The Corryvreckan whirlpool

Remarkably the third largest whirlpool in the world, the Corryvreckan whirlpool, lies in Scottish waters. It is located in the narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba. The names comes from the Gaelic, Coirebhreacain meaning “cauldron of the speckled seas.

It was once classified as unnavigable by the Royal Navy, though today the Admiralty’s West Coast of Scotland Pilot guide to inshore waters calls it “very violent and dangerous” and says “no vessel should then attempt this passage without local knowledge”. The whirlpool looms as a constant threat in the narrative of Roger Deaken’s Waterlog, A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain. In the end, he wisely decides not to swim across the strait. George Orwell was almost drowned here on a fishing trip during his time on Jura. However, Orwell’s one-legged brother-in-law Bill Dunn did manage to swim the gulf, the first person ever to do so.

Strong Atlantic currents and unusual underwater topography conspire to produce a particularly intense tidal race in the Corryvreckan channel. As the flood tide enters the narrow area between the two islands it speeds up to 8.5 knots (?16 km/h,?10 mph), and also meets a variety of seabed features including a deep hole and a rising pinnacle. These features combine to create whirlpools, standing waves and a variety of other surface effects. The Corryvreckan is the third largest whirlpool in the world, and is on the northern side of the gulf, surrounding a pyramid-shaped basalt pinnacle that rises from depths of 70 m to 29 m at its rounded top. Flood tides and inflow from the Firth of Lorne to the west can drive the waters of Corryvreckan to waves of over 30 feet (9 m), and the roar of the resulting maelstrom can be heard ten miles (16 km) away. Wikipedia

The Corryvreckan whirlpool also has a place in Scottish mythology

The hag goddess of winter, Cailleach Bheur, uses the gulf to wash her great plaid, and this ushers in the turn of the seasons from autumn to winter. As winter approaches, she uses the gulf as her washtub, and it is said the roar of the coming tempest can be heard from as far away as twenty miles, lasting for a period of three days. When she is finished with the washing, the cloth is pure white, and becomes the blanket of snow that covers the land. Another legend surrounds Norse king Breacan. In various stories, Breacan moored his boat near the whirlpool to impress a local princess, or fled his father across the gulf. In both stories Breacan was swept into the whirlpool, and his body dragged ashore later by his dog. Wikipedia

Above photo from Geograph: © Copyright ronnie leask and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

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