The origin of our local place names

Howes and Knowes, an introduction to Berwickshire place names by Michael E. Braithwaite
Howes and Knowes, an introduction to Berwickshire place names by Michael E. Braithwaite

Howes and Knowes is the title of a new publication by Michael Braithwaite, and published by The Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club.

Michael is well known to naturalists in Berwickshire and far beyond as he was the County Recorder for Berwickshire for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland for 35 years.

He recently published ‘A Short Flora of Berwickshire’ with details of the occurrence and distribution of the wild flowers in the county. During his many years researching the wild flowers of Berwickshire he visited every part of the county many times and often came across the strange names given to places, landscape features and wild life and has been intrigued by their origin and the meaning.

The introduction covers the origin of the names, most of which are in the old Scots language - a Germanic language developed from the Northern Old English language, introduced into southern Scotland in the seventh century AD. This language was lost in Northumberland which adopted a Southern English language but was retained in Berwickshire.

A few names have a Scandinavian origin and a very few have a Celtic origin.

There is a section on landform covering the place names of the hills, valleys and coast, the colours and contrasting pairs.

We are taken through each part where the local names are described along with a grid reference, such as Tolishill Dod NT5257. A large hill with a rounded top is a Dod and is a Law if it is more pointed or stands apart from other hills.

All the names likely to be encountered are covered and there is a number of colour photos to illustrate some features. Maps with dots are included which indicate where individual place names such as cleughs, heughs and deans can be found. Contrasting pairs cover such names as Blackadder and Whiteadder, two well known local rivers.

The section on natural history is sub-divided into habitats which covers moorland, woodland and wetland. Two examples are Press as in Press Castle which is a woodland thicket and Quick as in Quixwood appears to refer to scrub rich in hawthorn.

Species is divided into domestic animals, wild animals, birds, fish and plants; examples are Whalplaw Burn where whaup or curlews would be found and Aik at Aikyside Wood where oak trees grow.

This small book is a mine of information and is a must read for anyone interested in our countryside and natural history. It is available from M.E. Braithwaite, Carilaw Farmhouse, Hawick TD9 8PT; £5 includes postage, cheques payable to The Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust meeting in Duns Parish Church Hall tonight, March 3, features a talk on bird migration by Tom Cadwallender.