Most Hebridean place names are derived from either the Gaelic or Norse language, and denote a precise geographical location or landmark.
Bruichladdich is usually translated rather poetically as ‘brae by the shore’, but this is a rather vague concept in the context of Loch Indaal and its environs.
Bruichladdich – Brudhach a Chladdaich – is made from two Gaelic words. According to Dwelly’s 1901 dictionary, Brudhach has a meaning that ranges in steepness from ‘an ascent’, hill-side, brae (derived from the Old Norse, breiðr (meaning ‘a gentle slope to the sea’), to a steep acclivity, and precipice.
While not exactly a precipice, the bank of glacial drift deposits that separates the distillery from the warehouses above, it would classify as a steep bank. This strange geological feature runs for eight miles along the north side of Loch Indaal, a hundred feet tall in places, at a steep angle of eighty degrees along most of its length.
Since place names were given as specific location markers for navigation, an eight mile length of unusual-looking bank is rather vague; a bit like half a grid reference, ‘1st Avenue’; it needs a cross reference, a bisecting street name.
Chladach or cladach means generally a shore, beach, or coast; but more specifically, a stony, rocky beach. Though an obsolete term by 1901, it also used to mean a ‘lee shore’, a dangerous coastline for sailing vessels in a prevailing wind.
Loch Indaal is a very shallow and sandy sea loch that since the Vikings was used as the main anchorage for Islay. However at Bruichladdich, this specific part of the loch’s shoreline, is peppered with exposed and hidden 1,500 billion year old gneiss rocks up to 50 metres offshore.
With only a metre of tide to cover the rocks at spring high tide, in a westerly gale this was, and still is, a deceptively dangerous part of the coast for sailing boats. For the unsuspecting skipper, such a rocky lee shore would indeed be most worthy of identification.
Brudhach refers to the unusual bank, while ‘A Chladdaich’ intersects the bank at the place of the dangerous, rocky, lee shore. The steep bank at the rocky lee-shore. Not quite as poetic as brae by the shore, but more geographically accurate.