The Cateran Trail is a long-distance foot-path which begins in Blairgowrie and then takes in Strathardle before heading over the hills to Spittal of Glenshee and then on to Alyth via Kirkton of Glenisla. I was asked by Cateran Commonwealth, an organisation looking in to the heritage of the area along with Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, to research the place-names with one kilometre of the path and publish a series of booklets that could be downloaded on to portable media devices which people could access while they walk. This is not the only project I have been doing in Perthshire recently: I had been researching place-names for Glasgow University’s SERF project and Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust’s Dunkeld project; Northlight Heritage asked me to research an ecclesiastical route through Glenlyon; and I also looked at the area between Perth and Abernethy and the Carse of Gowrie for the Tay Landscape Partnership. A large part of the groundwork for a survey of eastern Perthshire is therefore in place.

The booklets for the Cateran Trail can be found online[1]. There are six booklets which detail the 5 stages of the trail, as well as a circular Mini-Trail. The booklets are designed for use while walking in that they are not arranged alphabetically, but as one encounters the place-name on the ground. as it were. Otherwise the entries are laid out in the standard style of the recent Scottish Place-Name Society volumes of Fife, Bute, and Kinross-shire, namely a head-name followed by early forms and discussion. The booklets also have little essays built into them showing how the place-names fit into the three main themes of the Cateran Trail project – People, Places, Landscape.

Why call it the Cateran Trail? There are quite a few records over the course of the Middle Ages of Caterans using the Perthshire and Angus glens to raid the Lowlands. Cateran probably derives from a Gaelic word ceatharn meaning ‘warrior’, but usually one that is lightly armed. In the Lowlands cateran came to epitomise Highland violence but it is indicative of a Lowland perception of a particularly Gaelic Highland problem. Celebrated locally today is a raid into Angus in 1392, which caused, according to one medieval chronicler, ‘grete discorde’, and which led to a pitched battle between the caterans and forces headed by Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk. The battle is variously said to have been at Glasclune near Blairgowrie or at Dalnagairn in Strathardle, leaving the caterans fleeing the field of battle.

At Perth I presented a number of results into my studies, including:


Kalathyn 1214 × 1238 Coupar Angus Chrs no. 25

Calady 1326 Coupar Angus Chrs no. 108

Calady 1443 C.A. Rental i, 121

Cally 1463 C.A. Rental i, 131 [Marches between Ester Cally or Monkis

Cally, and Parsy (Persie) and Myddil Cally or Buttiris Cally]

OG calath + OG ˗in

‘Hard place’ or ‘at a hard place’. While on the face of it, the current spelling and the early forms for nearby Rochallie, might suggest a meaning of ScG coille ‘wood, woodland’ – early forms for Faskally near Pitlochry PER include Foscailye 1505, Fascalzie 1615. However, the earliest forms for Cally – Kalathyn in 1214 × 1238 and Calady in 1326 – suggest a name based on Pictish *caled, from a Proto-Celtic *kaleto-, ‘hard’. The Old Irish form of this was calath, developing into calad and caladh (Watson 1926, 456). The earliest form seems to contain the OG –in ending ‘place of; place at’, so common in pre-1300 documents and later reducing to an –ie, or -y ending. Quite what was ‘hard’ about Cally is not clear; the word is found in places all over Scotland containing names like Calder, Cawdor, Keltie.

FORTER    GLI S NO182646

ffortouth 1233 Coupar Angus Chrs no. 41

Fortour 1455 × 1465 C.A. Rental i, 131

half part of Fortar 1470 C.A. Rental i, 157

an eighth part of Fortur in Glenyleff 1478 C.A. Rental i, 226

OG fortír ‘overland’, or ‘upper’ or ‘higher’ land. Barrow states that this name means ‘terrain which was either never or at least not regularly under the plough’, to distinguish it from the lower-lying parts of estates which were arable land (2003, 242).

DIL (Dictionary of the Irish Language) has no entry with anything like this meaning for *fortír, and it seems to be absent in Ireland but it occurs largely in areas of Scotland that were once Pictish speaking; so it may actually represent a loan-word from the Pictish equivalent of Welsh gorthir ‘uplands, highlands, hill country’, *uorthir or similar, which has then undergone Gaelicisation. The name is also found in Fife in Forthar and Kirkforthar.

One of the great pleasures of doing an area in place-name studies is the chance to take oneself away from the very necessary and often heavy medieval material that we usually work with and look into more modern history. Here we have:


Waterloo 1867 OS 6 inch 1st edn PER & CLA XLI

This place was named to commemorate the British victory at the Battle of Waterloo, which occurred on 18th June 1815. This tradition of naming places after famous battles has continued into the modern period; there is an Alamein about 7 km north of Aboyne in Aberdeenshire.


Salamanca 1867 OS 6 inch 1st edn PER & CLA XLI

The juxtaposition with Waterloo above indicates that these two settlements were named to commemorate the battles against France under the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte between 1803 and 1815. The battle of Salamanca in western Spain, was part of the Peninsular War, and occurred on 22nd July 1812. The belligerents were France against a British-Portuguese coalition under the command of Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington; the French were heavily defeated.

After presenting a few other examples, I finished off my talk by looking at what Alec Finlay calls the Fiannscape of Glenshee, something I had first looked into when I was researching Glenshee as part of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust archaeological excavation at Lair. It is well known, particularly from the work of modern scholars such as Donald Meek, that Finn mac Cumhail and his band of Fians were celebrated in Glenshee; the poem Laoidh Dhiarmuid was set on Ben Gulabin, a prominent mountain at the head of the glen. What is not so well known is that there are also a number of names indicating that the Gaels imagined that the exploits of Finn mac Cumhail within the glen. Lamh Dearg ‘red hand’, a hill in the centre of the study area, takes its name after the name of one of the banners of the Fian. Finegand, in Gaelic Feith nan Ceann ‘bog of the heads’ is Finn’s enemies met their end. I mentioned that perhaps the McComies seem to have been significant in the dissemination of the myths and legends of Finn mac Cumhail. It is known that the author of a short poem alluding to several individuals famous in Gaelic mythology, in the Book of the Dean of Lismore, was one Baron Ewan McComie. The McComies (deriving from the name MacThomas or MacThomaidh) had lands in both Glenshee and Glenisla and a rock in Glen Beanie is called McComie’s Chair and Well.

[1] At (scroll down the page for the links to the pdf files)