River Tay

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River Tay
St. Matthew's Church and Smeaton's Bridge.jpg
Looking upstream (north) along the Tay from the centre of Perth. In view are St Matthew's Church and Perth Bridge
Country Scotland
Physical characteristics
SourceAllt Coire Laoigh
  location Ben Lui, Stirling council area / Argyll and Bute, Scotland
  coordinates 56°23′07″N4°47′36″W / 56.38528°N 4.79333°W / 56.38528; -4.79333
  elevation720 m (2,360 ft)
Mouth Firth of Tay, North Sea
Between Perth, Scotland and Dundee, Scotland, UK
56°21′18″N3°17′54″W / 56.35500°N 3.29833°W / 56.35500; -3.29833
0 m (0 ft)
Length193 km (120 mi)
Basin size4,970 km2 (1,920 sq mi)
  average220 m3/s (7,800 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  left River Lyon, River Tummel, River Isla
  right River Almond, River Earn, River Braan

The River Tay (Scottish Gaelic : Tatha, IPA: [ˈt̪ʰa.ə] ; probably from the conjectured Brythonic Tausa, possibly meaning 'silent one' or 'strong one' or, simply, 'flowing' [1] ) is the longest river in Scotland and the seventh-longest in Great Britain. The Tay originates in western Scotland on the slopes of Ben Lui (Scottish Gaelic : Beinn Laoigh), then flows easterly across the Highlands, through Loch Dochart, Loch Iubhair and Loch Tay, then continues east through Strathtay (see Strath), in the centre of Scotland, then southeasterly through Perth, where it becomes tidal, to its mouth at the Firth of Tay, south of Dundee. It is the largest river in the United Kingdom by measured discharge. [2] Its catchment is approximately 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometres), the Tweed's is 1,500 sq mi (3,900 km2) and the Spey's is 1,097 sq mi (2,840 km2).


The river has given its name to Perth's Tay Street, which runs along its western banks for 830 yards (760 metres).


Catchment of the River Tay within Scotland. Tay.catchment.Scotland.jpg
Catchment of the River Tay within Scotland.
Catchment of the River Tay. Tay.catchment.jpg
Catchment of the River Tay.
Tributaries of the River Tay. Tay.tributaries.jpg
Tributaries of the River Tay.

The Tay drains much of the lower region of the Highlands. It originates on the slopes of Ben Lui (Beinn Laoigh), around 25 mi (40 km) from the west coast town of Oban, in Argyll and Bute. [2] In 2011, the Tay Western Catchments Partnership determined as its source (as based on its 'most dominant and longest' tributary) a small lochan on Allt Coire Laoigh south of the summit. [3] The river has a variety of names in its upper catchment: for the first few miles it is known as the River Connonish; then the River Fillan; the name then changes to the River Dochart until it flows into Loch Tay at Killin.

The River Tay emerges from Loch Tay at Kenmore, and flows from there to Perth which, in historical times, was its lowest bridging point. Below Perth the river becomes tidal and enters the Firth of Tay. The largest city on the river, Dundee, lies on the north bank of the Firth. On reaching the North Sea, the River Tay has flowed 120 mi (190 km) [4] from west to east across central Scotland.

The Tay is unusual amongst Scottish rivers in having several major tributaries, notably the Earn, the Isla, the River Tummel, the Almond and the Lyon. [2]

A flow of 2,268 m3/s (80,100 cu ft/s) was recorded on 17 January 1993, when the river rose 6.48 m (21 ft 3 in) above its usual level at Perth, and caused extensive flooding in the city. Were it not for the hydro-electric schemes upstream which impounded runoff, the peak would have been considerably higher. The highest flood recorded at Perth occurred in 1814, when the river rose 7 m (23 ft) above its usual level, partly caused by a blockage of ice under Smeaton's Bridge. [5]

Several places along the Tay take their names from it, or are believed to have done so:

Nature and conservation

Tayside beaver with her kit. Courtesy of Ray Scott 2010. Tayside Beaver mother and kit June 5, 2010 Ray Scott.jpg
Tayside beaver with her kit. Courtesy of Ray Scott 2010.

The river is of high biodiversity value and is both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation. The SAC designation notes the river's importance for salmon (Salmo salar), otters (Lutra lutra), brook lampreys (Lampetra planeri), river lampreys (Lampetra fluviatilis), and sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus). [6] The Tay also maintains flagship population of freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera). [2] Freshwater pearl mussels are one of Scotland's most endangered species and the country hosts two-thirds of the world's remaining stock. [7]

The Tay is internationally renowned for its salmon fishing and is one of the best salmon rivers in western Europe, attracting anglers from all over the world. The lowest ten miles (sixteen kilometres) of the Tay, including prestigious beats like Taymount or Islamouth, provides most of the cream of the Tay. The largest rod-caught salmon in Britain, caught on the Tay by Georgina Ballantine in 1922, weighing 64 pounds (29 kilograms), retains the British record. The river system has salmon fisheries on many of its tributaries including the Earn, Isla, Ericht, Tummel, Garry, Dochart, Lyon and Eden. [8] Dwindling catches include a 50% reduction in 2009 so the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board ordered a catch-and-release policy for females all season, and for males until May, beginning in the January 2010 fishing season. Research by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation has shown that the number of salmon dying at sea has doubled or trebled over the past 20 years, possibly due to overfishing in the oceans where salmon spend two years before returning to freshwater to spawn. The widespread collapse in Atlantic salmon stocks suggests that this is not solely a local problem in the River Tay. [9]

A section of the Tay surrounding the town of Dunkeld is designated as a national scenic area (NSA), [10] one of 40 such areas in Scotland, which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure its protection by restricting certain forms of development. [11] The River Tay (Dunkeld) NSA covers 5,708  ha. [12]

The first sustained and significant population Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) living wild in Scotland in over 400 years became established on the river Tay catchment in Scotland as early as 2001, and has spread widely in the catchment, numbering from 20 to 100 individuals in 2011. [13] These beavers were likely to be either escapees from any of several nearby sites with captive beavers, or were illegally released, and were originally targeted for removal by Scottish Natural Heritage in late 2010. [14] Proponents of the beavers argued that no reason exists to believe that they are of "wrong" genetic stock. [13] In early December 2010, the first of the wild Tayside beavers was trapped by Scottish Natural Heritage on the River Ericht in Blairgowrie, Perthshire and was held in captivity in Edinburgh Zoo, dying within a few months. [15] In March 2012 the Scottish Government reversed the decision to remove beavers from the Tay, pending the outcome of studies into the suitability of re-introduction. [16]

As part of the study into re-introduction, a trial release project was undertaken in Knapdale, Argyll, [17] [18] [19] alongside which the population of beavers along the Tay was monitored and assessed. [16] Following the conclusion of the trial re-introduction, the Scottish Government announced in November 2016 that beavers could remain permanently, and would be given protected status as a native species within Scotland. Beavers will be allowed to extend their range naturally. To aid this process and improve the health and resilience of the population a further 28 beavers will be released in Knapdale between 2017 and 2020, [20] however there are no plans at present to release further beavers into the Tay.


Tay Bridge from the South after the accident Tay Bridge from south after accident.jpg
Tay Bridge from the South after the accident

In the 19th century, the Tay Rail Bridge was built across the firth at Dundee as part of the East Coast Main Line, which linked Aberdeen in the north with Edinburgh and London to the south. The bridge, designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, officially opened in May 1878. On 28 December 1879 the bridge collapsed as a train passed over. The entire train fell into the firth, with the loss of 75 passengers and train crew. The event was commemorated in a poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster (1880), written by William McGonagall, a notoriously unskilled Scottish poet. The critical response to his article was enhanced as he had previously written two poems celebrating the strength and certain immortality of the Tay Bridge. A second much more well received poem was published in the same year by the German writer Theodor Fontane. [21] A. J. Cronin's first novel, Hatter's Castle (1931), includes a scene involving the Tay Bridge Disaster, and the 1942 filmed version of the book recreates the bridge's catastrophic collapse. The rail bridge was rebuilt, with the replacement bridge opening on 11 June 1887.

A passenger and vehicle ferry service operated across the River Tay between Craig Pier, Dundee and Newport-on-Tay in Fife. In Dundee, the ferries were known as "the Fifies". [22] The service was discontinued on the opening of the Tay Road Bridge on 18 August 1966.

The last vessels to operate the service were PS B. L. Nairn and two more modern ferries equipped with Voith Schneider Propellers, MVs Abercraig and Scotscraig.

Cultural references

The Tay bridge is the subject of William McGonagall's poems "Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay" and "The Tay Bridge Disaster", and in the German poet Theodor Fontane's poem "Die Brück' am Tay". Both deal with the Tay bridge disaster of 1879, seeing the bridge's construction as a case of human hubris and expressing an uneasiness towards the fast technological development of mankind. [21]

The river is mentioned in passing in the Steeleye Span song "The Royal Forester". Symphonic power metal band Gloryhammer mentioned the river in some of their songs as "silvery Tay" or "mighty river Tay". [23] [24] Many Rolls-Royce civil aero-engines are named after British rivers, one of which is the Rolls-Royce Tay.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William McGonagall</span> Scottish-Irish poet (1825–1902) regarded as comically inept

William McGonagall was a Scottish poet and public performer. He gained notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Perthshire</span> Historic administrative division in Scotland

Perthshire, officially the County of Perth, is a historic county and registration county in central Scotland. Geographically it extends from Strathmore in the east, to the Pass of Drumochter in the north, Rannoch Moor and Ben Lui in the west, and Aberfoyle in the south; it borders the counties of Inverness-shire and Aberdeenshire to the north, Angus to the east, Fife, Kinross-shire, Clackmannanshire, Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire to the south and Argyllshire to the west. It was a local government county from 1890 to 1930.

Firth is a word in the English and Scots languages used to denote various coastal waters in the United Kingdom, predominantly within Scotland. In the Northern Isles, it more often refers to a smaller inlet. It is linguistically cognate to fjord, which has a more constrained sense in English. Bodies of water named "firths" tend to be more common on the Scottish east coast, or in the southwest of the country, although the Firth of Clyde is an exception to this. The Highland coast contains numerous estuaries, straits, and inlets of a similar kind, but not called "firth" ; instead, these are often called sea lochs. Before about 1850, the spelling "Frith" was more common.

Tay Bridge may refer to:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Firth of Tay</span> Estuary of the River Tay in Scotland

The Firth of Tay is a firth on the east coast of Scotland, into which empties the River Tay. The firth is surrounded by four council areas: Fife, Perth and Kinross, Dundee City, and Angus. Its maximum width is 3 mi (4.8 km).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Knapdale</span> Parishes and area in Scotland

Knapdale forms a rural district of Argyll and Bute in the Scottish Highlands, adjoining Kintyre to the south, and divided from the rest of Argyll to the north by the Crinan Canal. It includes two parishes, North Knapdale and South Knapdale. The area is bounded by sea to the east and west, whilst the sea loch of West Loch Tarbert almost completely cuts off the area from Kintyre to the south. The name is derived from two Gaelic elements: Cnap meaning hill and Dall meaning field.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loch Rannoch</span> Freshwater loch in Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Loch Rannoch is a freshwater loch in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. It is over 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) long in a west–east direction with an average width of about 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi), and is deepest at its eastern end, reaching a depth of 130 metres (440 ft). The River Tummel begins at its eastern end, where the small village of Kinloch Rannoch can be found, whilst the wild expanse of Rannoch Moor extends to the west of the loch. The area surrounding Loch Rannoch, along with Rannoch Moor itself, was formerly part of the native Caledonian Forest that stretched across much of Northern Scotland. Native forest is now largely absent from much of the area, due partly to logging, and partly to the climate becoming wetter, and Loch Rannoch is now largely surrounded by commercial forestry and open hillsides, although a small area remains at the Black Wood of Rannoch on the southern shore of the loch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aberfeldy, Perth and Kinross</span> Burgh in Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Aberfeldy is a burgh in Perth and Kinross, Scotland, on the River Tay. A small market town, Aberfeldy is located in Highland Perthshire. It was mentioned by Robert Burns in the poem The Birks Of Aberfeldy and in the Ed Sheeran song The Hills of Aberfeldy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schiehallion</span> Mountain in central Scotland

Schiehallion is a prominent cone-shaped mountain in the Breadalbane region of the Scottish Highlands, in the county of Perthshire. It rises to 1,083 metres (3,553 ft) and is classed as a Munro. Schiehallion has a rich flora, interesting folklore and archaeology, and a unique place in scientific history for an 18th-century experiment in "weighing the Earth". It is near the centre of mainland Scotland. The mountain's popularity amongst walkers led to erosion on its footpath and extensive repairs were undertaken in 2001.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">River Tummel</span> River in Perth and Kinross, Scotland

The River Tummel is a river in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Water from the Tummel is used in the Tummel hydro-electric power scheme, operated by SSE.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acharn, Perth and Kinross</span> Hamlet in Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Acharn is a hamlet in the Kenmore parish of the Scottish council area of Perth and Kinross. It is situated on the south shore of Loch Tay close to its eastern end. The hamlet was built in the early 19th century to house workers from the surrounding estates. A watermill was constructed to harness the power of the nearby Acharn Burn, and this was converted into a craft centre in the 1970s, and later into a private residence. There is a bridge in the middle that goes over the Acharn burn.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loch Tummel</span> Freshwater loch in Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Loch Tummel is a long, narrow loch, seven kilometres northwest of Pitlochry in the council area of Perth and Kinross, Scotland. It is fed and drained by the River Tummel, which flows into the River Tay about 13 km (8 mi) south-east of the Clunie Dam at the loch's eastern end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Killin</span> Village in Perthshire, Scotland

Killin is a village in Perthshire in the central Highlands of Scotland. Situated at the western head of Loch Tay, it is administered by the Stirling Council area. Killin is a historic conservation village and sits within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It is the central settlement of the historic region of Breadalbane.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dunkeld</span> Town in Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Dunkeld is a town in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. The location of a historic cathedral, it lies on the north bank of the River Tay, opposite Birnam. Dunkeld lies close to the geological Highland Boundary Fault, and is frequently described as the "Gateway to the Highlands" due to its position on the main road and rail lines north. Dunkeld has a railway station, Dunkeld & Birnam, on the Highland Main Line, and is about 25 kilometres north of Perth on what is now the A9 road. The main road formerly ran through the town, however following modernisation of this road it now passes to the west of Dunkeld.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loch of the Lowes</span> Freshwater loch

Loch of the Lowes is a loch near Dunkeld in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. The loch and the surrounding area are designated as a wildlife reserve, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The loch is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as well as forming part of a Special Area of Conservation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">River Earn</span> River in Scotland

The River Earn in Scotland leaves Loch Earn at St Fillans and runs east through Strathearn, then east and south, joining the River Tay near Abernethy. The Earn is about 74 kilometres (46 mi) long. It passes by Comrie, Crieff and Bridge of Earn. The river is fast flowing, with many shoals, whilst the surrounding land is generally flat and is occasionally subject to flooding.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dalguise</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Dalguise is a settlement in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. It is situated on the western side of the River Tay on the B898 road, 5 miles north of Dunkeld. Located there is Dalguise House, a place where, from the age of four, Beatrix Potter stayed annually with her family throughout the summer, from May till the end of the salmon season.

Birnam is a village in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. It is located 12 miles (19 km) north of Perth on the A9 road, the main tourist route through Perthshire, in an area of Scotland marketed as Big Tree Country. The village originated from the Victorian era with the coming of the railway in 1856, although the place and name is well known because William Shakespeare mentioned Birnam Wood in Macbeth:

MACBETH: Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane/ I cannot taint with fear.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tay Whale</span> Whale caught in Scotland and exhibited in Britain

The Tay Whale, known locally as the Monster, was a humpback whale that swam into the Firth of Tay of eastern Scotland in 1883. It was harpooned in a hunt, but escaped, and was found floating dead off Stonehaven a week later. It was towed into Dundee by a showman, John Woods, and exhibited on a train tour of Scotland and England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon National Scenic Area</span>

The Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon National Scenic Area is a national scenic area (NSA) covering the area surrounding Loch Rannoch, Glen Lyon, and the Ben Lawers ranges of mountains in Scotland. It is one of 40 such areas in Scotland, which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure its protection from inappropriate development by restricting certain forms of development. The Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon NSA covers 48,625 ha, most of which lies in the council area of Perth and Kinross, with a small portion lying in Stirling.


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  18. "UK | Scotland | Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West | Beavers return after 400-year gap". BBC News. 29 May 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
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  22. "The Making of Modern Dundee" (PDF). www.themcmanus-dundee.gov.uk. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  23. "Gloryhammer - Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex - Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". www.metal-archives.com. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  24. "Gloryhammer - The Epic Rage of Furious Thunder Songtext". Songtexte.com (in German). Retrieved 11 October 2023.

Further reading