Trying to get to grips with Welsh names on your map is no easy task, but fear not as we have Twm Elias at hand to help you out. Twm is a naturalist, lecturer and course organizer at Plas Tan y Bwlch, Maentwrog (Snowdonia National Park Study Centre), as well as being a prolific author of folklore and rural history.
What’s in a name?
What strikes you most about a map of Snowdonia is all the wonderful Welsh names. But have you wondered what these mean? Almost all of them can tell you a lot about the sites they describe – as long as you can understand some key words, that is!
Here are a few basic tips to help you get to grips with Welsh names on your map:
- Welsh place-names are much more than just meaningless labels – many describe in detail types of terrain and habitats.
- Many will refer to historical events and people – a key to the culture of the area.
- Some will be associated with local legends, in other words hooks to hang stories on.
A few examples:
Bryn – a hill, e.g. Bryn Mawr (= big hill), Bryn Saeth (hill of the arrow)
Bwlch – a gap or pass, e.g. Bwlch y Ddeufaen (= gap of the two stones), Tan y Bwlch (= below the pass)
Clogwyn – a cliff, e.g. Clogwyn Du (= black cliff), Clogwyn Candryll (= crazy cliff)
Craig – a rock, e.g. Craig Goch (= red rock), Craig yr Aderyn (rock of the birds)
Crib (‘creeb’) – ridge. In Welsh a crib can also mean a comb, i.e. the thing you pull through your hair or that red thing you see on top of a chicken. E.g. Crib Goch (= red ridge), Crib y Ddysgl (= ridge on the edge of the bowl).
Cwm – round-ended corrie or U-shaped valley, both having been hollowed out by glaciers, e.g. Cwm Bochlwyd (= grey-cheeked cwm), Western Cwm (on Everest).
Nant – tumbling stream or the steep sided gap that the stream tumbles through, e.g. Nant-hir (= long nant), Sychnant (dry nant).
It’s surprising how many place-names refer to different parts of the human body, making the landscape an extension of ourselves. Here are a few key elements to look out for:
Pen = head or top;
Moel = bare hill, bald head (compare a monk’s shaven patch with hair surrounding it to a bare hilltop with trees all around the slopes);
Ael = brow;
Boch = cheek;
Bron / bryn = breast;
Trwyn = nose;
Gwar = nape;
Ysgwydd = shoulder;
Cefn = back;
Braich = arm, Ystlys = flank;
Troed = foot.
We hope that small introduction helps you start get to grips with Welsh names on your map. Special thanks to Twm Elias for his expert insights.
This article has been bought to you in association with Mynyddoedd Pawb (Everyone’s mountains), a campaign that is looking to protect and respect our wealth of place names in order to:
1) stimulate respect and interest in the Welsh language and to secure and increase the use of it.
2) increase the sense of identity among local communities by sharing the wealth of our cultural heritage with others.
3) engage the interest and awareness of visitors of the richness of our local heritage and thereby bring educational and economic benefits to areas.
The latter of which we hope we’ve covered here while trying to help you to get to grips with Welsh names on your map.