Reading the Gaelic Landscape
John Murray
(2nd ed, 2019, Whittles Publishing)

Review by Donald Thomas

With so many features in the landscape having Gaelic names, their study gives a great insight into the appearance and history of places. This book provides a very readable introduction to that study. As an introduction it describes the language, the mapping of the highlands and the interaction of the mapmaker with society.

Many mountaineers will have some feel for the differences between types of hill - a Ben/Beinn, a “Cnoc “and a “Sron” for starters. The chapter on landscape forms describes these and many more, with examples and tables of more or less familiar terms and their English meaning. This process is repeated for water features, other physical, biological and cultural terms and also of qualifying adjectives. It lacks a single unified list of terms but perhaps that is a dictionary. Some names are anglicised or incorrect Gaelic, which can lead to uncertainty of their origin. Others will change with time or perspective. Murray describes how an island could, at different times, be Eilean Giuthais (Scots Pine Is), Eilean na Feannaig (Crow Is) and Eilean Loisgte (Burnt Isle). Despite the intricacies of Gaelic gender, it is often possible to appreciate the meaning of a name. An understanding of the name can give an indication of what a place was like when it was named.

Irrespective of your current knowledge, there is something here for everyone. You can read this book casually, for study or as a reference work. However you read it, the book will increase your connection with the landscape whether that is on a day out and about in the landscape or at home in an armchair with a map or guidebook.

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