Marine Waters, pp.v-vii.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   The German ocean, where it washes the mainland of Scotland, is closed up on the east side by Denmark, the entrance to the Baltic, and Christiansand in Norway. The North sea and the German ocean, where they girdle the northern and western shores, are – as we shall afterwards see – thickly occupied by the archipelagoes of Scotland, and both tamed in the fury of their billows, and to a considerable extent stripped of their superincumbent vapours, by the numerous and boldly screening islands, before they reach the main shore; from just the same circumstance, too, or owing to currents, whirlpools, shoals, rocks, variable winds, and intricacy of channel, among the girdlings of the islands, or between them and the mainland, these seas are not a little difficult and dangerous of navigation; and, owing to the gullets and narrow sounds, which serve like funnels for the wind between high grounds, and to the great number and magnitude and power of the rocky or mountainous obstructions which are presented to the breeze and the tide, and to the labyrinth of paths, and the positions of successive or alternate propulsion, vexation, opposition, and becalming which have to be traversed by a current, the seas likewise exhibit in the frequent storms of winter, or amidst a gale on the longest and far extending day of the hyperborean summer, scenes of awful sublimity, which would appal almost any sensitive person except a native of the islands or of the mainland sea-board. The Irish channel, where it washes the Mull of Kintyre, looks up the frith of Clyde, and sweeps along the Rhinns of Galloway from Carsewell-point to the Mull of Galloway, is curtained on its west or south-west side by the county of Antrim, the entrance of Belfast loch, and the county of Down in Ireland, is 13 miles broad at the Mull of Kintyre, and 21 at Portpatrick, and may be viewed as having an average breadth along Wigtonshire of 24 or 25 miles. At the point where it expands into the Irish sea, or immediately off the Mull of Galloway, the tides, which come in one slow and majestic current across the Atlantic, which encounter the long, vast obstruction of the island of Ireland, and which, sweeping round the ends of that country, enter the space between Ireland and Great Britain by the opposite inlets at the Mull of Kintyre, and at St. George’s-channel, run against each other in a tumult of collision, and produce, even in calm weather, a tumbling, troughy sea, which no landsman loves to traverse. Resulting from the same causes, the tidal currents in the adjacent parts of the Irish sea, and above all in the SOLWAY FRITH [which see], are the most curious in the world. Some miles southward of the Galloway coast, where the efflux is felt from both the Galloway estuaries, and the Solway frith, or even some miles southward of the extreme land of the Mull of Galloway, where the current is less powerful, a Glasgow and Liverpool steamer of the old build might, in certain stages of the tide, have paddled away northward for a couple of hours, and scarcely preserved herself from being swept toward the Isle of Man. The Irish sea, where it washes Galloway, looks direct southward to the Isle of Man, and the north coast of North Wales; and the Solway frith, from the line 22 miles wide where it commences between Balmae-head at the entrance of Kirkcudbright bay and St. Beeshead in England, to the narrow point where it terminates at the mouth of the Sark, is all the way flanked on the English side by Cumberland, and is overlooked at intervals on its English shore by the towns of Whitehaven, Workington, Maryport, and Bowness. 

   The penetrations which the great encincturing marine waters of Scotland make in the shape of gulfs, bays, friths, and what are called lochs, are so numerous that a full and minute list of them would task a reader’s powers of endurance quite as severely as the continuous perusal of three or four pages of a pocket English dictionary. All the important, and, in any respect interesting ones too, are so fully noticed each in its appropriate place in the Gazetteer, that even they can bear enumeration only with the view of indicating their mutual and relative positions. Belhaven-bay, between Dunbar and Whitberry-head in Haddingtonshire, though a comparatively small marine inlet, is the only noticeable one on the east coast south of the Forth. The frith of Forth divides all Fifeshire, a detached part of Perthshire, and part of Clackmannanshire on the north, from all Lothian, East, Mid, and West, and part of Stirlingshire on the south; and it makes several interior indentations, the chief of which are Aberlady-bay in East-Lothian, Musselburgh bay in Mid-Lothian, and Inverkeithing and Largo-bays in Fifeshire. St. Andrew’s-bay, at the mouth of the Eden, cuts Fifeshire into two peninsulæ, the larger on the south, and the smaller on the north. The frith of Tay divides Forfarshire on the north from Fifeshire on the south, and afterwards penetrates considerably into Perthshire. Lunan-bay makes but a small and segmentary indentation on the coast of Forfarshire, but is attractive for its beauty, and valuable as anchoring-ground. Montrose basin is a curious landlocked lagoon behind the town which gives it name. The Moray frith is greatly the broadest gulf in Scotland, having part of Aberdeen, all Banff, Elgin, and Nairn, and part of Inverness on one side, and Cromarty, Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness on the other, and measuring in a line, which may be considered its mouth, from Kinnaird’s-head to Duncansby-head about 76 miles. Spey-bay makes a comparatively short and slender incision between Banff and Elgin. Burgh-head-bay forms a noticeable expansion between Elgin and Nairn. The Beauly frith, opening from the inner extremity or angle of the Moray frith, penetrates, first south-westward and then westward, between Nairn and Inverness on the one side, and Ross and Cromarty on the other; and it sends off from its south side, near the town of Inverness, the navigation of the Caledonian canal. Cromarty frith, opening with a narrow entrance from the Moray frith a few miles north of the mouth of the Beauly frith, describes a demi-semicircle to the town of Dingwall, and forms the best harbour on the east coast of Great Britain, and one of the finest in the world. The Dornoch frith extends westward between Ross and Sutherland. Wick-bay makes a large semicircular indentation, on the east coast of Caithness, immediately north of Noss-head. The Pentland frith – strictly a strait or sound – intervenes between the mainland and the Orkney archipelago, forms the marine highway, in the extreme north, to vessels going round Scotland; and, on account of its powerful tidal currents, and its rugged and broken coasts, is of difficult and very perilous navigation. Thurso-bay broadly indents the middle of the north coast of Caithness. Lochs Tongue, Eribole, and Durness, make sharp, considerable incisions, at rapid intervals, on the north coast of Sutherland. Lochs Inchard, Laxford, Assynt, Eynard, Broom, Little Broom, Greinord, Ewe, Gair, Torriden, Kishorn, Carron, Ling, and some others, curiously cleave into fragments the west coast of Sutherland and Ross. The Minch, a broad sound or little sea, intervenes between the mainland at Sutherland and Ross, and the archipelago of the Long Island; and the Little Minch, a much narrower sound, intervenes between that archipelago and the group of Skye. The Kyle and the sound of Sleat – the former a confined and winding strait, and the latter gradually expansive – separate Skye from the mainland along the coast of Inverness. Lochs Hourn, Nevish, and Nuagh, opening off from these straits, run eastward into the mainland. The sound of Mull, a narrow strait, extends south-eastward between Morvern in Argyleshire and the island of Mull. Loch-Linnhe, a large and long sound, stretches north and south between Lorn in Argyleshire and the island of Mull; and is thickly sprinkled with islands and islets belonging to the Mull group of the Hebrides. Lochs Eil, Leven, Crinan, and Etive branch away from it, and run far into the interior, – the first leading the way from the west to the navigation of the Caledonian canal. The sound of Jura, extending north and south, intervenes between the district of Knapdale and the island of Jura; and the sound of Isla, extending in the same direction, forms a narrow stripe between Jura and Isla. The frith of Clyde, previously to its being ramified into a labyrinth of straits and sound and curiously elongated bays, rolls, in its great gulf of waters, its little interior sea, between the long peninsula of Kintyre on the west and the coast of Ayrshire on the east; and, in its higher waters, it encloses the various parts or islands of Buteshire, cleaves southern Argyleshire into a series of wildly Highland and singular peninsulæ, makes a considerable cleft in Dumbartonshire, and, as to its main channel, divides the counties of Argyle and Dumbarton from those of Ayr and Renfrew. Loch-Ryan and Luce-bay invade Wigtonshire on a line with each other, and on opposite sides, – make such a mutual advance as to leave a comparatively narrow isthmus between their inner extremities, – and divide the Rhinns of Galloway from the rest of Wigtonshire. Wigton-bay makes a long inroad between the two great political divisions of Galloway. Fleet, Kirkcudbright, and Auchencairn bays, and the estuary of the Urr, indent the coast of Kirkcudbrightshire. The estuary of the Nith divides, for a considerable distance, the stewartry of Kirkcudbright from the country of Dumfries.

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