Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sammy porpoise leads us on to Maclean's skull bay!

Having tarried long on our idyllic resting spot it was now time to continue our journey round the north of Jura. Ahead lay the brooding bulk of Scarba, gatekeeper to the great Gulf of Corryvreckan and its tides and whirlpools. Fortunately Sammy porpoise acted as our guide all the way to Glengarrisdale Bay, our final stop before entering the maelstrom.

Glengarrisdale Bay was a Maclean stronghold in the mid 17th century. Their stone built fortification, Aros Castle, no longer remains but its site is marked by a solitary tree. The Macleans were defeated here by the Campbells in 1647.

If you want to avoid some very smelly mud and slippery rocks at low tide, it is better to land at the east side of the bay and not the west as we did.

The former shepherd's house was finally abandoned about 1947 and is now a well maintained bothy. When we visited there was a large party in residence. They had been brought in by boat and had a huge supply of alcoholic beverages. Strangely, they had almost no food.

Looking from Glengarrisdale Bay across to Scarba. The Garvellachs can be seen to its left. The entrance to the Corryvreckan is on the right.

A gruesome skull and femurs sat on a rock at the edge of the bay for many years. They disappeared in the 1970's. The skull had a "sword" cut in it and allegedly belonged to one of the defeated Macleans from the 1647 battle. Modern legend says it was situated in Maclean's skull cave at the east of the bay. However, in John Mercer's book "Hebridean Islands, Cononsay, Gigha, Jura" published in 1972, the above photo shows the sad relics on a rock at the west end of the bay. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

We now had an appointment with the Corryvreckan.....


  1. The MacLean's own all the local outlets of a well known fast food chain here, so I suppose when they left their ancestral haunts they took the idea of food along with them. Those who return need bring only their liquid refreshments!
    Looking forward to the next post of the rips...

  2. D - no clue, what is a bothy? A

  3. Michael, the Macleans had lands in the north of Jura from 1330. Like their neighbours the Campbells and the MacDonalds they started to emigrate to North America in about 1767 when 50 settlers from Jura arrived in Brunswick. Emigration continued steadily to the potato famine of 1836-47 when it increased rapidly with most families leaving for Canada. The land was then cleared of tennants to create large sheep farms and these people were forcibly transported to Canada. Many died on the ships which did not have enough berths. Water for the voyage was stored in the same barrels that had brought tobacco and indigo from the New World on the previous voyage.

    Emigration and falling population has occurred on Jura till the present day and the current population of Jura is now only about 170.

    In contrast the population of much smaller Gigha has grown since the recent community buyout. From a maximum of about 800 at the end of the 18th century it fell to about 100 at the end of the 20th century but has now risen to about 150.

    Alison, a bothy is a simple unlocked house often in the mountains. There are bare floorboards upstairs, stone floors downstairs. Usually no beds but an open fire. They are a great escape from the midges but often have resident rats.

    The landowner may maintain them or the Mountain Bothy Association may do so.

    When I was 12 I asked my Mum if I could go with the Scouts and stay in a mountain bothel. She took some persuading.