Originally published in the Scotsman on 6 August 2016
The Cairnwell (Carnavalage, mid 17th Century) is a prominent mountain in the Cairngorms, known in Gaelic as An Càrn Bhalg ‘the bag or bag shaped hill’. The English form may have been influenced by a nearby well known in Gaelic as Tobar a’ Chùirn ‘the well of the cairn or cairn-shaped hill’. Confusingly this spring is known in English as the Cairn Well. Queen Victoria is said to have drunk here.
To add to this confusion, on the other side of the Cairnwell, a burn falls down its slope, known simply in English as the Cairnwell Burn. This is in Gaelic Allt an Tobair, meaning ‘the burn of the well’. It is rather too far away to be named from the well Tobar a’ Chùirn mentioned above, and it is possible that Allt an Tobair is a back-translation from the English name Cairnwell as if relating to an actual well.
For further research please see our database: The Cairnwell