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The River Tay may be unique to all of Scotland’s rivers in that its source lies many miles from where its course, as the River Tay, actually begins.
A small lochan at the head of the Allt Coire Laoigh, some 700 metres up on the southwest slopes of Ben Lui near Tyndrum, is regarded as the source.
Yet it takes over 18 miles for the rivers Cononish, Fillan and finally the Dochart to reach Loch Tay and then another 14.5 miles (the length of Loch Tay) before the River Tay makes its first appearance when it spills from the eastern fringes of Loch Tay at Kenmore.
Cutting its sinuous course the River Tay eventually reaches the North Sea a few miles east of Dundee with its mouth bounded by Buddon Ness in Angus and Fife’s Tentsmuir Point.
This 120-mile journey makes it Scotland’s longest river and the 7th longest in the UK. It is an immense river in every respect.
As well as its length, the River Tay’s carries the largest volume of water of any river in the UK with its catchment area extending over 2000 square miles. Upon reaching the 23-mile long Firth of Tay, it carries more water than the Thames and Severn collectively.
Consequently the River Tay flows through a wide-ranging landscape initially characterised by dramatic wild mountains and steep sided glens.
When it crosses the Highland Boundary Fault Line at Dunkeld the landscape softens, reaching its upper tidal limit at Perth, and continues onward into fertile countryside, containing some of the richest farmland in Scotland, to conclude at the coast.
The River Tay’s two cities, Perth and Dundee, are both delightful urban environments to explore.
The river was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus as Taus, during the 1st century AD, then by the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as Tava. Later the Roman title was possibly Tamia. However its present day derivation of strong, silent or flowing seems to stem from the Brythonic Tausa.
Over the centuries the earliest Stone Age and Neolithic hunter-gatherers exploited the River Tay in search for food with more definite roots being planted during the Iron Age – the clearest evidence of how people lived during this period can be seen when visiting the superb Crannog Centre at Kenmore.
Around 1500 years ago the Picts built several hill forts along the Tay, the best example adorning the summit of Moncrieffe Hill on the outskirts of Perth.
In AD83, as the Romans slowly edged their way north through Scotland, they paused at the confluence of the River Tay and River Almond and established a fort called Bertha, the precursor of Perth, which would subsequently grow a little down river.
The Romans also headed some 20 miles east where they utilised the panoramic vantage point of Dundee Law.
The River Tay is definitely a sum of all its parts, its wild mountainous terrain, coastal and woodland fringes and urban settings, all adding something to its magnificent journey.