Firth

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Firth is the word in the Lowland Scots language used to denote various coastal waters in Scotland. In mainland Scotland it is used to describe a large sea bay, or even a strait. In the Northern Isles it more usually refers to a smaller inlet. It is linguistically cognate to fjord (both from Proto-Germanic *fer├żuz) which has a more constrained sense in English; a firth would most likely be called a fjord if it were situated in Scandinavia. Bodies of water named "firths" tend to be more common on the east coast, or in the southwest of the country, although the Firth of Lorn is an exception to this. The Highland coast contains numerous estuaries, straits and inlets of a similar kind, not called "firth", e.g. the Minch, and Loch Torridon; these are often called sea lochs.

A firth is generally the result of ice age glaciation and is very often associated with a large river, where erosion caused by the tidal effects of incoming sea water passing upriver has widened the riverbed to an estuary. Demarcation can be rather vague. The Firth of Clyde is sometimes thought to include the estuary as far upriver as Dumbarton, but the Ordnance Survey map shows the change from river to firth occurring off Port Glasgow, while locally the change is held to be at the Tail of the Bank where the river crosses a sandbar off Greenock at the junction to the Gare Loch, or even further west at Gourock point.

However, some firths are exceptions. The Cromarty Firth on the east coast of Scotland, for example, resembles a large loch with only a relatively small outlet to the sea and the Solway Firth and the Moray Firth are more like extremely large bays. The Pentland Firth is a strait rather than a bay or an inlet.

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