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Place-name of the week blog – Neaps and Noups

Published: 12 October 2020

The Old Norse terms gnípa and gnúpr mean a steep mountain with overhanging top or a high mountaintop with a steep front. This gives rise to place-names like Nipa and Snønipa in Norway, Dalsnípa and Núpur in Faroe and Eiríksgnípa in Iceland. In Norse mythology, Gnipahellir was an overhanging cave where Garmr the hound was chained until the onset of Ragnarök. 

  Neap, Stennes

The commonest forms In Shetland are neap and noup, with some instances of nib and noub applied to the very distinctive heights with a steep front, usually located at the coast. Da Neap a Norby in Sandness is recorded in one of the seals attached to Shetland’s earliest document dated 1299 - that of Gunni a Gnipum.  Later 17th and 18th century forms include Neip, East and West Neep and Neips of Norbie. Fetlar has several neaps: Baaneap, Eastneap, Westneap, Neapnafell and Hoganeap, whilst in Unst you find Neap at Hermaness, the Neaps at Norwick and the Neap of Littlegarth, Uyeasound. 

Neapaback, St Ninian’s Isle

Neap, Heoganeap (mound), Weinaneap (pasture), Valaneap (field) and Roeneap (red) are all in Northmavine.  Neepna Skerry lies close to Tjusaneap in Skerries and Outer and Heimar (home) Neap are located at Skaw, Whalsay. There are Neapabacks (slopes with steep fronts) in Burravoe (Yell), Ham (Bressay) and St Ninian’s Isle. The Burravoe one has given its name to a hill, loch, burn, houses, sound and skerries. The former ting (assembly site) is said to have met at Neap, Nesting. Neap, first recorded in 1533, is situated between Winnaneap and Dringaneap and the name Neipnating is recorded in documents of 1510 and 1628.  

  Wick of Neap and Neap, Nesting


  Hill of Neap, Nesting


  Winnaneap, Nesting

Noups are prominent coastal landmarks in Unst, Foula and Levenwick. Da Noup o Noss is famous for viewing seabirds, also an important landmark for fishermen.  This is not the only Noup o Noss - another is located at Noss in Dunrossness. Nearby is the Red Noup and other neaps and noups in the Ness include Muckle and Little Noup, Garthsness, The Neaps, Scatness, and Hoganeap at Rerwick. 

  Da Noup o Noss

Hostanoup is at Noness, Sandwick, Da Noup o Ramsteen is at Aithsetter Cunningsburgh and Wilson’s Noup lies south of Nibon in Northmavine.  Nibon is yet another gnípa name, and further gnúpr examples are Da Hill o Noub and Da Den o Noub in the middle of Yell.

Please contact placenames@shetlandamenity.org if you know who Wilson was, or have further neap, noup or noub names.

Eileen Brooke-Freeman, Shetland Place Names expert

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