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View across Loch Lomond, towards Ben Lomond.
View across Loch Lomond, towards Ben Lomond.

A loch (usually Lough as a name element outside Scotland) is a body of water which is either:

  • a lake or;
  • a sea inlet, which may be also a firth, fjord, estuary or bay.

Sea-inlet lochs are often called sea lochs.

This name for a body of water is Gaelic in origin and is applied to most lakes in Scotland and to many sea inlets in the west and north of Scotland. For a list, see List of Scottish lochs.

As a name element Loch has become Lough for many bodies of water in Ireland and for some in the north of England. However, reference to these as lochs or loughs (lower case initial), rather than as lakes, inlets and so on, is unusual. For lists, see List of Irish loughs and List of English loughs.

Although there is no strict size definition, a small loch is often known as a lochan (so spelled also in Scottish Gaelic; in Irish it is spelled lochán).

Perhaps the most famous Scottish loch is Loch Ness, although there are other large examples such as Loch Awe, Loch Lomond and Loch Tay.

Examples of sea lochs in Scotland include Loch Long, Loch Fyne, Loch Linnhe, Loch Eriboll.

Some new reservoirs for hydroelectric schemes have been given names faithful to the names for natural bodies of water - for example: the Loch Sloy scheme, and Lochs Laggan and Treig (which form part of the Lochaber hydroelectric scheme near Fort William). Other expanses are simply called reservoirs, eg: Blackwater Reservoir above Kinlochleven.

Scotland has only one natural water body actually called a lake, the Lake of Menteith, an Anglicisation of the Scots Laich o Menteith meaning a "low-lying bit of land in Menteith", and applied to the loch there because of the similarity of the sounds of the words laich and lake. The Lake of the Hirsel is a reservoir. Most Scots will be quick to correct anyone who refers to "lochs" as "lakes".

The word "loch" is used as a shibboleth to identify natives of England, because the hard "ch" sound is used in Scotland whereas the English pronounce the word like "lock".

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