#26 – Cairngorms place-names pronunciations — hills

Iain Cameron
Dec 23, 2017 · 3 min read

Once again I make no claim of research in this post. All names were gathered by my friend and colleague Adam Watson, who sourced them from local folk. Some of them spoke Gaelic, and were the last in the area to do so. The names listed below all appear in Adam’s ‘The Place Names of Upper Deeside’ book. In it he uses the International Phonetic Alphabet for pronunciations.

Braeriach (bry-REEach) on 13 July 2016, from Inverdruie near Aviemore.

In this posting I concentrate on the main hills only. Their pronunciation is consistent with how local folk say them.

In the list below, the name of the hill comes first, followed by an approximate sound in Scots/English, indicated by italics. Emphasis of syllables is given in upper-case. Then follows the meaning, with an explanatory note if necessary.

All ‘Bens’ below are pronounced ‘BEEN’, with B at the tip of the tongue, so almost ‘PEEN’. Also, the double nn leads to a ng sound (as in being).


Beinn a’ Bhuird been-a-board — table mountain. The ‘a’ is very short, and hardly pronounced. It indicates a euphonic, not the article. The designation ‘Bhuird’ is incorrect. Older folk pronounce the hill, approximately, as board. Recently voord or even voorsht has become common.

Beinn a’ Chaorainnbeen-a-CHOOrin — Hill of the rowan (tree).

Beinn Bhreac been-vraeachk — Speckled hill.

Beinn Bhrotain been VROtan — Hill of the mastiff.

Beinn Mheadhoin been MAIN — Should be ‘Meadhon’. Middle hill.

Ben Avon been Ahn — meaning unsure. Possibly from Athfhinn (very bright one), or from Abhainn (river).

Ben Macduibeen macDOOi — Hill of Macduff. The highest hill in the Cairngorms and the second highest in the UK.

Braeriachbry REEach — The brindled upland. The first syllable is generally prounounced as ‘bray’, but — properly — is ‘bry’.

Cairn Gorm karn GORom — From An Carn Gorm , meaning blue hill.

Cairn Toul karn DOWel — Hill of the barn (from Carn an t-Sabhail).

Carn a’ Mhaimkarn-a-vaim — Hill of the pass.

Derry Cairngorm derry karn gorom — Identical meaning to Cairn Gorm, but with the added ‘Derry’, signifying its proximity to the area known by that name. Derry comes from an doire, meaning ‘the grove’. Derry Cairngorm was originally the Cairn Gorm of Derry, distinguishing it from the one above Glen More.

Devil’s Point — The original Gaelic name is ‘Bod an Deamhain’ (approximately poten DJON), which means ‘penis of the demon’. Victorian sensibilities called for something more conservative, hence the new name.

Monadh Mormoana MORE — Big hill.

Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair moolach clach a VLAR — Summit of the stony plain. Never has a place name been more apt!

Sgòr an Lochain Uaine skorn lochan OOan — Peak of the green tarn (small loch). Also known as the Angel’s Peak, a name given by Alexander Copland as a counter-balance to the nearby ‘Devil’s Point’.

Sgòr Gaoith scor GOOee — Peak of wind.

NOTE: Joe Dorward interviewed Adam on this subject recently, and the videos can be found here.

See also:

  • The place names of Upper Deeside. 1984. Aberdeen University Press.
  • Place name discoveries – Upper Deeside and the far Highlands. 2015. Paragon Publishing
  • Place names in much or north-east Scotland. 2013. Paragon Publishing.

    Iain Cameron

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    I write about snow, and occasionally other stuff.