#14 — What’s in a name?

Nae silks or satins I’ll put on,

Nae flooers shall bloom for me –

But Lady Alva’s snawy web

My winding-sheet shall be. *

Patches of snow tend to take the same form every year. Show a seasoned snow observer a picture of a hill which carries a well-known wreath and he/she’ll be able to tell you — more or less — what month it was taken. And although the dates on which the distinctive shapes form do vary from year-to-year, the same patterns normally present themselves.

In bygone days, too, this regularity and uniformity gave rise to the more prominent of them being given names. These varied from the flowery whimsicality of Lady Alva’s Web on Ben Cleuch near Alloa, to the Gaelic directness of cuidhe cròm (crooked wreath) on three prominent Highland mountains.

To my knowledge there are seven patches of snow in Scotland that have nicknames. They have been, for the most part, passed down orally. Only one of them (Cuidhe Chròm, Ben More) appears on an Ordnance Survey map. Here is a list:

  1. Cuidhe Chròm — Ben More, Crianlarich. The curved or crooked wreath, referring to the shape of the snow in spring and summer.
  2. Cuidhe Cròm — Lochnagar. As above.
  3. Cuidhe Cròm — Cairn Gorm. As above.
  4. Broon Coo’s White Calf — Brown Cow hill (Gaelic A’ Bho Dhonn), Glen Gairn. This whale-back hill holds a small patch most years late into spring, and is self-explanatory how the name was arrived at.
  5. The Laird’s Table Cloth — Beinn a’ Bhuird, Cairngorms. The Laird in question is Farquarson of Invercauld, whose tenure of the estate is said to fail if the snow all melts. This legend stems from a colder period, when it was known to persist through many years.
  6. Lady Alva’s Web — Ben Cleuch, Ochils. The origin of the name is unknown, but has been used locally since at least the 19th century.
  7. The Catskin — Ben Nevis. So-called for its distinctive shape in spring and summer, and resembles a skinned cat.

There follows some photographs of the patches of snow in question, and the author would be extremely interested to know if there are any other patches that are known locally by a nickname.

The Cuidhe Chrom of Ben More (Photo by Eddie Boyle)

The Catskin, Observatory Gully, Ben Nevis (Photo by Blair Fyffe)

Lady Alva’s Web, Ben Cleuch (Photo by Mark Johnson)

The Laird’s Tablecloth, Beinn a’ Bhuird (Photo by Adam Watson)

Cuidhe Crom — Cairn Gorm

Broon Coo’s White Calf (Photo by Adam Watson)

* From the poem Katie Glen, by John Crawford. Doric Lays: Being Snatches of Song & Ballad. Published by J Lothian, Alloa, 1850.

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