Professor W. J. Watson, in his History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland, says that the name Lochaber means loch of the confluences. "The confluences are those of the Nevis and the Lochy, both of which enter Loch Linnhe close together. Thus Loch Abar is really the old name for what is now called in Gaelic an Linne Dhubh, the Black Pool." In English it is called inner Loch Linnhe. Dr W. Nicolaisen, of the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh, agrees with this opinion of Professor Watson, vide article in The Scots Magazine, June 1964, but this derivation of the name Lochaber is not the only one which has been suggested by a reliable authority: this we shall discuss later.*
Professor Watson says that Loch Abar was the old name for what we know as inner Loch Linnhe, yet on the earliest reliable map we have of this region, Timothy Pont's map, published in 1654, but surveyed sometime between 1590-1610, this stretch of water is clearly named Loch Iol, and the same name is given to what we now know as Loch Eil. That is, the full stretch of water from Corran Narrows to Kinlocheil is named Loch Iol. That Pont visited the district seems evident from the care he took in finding out and giving on his map some of the lesser-known place-names, such as those spelled by him, Coulchena, Druimerban, Achintoir, Blarmachfueillach, etc., which even at the present day are known only to local people. On his map, the district is clearly named Lochabyr.
Maps of Scotland previous to 1500 do not show the name Loch Aber applied to what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe, nor do they show the name Lochaber applied to the district we now know as Lochaber. There is documentary evidence, however, that the name Lochaber was applied to the district as early as the thirteenth century, at least, when the Cummings, or Comyns, were Lords of Badenoch and Lochaber. There does not seem to be any documentary evidence as to when, if ever, the name Loch Aber was applied to inner Loch Linnhe.
The earliest printed map of Scotland showing what we now know as outer and inner Loch Linnhe is reproduced in Bishop Leslie's History of Scotland, published in Rome, in 1578. That map is believed to be by Jacopo Gestaldi, and was first published in Rome about 1546. On it, the outline of what we now know as outer and inner Loch Linnhe bears no resemblance to the true outline, and is not named. It can be recognised only by its position at the south end of the Great Glen of Scotland, though the glen is not named on the map. The next maps showing the full stretch of what we now know as outer and inner Loch Linnhe are by Abraham Ortelius, 1570; Nicolay D'Arfeville, 1583; Mercator, 1595; Speed, 1610. In the same rotation, they give it the name Lacus Abyr; Lough Abir; L. Aber; L. Aber. The outline named L. Aber by Speed is an exact copy of that shown on Mercator's map.
On all those maps, what we now know as outer and inner Loch Linnhe are shown as one continuous stretch of water shaped in outline like a rough elongated isosceles triangle, or a carrot, with the base across the north end of what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe, and tapering southward to the apex of the vertically opposite, and very acute, angle at the outer entrance of what we now know as outer Loch Linnhe, near the Sound of Mull. No indication is given on those maps of the narrows at Corran which are so close that they almost separate the two stretches of water. It is difficult to understand how any cartographer could draw such an erroneous outline for this stretch of water if he had seen it, even on a brief visit.
The outline of what we now know as outer and inner Loch Linnhe shown on those maps is grotesque because it is the very opposite of what the outline is in reality. Its configuration causes the name Loch Aber (spelled in different ways) to be applied to what we now know as outer Loch Linnhe as well as to what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe, which is absurd because outer Loch Linnhe is bounded by Appin on the east and Morvern on the west. Even Professor Watson does not say that the name Loch Aber was ever applied to what we now know as outer Loch Linnhe.
Pont does not give a name to what we now know as outer Loch Linnhe. Perhaps when he visited this region this stretch of water would, quite reasonably, be regarded as the inner part of the Firth of Lorn, as it is really more of a firth than a loch.
It is noticeable that those old maps which give the name Loch Aber (spelled in different ways) to the full stretch of water from where now is Fort William to the Sound of Mull do not use the prefix 'Loch' in the name of the district. The names they give the district are Loquabria and Loquhaber. Mercator and Speed print the name Loquhaber over only the ground on the west side of what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe, that is, south of modern Loch Eil, but this ground is not part of the district of Lochaber but is part of Ardgour.
The names Loquabria and Loquhaber given to the district of Lochaber by those early cartographers may have been copied from Hector Boece's History of Scotland written in Latin, 1527, where he gives a Latinised form of the district name as Loquhabria, but if they had seen Bellenden's translation of Boece's History, 1536, they would have found that Bellenden spells the name as Lochquhabir, where the first part of tile name is Loch.
'The very erroneous outline of what we now know as inner and outer Loch Linnhe, the mis-spelling of the district name, and the mistaken attribution of the district name to what is really Ardgour, on those old maps strongly suggest that the cartographers previous to Pont never visited this region but were given their information indirectly. Consequently, the name which they give to our modern inner and outer Loch Linnhe-Loch Aber (spelled in different ways)-is as likely to be as wrong as the other three major errors.
I am not criticising the different spellings of the name of the loch on those old maps, but if what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe was originally called Loch Aber and the district was named from this stretch of water, why does each cartographer, before Pont, not spell on his map the name of the loch and the name of the district in the same way? The difference in the spelling of the name of the loch and the spelling of the name of the district on the same map in each case seems to indicate that those cartographers assumed it was an error to spell the name of the district with the prefix 'Loch.' They evidently knew of the district name Lochaber, which was recorded in documents long before their lifetime, but they were puzzled to know why it should be applied to a district, and therefore they gave this name to the largest stretch of water which they would learn was in this region, and changed the spelling of the name when applied to the district. George Buchanan, in his History of Scotland, 1582, reveals this puzzlement when he says that the name Lochaber is "absurdly" (note" absurdly") applied "to both the arm of the sea and the country," from which he proceeds to use the term Aber, and not Lochaber, when referring to the district. No local person would give him the name Aber for the district of Lochaber. He seems surprised that a district name should have the prefix 'Loch,' yet the name Lochaber, applying to the district, was recorded in documents long before his lifetime, and before the already-mentioned maps were drawn. If those early cartographers and Buchanan had visited this region they would have had the subject made clear. As already mentioned, the name Lochaber has been applied to the district as far back as the thirteenth century at least, when the Comyns, or Cummings, owned this territory, but diligent search has failed to reveal any documentary record giving the name Loch Aber to what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe.
Those early maps are worthy of merit when allowance is made for the primitive methods of surveying and the difficulties of travel in Scotland when they were drawn, but many of the delineations and place-names seem to be based upon indefinite evidence and therefore are unreliable.
Although I do not know the sources of his references, Dr Alexander MacBain, the eminent Gaelic scholar, says, in his Place Names: Highlands and Islands of Scotland, page 46, 1922, that what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe was named "Lochiel, in 1461; Locheale, Lochheil, in 1492; and Lochiel, in 1520." That he is referring to what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe is evident when he says that the part outside Corran is now, in the Gaelic, called An Linne Sheilich, and "the Lochiel part is now called An Linne Dhubh."
In notes on the Highlands and Islands which, according to Dr Douglas Simpson, were written about 1644, and which are published in MacFarlane's Geographical Collections, vol. II, page 159, it is stated, "This river of Lochie doth flow into the sea called Loghzeld. There is abundance of salmond fish, herrings, and all other sort of fish to be slaine there."
In John Buchan's biography of Montrose there is a map bearing the title 'Campaign of Inverlochy' which shows the name Loch Eil on what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe, also on what we now know as Loch Eil, and Montrose fought at Inverlochy in 1645. Again, on the map of Dundee's Highland Campaign, 1689, in Grahame of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, by Michael Barrington, what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe is named Loch Eil which name is also given to our present Loch Eil.
In Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, by Drummond of Balhaldy, written at the beginning of the eighteenth century (it was finished in 1737) there is a description of the fort of Fort William, which says, "It stands upon the south side of a small gulf of that arm of the sea called Locheill where, by the turn of the mountains, it forms itself into an angle, and receives the rapid river of Lochy.... On the west, the lake, or arm of the sea called Locheill, extends itself five long miles through two ridges of hills." This description indicates that at that time the name "Locheill" was applied to the stretch of water which we now know as inner Loch Linnhe as well as to what we now know as Loch Eil.
In the West Highland Museum, Fort William, there is a map published by Government order in 1746 showing all General Wade's roads. On it, the stretch of water from Fort William to Corran is named Loch Yell. Another map in the Museum, published in 1748, on a fairly large scale (about six inches to one mile) showing the fort and its surroundings, which seems to have been a military production, shows the water opposite Fort William and southward named Loch Hiell. This second map is a copy of one in the British Museum.
In the year 1760, Richard Pococke, Bishop of Ossory, Ireland, and the first systematic explorer of little-known regions of Scotland, passed through Lochaber, and says that when he travelled northward from Loch Leven to Fort William he passed along the side of "Lough Eil," and mentions Inverscaddle to the west of it.
In A Tour in Scotland in 1769, Thomas Pennant says of Fort William, "The fort lies on a narrow arm of the sea, called Loch-yell, which extends for some miles higher up the country, making a bend to the north, and extends likewise westward towards the isle of Mull, near twenty-four miles." Thus the first reliable map of Scotland (surveyed 1590-1610); the statement of Dr Alexander MacBain, relating to 1461, 1492, 1520; John Buchan's map relating to 1645; two Government maps, one published in 1746 and the other one published in 1748 (therefore drawn earlier); also the first two reliable travellers in the Highlands (1760 and 1769) who have left a record of their travels: all lead us to believe that the early name for what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe was Loch Eil (spelled in different phonetic ways) and not Loch Aber, or Loch Abar, and that the name Loch Eil applied to the full stretch of water from Corran to the present Kinlocheil.
Although there is no map in the old (Sinclair's) Statistical Account of Scotland (1793), the water opposite Maryburgh (Fort William) and Achintore is described as " Locheile," and no mention is made of this water being called, at that time, Loch Linnhe, or ever having been called Loch Aber. On the map attached to Origines Parochiales Scotiae, what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe is named Loch Eil, so also is the present Loch Eil, and this map was drawn sometime before the construction of the Caledonian Canal because it does not show the canal.**
Robert Southey, the poet, in Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, says, on page 202, "The division between Loch Eil and Linnhe Loch is at Corran Ferry," and on page 222, says, "The road from Fort William to Balichulish Ferry lies for about nine or ten miles along the side of Loch Eil:" Again, on page 224, he says about Corran, when travelling in the same direction, "Here, the road turns aside from Loch Eil at the place where it joins the Linnhe Loch." The name Loch Eil for what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe would surely be given to Pococke, Pennant, and Southey by local inhabitants, and it seems to have been known as " Locheile" by the local minister who wrote in the old Statistical Account, 1793. Even in 1828, a map published in that year by Government order, showing roads, bridges, etc., made or improved by the Parliamentary Commissioners between 1803-1828, has the name Loch Eil shown on what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe.
In the New Statistical Account of Scotland, the article dealing with Kilmallie Parish was written in 1835, and in that article the name "Linne Loch" is given for what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe. It is noticeable, however, that on the attached map of Inverness-shire and on the attached map of Argyllshire, which would be drawn at an earlier date, the name Loch Eil is shown on this stretch of water, which name is also shown on what we now know as Loch Eil. No indication is given in either of the two Statistical Accounts, or by Pont, Pococke, Pennant, or Southey, of what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe ever having been called Loch Aber. Indeed, as will be mentioned later, according to Pococke (1760), Pennant (1769), the old Statistical Account (1793), and John Leyden, the poet (1800), Loch Aber was on a different site.
I have held back until the last what may be the best documentary evidence that what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe was originally called Loch Eil and not Loch Aber. The first Comyn, or Cumming, of the Lochaber family was given the Lordships of Lochaber and Badenoch about 1229 and his 'Right' to the Lochaber lands was as long as there was "Snow on Ben Nevis, heather on Druim Fada, and ebb and flow of Loch Eil" (in Gaelic). Much the greater part of the district of Lochaber at that time lay east of the River Lochy and southward (half of the smaller western portion was at that time owned by the old Clan Chattan), and the southern portion was adjacent to what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe . The 'Right' does not say "the ebb and flow of Loch Eil and Loch Aber," which suggests that all the water fringing the district of Lochaber was at that time called Loch Eil, and that would include what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe. Ben Nevis, Druim Fada, and the full stretch of water from Corran to the head of our present Loch Eil are the three most conspicuous natural features of this region, and thus the wording of the 'Right' is both comprehensive and correct. That 'Right' was in existence more than three centuries before the maps of Ortelius, O'Arfeville, Mercator, and Speed were drawn.
From the foregoing evidence of reliable maps and documentary records, it seems clear that the early name for what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe was not Loch Aber but Loch Eil, which name also included our present Loch Eil, that is, the whole stretch of water from Corran to the head of our present Loch Eil was called Loch Eil.
The word Eil is really the Gaelic word ial ('i' pronounced like a long 'e'), meaning glint of sunshine, hence 'sun-glint loch', and the 'o' for 'a' in Pont's spelling of this word may be a misprint.
It may be mentioned here that as late as 1800, at least, even the water outside the Corran Narrows was not called Loch Linnhe but Linnhe Shilach. John Leyden, who travelled up the coast from Oban to Corran in that year, was told this name locally (I have given his spelling of the name). This old name for what we now know as outer Loch Linnhe is also mentioned by Dr Alexander MacBain and by Professor Watson who give the more correct spelling Linne Sheileach. As Leyden crossed Corran Ferry and travelled westward through Glen Gour, he does not mention what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe.
Let us now come direct to the derivation of the name Lochaber. The earliest reference to Lochaber seems to be in Adamnan's Life of St. Columba, written during the seventh century. We know from that work that St Columba passed through the Great Glen of Scotland when on his way from Iona to Inverness. Adamnan tells us about the Saint giving a stake, which he had blessed, to a poor peasant with which to catch game and fish. He tells us that this poor peasant resided "in the district that borders on the shores of stagnum aporum," and that the peasant, after catching some game with the stake, fixed it in the nearby river which Adamnan calls "Nigra Dea."
Now we come to a second derivation of the name Lochaber, given by another eminent Gaelic scholar. Dr Alexander MacBain, in his Place Names: Highlands and Islands of Scotland, pages 42-43, says, "Adamnan's Aporic comes from the old Gaelic apor, a marsh, and the meaning of Lochaber is Lake of the Marsh. Fortunately, tradition supports this view, for, according to it, the original Lochaber was a lakelet in the Moine Mhor-the Large Moss-near the mouth of the River Lochy. Tradition and philology thus go hand in hand in the etymology of the name Lochaber: no scepticism need apply. The old Gaelic apor and Irish abar (marsh) are not the same as the Pictish prefix aber or obair (confluence, river-mouth), so common in place-names in Pictland, such as Aberdeen and the like." About the sixth or seventh centuries, Dalriadan settlers from Ireland had probably reached the region which we now know as Lochaber.
Professor Watson, in his derivation of the name Lochaber-'lake of the confluences' (mentioned in the first paragraph of this Appendix)-treats Adamnans aporum as plural (confluences), and a footnote on page 366 of Adomnon's [sic] Life of St Columba, edited by A. O. Anderson and M. O. Anderson, 1961, says, "stago aporum. Here, aporum is a Latin genitive plural of apor derived from North-British speech."
In the above derivation of the name Lochaber by Dr MacBain, he seems to treat Adamnans aporum as singular, but later in his book, on page 151, he amends this statement to plural by saying "The Aporicum Stagnum or Stagnum Aporum-that is, the 'Aporic lake', or 'Lake of Apors'-is, of course, Lochaber. The Gaelic abar, a marsh, seems really to be the origin of the name, especially in view of Adamnans plural Aporum or Abars. 'Loch of the Marshes' therefore is the meaning of Lochaber ."
MacBain was not likely to err in his interpretation of Adamnans Latin because in addition to being an eminent authority on Gaelic, he was a fine classical scholar. In his first reference to Adamnan's aporum he seems to be concentrating on the origin of this Latin word rather than whether it is singular or plural. As he believes that the origin is "the old Gaelic apor and the Irish abar," meaning 'marsh', this causes him to say 'lake of the marsh' (singular). In his second reference to the subject, however, he clearly says, "in view of Adamnans plural Aporum or Abars. 'Loch of the Marshes' [plural] therefore is the meaning of Lochaber." In this large area, some parts of the ground surrounding the loch or lochan would be dry, thus separating the marshy parts, and therefore it would be quite appropriate to say 'loch of the marshes' (plural).
The nearby river to Adamnans Stagnum Aporum, which Adamnan calls "Nigra Dea" (black goddess) is, according to both Dr MacBain and Professor Watson, the River Lochy, or Lochaidh, derived from the two old Gaelic words loch, meaning black, or dark, and dee, meaning a pagan divinity.
Despite his previously-mentioned derivation of the name Lochaber, Professor Watson says, on page 458 of his Celtic Place-names, "In Gaelic of the present day, aber is generally pronounced obar when it stands, as it usually does, at the beginning of a name; Lochaber, however, is loch-abar." Note, he says Lochaber is pronounced abar not aber.
R, A, Armstrong, in his Gaelic Dictionary, gives the following definition, "Abarach (from abar), boggy, marshy; of, or pertaining to, a marsh; likewise of, or pertaining to Lochaber; a Lochaber man." This Gaelic name for a native of Lochaber is the one generally given in Gaelic dictionaries, etc., and it is always spelled abarach and not aberach. It seems to convey the impression that when Highlanders of old gave the distinctive name abarach (plural abaraich), or its contraction abrach, to a Lochaber man they were associating him with the large and conspicuous marshland (abar), Corpach Moss, or the Blar Mor, which constitutes the heart of Lochaber district. The confluences (abers) of the rivers Nevis and Lochy with inner Loch Linnhe are not conspicuous natural features. Although as already mentioned Adamnan refers to the district in the plural (marshes), with the passing of time the water in the loch or lochan and any other pools in this area would gradually evaporate and thus the term in the singular would become appropriate because the greater part of the area would become marsh. After all, apart from our present discussion, any large area of bogland could be described either as a marsh or as marshes.
With all due respect to the eminence of Professor Watson and Dr Nicolaisen, their suggested derivation of the name Lochaber-'loch of the confluences'-seems open to some criticism.
The confluences of the Rivers Lochy and Nevis with inner Loch Linnhe are not exceptional. It would be difficult to name any salt water loch which does not have a confluence of one or more rivers. Indeed, Loch Etive has confluences of seven definite rivers as well as of lesser streams, yet it is not called the loch of the confluences.
If inner Loch Linnhe was the original Loch Abar, as suggested by Professor Watson, why did Adamnan use the Latin word stagnum? This word really means a pool, lakelet, or lochan, of still, or stagnant, water and not a wide expanse of tidal water; it can also mean swamp, or marsh. From it, we get the English word stagnant. If Adamnan was referring to inner Loch Linnhe why did he not use the Latin word lacus, meaning lake? Stagnum suggests a lesser stretch of water than lacus.
Again, if inner Loch Linnhe was the original Loch Abar, why is the land called Lochaber on its east side only? Why is the land on its west side (Ardgour) not also called Lochaber? Even on its east side most of the land is called Nether Lochaber, suggesting that Lochaber or the heart of Lochaber lies further north. When a loch gives its name to a place, that place is usually the largest settlement, or village, on the shores of the loch, such as Lochailort, Lochinver, Lochmaddie, Lochranza, etc. If that principle had been carried out in Lochaber, and if inner Loch Linnhe had been the original Loch Abar, the settlement, or village, to be given the name Lochaber would probably have been the original settlement of Inverlochy or the original shore-clachan of Corpach, stretching round Breuncamus; Fort William was not in existence at that time. Lochaber, however, has never been regarded in history as a single village but as a wide district.
When the term aber, meaning confluence, forms part of a place-name it is usually attached to the name of a river as a prefix, such as Aberdeen, etc., and not as a suffix, and the whole name applies to the ground around the confluence. It does not apply to the sheet of water into which the river flows, because in cases like Aberdeen, Aberdour, etc., the river flows into the open sea.
Now for a few points in favour of Dr MacBain's belief that Loch Aber, or rather Loch Abar, was originally a stretch of water on the site of Corpach Moss, or the Blar Mor.
Before sedges and mosses grew or peat formed on the site of Corpach Moss, there was probably a marsh loch, or lagoon, having a fairly wide expanse of water. This marsh loch would be formed in prehistoric time, and how much water remained on this site at the time of St Columba or Adamnan we do not know but even within the past hundred and fifty years there seems to have been a pool, or lochan, worthy of mention in Corpach Moss. If so, this pool, or lochan, would surely be very much larger about one thousand two hundred years ago-the time of Adamnan-and therefore worthy of a term larger than pool. Even if this area was mainly swamp at the time of Adamnan, the word stagnum, as already mentioned, can mean swamp or marsh.
Writing in the sixteenth century, Hector Boece says, "Lochquhaber took the name of a mere of water into which the river of the Quhaber falleth and passeth through the same." Note "passeth through." As already mentioned, Richard Pococke, Bishop of Ossory, Ireland, visited Lochaber in 1760 and in his letter describing that visit he says, "A little to the north of this [Fort William] is a very small lake called Loughaber which gives name to that part of the shire of Inverness." Thomas Pennant, who visited Lochaber in 1769, says "Lochaber, so called from a lake not far from Fort William." John Leyden, the poet, visited Lochaber in 1800 and says, "We likewise passed within a short distance of Loch Aber whence the district derives its appelation, which had been pointed out to us from Ben Nevis but was so small that we could hardly distingtush it." My father was told by Mr MacMillan of Caol farm (now demolished), who was an elderly man when I was a boy at the beginning of the present century, that the last remnant of Loch Aber in Corpach Moss lay about the site of the present railway and in line with his farm which was about half-way between the canal and the River Lochy. (It was a brother of that Mr MacMillan who designed and patented the Clan MacMillan Hunting Tartan.)
A rather fanciful derivation of the name Lochaber is given in the old Statistical Account of Scotland, 1793. The contributor on Lochaber says, "Lochaber, or Loch nu capper, signifies the 'lake of horns'. Indeed, it deserves not the name of lake, being a pool in the moss of Corpach. The tradition is that the deer, in the routing season, fought about this lake and lost their horns. Hence the country has received its name."'
These references were evidently based upon the tradition of the local people that the small stretch of water at that time in Corpach Moss was the remnant of a larger loch or lochan Abar, and that tradition or assumption would seem to have been correct. If, according to Professor Watson and Dr Nicolaisen, the original Loch Aber was what \ve now know as inner Loch Linnhe, why should the earliest travellers through Lochaber who have recorded their visit mention a tradition that the original Loch Abar was on the site of Corpach Moss but not mention any tradition that what we now know as inner Loch Linnhe was ever called Loch Aber? Why, also, has the name of the district always been spelled in the Gaelic as Lochabar and not as Lochaber?
Finally, we may ask, why should the original name of the district-Lochaber or Lochabar-endure until the present day while tile name of the loch, or lochan, has become extinct? Could the reason be that Loch Abar was a loch or lochan on the site of Corpach Moss and its name became extinct when the lochan itself became extinct by drying up?
If there was a loch or lochan and surrounding marshes on the site of Corpach Moss since rhe district became inhabited, this area, about a mile square, would be a conspicuous feature for the following reasons. It would be a low-lying, wide open, flat stretch amid the dense forests and high hills of Lochaber. (The author of The Grameid, who was present when Viscount Dundee raised the Highland clans in Lochaber, in 1689, says, "where Lochaber courts the cold winds with her vast forests") The early immigrants to this region would have the Moss and its lochan brought sharply to their notice in the sense that, although it was a wide flat area in hill country, any huts or settlement would require to keep to its margin owing to its marshy condition. Until definite roads were constructed, the Moss and its loch an would be considerable obstacles to travellers, even nomads, especially if driving livestock, when going from west to east or vice versa, as it stretches right across the mouth of the Great Glen. Until Telford's road was built across its centre, at the beginning of last century, the Moss would have to be skirted by its north or south margin.
Another derivation offered for the name Lochaber is from the Old Irish words loch, meaning dark, or black, and abar, meaning marsh, hence 'the dark, or black, marsh,' referring to Corpach Moss. This suggested derivation, however, is not tenable from a linguistic point of view because the vowel in the Old Irish word loch is long: and the stress would have to be on loch.
After considering the different opinions offered for the derivation of the name Lochaber, I think the weight of evidence favours the belief that the origin of the second part of the name is the Irish word abar, meaning marsh, and therefore Adamnan's plural makes the meaning of Lochaber, 'Loch of the marshes.' In Scottish Gaelic, the name is always spelled Lochabar and not Lochaber. According to local tradition, the loch and its marginal marshes were on the site of what we now know as Corpach Moss, or the Blar Mor. By evaporation, the loch would disappear and the resultant area of marsh or marshes would develop into the present wide expanse of peat.
It may be mentioned here that there is a Lochaber Loch in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright but this name seems to be comparatively modern because in Pont's survey of that area, 1608-1610, this loch is named Gherloch, from the Gaelic word gearr, meaning short. Later in history, perhaps some Lochaber drovers or some Lochaber deserters from Prince Charlie's army, in 1745, may have settled here and bestowed the name . In Highways and Byways in the Border, by A. and J. Lang, and also in A Land of Romance, by Jean Lang, mention is made of Highland deserters from the Jacobite army settling in the Border counties. Thereis also a place called Lochaber and a Lochaber Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada, which I have been told by a Nova Scotian friend, was named early in last century by a prospector named MacCulloch. They were originally outposts but are now on a main highway.
Perhaps it is worth while to add here a brief account of how Corpach Moss, or the Blar Mor, was formed, the area from which the district of Lochaber probably derives its name.
Recent work by the Geological Survey and the removal of quite a large area of the peat to allow the building of extensions to the township of Caol show that the Moss rests on compact gravels and sand which are believed to be alluvial deposits carried down by the River Lochy and deposited as a delta at its mouth. The delta is believed to have been formed in open water of the sea of the 'twenty-five foot raised beach' times. This statement means that when those gravel deposits were laid down the water of what we now know as Loch Linnhe covered the area now known as Corpach Moss, or the Blar Mor, and extended farther north beyond Dalvenvie. The original alluvial stratification of the gravels was therefore much altered by wave action of that sea, so that the deposits are now not really distinguishable from 'raised beach' gravels. This action of the sea on the alluvial deposits would account for the large and relatively flat area of the Moss.
As the land gradually emerged from the 'twenty-five foot raised beach' sea, a series of 'storm beaches' was continuously built up against the seaward side of the gravel flats where we now have the shore land of Breuncamus.
When the gravel flats emerged from the sea, they evidently proved an insurmountable barrier to the direct southward flow of the River Lochy beyond Dalvenvie, with the result that at this point the river was diverted round towards the east and then southward. As the flow of the river would at first be dammed by the ridge of storm beaches curving round Breuncamus, it would gradually overflow its banks and, with the additional water of streams flowing down the hillsides, would form a wide lake, or lagoon on the site of Corpach Moss. Gradually the flow of the river would seep and ultimately erode a passage through the storm beach ground to form what is now the mouth of the River Lochy.
Being of still, or stagnant, water, the lake would slowly develop into a marsh by evaporation and the encroachment of marsh plants. Ultimately, when choked by plant growth and evaporation of water, it would become the peat of the present-day Corpach Moss, or Blar Mor. The development of peat has also occurred on parts of the 'twenty-five foot raised beach' elsewhere on the coast of Scotland.
The 'twenty-five foot raised beach', which usually appears as a margin of green grassy flat land or rocky shelf stretching inland from the present shore-line, is one of the most prominent and widespread geological features of the west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles. On the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil it carries the roads. In many parts of the Western Isles this raised beach where covered with sand and grass is called machair land. It is believed to have been formed by submergence of the land, from a lower sea level than the present sea level, between 5,000 B.C. and 4,000 B.C. After that movement ceased, the land emerged from the sea to its present level between 4,000 B.C. and about 2,000 B.C., which caused the beach to become visible. This change in sea level or land level occurred, of course, before there was any known human settlement in the district we now know as Lochaber, but it was the origin of the peat, sedges and gravel shore margin of the Blar Mor, or Corpach Moss. The first records of human habitation on western Scotland have been found in caves at Oban which are on the inner edge of the 'twenty-five foot raised beach'.
The term 'twenty-five foot raised beach' is an average figure for this beach on the Scottish coast. In Lochaber, the surface of this raised beach is about thirty-five feet above the present sea level. The appearance of Corpach Moss has changed even within living memory. During my boyhood in Lochaber at the beginning of the present century, Corpach Moss appeared darker than it does at the present day because its surface covering at that time was mainly heather (that was obvious when we worked here in our bare feet) and there were numerous peat cuttings worked by the surrounding inhabitants. Since that time, long grasses and rushes have supplanted most of the heather and have overgrown and hidden the peat cuttings, as the local people do not now make use of this peat. There are now also numerous dwarf birch trees where during my boyhood there were very few. The appearance of the Moss is now so deceptive that in a recent book, Highland Heritage, by Grace Campbell, page 98, the writer, who evidently judged the Moss by its appearance from the main road, says "We took the road that crossed the low green meadow called Corpach Moss." Apparently, she thought the Moss was meadowland.
* Note regarding Professor W. J. Watsons belief that the name Lochaber means 'loch of the confluences'. At the time of St. Adamnan there may have been only one confluence here in Loch Linnhe. As this book goes to press (1971) engineers have found evidence suggesting that in the past the River Nevis may have joined the River Lochy before the River Lochy entered Loch Linnhe.
** In his Report relating to the Rannoch Road, dated 1811, Thomas Telford says that some of the cattle droves "pass from Fort William down the side of Loch Eil to Loch Leven."