Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A traverse of the Gulf of Corryvreckan disturbed only by a shoal of fish.

As we set off from Glengarrisdale Bay towards the Gulf of Corryvreckan which lies between the isles of Jura and Scarba...

...the morning's cold front began to clear leaving...

...Glengarrisdale in full sunshine.

Colonsay and Oronsay were now distant bumps on the horizon behind us.

All attention was now on the western entrance of the Corryvreckan ahead. As we approached, we could still see breaking standing waves on either side of Eilean Mor but our timing was impeccable and... we slid our bows into the jaws of the 'vreckan, it had fallen fast asleep.

In fact at one point the water was so slack we had to resort to paddling.  However, within 5 minutes of slack water we were travelling at...

...8km/hr with minimal paddling effort. Even Maurice began to relax due to the mill pond conditions as we crossed the mouth of Bagh Gleann nam Muc (Bay of the Glen of Pigs) and inside Eilean Beag. It is at this point that unstable standing waves appear at the end of the flood (especially if there is any swell from the west) and a race and anomalous waves develop during the ebb.

All of a sudden the water beside Maurice's boat began to boil and he nearly jumped out of his dry suit. He thought the tides were about to engulf him. However, it  was just a large shoal of fish driven to the surface by either the tide or a predator such as a seal or a cetacean.

 Leaving the Bay of Pigs our speed increased to...

...12km per hour as we approached Carraig Mhor and a quick glance astern...

...showed that Eilean Mor was already over 2km behind.

This telephoto shot through the Corryvreckan shows our last distant view of Colonsay on the horizon beyond Eilean Mor.

As we rounded Carraig Mhor, the narrowest part of the Corryvreckan, at 14km/hr David had his sail up and then proceeded to take his legs out for a stretch. Sam's only comment was "Legend!"

I have been through the Corryvreckan many times but this was easily the calmest. Just in case you think it is always like this, have a look at...

...this photo, taken when Tony and I were entering the Corryvreckan from the NW, it might just give you second thoughts..

As we passed Port nam Furm at the east end of the Corryvreckan, we entered the Sound of Jura and the last leg of our journey to Jura, Oronsay and Colonsay.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The skulls of Glengarrisdale, Jura.

We made our way up to the former shepherd's house which is now a well maintained MBA bothy. The last shepherd left the glen in about 1947.

 On this occasion the bothy was empty but we soon...

...had it feeling homely by lighting the fire with a bag of charcoal and the last few logs which we had brought.

 We also lit the macabre skull candle holder on the mantle-shelf above the fire.

 It was most satisfying to be able to cook a hot dinner in the shelter of the bothy, wash it down with a mug of hot tea then write up our story in the Bothy log book.

 After we had warmed up and cleaned the bothy, we went out for a little explore. David was most taken with this whale jaw bone...

...but not even his veterinary skills could resuscitate any of the patients in this box. Glengarrisdale has a long history of bones and skulls. It used to be called...

...Maclean's Skull Bay. 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 a battle in 1647. Modern legend says it was situated in a cave at the east of the bay. However, in John Mercer's book "Hebridean Islands, Colonsay, Gigha, Jura" published in 1974, the above photo shows the sad relics on a rock at the west end of the bay. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

Some very unpleasant things happened in Scotland's history.

Glengarrisdale was a Maclean stronghold in the mid 17th century. Their stone built fortification, Aros Castle, no longer remains but its site is marked by an isolated stand of trees not far inland from the bothy. It was here that the Macleans were defeated by their nemesis the clan Campbell.

 Time had now marched on and we retraced our footsteps to the bothy to collect our things...

 ...and make our way back down to the waiting boats. In the distance the flood tide was still pouring out of the Corryvreckan and I rather hoped that Maurice and Sam did not notice the large tourist RIBS that were buzzing about and regularly disappearing in breaking standing waves.

I think Maurice must have seen the white water in the Corryvreckan because as we carried the boats the short distance to the water* he asked "What do you think it will be like?"

"What will what be like?" I replied, ever so innocently.

"The Corryvreckan." said Maurice in a very hushed tone.

"Oh, will be flat as a millpond." I said, confidently. I could see Maurice was far from convinced.

*note the impeccable timing!

Read Ian's account here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Waiting for the Corryvreckan tide at Glengarrisdale.

As we were finishing second breakfast, the chilly silence of Corpach Bay was broken by the rumble of engines. The SC Nordic, a Danish pallet carrier of 4,786 gross tonnage, was making her way NE between Colonsay and Jura towards the Sound of Mull. She was enroute from Greenock on the Clyde to Skogn in Trondheimsfjorden, Norway. Soon she was out of earshot and silence again fell over the bay of the dead (Corpach Bay).

 Once on the water again, too much north in the wind kept our sails furled but steady progress...

...saw the brooding bulk of Scarba increasingly dominate our view ahead.

Scarba marks the northern side of the fearsome Gulf of Corryvreckan and its steep slopes plunging into the rushing tides add to the intimidating nature of the place...but more of that later.

We were able to launch the sails again as the onshore breeze backed to a tight reach. Above the rough hills our eyes were drawn to...

 ...the magnificent sight of a pair of...

 ...white tailed sea eagles soaring on the same onshore wind (which we were paddle sailing in) creating an up draught above the slope.

This one either had a white tag on its wing or was missing some feathers. Maurice was amazed. He had gone from never having seen a sea eagle to seeing 4 within 24 hours. It did occur to me that this might be the same pair that we had seen the previous day, some 25km to the west on the east coast of Colonsay. However, they are lazy big birds and once they have a mate and territory they tend not to stray far. On average a sea eagle's territory is about 8km in diameter.

 There are very few places to land on this rough coast pathless which is the domain...

...of these nimble goats.

Neither Maurice nor Sam had been through the Corryvreckan before and they fell behind in some deep discussion about what to expect.

Neither of them seemed convinced.... my reassurances that it would be flat as a pancake, especially as we drew ever nearer to the Gulf. Perhaps this was because the previous evening, Ian and I had given a dramatic account of our last trip through the Corryvreckan.  This had involved breaking standing waves and moving backwards. This was despite paddling forward at full pelt, the tide had turned against us and threatened to carry us back the way we had just come.

On this trip, the west going spring flood was still in full flow at 8 knots and as we wanted to traverse the Gulf to the east it was time for a sharp...

 ...exit to the right, where we entered Glengarrisdale Bay where the eponymous... roofed bothy lay at the back of the bay. It would make an ideal shelter from the cold wind for our three hour wait for the tide to turn.

 So we landed on the sands of the bay and...

 ...warmed up by carrying the boats well up the beach... that we would be sure the tide would not carry the boats away during an extended Glengarrisdale luncheon.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A cold second breakfast at dead end beach, Jura

We woke on the morning of our fourth day of our trip round Jura and Colonsay on the machair of Shian Bay on the west coast of Jura. A cold NW wind was blowing  and it felt like spring had retreated to allow the return of winter.

As we had no intention of paddling through the Gulf of Corryvreckan against the west going flood tide, in wind over tide conditions, we wanted to arrive at the west end of the Corryvreckan at slack water before the east going ebb started. That was not until late afternoon and as the Corryvreckan was only 24km away, we had some time to kill. Unfortunately there was not a scrap of shelter on Shian Bay so, on the one morning we could have enjoyed a relaxed start, we had to get moving to keep warm.

We donned full winter attire and...

...Sam even had his pogies on. What a contrastv to the previous few days.

As we left Shian Bay the wind had just a little too much north in it to get our sails up which...

...pleased sail-less Sam. Then, as soon as we rounded the first headland (backed by huge raised beaches of cobbles),...

...the wind freed enough to get our sails up and we were soon making excellent progress up the...

...remote NW coast of Jura, which is always a delight.

In addition to the raised cobble beaches there are several levels of raised cliffs, which feature dry arches and caves and are interspersed by sand dunes. They represent the varying sea levels after the last Ice Age. The west coast of Jura is one of the geological wonders of the World but it gets hardly any visitors.

Our first stop was at Corpach Bay, some 7km further on from Shian Bay. Corpach Bay is backed by caves which were once used to store corpses from Argyll on their final journey to Iona for burial. Iona is 45km away on the horizon at the extreme left of this photo. Often sea conditions were too rough to complete the journey, especially in winter. One can imagine the smell in the caves come springtime when the mourners returned.

We needed some shelter for second breakfast and, not fancying the caves, we spotted a dry sea stack at the back of the beach.

This provided excellent shelter for a most convivial second breakfast. We were all in excellent spirits as we were in no hurry and had no dead to bury.