Eddy provides seafood soup from the deep
THE Highlands was a risky call, with the Beast from the East due at any moment, but after a gig in Hawkshead on New Year’s Day we turned left on the M6 instead of right and headed north. It turned out to be the best decision; no snow, no rain and no wind, and of course, best of all, no midges.
The little biting devils, the ruin of many a good summer trip, were nowhere to be seen and we were free to enjoy the balmiest first week in January for many a moon.
After speeding by Loch Lomond with a few verses of Rabbie Burns, with not a hint of the white stuff on the top of Ben Lomond, we cruised over the Rest And Be Thankful and made haste to the Loch Fyne Fishery and stocked up with all manner of goodies, including their own smoked mussels and smoked salmon.
‘Rest and Be Thankful’ was inscribed on a stone by General Wade’s builders in 1753, and the road has been known by the same name for centuries.
A quick visit to Inverary Jail saw us step back almost two centuries and discover the stories of the real men, women and children, some as young as seven, who were tried and served their sentences in this prison.
Your kids will love a visit to the courtroom full of spooky characters, and they can explore the cells in the Old and New Prisons; try out the wooden beds and hammocks, sample the punishments, experience the whipping table and take your turn at the crank wheel.
Please be warned they may be traumatised by the cries of the man locked up in a strait-jacket.
Once released, we set off for the Isle of Luing, my little bit of Heaven on Earth and the home of my oldest friend, the artist Edna Whyte. Edna is 89 this time round and is still talking of exhibitions in two years time. A constant inspiration.
Although the weather was uber-mild during our two days, the enigmatic island of Scarba – with a mountainous backbone the shape of a shark’s fin – was hiding behind a shredded mist, and the truly amazing Corryvreckan whirlpool was just beyond sound and vision.
It is the largest in Europe and third largest in the world, a cauldron of conflicting currents which whirls and spins, and plummets and dives between Jura and Scarba, creating a maelstrom of immense proportions.
Water falls into a 219-metre hole before meeting a pinnacle of rock 30 metres from the surface. It 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 15 feet in height.
These are literally waves which are at different levels, almost like steps in the water, and hundreds of seabirds including guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, gannets and puffins, take advantage of a naturally induced seafood soup arising from the deep.
Wherever that kind of activity takes place, you are guaranteed cetaceans, especially porpoise.
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 know, mad as a wasp, but there have been a few made the crossing since.
All was calm back on the slate beaches of Luing, and surprisingly, oystercatchers and a few species of gull were all that showed, but there is always the chance of otters and a white tailed sea eagle, and if its eight feet of wingspan doesn’t impress you, nothing will. As for Scarba, she showed herself at the last minute.
Next stop, Loch Ness and Inverness.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop