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Hikers Guide to Gaelic Mapping Words

If you want to hike in Scotland, you need to learn some basic Gaelic words so you can read a map. The maps of Scotland published by the UK’s Ordnance Survey are full of Gaelic place names like Lairg Ghru, Beinn Bhreas, and Monadh Mor. Once translated, these names can give you important clues about the terrain you are likely to encounter and how to match what you are seeing in the landscape to your map.

The most important words to lean are those that describe mountains, rivers and streams, lakes, mountain passes and notches, valleys and colors. They’re easy to pick up with a little practice and prove invaluable when route planning and navigating.

Here’s a glossary of the basic Gaelic words that you need to read an OS map of Scotland. If I’ve left out any words that you think are important to add, be sure to leave a comment.

a', anthe
abhainn, amhainnriver
aonachridge, steep hill
ban, bhanwhite, fair
beag, beg, bheagsmall
bealachpass, glen, gap
ben, beinn, bheinnmountain, peak
bidean, bideinpeak
braigh, braehill-top
buidhe, bhuidheyellow
carncairn, hill, pile of stones
clachstone, stony
cluainemeadow, lawn
cnocround hill, knoll
coire, choirecorrie, hollow
creagcrag, cliff, rock
drum, druimridge
dubhblack, dark
dìollaid, dìollaidesaddle
eag, eigenotch, gap
fionnwhite, blessed, holy
geodhachasm, ravine
glacsmall valley
glas, ghlasgrey, green
gleannglen, valley
laogh, laoighcalf
leacachbare summit
linnpool, pond, channel
lochansmall loch
maolbare top
meadhoinmiddle, center
meallrounded hill
monadhmoor, heath
mor, mhorbig, large
mòinepeat, mor
na, nam, nanthe, of, of the
odhardun-colored, yellow
rèidhlevel ground
sgurr, stob, stucrocky peak
srath, strathwide valley
stob, stuibpoint, stake
tobar, tobair, tobrachwell, spring
torrhill, mountain, mound
tur, tuirtower

Written 2010.

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  1. I hope you get to see a tàrmachan. They can be hard to spot.

  2. My vetter describes my attempts at gaelic names as a "brave but futile struggle"

    They sound absolutely nothing like the words as written down y'know….. I think they make it up as they go along.

  3. Most of the consonants are silent near as I can tell.

    • bh and mh are pronounced like an English v. th and dh are like an h from the back of the throat. ao is a bit like the flat ü in German with the umlaut. If you treat Gaidhlig as another language and try to learn it you´ll have fun. If you try to pronounce it like English you´ll crash and burn. Sláinte agus beannachd!

  4. Good grief! No attempt to assist with pronunciation?

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