Like many others, I have long been interested in place-names, and when I lived and worked in Peeblesshire as a young doctor I became fascinated by the variety and unfamiliarity of many of its place-names – particularly those to be found in Upper Tweeddale.

I tried to determine which languages had generated these names, and their possible meanings. Since many of these names are of  geographical features and farms, it is extremely unlikely that older forms of the names (always the most reliable guide to meanings) will be found in any of the older sources, such as royal and abbey charters, which are often fruitful sources of information when investigating names of hamlets, villages etc. What follows is a labour of love - a name-place tour of your lovely area of Upper Tweed. It will be unashamedly unscholarly – insufficient space and expertise for that – but will make suggestions that have the backing of what name-place authority I have been able to adduce from available secondary sources.

The richness of the place-names derive from the layers of languages concerned. The earliest inhabitants,  whose linguistic footprint can still be recognised in place-names, spoke Cumbric, a Celtic language akin to early Welsh. From the fifth century early Anglian speakers penetrated the Borders from Northumbria, and have left significant traces in the place-names of the lower Tweed valley, but diminishingly in Tweeddale. From about 900 A.D. Gaelic speakers arrived in the region. Though relatively small in numbers, their dominance resulted in a disproportionate place-name legacy. In the eighth and ninth centuries Norse-speakers penetrated the region from the Solway, but although there are many Norse names in adjoining Dumfriesshire, there are surprisingly few in Tweeddale. In the medieval period and into modern times, the main input has come from speakers of Scots, the language which evolved in Scotland in the mouths of Northern English merchants and craftsmen required by David I to implement the Normanisation of the emerging royal burghs  – particularly Berwick and Roxburgh. Most of the non-Celtic place-names in upper Tweeddale derive from the speakers of this later development of northern English..

My tour (inevitably in list form) starts above Tweedsmuir, and finishes by traversing an arc connecting Broughton and Drumelzier. There is only space for a representative selection of the place-names of this area, but these include some of the more mysterious and strangely evocative place-names to be found anywhere in the British Isles, and you don’t need to be a language expert to be ensnared by them – even if their apparent meanings may often appear practical and prosaic. The following abbreviations apply: OW Old Welsh (= Cu Cumbric), N Norse, G Gaelic, A Anglian, Sc Scots, ScEng Scots English. I only give the meanings which place-name specialists have adduced for the names, in the geographical/ cultural contexts in which they are found, since there is insufficient space to reproduce their linguistic elements.

Hart Fell N ‘high hill of the deer’:  Powskein G ‘knife pool/stream’:  Badlieu G ‘wet spot’:  Glenbreck G ‘dappled/trout glen’:  Craigmaid G ‘wolf crag’:  Fingland G ‘glen of white (grass)’:  Fruid OW ‘fast-flowing stream’:  Strawberry Hill, trans. of Norman French  fraisier ‘strawberry plant’, the armorial device for the Norman Fraser clan (a Fraser was granted land in Tweedsmuir):  Talla OW ‘steep-browed glen’:  Menzion OW maen ‘large stone’ (the –zion’ element remains obscure); cf. Breton and Cornish (both related to OW) menhir ‘long stone’:  Glenmuck G ‘wild boar glen ’:  Glenveg G ‘small glen’:  Patervan (previously ‘Poltervan’) OW ‘stream bordering a sacred site’:  Harestanes A ‘place of large hearthstone-like stones (interestingly Glenheurie a tributary stream probably derives from N huyros  ‘hearthstone’):  Polmood G ‘wolf stream:  Kingledores OW cain ‘beautiful + N gil ‘ravine’ + A dorus ‘gateway’:  Mossfennan OW ‘plain of/by the little hill’:  Wrae N ‘nook/corner’:  Culter Fell G ‘backland’ + N ‘mountain’ was ‘Fiendsfell’ on older maps; Fiendsfell in the Pennines was likewise changed to Cross Fell (an analogous attempt to exorcise or Christianise the hill-name?):  Glenharvie G ‘rough glen’:  Whaup Law Sc ‘curlew hill’:  Glencotha G ‘hidden glen’:  Cardon OW/G ‘fort-fort’ – suggesting non-recognition by related Celtic- speaking tribes of the meaning of the  earlier-named feature:  Rachan G ‘arable land’: Killiecrane G ‘corner/place’ + A ‘heron’:  Trahenna OW ‘tref -(i.e. ‘settlement) place:  Penveny and Penvalla – two hills with OW pen ‘head/headland’ names:  Kilbucho G ‘holy- place/church of St Begha’:  Thriepland Sc ‘disputed land’:  Pyatknowe Sc ‘magpie hill’:  Dreva OW ‘tref-place’:  Merlindale Sc Eng realisation of OW ‘dale of Myrddin (pagan OW shaman/seer):  Altarstone Sc Eng ‘altar-stone’; may be corruption of earlier ‘Arthur’s stone (there is a strong traditional association of ‘historic’ Arthur figure - not the Arthur of later French/English romance literature - in Upper Tweeddale):  Drumelzier G ‘hill of miller’:  Powsail G ‘stream of willows’:  Tinnis OW ‘fort’:  Catcraig G ‘crag of the wild-cat:  Capel Fell N ‘horse mountain’: Breach Hill G ‘wolf hill’.

This list is a non-academic collection of place-names with an emphasis on names that have Brettonic (British Celtic) origin and/or nature (plants, animals).

 

Listed names going down the Tweed

  • Hart Fell N ‘high hill of the deer’: 
  • Powskein G ‘knife pool/stream’: 
  • Badlieu G ‘wet spot’: 
  • Glenbreck G ‘dappled/trout glen’: 
  • Craigmaid G ‘wolf crag’: 
  • Fingland G ‘glen of white (grass)’: 
  • Fruid OW ‘fast-flowing stream’: 
  • Strawberry Hill, trans. of Norman French  fraisier ‘strawberry plant’, the armorial device for the Norman Fraser clan (a Fraser was granted land in Tweedsmuir): 
  • Talla OW ‘steep-browed glen’: 
  • Menzion OW maen ‘large stone’ (the –zion’ element remains obscure); cf. Breton and Cornish (both related to OW) menhir ‘long stone’: 
  • Glenmuck G ‘wild boar glen ’: 
  • Glenveg G ‘small glen’: 
  • Patervan (previously ‘Poltervan’) OW ‘stream bordering a sacred site’: 
  • Harestanes A ‘place of large hearthstone-like stones (interestingly Glenheurie a tributary stream probably derives from N huyros  ‘hearthstone’): 
  • Polmood G ‘wolf stream: 
  • Kingledores OW cain ‘beautiful + N gil ‘ravine’ + A dorus ‘gateway’: 
  • Mossfennan OW ‘plain of/by the little hill’: 
  • Wrae N ‘nook/corner’: 
  • Culter Fell G ‘backland’ + N ‘mountain’ was ‘Fiendsfell’ on older maps; Fiendsfell in the Pennines was likewise changed to Cross Fell (an analogous attempt to exorcise or Christianise the hill-name?):  Glenharvie G ‘rough glen’: 
  • Whaup Law Sc ‘curlew hill’: 
  • Glencotha G ‘hidden glen’: 
  • Cardon OW/G ‘fort-fort’ – suggesting non-recognition by related Celtic- speaking tribes of the meaning of the  earlier-named feature: 
  • Rachan G ‘arable land’:
  • Killiecrane G ‘corner/place’ + A ‘heron’: 
  • Trahenna OW ‘tref -(i.e. ‘settlement) place: 
  • Penveny and Penvalla – two hills with OW pen ‘head/headland’ names: 
  • Kilbucho G ‘holy- place/church of St Begha’:  
  • Thriepland Sc ‘disputed land’:  Pyatknowe Sc ‘magpie hill’: 
  • Dreva OW ‘tref-place’: 
  • Merlindale Sc Eng realisation of OW ‘dale of Myrddin (pagan OW shaman/seer):  Altarstone Sc Eng ‘altar-stone’; may be corruption of earlier ‘Arthur’s stone (there is a strong traditional association of ‘historic’ Arthur figure - not the Arthur of later French/English romance literature - in Upper Tweeddale):  Drumelzier G ‘hill of miller’: 
  • Powsail G ‘stream of willows’: 
  • Tinnis OW ‘fort’: 
  • Catcraig G ‘crag of the wild-cat: 
  • Breach Hill G ‘wolf hill’.

 

Alphabetical version

  • Badlieu G ‘wet spot’:
  • Breach Hill G ‘wolf hill’
  • Cardon OW/G ‘fort-fort’ – suggesting non-recognition by related Celtic- speaking tribes of the meaning of the  earlier-named feature
  • Catcraig G ‘crag of the wild-cat 
  • Craigmaid G ‘wolf crag’
  • Culter Fell G ‘backland’ + N ‘mountain’ was ‘Fiendsfell’ on older maps; Fiendsfell in the Pennines was likewise changed to Cross Fell (an analogous attempt to exorcise or Christianise the hill-name?): 
  • Dreva OW ‘tref-place’ 
  • Drumelzier G ‘hill of miller’
  • Fingland G ‘glen of white (grass)’ 
  • Fruid OW ‘fast-flowing stream’
  • Glenbreck G ‘dappled/trout glen’
  • Glencotha G ‘hidden glen’
  • Glenharvie G ‘rough glen’
  • Glenmuck G ‘wild boar glen ’ 
  • Glenveg G ‘small glen’
  • Harestanes A ‘place of large hearthstone-like stones (interestingly Glenheurie a tributary stream probably derives from N huyros  ‘hearthstone’) 
  • Hart Fell N ‘high hill of the deer’
  • Kilbucho G ‘holy- place/church of St Begha’ 
  • Killiecrane G ‘corner/place’ + A ‘heron’
  • Kingledores OW cain ‘beautiful + N gil ‘ravine’ + A dorus ‘gateway’
  • Menzion OW maen ‘large stone’ (the –zion’ element remains obscure); cf. Breton and Cornish (both related to OW) menhir ‘long stone’
  • Merlindale Sc Eng realisation of OW ‘dale of Myrddin (pagan OW shaman/seer):  Altarstone Sc Eng ‘altar-stone’; may be corruption of earlier ‘Arthur’s stone (there is a strong traditional association of ‘historic’ Arthur figure - not the Arthur of later French/English romance literature - in Upper Tweeddale) 
  • Mossfennan OW ‘plain of/by the little hill’ 
  • Patervan (previously ‘Poltervan’) OW ‘stream bordering a sacred site’ 
  • Penveny and Penvalla – two hills with OW pen ‘head/headland’ names 
  • Polmood G ‘wolf stream
  • Powsail G ‘stream of willows’ 
  • Powskein G ‘knife pool/stream’ 
  • Pyatknowe Sc ‘magpie hill’
  • Rachan G ‘arable land’
  • Strawberry Hill, trans. of Norman French  fraisier ‘strawberry plant’, the armorial device for the Norman Fraser clan (a Fraser was granted land in Tweedsmuir) 
  • Talla OW ‘steep-browed glen’
  • Tinnis OW ‘fort’: 
  • Thriepland Sc ‘disputed land’
  • Trahenna OW ‘tref -(i.e. ‘settlement) place 
  • Whaup Law Sc ‘curlew hill’
  • Wrae N ‘nook/corner’