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Scottish Rivers

In Scotland we have many words for water courses.

A "Water" (Lallans: "Watter", Scots Gaelic, "Uisge") is a smaller river, e.g. Ugie Water, Water of Leith etc. Many Scottish rivers incorporate the name "Water" traditionally.

A "burn", Scots Gaelic: "allt" (anglicised as "Ault/alt"), used for smaller rivers and larger streams, also once widely used in England, now mostly in placenames especially the north, and sometimes spelled "bourne", e.g. Bournemouth and Ashbourne. In Scotland examples include Coalburn, Bannockburn, Aultmore.
Abhainn in Gaelic meaning river, which is anglicised as Avon. There is also a similar Brythonic cognate. This sometimes leads to strange misnamings of rivers by Anglo-Saxon speakers, such as River Avon and River Afton (literally "River River"), or Glendale (literally "Valley Valley") which is a combination of Norse/Anglo-Saxon "dale" and Gaelic "glen" or Brittonic "glyn".


Longest Scottish Rivers


(Click for more info and pictures)

Length km Length miles Description
1. River Tay 



193  120 The Tay rises in the Highlands and flows down into the centre of Scotland through Perth and Dundee. It is the longest river in Scotland and the seventh longest in the UK. 

Full Moon over The River Tay - at Dundee

Full Moon over The River Tay - at Dundee

2. River Spey 172  107 The Spey is the fastest-flowing river in Scotland. It is important for salmon fishing and whisky production (Speyside has the largest number of distilleries in Scotland, including: Aberlour, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich). Rising at over 1000 feet (300 m) at Loch Spey in Corrieyairack Forest in the Scottish Highlands, 10 miles (16 km) south of Fort Augustus, it descends to flow through Newtonmore and Kingussie crossing Loch Insh before reaching Aviemore at the start of Strathspey. From there it flows the remaining 60 miles (97 km) north-east to the Moray Firth, reaching the sea 5 miles West of Buckie. The River Spey is one of Scotland's big four salmon rivers. It has the third largest drainage area after the Tay and Tweed and is the second longest after the Tay. The River Spey is unusual in that it increases speed as it flows closer to the coast, due to the surrounding geography. The mean flow is around 16 m/s making it the fastest flowing river in Scotland, and possibly in the UK (depending on what constitutes a river). The Spey does not meander, although it does rapidly move its banks. South of Fochabers a high earth barrier re-inforces the banks, but the river has broken through on several occasions, removing a large portion of Garmouth Golf Course, sections of wall surrounding Gordon Castle, parts of the Speyside Way and some of the B9104 road.

River Spey at Grantown-on-Spey

River Spey at Grantown-on-Spey

3. River Clyde  171  106 The Clyde is formed by the confluence of two streams, the Daer Water (the headwaters of which are dammed to form the Daer Reservoir) and the Potrail Water. They meet at Watermeetings to form the River Clyde proper.
From there it snakes northeastward before turning to the west  until it reaches the town of Lanark. It turns northwest, before it is joined by the River Avon and flows into the West of Scotland conurbation. Between the towns of Motherwell and Hamilton the course of the river has been altered to create the artificial loch within Strathclyde Park. Part of the original course can still be seen, and lies between the island and the east shore of the loch. The river then flows through Blantyre and Bothwell, where the ruined Bothwell Castle stands on a defensible promontory.
Past Uddingston and into the southeast of Glasgow the river begins to widen, meandering a course through Rutherglen and Dalmarnock. Flowing past Glasgow Green, the river is artificially straightened and widened through the centre, and although a footbridge now hinders access to the traditional Broomielaw, seagoing ships can still come upriver as far as Finnieston where the PS Waverley docks. From there, it flows past the shipbuilding heartlands, through Govan, Partick, Whiteinch, Scotstoun and Clydebank, all of which once housed major shipyards. The river flows out west of Glasgow, past Renfrew, and under the Erskine Bridge past Dumbarton on the north shore to the sandbank at Ardmore Point between Cardross and Helensburgh. Opposite, on the south shore, the river continues past the last Lower Clyde shipyard at Port Glasgow to Greenock where it reaches the Tail of the Bank as the river merges into the Firth of Clyde.
There are around 72 bridges (rail, road, foot and other) that cross the Clyde, from estuary to source

Sunset over the River Clyde

Sunset over the River Clyde

4. River Tweed 156   97 The River Tweed (Scottish Gaelic: Abhainn Thuaidh) is 97 miles (156 km) long and flows primarily through the Borders region of England and Scotland. It rises on Tweedsmuir at Tweed's Well near where the Clyde, draining northwest, and the Annan draining south also rise.
Major towns through which the Tweed flows include Peebles, Galashiels, Melrose, Kelso, Coldstream and Berwick-upon-Tweed, where it flows into the North Sea.

River Tweed at Coldstream

River Tweed at Coldstream

5. River Dee 




137  85 The River Dee (Scottish Gaelic: Uisge Dè) is a river in Aberdeenshire. It rises in the Cairngorms (at approximately 4000 feet in elevation on the plateau of Braeriach, the highest source of any major river in the British Isles ) and flows through Strathdee (Deeside) to reach the North Sea at Aberdeen.

Bridge of Dee on the River Dee

Bridge of Dee on the River Dee

6. River Don  132  82 The River Don is in the northeast of Scotland. It rises in the Grampians and flows eastwards, through Aberdeenshire, to the North Sea at Aberdeen. The Don passes through Alford, Kemnay, Inverurie, Kintore, and Dyce. Its main tributary, the River Ury, joins at Inverurie.

The Don rises in the peat flat beneath Druim na Feithe, and in the shadow of Glen Avon, before flowing quietly past the ice-age moraine and down to Cock Bridge, below the picturesque site of the recently demolished Delnadamph Lodge. Several stream, the Dhiver, Feith Bhait, Meoir Veannaich, Cock Burn and the Allt nan Aighean merge to explode the embryonic Don. Water from the west end of Brown Cow Hill (grid reference NJ230045 drains into the River Spey, water from the north runs into the Don and water from the south side ends up in the Dee. The Don follows a circuitous route eastwards past Corgarff Castle, through Strathdon and the Howe of Alford before entering the North Sea just north of Old Aberdeen.

The chief tributaries are Conrie Water, Ernan Water, Water of Carvie, Water of Nochty, Deskry Water, Water of Buchat, Kindy Burn, Bucks Burn, Mossat Burn, Leochel Burn and the River Ury.

River Don at Strathdon

River Don at Strathdon

7. River Nith    112  71 The River Nith (Scottish Gaelic: Abhainn Nid) is the seventh longest river in Scotland. It rises in East Ayrshire in the Carsphairn hills, and for the majority of its course flows through Dumfries and Galloway, before spilling into the Solway Firth at Dumfries. The territory through which the river flows is called Nithsdale (historically known as "Stranit" from Scottish Gaelic: Strath Nid, "valley of the Nith").

River Nith near Enterkinfoot

River Nith near Enterkinfoot

8. River Forth 105   65 The River Forth (Gaelic: Uisge For or Abhainn Dhubh, meaning "black river"), 47 km (29 miles) long, is the major river draining the eastern part of the central belt of Scotland.

The Forth rises in Loch Ard in the Trossachs, a mountainous area some 30 km (19 miles) west of Stirling. It flows roughly eastward, through Aberfoyle, joining with the Duchray Water and Kelty Water, and out over the flat expanse of the Flanders Moss. It is then joined by the River Teith (which itself drains Loch Venachar, Loch Lubnaig, Loch Katrine, and Loch Voil) and the River Allan, before meandering through the ancient city of Stirling. At Stirling the river widens and becomes tidal, and it is here that the last (seasonal) ford of the river exists. From Stirling, the Forth flows east over the Carse of Stirling and past the towns of Cambus (where it is joined by the river Devon), Alloa and Airth. Upon reaching Kincardine the river begins to widen into an estuary, the Firth of Forth.

Forth Railway Bridge

Forth Railway Bridge

9. River Findhorn 


101  63  
The River Findhorn (Scottish Gaelic: Uisge Eireann) is one of the longest rivers in Scotland. Located in the north east, it flows into the Moray Firth on the north coast. It has one of the largest non-firth estuaries in Scotland.

River Findhorn at Dulsie
River Findhorn-at-Dulsie

10. River Deveron 


98  61 The river has its source in the Ladder Hills between Glenbuchat and the Cabrach, part of the Grampian range. It begins as a small highland stream among peaty and heather covered country before leaving the hills and entering the rolling lowlands of fertile farmland. The two main streams in its upper course are the Alt Deveron and the Black Water. Some 17 miles downstream from the river's source, the river passes through the town of Huntly, where it is joined by its tributary, the River Bogie.
The name Deveron is derived from the Gaelic word da-abluinn, meaning double river, a reference to its two main streams. The Deveron is "the dark-rolling stream Duvranna" of James Macpherson's Ossian.
Four miles further downstream the Deveron's second tributary, the River Isla flows in from the northwest. From this point on the Deveron becomes a mature river, pursuing a winding course through Turriff and finally flowing into the Moray Firth between the twin towns of Banff and Macduff.

River Deveron with clouds

River Deveron with clouds

11.River Annan 79  49 The River Annan (Uisge Annan in Gaelic) is a river in southwest Scotland. It rises at the foot of Hart Fell, five miles north of Moffat. A second fork rises on Annanhead Hill and flows through the Devil's Beef Tub before joining at the Hart Fell fork north of Moffat.

From there it flows past the town of Lockerbie, and to the sea in the fishing town of Annan. It is one of the region's foremost fishing rivers, despite being used for many years by Chapelcross nuclear power station which extracted water for cooling purposes, but in any case is now being decommissioned. The main fish found - and hence the target of anglers - are salmon and sea trout, brown trout, grayling and chub, with a few others such as pike.

Heron on the River Annan

Heron on the River Annan

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More Scottish

From Why Did the Haggis Cross the Road? by Stuart McLean

Loch Ness Monster Jokes

Nessie is lying at the bottom of the loch moaning to his wife. “Ma bloody stomach is aching,” he grumbles. “Och it serves you right, for eating them American tourists,” replies Mrs Ness, “You know they’re far too rich for you.”


What’s big and white and chills out at the bottom of Loch Ness?

The Loch Ness Refrigerator.

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