Map of the Firth of Clyde and area
The Seamill beach looks south down the outer firth towards southern Arran and Ailsa Craig
The Firth of Clyde forms a large area of coastal water, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the Kintyre peninsula which encloses the outer firth in Argyll and Ayrshire, Scotland. The Kilbrannan Sound is a large arm of the Firth of Clyde, separating the Kintyre Peninsula from the Isle of Arran.
At its entrance the firth is some 26 miles (42 km) wide. Its upper reaches include an area where it is joined by Loch Long and the Gare Loch. This includes the large anchorage off Greenock known as the Tail of the Bank in reference to the sandbar which separates the firth from the estuary of the River Clyde. The Clyde is still almost 2 miles (3 km) wide at the sandbar, and its upper tidal limit is at the tidal Weir adjacent to Glasgow Green.
The cultural and geographical distinction between the firth and the River Clyde is vague, and people will sometimes refer to Dumbarton as being on the Firth of Clyde, while the population of Port Glasgow and Greenock frequently refer to the firth to their north as "the river". In Scottish Gaelic the landward end is called Linne Chluaidh () (meaning the same as the English), while the area around the south of Arran, Kintyre and Ayrshire/Galloway is An Linne Ghlas .
The firth encompasses many islands and peninsulas and has twelve ferry routes connecting them to the mainland and each other. Sometimes called the Clyde Sea, this water body is customarily considered an element of the Irish Sea. The majority of these services are run by Caledonian MacBrayne and many of the routes are lifeline services for communities living in remote areas. A number of sea lochs adjoin the firth.
The Holy Loch seen across the upper Firth of Clyde from Gourock
, with Hunter's Quay to the left and Strone to the right, with the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry arriving from Dunoon
Naval operations: The German Frigate F207 Bremen and a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry pass the Holy Loch.
Towns and villages along the shoreline
This lists the major towns and some of the numerous villages along the firth (not the River Clyde or connecting lochs).
- Ardrossan, Ayr
- Barassie, Brodick
Campbeltown, Cardross, Carradale
- Dumbarton, Dunoon
Gourock, Greenock, Girvan
- Helensburgh, Hunter's Quay
- Innellan, Inverkip, Irvine
Kilcreggan, Kilmun, Kirn
- Lamlash, Largs, Lochranza
- Port Bannatyne, Portencross, Port Glasgow, Prestwick
- Saltcoats, Seamill, Skelmorlie, Stevenston, Strone
- Toward, Troon
- Wemyss Bay, West Kilbride
Islands in the Clyde
There are many islands in the firth. The largest all have thriving communities and regular ferry services connecting them to the mainland. They are:
The Largs "Pencil" looking south towards the Hunterston terminal, with Cumbrae and the Isle of Arran to the west.
Sea lochs off the Clyde
- Gare Loch
Loch Long, and Loch Goil
- The Holy Loch
- Loch Striven
- Loch Riddon off the Kyles of Bute
- Loch Fyne, Loch Gilp and Loch Shira
- Loch Ranza
- Campbeltown Loch.
The Clyde formed an important sea route from the earliest times, and the Battle of Largs marked the turning point for Viking ambitions in the west of Scotland.
In the middle of the 19th century the sport of yachting became popular on the Clyde. Prior to that yachts were used only for practical purposes. The area became famous worldwide for its very significant contribution to yachting and yachtbuilding and was the home of many notable designers: William Fife III; Alfred Mylne; G L Watson; David Boyd. It was also the location of many famous yacht yards. Clyde built wooden yachts, to this day, are well known for their quality and style.
In Victorian times with the advent of tourism the area became popular with Glaswegians who travelled 'doon the watter' on Clyde steamers to holiday in the picturesque seaside towns and villages that line the firth, with the more wealthy building substantial holiday homes along the coast. Many towns such as Largs, Dunoon and Rothesay flourished during this boom period and became fully fledged resorts with well-appointed hotels and attractions. Nowadays still makes trips to these coastal towns.
In 1942 the world's first deep water test of a submarine oil pipeline was conducted on a pipeline laid across the Firth of Clyde in Operation Pluto.
The "lower Clyde" shipyards of Greenock and Port Glasgow, most notably Scott Lithgow, played an important role in shipbuilding, with the Comet being the first successful steamboat in Europe, and a large proportion of the world's shipping being built there until well into the 20th century. In more recent times the natural beauty of the firth has been marred in places by a succession of industrial and military developments along the shoreline, including Hunterston and Inverkip Power Stations, while at the same time shipbuilding has declined. Today only one lower Clyde shipyard survives, Ferguson Shipbuilders, next to Newark Castle, Port Glasgow, at the point where the firth becomes the River Clyde. The Garvel dry dock in Greenock continues in operation for ship repair, and the large Inchgreen dry dock in Greenock is in occasional use. The sites of the former Greenock shipyards are currently being regenerated.
Common and Grey Seals abound in the firth. Harbour Porpoises are also common and while Dolphins are much less so, they have been spotted in the upper reaches of the firth in the summer of 2005. Whales do not favour the Clyde and although there have been instances of larger whales beaching themselves or becoming stranded in the upper firth, only smaller Pilot or Minke Whales seem to visit with any kind of regularity.
In 2005 the firth was listed as having the 2nd highest incidence of basking shark sightings in Scotland (after The Minch). In particular these huge sharks seem to favour the warm, shallow waters surrounding Pladda.
Although at one time heavily fished, the only catches remaining in Clyde waters today that are of any commercial interest to fisherman are prawns, lobster and herring.
There is a Marine Biological Station run by the Universities of Glasgow and London on Great Cumbrae.
Shipping in the Firth
The Firth of Clyde like the River Clyde has historically been an important centre of shipbuilding. There have been shipyards at Renfrew, Greenock, Port Glasgow and Troon and a major boatyard at Fairlie. Ferguson Shipbuilders yard, adjacent to Newark Castle, Port Glasgow, is one of the last privately owned shipyards left in Scotland. Greenock is the site of one of the world's largest dry dock and ship-repair facilities at Inchgreen. The dry dock there is 305m long and 44m wide and is operated by Northwestern Shiprepairers Limited using the name Scott Lithgow, although the company is unrelated to the famous Port Glasgow Scott Lithgow shipbuilding company.
A ship unloads at Greenock's Ocean Terminal.
The Firth of Clyde has one of the deepest sea entrance channels in northern Europe, which can accommodate the largest Capesize vessels afloat, and as such the Clyde is one of the UK's leading ports, handling some 7.5 million tonnes of cargo each year, as well as regular cruise liner traffic at Greenock's Ocean Terminal facility.
In addition to the existing Hunterston bulk ore terminal, Clydeport, North Ayrshire Council and Scottish Enterprise propose a 200m international deep-water container terminal, also at Hunterston, which would effectively act as a worldwide gateway port, and possibly become the major container port for the northern half of Europe. Initial environmental and economic impact studies are currently being undertaken.
The Royal Navy also has a significant presence on the Clyde, at HMNB Clyde on the Gare Loch and on Loch Long, while one of the three main ports providing marine services support vessels is at Greenock. This formerly came under the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service which still operates some vessels, but the services have been put out to commercial tender by the Warship Support Agency and are currently operated by Serco Denholm, who are preferred bidders for the next contract. The contract includes management of the ports at Devonport, Portsmouth and The Clyde (dual site operation at Faslane and Great Harbour, Greenock).
There are lighthouses at:
- Cloch Point
- Toward Point
- Little Cumbrae
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