Last night it occurred to me that some place names in Scotland sound like the names of monsters, mythic figures and beasts. The mingle of Gaelic and Scots, Norse and English and Brythonic languages has produced a vibrancy to town, hill, river names – and there are basic rules, such as how ‘inver’ means mouth of a river – Inverness. ‘Dun’ for a hill, ‘burgh’ (pronounced ‘burra’ here) for a town. Where I see those, I am less likely to let my imagination go roving – but there are plenty that are obscure in origin to me and quirky enough to suggest strange things.
Gourock, Wemyss (‘weems’): The monster Gourock with his club and bag of bones, and the vile worm Wemyss, slithering out from the sea.
The twins, Cupar and Leuchars. Two golden-eyed fiends who steal coins from the eyes of the dead. Live in the long grass at the edge of an oat field. Wait for the sun to go down before they start striding about. Not to be confused with Pittenweem, which is only one thing – a little spider, fond of knitting.
The obvious Blackdog, in Aberdeenshire.
Monymusk the giant red stag.
Mauchline the maiden with knives between her fingers.
Grobister the old man sea monster, who pretends to be a fisherman, while his legs descend like seafronds into the harbour.
Acharacle (with the soft ‘ch’ as in loch): a grey ghost who asks questions if he meets you on the road.
Cavers the ghoul, Carlops the cyclops.
Dumyat the cursed bottle.
Clappers the man with scythes for legs.
Ae the foretelling bird. Hoddom the warlock. Unthank, a poem on a stone that when recited causes the dead to rise and dance.
So many more that I could go on for days like this. If you live in any of the these places, I’d be interested in what their names suggest to you, or whether they have worn to smoothness with constant use. Or if you live in some other place that sounds monsterous or legendary, despite any and all appearances to the contrary.
One day I might write a story based on such instantaneous mythologies. Real myths belong to everyone, and are solid like granite, like volcanic rocks hoiking out of the sea – but it’s fun to build sandcastles like these, every now and then.