This is one of several articles written by Louis Stott who generously offered local aspects of his scholarship to the archive of Loch Ard Local History Group–our thanks to Louis and his family for this material.
The parish derives its name from the British term Aber which signifies the confluence of two rivers or streams. This confluence takes place near the church where a small river called, in Gaelic, the Poll, i.e., the stagnating water, falls into the Forth at right angles. In that language Poll is, in the genitive case, pronounced foil or foyle, whence Aberfoyle.
Patrick Graham Old Statistical Account 1795
By far the most authoritative book about Scottish place-names is The History of the Celtic Place names of Scotland (1926) by W. J. Watson. Watson explains that ‘sluggish stream’ is a specialised meaning of the word “poll” (gaelic poll or welsh pwll), which occurs many times in Perthshire. It may also be noted that sluggish streams called Pows are characteristic of both the Carse of Stirling and Flanders Moss. The parish of Aberfoyle (Obarphuill) was of particular interest to him because it is situated on the frontiers between the Scots of Dál Riata and the Picts, and between them and the British. Watson points out that the headwater of the Pow at Aberfoyle, the Bofrishlie Burn, is a British-Gaelic word, which suggests that this was a district where the two languages co-existed.
The names of settlements have been modified in various ways. In some instances, old names indicate more clearly how new names have arisen; but in other instances, they obscure matters. It is essential to recollect that the present village did not exist when the name Aberfoyle was first used. On Stobie’s map of 1783, one of the first detailed maps, both Wester and Easter Kirktown, and Milltown appear. Later maps refer to Kirktown of Aberfoyle. Aberfoil appears as the name of the parish. Indeed, it is possible that Aberfoyle was first used to describe The Pass of Aberfoyle. A document of 1769 refers to “rentals of barony of Aberfoyle, above and below the pass.” Indeed, one might speculate whether ‘the mouth of the pool’ refers to the situation of the Pass at the very foot of Loch Ard.
However, the parish church is undoubtedly situated near the Pow. Indeed, the meanderings of the Forth may well mean that the mouth of the Pow was, at one time, closer to the kirk than it now is. When the word Kirkton is used it is often the word “clachan” that is understood in Gaelic, or, perhaps, “clacharan”, the stepping stones. Very many Kirktons in the Highlands are clachans. It is suggested that places of worship were very often built near stepping stones or fords, as is the case at Aberfoyle. In an essay about place names in Balquhidder Rev. David Cameron notes that Clachan (Scotice, Kirk town) was also the name given to Druidical places of worship, which consisted of a circle, or collection of large stones, i.e., Clachan (the plural of clach, a stone). These circles accommodated people at worship, so new places of worship, after the introduction of Christianity, were erected on, or near such a site (as is also the case in Aberfoyle), and the name Clachan came thus to be transferred from the one place of worship to the other.
It is clear that in Rob Roy Scott means the Milton when he refers to the ‘Clachan of Aberfoyle’ for there never were many houses at the Kirkton. In the document already referred to the following settlements ‘below the Pass’ are listed: Craigmuck, Inchrie, Auchilach, Daldanit, Runagaur, The Clap(n) of the Mill, and Milntown of Aberfoil. Of these Daldanit is connected with annaid a word for a church or cemetery, often the parent church of the parish. Once the site of a ford, it is situated on the south bank of the Duchary Water near Craigmuck. ‘The clap and happer’ is used in sasines to signify legal possession of a mill. Thus, the Clap of the Mill is the mill itself, which used to belong to the Earl of Menteith. Milntown of Aberfoyle is clearly a township, consisting of several cottages.
Wester and Easter Craiguchtie, in Trossachs road, were the original settlements where the village of Aberfoyle is now situated. Over Dounance, Ballantone and Carsvockie, Nether Dounance and Woodend, Alinan, Breval in Dounance and Balnacraig were also found in 1769. The ford, hard under Doon Hill, where Scott set an escape in Rob Roy, is called ‘Alinan’. Macnair suggests that the name is derived from ath a ford and linnean (connected with) linen, since a pool (at the forestry commission offices) was used to steep flax until the fibres separated. However, in another document of 1657 the name ‘Dallenance’ occurs, providing a link with dail, a field. Thus ‘Alinan’ may mean ‘the linen field’. Dounans, the little hill. or Dounance is another long-established name. At one time, there was a castle there, sometimes confused with Duchray The castle mound can be seen next to the Car Park at Dounans.
Several settlements south of the present village have more recognisable names: Cobleland, the forestry commission campsite, is the site of a ferry where a coble (a primitive boat) preceded the old bridge. Wester and Easter Park and Duniverig in Park are the sites of former settlements. Dunverig occurs twice in the parish. It is probably dun bharraigh meaning, perhaps, “brushwood knoll”. Gartlonan or Gartloaning (once called Gartalunane), where the battle of Talla Moss in 1489 concluded with the defeat of the Earl of Lennox. means “the cultivated part of the little meadow”
Although Aberfoyle, like most villages in central Scotland, now has a greater population than it has ever had, it is remarkable the extent to which the rest of the district, has become depopulated. In the parish of Buchanan, for example, there were in 1759 132 persons living between Rowardennan and Inversnaid. At the same time there were 129 in Stratharklet and more than ninety in Glen Dubh. Thus, there are many deserted settlements throughout the district. One of them, above Loch Lomond, appears on today’s maps as Stuickiruagh It was called Stuckinrory on a map dating from 1817, but the first edition of the Ordnance Survey six-inch map correctly identified the name as Stùc an Fir Ruaidh, ‘the peak of the red-haired man’, perhaps a reference to Rob Roy.
The period of greatest population in the Highland areas was probably the end of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century, i.e., before the clearances. In 1718 the township of Coraklait (Corriearklet) had 22 buildings Corriechichon, Corrieachan, where Rob Roy’s wife lived with her uncle, was the “horse corrie”
In 1759 there were ninety-one people, in sixteen families, living between Comer and Stucabhuich. In Glen Dubh there were several important townships. Big and Little Bruachcaorainn, rowan bank, have been written down in different ways. In 1583-1601 Pont had the two settlements as Bracheurin; later they appeared as Wester and Easter Brachairin, as Bruachairnmore and as Bruchorn. One suspects that some places changed hands without either the owner or his or her amanuensis knowing how the name ought to be spelled. Such variations are found throughout the district. Dalavie was Delvie in 1807, but, nearby, Slochd, Duchary and Inchrie have remained virtually the same as they are now.
In Glen Dubh occupants of the glen would be tenants of Montrose, probably through the tacksmen. There was probably still some community organisation and the Tom-a-mhoid (Moot Hill) at Ballimore, the big township, may well have remained the central meeting point for the glen, even if it was only to decide when the cattle and other livestock would be moved from the low ground to the summer grazings behind the Bein Bhan. There the airidh (summer houses) can still be found. Rinzoorach and Glashlet still have traces of them.
In Strathard there were several settlements near Loch Chon where there is just one, Frenich, these days. These included Blaregal, a name possibly connected with a church or chapel, and, in 1624, Boquhople [Boquhapple], which by 1806 had become Blarchaple, a clearing for horses, and Dunvarig. Further down the glen the Blairuskins have lasted longer. In a document of 1427 Blaerereruscan appears; by 1624 it had become Blairruskanmoir [Blairuskinmore]. Blair occurs frequently in highland names; it means ‘a level clearing’. Blairuskin means ‘a watery clearing’ Gartnerichnich, is the bracken enclosure; it appeared in 1427 as Gartnerthynach
Around Lochard there are several long established names Couligarten, cuil a’ ghartain, ‘nook of the cultivated patch’ first appeared in 1427 as did Blairhullichan, blar an tullachain, the level clearing of the little mound. Dalchon, Dalchone in 1783, but Dalcho in 1807, means ‘the dog’s or the dogs’ field’ or ‘the dogs’ haugh’. Blairvuach, which, in 1792, was Blairverock,became Blarvuick in 1807. It means ‘beast’s clearing’ Ledard, high slope, dates from 1647 or perhaps earlier. The Forest Hills Hotel replaced a house called Dalveagh, probably dail bheag ‘the little field’. The name may occur again in the valley of the Duchray Dail often indicates land gifted to the Church. Nearby is another such name, Dail Malio, ‘St Molios’ haugh’. This is a particularly interesting name, referring to a seventh century Celtic saint, St Maoliorsa or St Mo-laise. The name occurs again outside the village of Aberfoyle in Bad Malio, St Malios’ thicket. Drumlean, druim leathann, means ‘broad ridge’ The Glassert, glas ghart, is ‘the green enclosure’ Opposite it is Blar an Ros near Rob Roy’s Cave appeared on Stobie’s Map in 1783 as Blarinross the clearing on the promontory.
In any given district words for stretches of water are often the oldest names and, for this reason, their meanings are, at times, obscure. The Forth, Watson says, is mentioned in Tacitus. He notes that in the twelfth century the Forth had three names Froch in Gaelic Gwerid in Welsh or British and Scottwattre in English. In a Latin poem of the twelfth century the name ‘Forth’ is used; and a prose account of the same period refers to ‘magnum flumen Forthi,’ river of Forth. Watson states that it is an extremely curious fact that the name is unknown in modern Gaelic, either in common speech or in literature. In Old Gaelic there is an important instance of it in a poem, composed before 1100, about Aedán mac Gabrain, who was king of Dal Riata in Columba’s time. The narrative goes back to Aedán’s birth, at a time when his father, Gabran, was engaged in a foray beyond his own lands, apparently ‘at Foirthe’ Further on, Aedán is styled ‘Prince of Forth,’ a title which is appropriate in view of these campaigns… Watson states that ‘Foirthe’ is an -ia stem, representing Vo-rit-ia, from the root seen in the Irish rith, theact of running, relhim, I run, ‘ the slow-running one.’
The Forth is one of Scotland’s three or four most important rivers but, in its upper reaches, it is not a very impressive stream. Sir William Alexander (1567-1640), first Earl of Stirling, was right when in his Paraenesis, or Exhortation to Government, he wrote: –
“Forth, when she first doth from Benlowmond rinne,
Is poore of waters, naked of renowne;
But Carron, Allan, Teath, and Devon in,
Doth grow the greater still the further downe;
Till that abounding both in power and fame,
She long doth strive to give the sea her name.”
At that time the Forth was rather a mystery to mapmakers. They could not accept that the Lake of Menteith and Loch Ard, not to mention various other smaller lochs were, in effect, situated on tributaries of the Forth rather than on the main stream itself. One account has the Forth rising in the Lake of Menteith. Sir William Alexander may have asserted that the Forth rose on Ben Lomond, but Timothy Pont considered that it rose in Lochan Mhaim nan Carn above Frenich. In the middle of the nineteenth century Rev Robert Graham suggested in the New Statistical Account that it rose at Sgiath an Iubhair, the yew-tree spur, near Loch Arklet. Both of these sources are situated on the upper reaches of the Avondhu, the river that drains Loch Ard. Indeed, Robert Graham held (probably wrongly) that the Avondhu carried more water than the Duchray. The Ordnance Gazetteer notes that the Duchray, the water of the dark sheiling, rises at 3000 ft on Ben Lomond and flows 13.75 miles to its confluence with the Avondhu, whereas the Avondhu, which drains Loch Chon, Loch Dhu and Loch Ard, is but nine miles in length. Inspection of the map suggests that the Forth’s remotest source may well be in Gleann Gaoithe; the windy glen. It is of interest that it is the Abhainn Gaoithe that drains this glen whereas another headwater at Comer bears the lesser name Abhainn Beag, the little river.
On Pont’s manuscript map of Loch Lomond, the whole of the loch is shown and the map extends as far west as Loch Aird (Loch Ard) and shows the headwaters of the River Forth. In the north, the western end of Loch Ketterin (Loch Katrine) is shown. Of the names of our major lochs Loch Katrine is the most puzzling. The old Forest Park Handbook (1973) has it as the highly unlikely ‘Loch Catriona’ Watson suggests Loch Ceiteirein, ‘the loch of the furies or fiends’. Johnston, often wrong, but always interesting, begins by asserting that Loch Katrine was not in Pont (as, perhaps, to his knowledge, it was not) and then gives both ‘Kittern’ and ‘Catherine’ before plumping for ‘the battle of hell’ which he then rejects in favour of ‘the battle of Earn’.
Loch Chon is a plural, although it frequently appears on old maps as Loch Ko, which is singular. Loch Chon means ‘loch of the dogs’. In his book The Trossachs Campbell Nairne, discussing the perils of map-making, refers to “a blunder made by the seventeenth century antiquary and geographer Sir Robert Sibbald at the time when he was correcting and revising the district maps of Timothy Pont” He goes on “Pont had correctly drawn a waterfall on his map of Loch Chon. Sibbald visiting the spot fifty years later could find no waterfall and crossed out Pont’s sketch. The original map was among the Sibbald papers acquired by the Advocates’ Library in 1723, and the unfortunate erasure can still be seen”. However, recent inquiries suggest that no such Pont map exists.
Loch Ard is always translated as ‘the high loch’. In fact, it is not a particularly ‘high’ loch, nor is it the higher of the two chief lochs in its own basin. It is only high in relation to the low-lying flood plain of the upper Forth, the Laggan. However, àird can mean either height or promontory; and, of all Scottish lochs, Loch Ard it is one of the most indented – thus ‘the promontory loch’ may be the right meaning of the name. Patrick Graham, describing the district for Joseph Farington at the end of the eighteenth century noted the following:
“That part of Aberfoyle now under the eye, is denominated, in the Gaelic language, the Laggan i.e., the Vale; in contradistinction to the district which lies above the Pass, which is termed Braighe, i.e., the higher part.” Thus, it might well be that Loch Ard got the name “high” from its situation ‘above the pass’.
Of the other lochs and lochans in the district Loch Drunkie has a fairly well-established history. It appeared in 1567 as dronge suggesting ‘little ridge’. Famously the name ‘Drunkie Lodge’ was altered to ‘Invertrossachs’ when Queen Victoria went to stay there because the name appeared to be associated with drunkenness, which, of course, it was not.
Watson suggests that Loch Arklet is ‘the loch of the difficult slope’. In Gaelic it is ‘Loch Arcleid’; previous manifestations of the name may have included Lorgieclat (c.1080), Loch Arklait (1761) and Locharkil (1807). Johnston, way off the mark as ever, suggests ‘the battlefield of the snow-flakes’, referring to a contest between the Britons and the Scots in 711, which did, indeed, take place in these parts. Loch Venachar (Ordnance Survey), probably ‘the horned loch’, is notoriously difficult to spell. In Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands two great experts, Seton Gordon and W.J.Watson, spell it as ‘Loch Vennachar’, but the Ordnance Survey currently differs from this. The Lake of Menteith was for long known as the Loch of Inchmahome, i.e., the loch of Innis mo Cholmaig, of St Colmoc’s Island. This interesting Saint, ‘my dear little Colman’, is probably found at Port Moak in Kinross-shire and almost certainly in Easter Ross at Portmahomack, by which name Port of Menteith might otherwise have been known. Loch Achray was for long Ardkeanknoken Loch, Ard Cheannchnocain, ‘height of the head hillock’, named from the place where the Trossachs Hotel was eventually built. However, Achray is Ath-chrathaidh, which, according to Watson, seems to mean ‘the ford of the shaking’, probably referring to a ford near the present-day hotel. The Mill of Achray was, long ago, an important site of a local iron industry.
Ben Lomond, Beinn-laomainn, is widely held to mean ‘beacon hill’ from the Gaelic word, ‘lumen’, and it is said that it is from the mountain that Loch Lomond got its name. This is unusual; for the names of rivers and lochs generally precede those of hills. One can note that both Leven, the name of the river which drains Loch Lomond, and Lennox are said to be derived from leamhain, ‘the elm’, and this word may have given the loch its original name. Curiously, this juxtaposition of Leven and Lomond occurs also in Fife and Kinross where Loch Leven is overshadowed by the Lomond Hills. This might well suggest that the same tribe occupied each of the two districts.
Of smaller lochs Loch Linan which appears in Thomson’s 1817 Atlas is Loch a’ Ghleannain, the glen loch, and Loch na Reat from 1807 is Loch Reoidhte, the frozen loch. Loch Eabarach is the well-named miry loch. Loch Dhu between Loch Chon and Loch Ard is ‘the black loch’, as is Loch Dubh in Gleann Dubh. This loch has an old name Loch Laoud, ‘the puddle loch’. Another loch with a kind of second name is Loch Tinker, situated above Glasahoile, for long known by its Gaelic name Loch Cheaird, the tinker’s loch, a further reminder of the local iron industry. Cunninghame Graham has it that a ‘mysterious water-bull’ of Highland legend lived there. Minor hill lochs include Lochan Mhàim nam Carn, the lochan of the rounded hill of the cairns, Lochan Cruachan, on the prominent hill of the same name, and Lochan Beinn Dubh, black ben loch.
Finally, with regard to lochs, it is frequently stated that the derivation of Lochan Spling is unknown. However, on old maps it appears, in 1817, as ‘Loch an Spank’ and, in 1828, as ‘Lochan Splank’. Spank or spang means a thin piece of metal, a buckle or anything that sparkles; splang is a sparkle. It is clear to me that Lochan Spling is ‘the sparkling loch’. Cunninghame Graham also draws attention to the legendary connections of another small loch, Loch Macanrie, between Aberfoyle and the Lake of Menteith. It is ‘loch mac an righ’, the loch of the king’s son, and Graham tells of a prince who once became bogged down there, but was rescued by a local maiden. Unfortunately, this loch has almost disappeared.
In comparison with these difficulties the names of other watercourses are less complicated. The term ’water’, abhainn, is reserved for larger streams. Sometimes, in English, it takes a more elegant form as in ‘The Water of Chon’. Of all water features of the district perhaps the most mellifluous is ‘The Black Linn of Blairvaich’, the black waterfall of Blairvaich, the scene on the Duchray of an episode in the 1953 film Rob Roy. At the Miltonthe evolution of an abhainn dubh into ‘avondhu’ illustrates a significant process, often frowned on, where the transcription shows an approximation of the way in which the Gaelic is pronounced. In Graham of Duchray’s 1724 account of the parish it is called the ‘Burndow or Blackwater’. At the foot of Loch Achray, the river there is also called ‘the black water’. This might suggest a lack of imagination on the part of the first inhabitants, but, in fact, it suggests how early these names are. The first inhabitants did not travel very far and were not to know that there was another ‘black water’ not very far away.
The Ordnance Survey has done its best to ensure that its Gaelic is beyond reproach. Their efforts are superior to those of earlier mapmakers whose versions of names were often poor, although the early cartographers sometimes provide guidance to the origin of a name, subsequently distorted. Clearly vernacular place names, particularly when natives speak them, add both interest and charm to particular localities. However, certain names may benefit from translation, for example, it may be significant to know that allt crìoch is the ‘boundary burn’, while the ‘burn of the little antlers’ might be preferred to the somewhat impenetrable allt croiceagan. However, such translations must be treated with care. For example, locals for long knew the waterfall at David Marshall Lodge as either ‘the grey mare’s tail’ or ‘MacGregor’s leap’, the first a common enough name throughout Scotland for a waterfall, the second a further celebration, if one were needed, of Rob Roy’s connection with the district. However, Allt Mhangan or Allt Vingen can be translated as ‘the burn of the young kid’ or as the Forestry Commission have dubbed it ‘of the little fawn’, but it could just as easily be ‘the burn of the overhanging boughs’ as other sources suggest. Equally Altskeith may be allt skaith, roof-tree burn, or flower burn or, a meaning to be kept to oneself, allt skeith, burn of the vomit. Other minor streams include Allt a Cham-ruidhe, the crooked red burn, which tumbles into Loch Achray from the Duke’s Pass, Allt a Chleibh, the creel burn, Allt na Seilcheig, the snail burn (probably referring to its winding course), Allt na Speirag, sparrowhawk burn and Allt nan Seanganan, ant burn.
Apart from Ben Lomond, the highest peak, there are comparatively few ‘bens’ in the district. Often these high hills have rather uninteresting names, which may seem altogether more romantic in the Gaelic. For example, there is a black ben, a white ben, a red ben and at least two speckled bens However, in addition to Ben Lomond, already referred to, there are two or three other puzzles. Ben Venue is a beinn mheanbh, the little ben, so-called, it is said in comparison with Ben Ledi. Watson suggests a variation on this, ‘the insignificant hill’. It is, indeed, a rather retiring hill (except from the Loch Achray side) in comparison with the two bold, upstanding bens (Ledi and Lomond) nearby. Others suggest that it might be the middle (mheadhonach) hill. Yet other derivations include the hill of the little stirks, and the hill of milk, possibly connecting the word with buaile which can mean ‘kine’ or ‘a place where cows are milked’. A rather wilder suggestion includes ‘the hill of the caves’. Indeed, Ben Venue illustrates perfectly the perils of seeking explanations for place names.
Ben Chochan, nearby, may constitute a mystery as well; but perhaps it is the hill of the paps or breasts (ciochan). It certainly has the appearance of a breast from some angles. Beinn an Fhogaraidh, the rather monotonous-looking Ben above Loch Ard, appears on some old maps as Benogrie, which approximates to the way in which it is pronounced. It is a name that is little known and infrequently used. In this instance it might well be better to translate it as ‘ben of the harvesters’ or ‘the harvest ben’.
Binnean is an interesting diminutive, generally referring to a high pointed hill. Sir Walter Scott dubbed the most notable local example, above Loch Katrine, Ben An. There is another such hill above Inversnaid and, east of Ben Lomond, there is a delightful little hill visible from throughout the district called binnein nan gobhar, the pinnacle of the goats. By far the commonest element among hill names in the district is creag, sometimes a rock, but usually a crag or cliff. There are55 occurrences, of which Craigmore, which overlooks the village, is a prototype. Other elements include druim, a ridge, of which there are ten instances. It is anglicised as drum or drym (as in Drymen). There are also the rather local maol, a bare hill or rounded summit, and meall, a rounded hill or fell (to use a term common in the English Lake District). A highly local name, concentrated between Lochs Katrine and Lomond, for a slab or a spur is sgiath a wing, a shoulder or a shield. There are 12 occurrences including sgiath an righe, marked on old maps above Rob Roy’s Cave (Loch Lomond), to indicate where Robert the Bruce probably hid after his defeat at Dalrigh. Other generic hill names found include mullach, a top, which occurs once in Caile Mullach, just outside the village of Aberfoyle, mullan, a stack or a summit of which there are two. Sron, a nose, stob, a sharp-pointed hill, and cnoc, a knoll, or an eminence, also occur. Of lower hills there are seventeen occurrences of tom, a rounded knoll, while dun is widely used to denote a ‘hillock’ often, or supposedly, a fortified site. The best known locally is Doon Hill, the supposed ‘fairy hill’ in the neighbourhood of Aberfoyle. This may also have been the cathar or seat of the early Celtic King of Scots, Aedan mac Gabran, prince of Forth. In Irish the word sídh, means a fairy hill, hence sìthean, a green knoll, or fairy knoll, of which there is an example near Ben Lomond. Similarly, brugh means a tumulus, but also a fairy residence. Scott has the following note in Lady of the Lake:
“’The Daoine Shi’, or Men of Peace, of the Highlanders, though not absolutely malevolent, are believed to be a peevish, repining race of beings, who, possessing themselves but a scanty portion of happiness, are supposed to envy mankind their more complete and substantial enjoyments. They are supposed to enjoy, in their subterraneous recesses, a sort of shadowy happiness… They are believed to inhabit certain round grassy eminences, where they celebrate their nocturnal festivities by the light of the moon. About a mile beyond the source of the Forth, above Loch Con, there is a placed called Coirshi’an, or the Cove of the Men of Peace, which is still supposed to be a favourite place of their residence. In the neighbourhood are to be seen many round conical eminences, particularly one near the head of the lake, by the skirts of which many are still afraid to pass after sunset.”
Another topographical feature connected with fairies is the Peace Stone just outside the parish of Aberfoyle, near the Lake of Menteith. From the name one might suppose that it was the site of the end of a battle, but the name is a reference the prehistoric rock art with which the stone is adorned. It was locally supposed to be the work of ‘the men of peace’, hence a chlach shithe, the fairy stone. And, this being the parish of Aberfoyle, there can be no better place to end this brief survey of local names than with fairy names.