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Township and Place Names

There appears to be no definitive passage for the place name of Durness to have come about and all the entomology recorded have been based on the understanding of language at the time. A further elucidation is the place name elements from Norse and Gaelic, Dyr meaning or denoting a wild beast (fox, deer) ness meaning Cape Dyra-ness Deer Cape or possibly wild beast (Wolf Cape). Durness, in Gaelic spelt Diuranais meaning black point. It is worth noting that the spelling of the names has altered slowly but obviously over the last two hundred years. The interpretations of the names have been defined from different sources and collected.


  •  Achins is from the Gaelic Achadh a field or meadow.

  • Arnaboll, Arni’s steading

  • Balnakeil, Bailenacille, Balnakill; various connotations all signify with the church, from the Gaelic, `Baile na cille` Village or Place of the Church, settlement of the church or church town, ground of the church.

  • Balvolich, is Gaelic Baile a’ mhullich, the homestead at the top.

  • Borralaidh, Borralie is from the old Norse Borghlid, fort slope.

  • Brivard from Braigh a’bhard, the top of the meadow.

  • Caladail may be from the same source as Keoldale, the cold dale although some authorities maintain it is from Gaelic Call, hazel, the hazel dale.

  • Cranstackie, Hill of the rowan tree.

  • Croispol, Crosspool has been suggested as the Loch of the Cross, having some affinity with Balnakeil as a religious centre, but it actually means Loch of the Gallows, Poll-na Croich. The gallows were near the shore of the loch. Females convicted of witchcraft and other crimes, were drowned in the loch- females were never hung.

  • Druim Bhlair; appears to have the meaning boggy land or soft marshy ground.

  • Durine, Durin; The principal township in the Parish

  • Eilean Hoan is from the old Norse How-ey, the burial island.

  • Faraid Head has been defined as a projecting cape from Celtic names but no Gaelic connection can be found. It is more likely to have been derived from the Norse Forao, a dangerous or difficult situation. Old maps show this point as Faroe Head.

  • Freisgill possibly connected with Frasa “to quash.” The quashing water ravine.

  • Garvie Island is A’ Garbh Eilean, rough Island. Thousands of bombs have been dropped on this island but it is as resistant as ever.

  • Gobernuisgach is also from Gaelic Gob an Uisgach, the beak of the water shed or place.

  • Gualin means shoulder in Gaelic.

  • Hope is Gaelic for Bay.

  • Lerinbeag, Lerinbeg; the small half of a point

  • Lerinmhor, Lerinmore; the large half of a point

  • Loch Eriboll is derived from the Norse meaning “home on a gravely beach.” Eyrar-bol ” Sandbank steading.” Bol- a farm, and Eyrr – a beach.


Many of the hills have Gaelic names but at least two are from the Norse. They are Fashven, Faishbheinn in Gaelic derived from Hvass-fjall, pointed peak, and Sgribhisbheinn from Sgrioa, scree or landslide.

  • Parph, Norse word meaning turning.

  • Rispond, bay with small sloping hill.

  • Sangobeg; the small sands.

  • Sangomore; the large sands.


Gaelic interpretations and translations of the stories about King Harco and his Vikings suggest there was an authority and effect of their presence here. There are definite inferences from old related imprecise stories but only vague references to exploits and influences in place names around the locality.


Place Names

  • Cnocbreac      cnoc – hill, knoll          breac – spotted, speckled

  • The speckled knoll – referring to the knoll at NC391 674 – which is very green, but speckled with outcrops of limestone

  • Fuaran Fheoraidh     fuaran – well, spring   fheoraidh – possibly feoran – green The green well – the spring at NC392 672

  • Bealach-nam-fualtach                       bealach – pass or gorge of a mountain           nam – of the                                        Fualtach – ? fual – urine, water fualachtar – marsh-wort

  • The pass of the marsh-wort (unlikely) – top of Keoldale Brae NC 390 664

  • Croispol          Poll na Croich             probably wet meadow of the Gallows after the field beside the loch where the gallows tree was         NC 390 680

  • Calladale        possibly cattuinn – hazel and Norse dalr – the Hazel Dale    NC 396 667

  • Achins            achadh – meadow       NC 394 671

  • Keoldale         Old Norse – kaldi dalr – the cold dale NC 382 662

  • Buailebhig of Keoldale         buaile – fold for sheep or black cattle bheag – small

  • The small fold of Keoldale     Possibly in the area of NC 389 663

  • Druim-a-chraise        druim – ridge of a hill             a-chraise ?


Commencing at Loch Croispol by the march dyke at Druim-a-chraise by the road side to Crosspul – the current Glebe boundary comes from the loch up to the Manse gates on the sharp road corner on the west side of the Craft Village and Crosspul may have been approximately where the entrance to the Craft Village is – the east side of the CV formed the boundary of the Glebe. This would mean that Druim-a-chraise is the ridge which the present Durine – Balnakeil road more or less runs along – coming from Balnakeil the road rises to the CV corner then drops to the Manse – in other words, crosses the ridge, NC393 681


Field names from the formation of the Glebe in 1726

  • Gealachiebraghid      geal – white    achadh – field             braghad – throat

  • Geallachibraghid

  • Polnaha          pol – hole/pit/mire/bog/pond/stagnant water/ wet, miry meadow                 na – of the             h’a – possibly chariot/wagon/hill promontory

  • Buailnangabhar                    buaile – fold    nan – of an      gabhar – goat  Fold of the Goats

  • Maginnanthearnih    maghan – field, level country, field of battle nan – of          searach – six month old beast (horse)                      The field of the six month old horse

  • Maginnanshearach      as above

  • Polraon           Pol – wet, miry meadow         raon – mossy plain      The wet, mossy meadow

  • Glacnanlian   glac – hollow /narrow valley   nan –of the      lian – of many fields, plains or meadows            Valley of the many fields

  • Names from ‘A List of Townships ……….. in the Parish of Durness’ William Gunn 1830’s? Dep313/1060

  • Cnocbreac-shios        Upper Cnocbreac        The Glebe

  • Cnocbreac-shuas       Lower Cnocbreac        That contiguous to the Glebe on the South

  • Crossbul         Croispol           Adjacent to the Glebe on the East (noted as a shepherds house)

  • Balanloch       on the east side of Loch Croispul – noted as a ‘lost’ township along with Craggiemhulin at the north end of the loch

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