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What's in a Name? The Mountains of Glencoe

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

You’ve seen them, driven past them, photographed them, marvelled at their rocky peaks and ridges, climbed them, maybe even learned to pronounce them…but do you know what the names of our mountains here in Glencoe mean?


Though towns, cities, lochs and areas across Scotland have mostly been anglicised, the majority of hills have held onto their original Gaelic names. These names can be descriptive or poetic, historical or mythical, and often reference real people, whose stories are now lost to time. Of course, much of the enjoyment of hillwalking comes from the climb and the views, but knowing the meaning behind the hills you are standing on can give a glimpse into the past, a deeper connection to the landscape and a link to the people who once called these areas home.

Ordnance Survey map of Glencoe, from Meall a' Bhùiridh in the bottom right to the Pap of Glencoe at the top left

Here is a quick guide to the names of the Glencoe hills – some of these may have multiple translations, so if you know of them by different names then please let us know!


We’ll start at the eastern end of the Glen, where Glencoe Mountain Resort (Scotland’s first commercial ski centre) sits on the slopes of Meall a’ Bhùiridh (Rounded Hill of the Bellowing). Meall a’ Bhùiridh connects to Creise, meaning ‘Narrow’, by a ridge.

Meall a' Bhùiridh from the ridge on the way to Creise

Continue into the Glen and you will see the dramatic pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mòr (Great Herdsman of Etive) guarding the point where Glen Etive meets Glen Coe. This famous mountain consists of two Munros – Stob Dearg (Red Peak) and Stob na Bròige (Peak of the Shoe). Behind the Buachaille sits its smaller counterpart, Buachaille Etive Beag (Small Herdsman of Etive). It is not uncommon for

hills to be named in ‘big’ and ‘small’ pairings – Aonach Mòr (Big Ridge) and Aonach Beag (Small Ridge) in the Nevis Range are another example of this. ‘Mòr’ doesn’t always mean higher necessarily – Aonach Beag is the higher of these two hills, but Aonach Mòr is bulkier. The ‘Wee Buachaille’s” two Munros are Stob Dubh (Dark or Black Peak) and Stob Coire Raineach (Peak of the Bracken-filled Corrie).


Buachaille Etive Mór from the roadside; Stob Dubh from the summit of Stob Coire Raineach


Opposite the Buachailles are Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste (Rocky Hill), and Beinn Bheag (Small Hill) and Stob Mhic Mhartuin (Peak of Martin’s Son) which sit either side of the pass at the top of the Devil’s Staircase.


Further in, the Glen narrows as the road winds between some of the most famous hills in Scottish hillwalking circles: to the south, Bidean nam Bian (Pinnacle of Mountains) - highest point in Glencoe - and to the north, Aonach Eagach (Notched Ridge), famed as the narrowest ridge in mainland Britain. Bidean nam Bian consists of two Munros, the Bidean itself and Stob Coire Sgreamhach (Peak of the Horrible Corrie), a Munro top called Stob Coire nan Lochan (Peak of the Corrie Lochan), and the famous ‘Three Sisters’ – Beinn Fhada (Long Hill), Gearr Aonach (Short Ridge) and Aonach Dubh (Black or Dark Ridge).

The Three Sisters; Aonach Eagach; Walkers on the Aonach Eagach from the summit of Meall Dearg.


The Aonach Eagach, true to its name, is a notched ridge connecting Am Bodach (The Old Man) to Munros Meall Dearg (Red Rounded Rill) and Sgòrr nam Fiannaidh (Peak of the Fingallian Warriors). Here is where some of that myth comes in; this hill is apparently named for Fionn Mac Cumhaill – a legend of Irish folklore – and his warriors (the Feinn), who are said to have charged down the hillside and driven Viking invaders out of Loch Leven.


This northern ridge terminates in the famous Pap of Glencoe, or Sgùrr na Ciche (Peak of the Breast) which towers over Glencoe Village.

The Pap of Glencoe and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh from across Loch Leven

Back to the south – the “forgotten Munro” Sgor na h-Ulaidh (Peak of Treasure) sits hidden away from the road alongside the intriguingly named Meall Lighiche (Rounded Hill of the Doctor).


The village of Ballachulish is ringed in by hills – Am Meall/Am Maol (The Rounded Hill/The Bald Hill), topped with a mast, and behind this Meall Mòr (Big Rounded Hill), then Sgòrr a’ Choise (Peak of the Foot) connected by ridge to Fraochaidh (Heathery Hill), and then finally the twin peaks of Beinn a’ Bheithir (Peak of the Thunderbolt or sometimes called the Peak of the Dragon - "beithir" can mean either thunderbolt or a wild, savage beast e.g. a serpent, and there is a story in local folklore about the Ballachulish Dragon): Sgòrr Dhearg (Red Peak) and Sgòrr Dhònuill (Donald’s Peak).

Looking down Glen Coe from the summit of Meall Mòr; Beinn a' Bheithir towering over Ballachulish


Glossary

You’ll have noticed that there are lots of different ways of saying hill or peak in Gaelic, but each of these are descriptive in their own ways and refer to different geographical features of the summits.

‘Beinn’ (often anglicised to Ben) is the most common, simply meaning ‘hill’.

Meall – rounded hill

Sgùrr, Sgòrr or Sgor – pointed or rocky peak

Stob – lumpy protrusion


Other features and descriptions:


Aonach – ridge

Beag - small

Bealach – pass

Ceann – head (seen often as ‘Kin’, as in Kinlochleven)

Coire – corrie

Dearg – red

Dubh – black/dark

Fada/Fhada – long

Fraoch - heather

Garbh - rough

Gearr – short

Loch – loch

Lochan – small loch

Mòr – great/big

Sròn – nose


Munros:

Creise - Narrow

Meall a’ Bhùiridh – the rounded hill of the bellowing

Buachaille Etive Mòr – the great herdsman of Etive.

Stob Dearg – the red peak

Stob na Bròige – the peak of the shoe

Buachaille Etive Beag – the small herdsman of Etive.

Stob Dubh – the black peak

Stob Coire Raineach – the peak of the bracken-filled corrie

Bidean nam Bian – pinnacle of the mountains

Stob Coire Sgreamhach – the peak of the horrible corrie

Aonach Eagach – notched ridge

Meall Dearg – the red rounded hill

Sgòrr nam Fiannaidh – the peak of the Fingallian warriors

Sgor na h-Ulaidh – the peak of the treasure

Beinn a’Bheithir – the peak of the thunderbolt.

Sgòrr Dhearg – the red peak

Sgòrr Dhònuill – Donald’s peak


Other Hills:

Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste – rocky hill *this final ‘ch’ is pronounced as in ‘church’

Beinn Bheag – small hill

Stob Mhic Mhartuin – peak of Martin’s son

Am Bodach – the old man

The Three Sisters

Beinn Fhada –long hill

Gearr Aonach – short ridge

Aonach Dubh – black or dark ridge

Meall Mòr – big rounded hill

Sgùrr na Ciche – the peak of the breast, also known as the Pap of Glencoe


You can listen to all of the pronunciations of the hills and find detailed walking routes on walkhighlands.co.uk.


Thank you to Ewan Macintyre for his input and suggestions!


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