The Most Beautiful Rivers in Scotland

River Clyde, New Lanark
River Clyde, New Lanark | © Oliver Clarke/Flickr

Scotland has a lot of water. Whether you are talking about the seas surrounding the 16,500 km (10,250 miles) of coastline, the legendary rain, or the world-famous lochs — there’s no escaping that there’s a lot of water. Scotland is also blessed with many beautiful rivers, some small, others much longer and passing through varied scenery, historic towns and world-famous cities. Here we share eight of the most stunning rivers in Scotland.

River Tay

The longest river in Scotland and the seventh longest in the UK, the Tay is also the largest river in terms of water discharged into the sea. Travelling from the west of Scotland to the east, passing through three lochs — Dochart, Lubhair, and Tay — and the cities of Perth and Dundee, the Tay has a catchment area of 5,200 km² (2,000 miles² ), more than twice the area of Luxembourg. It is also really pretty!

River Tay at Dunkeld

River Morar

From the longest river, to one of the shortest. The river at Morar is only 400 metres (437 yards) long, connecting the UK’s deepest freshwater lake (and home of Morag the Monster, cousin of Nessie), Loch Morar, to the sea. Morar is also famous for the beautiful silvery sand that forms the beaches. The river holds salmon and sea trout. Crossed by three bridges, including a viaduct carrying the West Highland Line, this short stretch of water packs a lot into a small space!

River Morar

The Forth

Famous for the bridges crossing the River Firth, the image here is of the first bridge to cross the Forth, right at the start of the river’s journey to the sea. The Forth rises in the Trossach Mountains and flows onwards to the sea. Turning tidal at Stirling, the Forth used to transport goods in and out of the city and all over Europe, especially to cities in the European Lowlands, like Bruges in Belgium. After Glasgow (and the River Clyde) began to increase trade with the Americas, Stirling fell out of use as a big port. The river estuary, the Firth of Forth, formed the boundary between the ancient Kingdoms of Lothian to the south, and Fife to the north. Recently a third major bridge has joined the world renowned Forth Rail Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge — and this is the longest triple-towered cable-stay bridge anywhere in the world, and the tallest in the UK.

The Forth

River Dee

The first mention of the Dee was by Ptolemy, writing in the second century AD, who called it the Deva – meaning ‘Goddess’. Today the reaches of the Dee between Braemar and Banchory are known as Royal Deeside, as this is where the Queen’s castle of Balmoral is situated. Divine and Royal, the Dee is also the river that has the highest source in Scotland, and the UK, at 1,220 metres (4,003 feet). Passing through beautiful countryside — both wild and farmland — before reaching the sea at Scotland’s third city, Aberdeen, the Dee is a varied and beautiful river, full of nature and overflowing with history.

Upper Deeside

River Spey

The third longest river in Scotland, the Spey flows through some of the most beautiful and famous scenery in the nation. Beloved of fly-fishermen and whisky drinkers, Speyside conjures images of whisky distilleries and leaping salmon, and the value of these cannot be underestimated. The water from the area is used in more distilleries than any other whisky producing region and the lure of the salmon and trout draws fishermen from across the globe. The Spey is the fastest flowing river in the UK, and regularly changes its banks due to the sheer volume and speed of water draining from the surrounding mountains and burns. Entering the sea in the Moray Firth, this is one of the best spots in the UK to watch wild dolphins.

The River Spey

The Clyde

The River Clyde is perhaps most famous for its shipbuilding days, where many thousands of ships were constructed, including the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen Elizabeth, the QE2, and the Queen Mary. It flows through the city of Glasgow and is the second longest river is Scotland. Recently the waterway has seen significant regeneration, and species long absent have started to return. It was after walking along the banks of the Clyde that James Watt began the process that led to the invention of the separate condensing chamber, which ushered in the age of steam, the industrial revolution and, arguably, the modern world.

The Clyde, Glasgow

Dunbeath Water

The river at Dunbeath is not long, rising in the deep peat bogs of the Flow Country and running just over 20km (12.5 miles) to the sea at the village that bears the same name. Salmon and trout can be found in many of the pools and many other species of plant, tree, bird and animal live in or alongside the water. The river valley (or strath, as it is called in Scotland) was immortalised in Neil M. Gunn’s 1937 novel entitled Highland River; which follows the life of a boy named Kenn, who grows up beside the river, leaves, then returns — in much the same way as the salmon.

Dunbeath Strath

River Affric

The Affric flows through some of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, and a walk along the banks allows a view of Scotland at its most wild and majestic. This is one of the best areas to see remnants of the once-vast Caledonian pine forest, and in recent years it has been carefully managed to protect the trees from overgrazing by deer. The result is a river walk that is stunningly beautiful, as well as a haven for some of the rarest of Scotland’s wildlife.

River Affric Rainbow

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