Amaz­ing whirlpool on ul­ti­mate is­land wildlife adventure

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

JUST to get away from the pro­longed freeze in the High Peak, I nipped up to the rel­a­tive balmy weather of the In­ner He­brides for a spot of multi-is­land hop­ping in a bright or­ange in­flat­able.

If I said I had vis­ited more than 10 is­lands, you may think it an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. How­ever, dou­ble that fig­ure and you would be closer to the mark. Step­ping Stones in the Land of Light, from Jura to Fladda, and from Lunga to Arsa, we zig-zagged be­tween them all, the ul­ti­mate wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence, with eyes on the sea, in the air and on land. For to­day let’s con­cen­trate on the enig­matic Is­land of Scarba, and the truly amaz­ing Cor­ryvreckan whirlpool, the largest in Europe and third largest in the world, a caul­dron of con­flict­ing cur­rents which whirls and spins, and plum­mets and dives be­tween the is­lands of Jura and Scarba, cre­at­ing a mael­strom of im­mense pro­por­tions.

Scarba, with a moun­tain­ous back­bone the shape of a shark’s fin, is set be­tween the whirlpool to its south and the no­to­ri­ous Grey Dog’s ti­dal race to its north.

Lo­cal leg­end tells of a Scan­di­na­vian Prince, by the name of Breakan, who fell in love with a Princess of th­ese Is­lands. Her fa­ther had con­sented to the mar­riage, on con­di­tion Breakan should show his skill and courage by an­chor­ing his boat for three days and three nights in Cor­ryvreckan.

Breakan ac­cepted this chal­lenge and re­turned to Nor­way where he had three ropes made. One of hemp, one of wool and one of vir­gin’s hair, the lat­ter be­lieved to pro­vide the strong­est rope.

The Prince re­turned with the ropes and an­chored his boat in the whirlpool. On the first day the hemp rope parted, but they sur­vived the night.

On the sec­ond day, the woollen rope parted in a strong wind and the fear­some tides, but they sur­vived the night again. On the last day they set the rope of vir­gin’s hair, and all went well un­til a fierce gale broke the rope.

The boat was sucked un­der by the cur­rents and a sur­viv­ing crew­man dragged the body of Breakan ashore – he was buried in a cave, per­haps the cave now know as ‘Uamh Bhrea­cain’ or ‘Breakan’s Cave’ and the cur­rent name of the whirlpool could well be a de­riv­a­tive of Breakan.

When the crew­man fi­nally made it home and told of Breakan’s fate, one of the young Nor­we­gian ladies was con­sumed with guilt as she had not been truth­ful.

Our in­flat­able boat skit­tered across the whirlpool with rel­a­tive ease and we were able to take close-up shots of Jura’s red deer, seen here.

When wa­ter is flow­ing through the Gulf of Cor­ryvreckan, es­pe­cially on a spring tide, it falls into a 219m hole be­fore meet­ing a pin­na­cle of rock 30m from the sur­face, and is forced up­wards, pro­duc­ing in some rare cases one large whirlpool, although more fre­quently many small ones and stand­ing waves which can reach up to 15ft in height.

We watched them form­ing, as hun­dreds of seabirds in­clud­ing guille­mots, ra­zor­bills, kit­ti­wakes, gan­nets and puffins took ad­van­tage of a nat­u­rally in­duced seafood-soup aris­ing from the deep. Wher­ever that kind of ac­tiv­ity takes place, you are guar­an­teed cetaceans, and within five min­utes we had sight of four por­poise.

For­merly clas­si­fied by the Ad­mi­ralty as un­nav­i­ga­ble – the Ad­mi­ralty’s West Coast of Scot­land Pi­lot guide to in­shore wa­ters still calls it ‘very vi­o­lent and danger­ous’ and says ‘no ves­sel should then at­tempt this pas­sage with­out lo­cal knowl­edge’, its treach­er­ous wa­ters are nev­er­the­less still sailed and swum by a few hardy ad­ven­tur­ers. Writer Ge­orge Or­well and his son, who lived at Barn­hill in north­ern Jura, were briefly ship­wrecked on the sk­erry of Eilean Mor, south of the whirlpool when boat­ing the gulf, and Or­well’s one-legged brother-in-law Bill Dunn was the first per­son to swim the gulf.

I was tempted to spec­u­late whether his ‘Big Brother’ was watch­ing the at­tempt, get it?

Sean Wood

●● Red deer on the Isle of Jura in the In­ner He­brides

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glossop

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