A ford is a place in a watercourse (most commonly a stream or river) that is shallow enough to be crossed by wading, on horseback, or in a wheeled vehicle. A ford is mostly a natural phenomenon, in contrast to a low water crossing, which is an artificial bridge that allows crossing a river or stream when water is low.
The names of many towns and villages are derived from the word 'ford', for example Oxford (a ford where oxen crossed the river: see the Image-OxfordCOA20050303CopyrightKaihsuTai.jpg), or Stratford (a ford on a Roman road). Similarly, the German word Furt (as in Frankfurt and Klagenfurt) and the Dutch voorde, (as in Vilvoorde, Coevorden, Zandvoort, or Amersfoort) are cognates and have the same meaning. Towns such as Maastricht, Dordrecht, and Utrecht also formed at fords but the ending tricht, drecht, or trecht is derived from the Latin word traiectum, meaning "crossing".
A ford is a much cheaper form of river-crossing than a bridge but it may become impassable after heavy rain or during flood condition. A ford is therefore normally only suitable today for very minor roads. Most modern fords are shallow enough to be crossed by cars and other wheeled or tracked vehicles (a process known, fittingly, as "fording").
At localities where the water is shallow enough, but the material on the riverbed will not support heavy vehicles, fords are sometimes improved by the provision of a submerged concrete floor. In such cases a curb is often placed on the downstream side to prevent vehicles slipping off, as growth of algae will often make the slab very slippery.
There are many old fords known as watersplashes in the United Kingdom, examples are at Brockenhurst in Hampshire, Wookey in Somerset and Swinbrook in Oxfordshire. Some of these are being replaced by bridges as these are considered to be a more reliable form of crossing in adverse weather conditions.
The Dean Ford in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, is significant as it is specifically mentioned in the deeds of this property, which was gifted to the local people. The ford has had to be maintained as a property boundary feature, despite several cars a year being washed away.
Not just a British phenomenon, some very spectacular versions of the watersplash feature can be found in diverse locations. Australia has the Gulf Savannah, and others may be found in Canada, Italy, South Africa and Finland. They are also found on some Tennessee backroads, where they are referred to as "underwater bridges". Indiana State Road 7 has such a ford near Dupont, Indiana. It was an important location in Morgan's Raid.