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Place-name of the week – Deep ida daals

Published: 12 August 2020

Old Norse dalr place-names are commonly used for valleys in Norway and Iceland, as well as in Shetland and Orkney. In Shetland, although the map spelling is generally the same as the English dale, the pronunciation is usually daal, del or dil.

There are examples of Dale names throughout Shetland. More commonly they are compounded with another descriptive place-name element to form longer names such as Hagdale, from hagi: pasture, Uncadale, öngr: narrow, and Quendale, kvern: mill.  

Arisdale, the longest daal in Yell

Arisdale, the longest daal in Yell

In Yell alone, there are more than 30 daals. Sheenawirsdaal, from tjorn: shun/small loch, was a wet dale with many pools to which the Aywick bairns once drove their geese and goslings; this was several miles away from their homes. A walk to the Daal o Lumbister in North Yell takes you past several lochs and through the RSPB reserve to some spectacular coastal scenery. Arisdale is Yell’s longest valley. The name may come from an early inhabitant, Ari, but today it is best known for its last resident Brucie Henderson, the well-known storyteller.  Brucie’s own interpretation was that the place-name was originally Ernsdale, referring to the sea eagles that frequented the top of the hill. This remote spot was once a busier place with the Hendersons’ house a frequent calling place for people travelling through the daal. In 1942 a survivor from the crashed WWII Catalina plane followed the burn down the valley and arrived here to raise the alarm.   

Dale o Waas

Deepdale, Waas

There are Deepdales near Waas, Reawick and Maywick. The latter was once home to three families with a total of 18 folk living there in 1861. This dropped to one family and a servant in 1881, and none by 1885. The older form of Deepdale, from Old Norse djúbidalr, still survives in Unst (Heimer Djubidale, Mid Djubidale and Outer Djubidale), Yell (Djubidaal and Byres o Djubidaal) and Ollaberry (Djubidale).

Deepdale, Dunrossness looking west to Havra

Dale, Delting, thought to be the site of the local parliament, which gave the parish its name

Scamidale, Waas looking north to Da Gaed and Da Horse Head

Delting takes its name from the local parliament or ting, thought to have been held on a flat piece of land at the head of Dales Voe. A peerie daal near Deepdale, Waas is called Scamisdale from skammr meaning short.  A similar form, Scammadaill, is recorded in a North Yell document dating from 1605.  Do you know where this is or where to find Deepdale in South or West Yell?  If you can help locate these places, or know any other daal place names, please contact placenames@shetlandamenity.org

Eileen Brooke-Freeman, Place Names Expert

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