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Moray Firth

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2019.

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Moray Firth, the largest and most regular arm of the sea indenting the coast of Scotland, and the largest opening on the E coast of Great Britain. Taking it in its widest sense it may be roughly described as a triangle with one angle at Duncansbay Head in Caithness; another at Cairnbulg Point, 3 miles E of Kinnaird's Head, in Aberdeenshire; and the third at the mouth of the Beauly river. From Duncansbay Head to Cairnbulg Point across the mouth of the Firth the distance in a straight line is 78½ miles, while, in a straight line, the distance from Duncansbay Head to the mouth of the Beauly is 96 miles, and from the mouth of the Beauly to Cairnbulg Point 95 miles. The coast-line along the NW side-which is bounded by the counties of Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross-is considerably broken, first by Sinclair Bay N of Wick, next by the Dornoch Firth, and again by the Cromarty Firth. The coast-line on the S-which is formed by the counties of Inverness, Nairn, Elgin, Banff, and Aberdeen-is much evener, the largest breaks being at Burghead Bay and Spey Bay. The principal rivers flowing directly into the firth are the Wick and Berriedale from Caithness, the Helmsdale and Brora from Sutherland, the Beauly and Ness from Inverness-shire, the Nairn from Nairnshire, the Findhorn, Lossie, and Spey from Elginshire, and the Deveron from Banffshire. The depth near the mouth is about 60 fathoms at the deepest part. All along the bottom of the firth near the centre is a deep trough or channel known among the fishermen as the ' Trink '-i.e., Trench. Its width and depth vary, but where the bottom is not rocky the hollow is about ½ mile wide and sinks to a depth of some 15 fathoms below the ordinary bottom level. Where it passes through rocks the sides become more or less perpendicular and the channel narrower. It marks the former course of a large river, which must-in the pleistocene period of British history when the country was united to the Continent-have had its main source in the Beauly, and which, after receiving all the present rivers of the firth as tributaries, flowed NW to join an enormous stream which, formed by the joint waters of all the rivers that now flow into the North Sea, poured its mighty volume into the Atlantic Ocean to the NE of the Shetland Islands. At the bottom of the Trink there is a thick deposit of mud, and in some places it is a favourite habitat for skate and ling. The waters of the firth abound with fish, and the coasts are studded with small fishing villages, while Wick, Helms. dale, Banff and Macduff, and Fraserburgh are four of the chief stations in the north for the prosecution of the herring-fishing by first-class boats. Of the 26 fishery districts into which Scotland is divided the Moray Firth has the 6 entire districts of Banff, Buckie, Findhorn, Cromarty, Helmsdale, and Lybster, and portions of Fraserburgh and Wick. As regards general fishing, in 1882 out of a total of 5101 first-class, 4423 second-class, and 5449 third-class boats, or a total of 14, 973 boats in all the fishery districts of Scotland, 2305 first-class, 487 second-class, and 717 third-class boats, or a total of 3509 belonged to Moray Firth ports; while of a total of 99,396 persons employed in connection therewith, 29,171 were employed among the Moray Firth villages; and the value of the boats, nets, and lines was calculated at respectively £.230, 732, £261, 082, and £37, 254, out of totals for all Scotland of £646, 883, £711, 039, and £114, 278. The large increase, proportionally, in the value is due to the fact that by far the larger number of the Moray Firth boats are of the first-class, the total being 2305 out of 5101 for all Scotland. Of 1, 282,973½ barrels of herring caught and cured in Scotland in the same year, 289,292 barrels were brought into Moray Firth ports, the smaller proportion being explained by the number of boats that leave the district to fish at other stations. Of 3,666, 596 cod, ling, and hake caught in 1882-of which, however, 2,039,174 are from Shetland alone- 262,303 were brought into ports along this coast.

The description and limits already given applies to the firth in its widest extent, but the name is sometimes more particularly confined to that portion which lies to the SW of a line drawn from Tarbetness in Ross-shire to Stotfield Head near Lossiemouth in Elginshire. This inner portion of the firth measures 21 miles along the line just mentioned, and 39 miles in a straight line thence to the mouth of the Beauly river. It consists of three portions, the outer running up as far as the projecting points of Chanonry (Ross) and Ardersier (Inverness), and forming a triangle 21 miles across the mouth, 23 in a straight line along the Ross-shire side, and 32 in a straight line along the Inverness-shire, Nairnshire, and Elginshire side. The points just mentioned project about 1½ mile beyond the general line of the coast on each side and overlap one another, but so as to leave a passage at right angles to the main line of the firth and ¾ mile wide. This strait gives admission to the much shallower portion known as the Inner Moray Firth or Firth of Inverness, extending from Fort George 8 miles south-westward to the mouth of the Ness, with an average breadth of from 2½ to 3 miles, with Munlochy Bay running off on the NW side and Petty Bay on the SE side. Immediately to the W of the mouth of the Ness the waters of the firth are narrowed by the projecting point at Kessock to 650 yards, but they broaden out again into the Beauly Firth, which extends westward for 6½ miles, with a breadth of from 1½ to 2 miles. This portion of the firth is very shallow, and nearly the half of its whole area is laid bare at low water. The fishing in the Inverness and Beauly basins is very poor except as regards the capture of garvies or sprats, which are found there in immense numbers, about 10, 000 crans being sent to the south markets every year. The three portions of the firth just described correspond to the Æstuarium Vararis of the ancient geographers.

The coast-line along the firth varies considerably. From Duncansbay Head to Helmsdale, on both sides of the Cromarty Firth, between Burghead and Lossiemouth, between Buckie and Banff, and along a considerable portion of the Aberdeenshire coast, it is rocky, but elsewhere low. It is well cultivated, and the reaches to the W of Fort George are finely wooded.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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