Looking out over Bardsey Island/Ynys Enlli at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula

Tony Bowerman takes  a fascinating look at the origin and meaning of Welsh place names along the Wales Coast Path

THE WALES COAST PATH IS DOTTED with some wonderfully evocative Welsh place names.

Welsh descriptions of coastal features are intriguing, and many of the names date back two thousand years or more. Understanding what they mean gives an added depth to walking the landscape, and helps bring it alive.

Cultural distinctiveness

Welsh place names are as much a part of Wales’s cultural distinctiveness as its mountains, sheep or rugged coast. To the English visitor, they may appear strangely foreign, confusing or simply unpronounceable. And yet, once carefully unravelled, they can tell us all sorts of fascinating things about a place — its landscape, character and history. Many place names along the Welsh coast are unusual, magical or tell an ancient story. Knowing the meaning of even a few common place name elements will help bring the Wales Coast Path alive.

Fascinating examples include Porth meudwy, or ‘port of the hermits’ and Carreg y defaid, or ‘sheep rock’, on the Llyn Peninsula, and Carn Pen Beri, or ‘Kite’s Head Rock’, and Trwyn Cynddeiriog or ‘Furious Point’ in Pembrokeshire.

You don’t need to be fluent in Welsh to learn about the landscape – just a few words can help you make sense of  your map and your surroundings.

Welsh coastal place names

Here, listed below, are a few of the most common topological place names that crop up along the whole 870 miles of the Wales Coast Path. Together, they’ll help bring new insights and understanding to your walks.

Aber      river mouth, estuary

Afon      river

Bad       ferry, boat

Bae       bay

Cae       field, enclosure

Carreg  stone, rock

Cawl     sea kale

Cei       quay

Cilfach cove, creek

Clegyr   rock, cliff

Culfor    strait

Dinas     citadel; hillfort; fortified hill

Dwr       water

Dyffryn  valley; bottom

Eglwys    church

Ffynnon  well; spring; fountain; source

Cliffs, coves and islands

Goleudy  lighthouse

Glan        shore

Gwymon  seaweed

Harbwr    harbour

Heli          salt water, brine

Llech       flat stone, flagstone, slate

Maen      stone; standing stone

Mor        sea, ocean

Morfa     sea marsh, salt marsh

Moryd    estuary, channel

Ogof       cave

Parrog    flat land by the sea

Penrhyn   headland

Pigyn        point

Pont          bridge, arch

Porth        harbour

Pwll         pool, pit

Tafol        dock

Ton          wave

Traeth     beach

Trwyn     nose; point, cape

Tywyn     sandy shore sand dunes

Ynys         island

This list appears in the back of all seven of the Official Guides to the Wales Coast Path, where approximate pronunciations are also shown.

For a fuller explanation of Welsh place names along the coast, see also Understanding Welsh Place Names by Gwili Gog, published by Northern Eye Books — www.northerneyebooks.co.uk/shop/understanding-welsh-place-names.

Tony Bowerman

Tony Bowerman

Parts of this article are adapted from Understanding Welsh Place Names, published by Northern Eye Books, and are re-published here with the author’s permission. Copyright © Gwili Gog 2011. All rights reserved.
Tony Bowerman is a director of Northern Eye Books Ltd, and loves nature and the outdoors. At one time he contributed articles to several national newspapers and magazines. He later worked as an ‘interpretation consultant’ for clients such as the National Trust, Welsh Water, County Councils and Wildlife Trusts. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild.
Contact: tony@northerneyebooks.com