Focus On: The Monumental #RiverTay

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Ben Lui
Ben Lui and the Allt Coire Laoigh, the source of the River Tay

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.

River Tay
The River Tay at Dunkeld

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.

Broughty Ferry
The outflow of the River Tay near Broughty Ferry



#Queensferry – Royal Crossing

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The coastal town of Queensferry, standing on the south bank of the Firth of Forth just a few miles west of Edinburgh city centre, is perhaps best known for the iconic structures of the Forth Road and Rail bridges, which span the Firth of Forth, linking Edinburgh with Fife.

However there has been a crossing here for centuries. When Queen Margaret (wife of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland) established a church at Dunfermline during the 11th century she paid for a ferry service to transport pilgrims, on their way to St Andrews, across the Forth Estuary at its narrowest point. Subsequently the village of Queensferry began to grow.

The monks of Dunfermline Abbey initially operated the ferry service and a variety of ferries ran for several centuries. During the 1950’s the Queensferry service was the busiest in Scotland with four ferries annually carrying 1.5 million people, 600,000 cars and 200,000 goods vehicles by 40,000 ferry journeys. However the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964 effectively ended the ferry service and when opened it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe, utilising 39,000 tons of steel.

Preceding this was the Forth Rail Bridge, one of the finest examples of engineering in the world. It took 4000 men seven years to build at a cost for £3.2 million and when opened in 1890 it had required over 54,000 tons of steel and 6.5 million rivets yielding a length of over 8000 feet.

The Queensferry Crossing will open in 2016 to carry motor-cycles, cars and heavy goods vehicles, relieving the pressure on the Forth Road Bridge, which will continue to take public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.

Queensferry Harbour has also long been a focal point to the town and already existed when the town achieved Royal Burgh status in 1641.

Several industries have since taken place in and around its confines including fishing, whisky distilling and soap making. Herring used to be gutted, salted and packed here before being exported to Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

The island of Inchgarvie, which sits a little out on the Firth of Forth is named after the garvie, a local name for the young herring that brought wealth to the town.

The 18th century saw brandy being smuggled into the harbour while Queensferry’s first whisky distillery, Glenforth, was established in 1828.

During the 17th century Covenanters, rebelling against the introduction of Bishops into the Presbyterian Church by King Charles I, were forced to hide in the attics and cellars of the houses around Queensferry Harbour before taking the towns fleet of ships at high tide and embarking on a journey to the more tolerant Low Countries where they could freely practice their faith.

The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge


#Edinburgh A Monumental Place

Like Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill was formed through volcanic activity some 340 million years ago and then gouged by glaciers during the Ice Age, leaving this little hill standing proud at just over 100 metres in height.

In 1724 the town council of Edinburgh established Calton Hill as one of Britain’s public parks and it is now part of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town Heritage Site. As well as being a popular location for Edinburgh’s Festival and Hogmanay celebrations Calton Hill is the site of the annual spring fire festival of Beltane on the last day of April where a procession makes its way across the summit.

Due to lack of funds the National Monument was never completed but it dominates the summit of Calton Hill. It was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens and built in 1822 as a memorial to the Scots soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The architects were Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair.

Also designed by Playfair was the Playfair Monument, which was built for his uncle, John Playfair who played a major role in establishing the City Observatory as well as being the Chair of Mathematics and Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University.

The City Observatory stands next to the Playfair Monument and is actually three buildings – the Old Observatory was built in 1776, work on the New Observatory began in 1818, whilst the City Observatory, with its distinctive green dome, opened in 1895.

William Playfair also designed The Dugald Stewart in the style of a Grecian Temple. Stewart was a philosopher who, like John Playfair, was Chair of Mathematics and Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Stewart also first compared Edinburgh with Athens, which in turn led Edinburgh becoming known as the ‘Athens of the North’.

The final memorial is the 100-foot high Nelson Monument, which was erected in 1807, two years after Admiral Horatio Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill
Edinburgh from Calton Hill

The National Monument of Scotland
The National Monument of Scotland