Scottish fact of the week: Corryvreckan whirlpool

The Corryvreckan, seen from the back of a boat. Picture: Phil Wilkinson/TSPL

The Corryvreckan, seen from the back of a boat. Picture: Phil Wilkinson/TSPL

A landmark made entirely of raging, perilous water, the Corryvreckan whirlpool can confidently claim to be one of Scotland’s most dangerous tourist attractions.

Famously described by the Royal Navy as unnavigable, the Corryvreckan lies between the isles of Jura and Scarba in the Inner Hebrides, though adventure tours frequently pass the maelstrom.

The unique geological structure on the seabed - essentially, an underwater mountain - creates the whirlpool, the third largest in the world. Water rushing in towards a 200m pinnacle of rock in the narrow Jura strait, the peak of which sits only 30m from the surface, creates the violent phenomenon.

Over the centuries, the Corryvreckan is thought to have swallowed scores of sailors caught unaware by its ferocity, particularly in bad weather where standing waves of 15ft have been reported. Writer Martin Martin’s description of the whirlpool’s dangers is unequivocal.

“It yields an impetuous current, not to be matched anywhere,” wrote Martin, “the sea begins to boil and ferment with the tide of the flood, and resembles the boiling of a pot; and then increases gradually, until it appears in many whirlpools, which form themselves in sort of pyramids, and immediately after spout up as high as the mast of a little vessel, and at the same time make a loud report.”

George Orwell could have done with the advice. The author set off on a boat with his nieces and nephews in 1947 as he took a break from writing 1984. Orwell came into difficulty as he approached the whirlpool, after which his boat began to sink in the Corryvreckan - the crew barely made it to safety on a nearby island.

An old legend about a Norse king named Breachan, after which the Corryvreckan is said to be named, has it that the Viking drowned in the whirlpool trying to prove his courage to the locals.


Peter Ross: Both romantic and deadly, Corryvreckan in the Hebrides is a watery landmark best approached with caution and respect




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