The dictionary

We receive occasional emails - particularly from visitors to the site living out with the UK - asking us to explain some of the terms used in articles. In response, we have compiled our own dictionary, including both English, Scottish and Gaelic terms which are commonly found on the site. If there are any words or phrases we have not included but which you feel would be useful additions, please drop us a line at


abseil - a rapid method of descent using a rope to slide down, a cliff face, for example.
allt - a burn, stream, a small river.
aonach - a mountain ridge, a hill, a moor, as in Aonach Mor.
avalanche - the sliding away of surface material from a mountain, especially snow.


bealach - a pass (see pass).
beag - small, as in Aonach Beag.
beinn - a hill, a mountain, as in Beinn Ghlas.
ben - a hill, a mountain, as in Ben Nevis.
binnean/binnein - a high, pointed hill; a peak.
bivouac/bivi - spending the night out in the open on a mountain; a temporary encampment, without conventional tents.
blaeberry - blueberry.
blister - bubble containing watery fluid on skin. Normally caused by friction.
boulder - a large stone or rock.
bouldering - climbing large boulders.
burn - stream.
buttress - a rocky protuberance from a mountain side, or the rock mass between two gullies.


cairn - a pile of stones, commonly used to mark the summit of a hill, or the route up a hill.
carn/cairn - a cairn, heap of stones; a hill of this shape, as in Cairn Bannoch or Carn Dearg.
clach - a stone.
cnap - a little hill, a knob, a lump.
cnoc - a hillock or smallish hill.
coire - a corrie.
col - a pass (see pass).
contouring - walking across a hillside so as to keep at that same height, as if walking on a contour line.
contour line - line on map drawn through places of same height.
Corbetts, The - list of Scottish mountains over 2500 feet in height but under 3000 feet with a re-ascent of 500 feet on all sides. The list was first compiled by Mr J. Rooke Corbett. There are 220 Corbetts.
cornice - a consolidated snow bank projecting over the edge of a ridge, plateau or corrie, and formed by prevailing winds.
corrie - circular hollow on hillside.
creag - a rock or a crag.
crevasse - a crack in the surface of a glacier.
cruach - a stack-shaped hill.


deer forest - a stretch of land used for deer stalking, but not usually tree-covered.
Donalds, The - list of all hills in the Scottish Lowlands 2000 feet in height and above. The list was first compiled by Mr Percy Donald.
exposure - lack of shelter from weather, particularly cold; an exposed climb or ridge walk where a sense of space predominates; hypothermia.
firth - river estuary, as in Firth of Forth.


gabbro - an extremely rough rock offering good friction grip, the principle rock of the Skye Cuillin.
glean - a glen.
glen - valley.
Grahams, The - a list of Scottish hills between 2000 and 2499 feet high. The original list was compiled by Alan Dawson and Fiona Torbet (nee Graham). There are 224 Grahams.
grid reference - the Ordnance Survey use a system of imaginary squares covering the UK as a reference for pin-pointing any place with great accuracy.
gully - a channel or ravine.


lairig - a pass, as in Lairig Ghru.
loch - a large body of water, Scottish equivalent of lake.
lochan - a small loch, Scottish equivalent of tarn.


mam - a large rounded hill (the literal translation is 'breast').
meall - a rounded hill.
monadh - a hill, mountain or a range of hills.
moor - a tract of open, uncultivated land, often rough, hilly and heather-clad.
mor/mhor - big, as in Aonach Mor.
Munro - a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet in height, from tables originally compiled by Sir Hugh Munro and first published in 1891. There are 284 Munros.
Munro-bagger - someone working to climb all of the Munros.
Munro-bagging - the activity of climbing all of the Munros.


Ordnance Survey (OS) - the official UK mapping agency.
- the way across a mountain ridge from one valley to another.
pillar - a tall, narrow column of rock.
ridge - the crest where two opposing faces of a mountain meet.


sail - a rounded hill.
scrambling - between simple hill walking and actual rock climbing where the use of hand-holds are necessary to make progress over a slope of rocks, boulders and/or scree.
scree - rock detritus from a crag covering the slopes below said crag.
scree-running - to run down a slope of scree.
sgor/sgorr - a sharp, rocky hill or rocky peak.
sgur/sgurr - a sharp, rocky hill or rocky peak.
slab - a flat area of rock.
spindrift - light powder snow blown by the wind.
stac - a steep, conical hill.
stack - a free-standing pinnacle of rock.
stob - a pointed hill.
stravaig - if you embarked upon 'a stravaig' you'd have a wander through glens and over hills with no set purpose other than to enjoy the walking and take things as they come.
stuc/stuchd - a little hill jutting out from a larger hill, or a peak, or a cliff, as in An Stuc.
summit - the highest point of a mountain or hill, the top.


tom - a small, rounded peak or a piece of rising ground, as in Tom Buidhe.
torr - a steep, conical hill or mountain, like English 'tor'.
triangulation point (trig point) - a summit used as a datum point by the Ordnance Survey. Shown on maps as a blue triangle with a dot in the centre and identified on the ground as a pillar of concrete or stone, usually painted white, with brass fittings on top.
trig point - see triangulation point.
tulach - a hillock or smallish hill.


wind-chill factor - the chilling effect of the wind which can significantly lower the temperature.

Sources - The New Collins Compact Dictionary (Collins, 1984), Encyclopedia of Mountaineering by Walt Unsworth (Penguin, 1975), Munros Tables (SMC, 1997).