Gulf of Corryvreckan

Gulf of Corryvreckan
The Corryvreckan whirlpool

The Gulf of Corryvreckan (from the Gaelic Coire Bhreacain meaning "cauldron of the speckled seas" or "cauldron of the plaid"), also called the Strait of Corryvreckan, is a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba, in Argyll and Bute, off the west coast of Scotland.

It is possible for tourists to visit the site by way of boats trips from local harbours.



Gulf of Corryvreckan from the air

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.

Although not, as is sometimes believed, formally classified by the Admiralty as unnavigable[1] (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 nearby 'Grey Dogs', or 'Little Corryvreckan', are classified as such. Experienced scuba divers explore the waters, described as "potentially the most dangerous dive in [Britain]".[2]


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.[3] 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. Breacan may be named after the whirlpool, or its current name may be a Gaelic pun on his name.


Writing in the 7th century Adamnan called Corryvreckan "Charybdis Brecani".

In 1549, Dean Monro wrote of "Skarbay" that between it and "Duray": "ther runnes ane streame, above the power of all sailing and rowing, with infinit dangers, callit Corybrekan. This stream is aught myle lang, quhilk may not be hantit bot be certain tyds."[4]

In 1820 the world's first passenger paddleship the PS Comet was wrecked nearby to Craignesh Point as a result of encountering the strong currents.

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 in the gulf,[5] and Orwell's one-legged brother-in-law Bill Dunn was the first person to swim the gulf.[6]

Natural history

Minke whales and porpoises swim in the fast-moving waters and only the most resilient plants and corals thrive on the seabed. Soft corals such as Alcyonium digitatum can be found in hollows and other sheltered locations. The central pinnacle supports dense mats of the hydroids Tubularia indivisa and Sertularia cupressina and the bryozoan Securiflustra securifrons. The most exposed areas are covered by the barnacles Balanus crenatus and B. hameri.[7]

The area is currently being considered for Special Area of Conservation status.

Modern cultural references

Part of Powell's and Pressburger's 1944 film I Know Where I'm Going! was set at Corryvreckan. They filmed in Corryvreckan and the nearby (but less fierce) waters at Bealach a’ Choin Ghlais. The footage obtained there was then used in back projections with the actors in a replica boat rocked on gimbals while buckets of water were thrown at them. Model shots of the whirlpool were made to give a medium view of the boat being drawn in to Corryvreckan.

Ardbeg Distillery produced a limited edition "Ardbeg Corryvreckan Scotch whisky" in 2008.[8] In the summer of 1947, George Orwell nearly drowned in the Corryvreckan whirlpool while in Scotland writing his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.[9] The McCalmans have recorded a song called Corryvreckan Calling.[10]


  1. ^ The West Coast pilot stated "Passage conditions 7.260 - It is reported that the excessive rate of the tidal stream and the narrow width of the E entrance channel create an unnavigable area just S of Eilean a’ Bhealaich, an islet in the centre of the E entrance. As a result, it is inadvisable to pass through this channel, and even with local knowledge passage should only be attempted in quiet weather at slack water.'"
  2. ^ Rogerson, Simon (1 March 2003). "Diving: Perfect places to take the plunge". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 December 2010. 
  3. ^ McNeill, F. Marian (1959). The Silver Bough, Vol.2: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, Candlemas to Harvest Home. Glasgow: William MacLellan. pp. 20–1. ISBN 0-85335-162-7. 
  4. ^ Monro (1594) "Skarbay" No. 16. Translation from Scots: "there runs a [tidal] stream, above the power of all sailing and rowing, with infinite dangers, called Corybrekan. This stream is eight miles long, and may not be frequented but at certain tides."
  5. ^ "Uisge! Isle of Jura Distillery". Accessed 19 November 2007
  6. ^ "Whirl pull", Roger Deakin, Sunday Herald, 15 October 2008
  7. ^ Wilding, T. A., Hughes, D. J. and Black, K. D. (2005)"The benthic environment of the North and West of Scotland and the Northern and Western Isles: sources of information and overview." (pdf) Report 1 to METOC. Oban. Scottish Association for Marine Science.
  8. ^ "Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Committee Reserve 2008" Retrieved 8 August 2008.
  9. ^ "The masterpiece that killed George Orwell" The Observer. May 10th 2009
  10. ^ "Lyrics - Corryvreckan Calling". Retrieved 5 June 2011.


External links

Coordinates: 56°9′12.89″N 5°42′25.41″W / 56.1535806°N 5.7070583°W / 56.1535806; -5.7070583

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