Glossary of Water Words in Britain

You were walking along the brook, wait, was it a beck? Possibly a burn. Anyway, it was on from the marsh, or the bog, one of them. You know, up from that mere. What do you mean it was a tarn? The one next to the force? No, not the falls, the force. With pulks all round where you can see that distant firth on a clear day out by the estuary? Forget it, lets have a brew.

With so many specific names for waterways and waterbodies you’d think things would be easier, but all too often its even more complicated. Year six geography didn’t even start on regional variance. If your OS maps and that overbearingly academically outdoorsy friend are leaving you feeling a bit bewildered and out of your depth, don’t worry, I have you covered.

And yes, oxbow lakes are in there

Image from AndrewsWalks
Tarn Hows

This list is specific to Britain i.e. England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland is a whole other kettle of fish. It is a mixture of formally geographic and regional terms.

DefinitionRegion of useSynonyms
AfonRiverWalesAvon, River
AlltStreamScotlandStream, Brook
AvonRiverSouthern EnglandAfon, River
BayAn area of water bordered on three sides by land; a small gulfAll 
BeckSmall stream with a stony bedNorth England 
BrookSmall streamCentral England, Southern England 
BurnSmall stream of intermittent or seasonal flowPrimarily Scotland, Northern EnglandBourn
BogA peat wetlandAllMarsh (incorrect but colloquial use)
Bourn         Small stream of intermittent or seasonal flow Southern England Burn
CanalA manmade waterway, connected to natural waterbodiesAll 
ChannelThe bed and banks that confine a waterwayAll 
CoveA round, coastal inlet with a narrow entrance All 
Creek (UK)A sea inlet, a narrow coveAll 
Cwm  WaterfallWalesWaterfall, Falls, Force/Foss,
DeltaWhere a river completes, flowing into another waterbody All 
DubSmall, stagnant poolNorthern England, ScotlandPulk
EstuaryAn enclosed coastal waterbody, receiving one or more rivers or streams and with connection to the open seaAll 
FirthA general term for a coastal waterScotland 
Force/FossWaterfallNorthern England, predominantly YorkshireWaterfall, Falls, Cwm,
FreshetOverflow of a river or stream caused by heavy rain. All 
InletA general term for a coastal bodyAllFirth
Gill/GhyllNarrow body of water that flows through a ravineNorthwest England, Scotland. Small areas of Southeast England 
LakeA large, freshwater body contained on landAllLoch, Llyn
LochAn inland body of water, usually a lakeScotlandLake, Llyn
LlynAn inland body of water, usually a lakeWalesLake, Loch
MarshA grass-based wetlandAllBog (incorrect but colloquial use)
MereA broad but shallow lake (Confusingly, Windemere is not a mere)Predominantly Northeastern England 
NantSmall riverWales, Southwast England 
Oxbow LakeA U-shaped lake formed when a wide meander from the mainstem of a river is cut off to create a lakeAll 
PondA small lake, often artificialAll 
PuddleA small, surface accumulation of waterAll 
PulkSmall, stagnant pool or muddy puddleScotland, Northern EnglandDub
ReservoirA place where water is stored, either natural or manmade, usually for drinkingAll 
RillVery small streamAllRivulet
RiverA waterway that flows from higher to lower ground, often derived from rainwaterAll 
RivuletA very small streamAllRill
Salt MarshCoastal wetlands that form a transitional zone between land and waterAll 
SoundA very large sea or ocean inlet, larger than a bay.  Sometimes a channel between two bodies of landAll 
StraitNarrow water channel connecting two larger bodiesAll 
StreamA body of water confined to a channel, with a detectable current All 
TarnA mountain lake or pool, formed by a glacier. Also used colloquially as a general term for lake.Northern EnglandLake (incorrect but in colloquial use)
TributaryStream slowing into the mainstem of a riverAll 
WashA dry bed that temporarily fills with water after a heavy rainAll 
WetlandAn environment of mutual dependence between terrestrial and aquatic systems.AllMarsh, (specific) Bog, (specific)
Image from Third Eye Traveller
Stock Ghyll Force


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