From ‘Lammin Snaw’
Angus Watson

The snell lammin snaw
Fummles at the pin
Huvvers at the keyhole
But ye’re no in.

Toom the hoosie lies
Saft the stour faws
In the muir a ewe tyauves
Fer the hoodie craws.

It was with great sadness that in May this year I learnt of the death of Angus Watson, toponymist, lexicographer, writer and friend. I first became aware of Angus in 1995, following the publication of his book The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition.[1] Angus was extremely well qualified for this challenging undertaking, having graduated with a first class Honours degree in Gaelic in 1992 at the University of Aberdeen, and living at that time in the parish of Forgandenny in the shadow of the Ochils. I wrote a lengthy review in Nomina 19 (1996, 115-20), in which I was positive and enthusiastic about this book, hailing it as making ‘a real and important contribution to this difficult subject’ and offering ‘a wealth of information, not merely onomastic, but also more widely historical, cultural and anecdotal on the whole of the Ochils’. I did, however, criticise him for not providing sources for early forms. He responded generously, in a way which I was later to realise was typically Angus. He contacted me directly, apologetically explaining the reason for the omission, and sending me a print-out with a full source for every single form that had appeared in the book.[2] And a short time later he provided me with a 210-page document entitled ‘Strathearn’, in which he had collected spatial information, as well as early forms from medieval and early modern sources, for the place-names of the parishes of Strathearn, from Auchtergaven in the east to Balquhidder in the west.

Not long thereafter he enrolled as a part-time student at the University of St Andrews to undertake a doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Dr Barbara Crawford and myself, on the place-names of western Strathearn. This he completed with remarkable speed and efficiency in 2002, under the title ‘Place-Names, Land and Lordship in the Medieval Earldom of Strathearn’. Unfortunately this is still unpublished, though it has recently become available on the University of St Andrews Library website (see below for details). At its core is a full survey and analysis of the place-names of six pre-1975 parishes in western Strathearn, namely Ardoch, Balquhidder, Comrie, Crieff, Monzievaird & Strowan and Muthil, plus the medieval parish of Monzie, with important insights into land-holding patterns and lordship in each parish, using both place-names and documentary evidence. It is essential reading not only for Scottish toponymists, but for anyone working on the social, environmental and linguistic history of Perthshire and beyond.[3]

Angus was a speaker twice at SPNS conferences: once in Stirling in November 1997, held jointly with the Scottish Oral History Group; and once in Perth in May 2000. At the Stirling conference he spoke on the place-names of the Ochils – I still remember his clear and careful unpicking of the complexities of the name Dollar, its reinterpretation and its interaction with the local toponymy and traditions. At the Perth conference he spoke on the research he was doing for his PhD, concentrating especially on land-holding patterns in the medieval parish of Monzievaird.

Angus was a highly gifted linguist, not only working as a toponymist and lexicographer, but also writing creatively in both Gaelic and Scots, as the long list of short stories and poems testify. He was also a fluent French speaker. His wife, Janet, was a French teacher at Strathallan School, Forgandenny, and on her retirement in 2002 they moved to France, first to near Bourges, then in 2010 further eastwards to Moulins-Engilbert, in the beautiful, rolling countryside of south Burgundy. But Angus never lost his love for Scotland, its landscapes and languages, and even during his long final illness was planning to re-work and re-publish his Ochils book, as well as to bring to publication a 10,000 word booklet on medieval Dunning, which he had begun many years ago in conjunction with the Dunning Parish Historical Society.


These are divided into Place-name and Lexicographical Works (Section 1) and Short Stories and Poems (Section 2). I am most grateful to Janet Watson for supplying the list for Section 2. Both Sections are in chronological order.

Section 1: Place-name and Lexicographical Works

Watson, Angus, 1995, The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition (Perth; published by Perth and Kinross District Libraries)

Hall, M. A., Forsyth, K., Henderson, I., Scott, I., Trench-Jellicoe, R., Watson, A., 2000, ‘Of makings and meanings: towards a cultural biography of the Crieff Burgh Cross [cross slab], Strathearn, Perthshire’, Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 6, 154-88 [Angus Watson’s section on place-names relating to the landscape and early lordship of Strowan parish, Perthshire, the place where the cross-slab was found, 169-74]

Buchanan, Dougal (pseudonym), 2000, Gaelic–English, English-Gaelic Dictionary (Lomond Books)

Watson, Angus, 2001, The Essential Gaelic–English Dictionary, compiled by Angus Watson (Edinburgh)

Watson, Angus, 2002, ‘Place-Names, Land and Lordship in the Medieval Earldom of Strathearn’, unpublished Ph.D., University of St Andrews. Online at


Watson, Angus, 2012, The Essential Gaelic–English, English-Gaelic Dictionary, compiled by Angus Watson (Edinburgh)

Section 2: Short Stories and Poems

Short Stories (Gaelic)

Am Fòn 1988 Gairm 142

Tilleadh 1989 Gairm 146)

An cuala tu seinn nan ròn 1990 Gairm 151

Comhradh Samhraidh 1991 Gairm 153

Sear Air Eden 1993 New Writing Scotland 11

Turas a’ Bhàird 1993 North Word 5

Bruadaran 1993 Gairm 162

Bana-Charaid nan Gaidheal 1994 Gairm 165

Sgeulachd Ruairidh Reamhair 1994 Gairm 168

An Gearradair-fiodha 1994-1995 Gairm 169

Thograinn Falbh 1996 Gairm 173

Mus Tig An Geamhradh 1997 Gairm 178

Short Stories (Scots)

Eftir the Ball Scratchings 8 (Aberdeen University)

The Whelps Scratchings 8 (Aberdeen University)

Almost Home 1986 Scotsman Magazine

Jack and Lee drop in for a Smoke 1989 Scottish Stories from MacGregor’s Gathering, selected by Jimmie Macgregor and Stephen Mulrine, BBC

Black Murdo1991 Tales from the Coast: Stories from the “West Coast” Magazine, ed. Kenny MacKenzie and Joe Murray

The Cowt 1995 Lallans 45

Poems (Scots)

Upon Drumossie Moor c.1988 West Coast Magazine 4

The Wido’ Wumman 1989 Scottish Stories from MacGregor’s Gathering (see above)

Lammin Snaw 1992 Lines Review 123

Todlowrie gangs tae Gallows Knowes 1993 Gairfish

The Last Castrato 1994 Poetry Now

Ile Men 1995 Mak it new

Poem 1995 Lallans 44

Lucifer 1999 The Keeking Gless

MacCaig Country 1999 The Keeking Gless

[1] For full details, see Bibliography, above.

[2] On re-reading my review, I see that I for my part owe Angus an apology. In my list of ‘small corrections’ I maintained that he was wrong in stating that Cuthil, Orwell parish, Kinross-shire was earlier Cuthilgourdy. In fact, he was right, and I was wrong (see Place-Names of Kinross-shire, s.n.).

[3] Some of his material for Strowan parish appeared in 2000 in a jointly written article on the Crieff Burgh Cross. See Bibliography, below, for details.