smugglers’ Shank is Scots for the Smugglers’ Ridge

Look out for copies of ‘ Place-Names of the Cairngorms National Park ‘ in tourist information offices, ranger bases, accommodation providers and visitor attractions. Alternatively contact the CNPA direct on tel: 01479 873535 or email: enquiries@cairngorms.co.uk  for a copy.