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There is no shortage of natural wonders off the Scottish mainland just waiting to be enjoyed by seafaring visitors. One of the most spectacular is the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, located in a narrow strait between Jura and Scarba. This incredible natural phenomenon is something that should definitely be on your list of things to see as you tour Scotland. It offers an exciting experience for both locals and out-of-town travellers alike and our Corryvreckan Whirlpool Cruise, sailing out of Dunstaffnage Marina, Oban is one of our most exciting!

Visit Corryvreckan Whirlpool by Boat

Some refer to the Corryvreckan Whirlpool as a maelstrom because of the underlying geological structures that contribute to the agitation of the waters in the straight. However, whether you refer to Corryvreckan as a whirlpool or maelstrom does not change the experience. It is equally amazing under either name.

Before we get the details of Corryvreckan, you might be interested to know that the whirlpool is the third-largest whirlpool in the world. It can be seen on the northern end of the Gulf of Corryvreckan during the flood tide, and can be observed from the water, air, or land. Nevertheless, inexperienced boaters should not attempt to get too close to the whirlpool for observational purposes.

The West Coast of Scotland Pilot Guide classifies the gulf as violent and dangerous, recommending that only experienced pilots with local knowledge should attempt to navigate the area. Author George Orwell and his son are just two of the many boaters who found out the hard way just how dangerous these waters are. They were shipwrecked and briefly stranded in 1947 after miscalculating the local tides.

The Natural Phenomenon

Whirlpools are, by nature, the result of opposing currents intersecting at the same point. Because currents are moving in opposite directions, they naturally try to find a way around one another. This results in the swirling water that eventually becomes a whirlpool. In the case of the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, the opposing currents are made stronger by the underlying geology.

The strait of Corryvreckan is a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba off Scotland’s south-west coast. During periods of the ebb tide, when water recedes from coastal areas, the surrounding waters of the gulf and straight are relatively undisturbed – until they reach a tall pinnacle just off the shore of Scarba. The up-thrust of the water, as it reaches the pinnacle, can create massive waves as high as 15 feet. During the flood tide, conditions can quickly become even more perilous.

As water moves north through the strait, the narrowing of the gap causes the tide to pick up speed. At the same time, the natural tidal flow is sucking water from the Clyde estuary to the south. This creates both the opposing currents and different water levels on either end of those currents. They just happen to meet in that narrow part of the channel where there are a number of peaks and eddies agitating the water. The combination of water speed, opposing currents and differences in the geological formations creates incredible up-thrusts of water that fuel the powerful Corryvreckan Whirlpool.

There is some dispute regarding the top speed of the water and the height of the highest pinnacle off the shore of Scarba. Nonetheless, whether the water reaches eight or 10 knots does not make much difference to the observer. Nor does it matter how high the highest pinnacle is. Whatever the forces of nature, Corryvreckan Whirlpool is an awe-inspiring sight to see.

Corryvreckan’s Ancient Legends

It is interesting to learn a little bit about the ancient legends of Corryvreckan before visiting. Knowing what people used to believe hundreds of years ago let you put yourself in their shoes; it gives you a greater appreciation of what it must have been like for previous generations to see the spectacular natural phenomenon.

One of the more common legends involves the hag goddess of winter known as Cailleach Bheur. Her legend says that she uses the Gulf as a basin to clean her plaid at the changing of the seasons. For example, she may decide to do her washing as autumn turns to winter, creating tempestuous waters with a roar that can be heard for miles. Once her plaid is clean and white, she lays it across the land as a blanket of snow.

There are other legends and myths attached to the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Not all of them are pleasant. The legend of the Norse king Breacon is one that does not have a happy ending. As the story goes, Breacon moored his boat very near to where the whirlpool appears in order to impress a local princess. Unfortunately, the strength of the whirlpool swallowed the king and his vessel; Breacon’s body was eventually retrieved by his dog and dragged to shore.

Mythology and legend are an important part of Scotland’s heritage. Knowing these ancient stories gives us some insight into how natural phenomenon like the Corryvreckan Whirlpool could be a source of both awe and fear at the same time. Today we can explain the phenomenon with a combination of observation and science. However, hundreds of years ago, legend dictated how people understood, and interacted with, the mighty waters of Corryvreckan.

What You Can See

Should you decide to visit the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, and we hope you will, there is a lot more to see in the Gulf than just the tempestuous waters. For example, minke whales and porpoises love to swim in the fast-moving waters through the strait. A trip through the Gulf on a fair weather day offers plenty of good viewing for these magnificent animals. As for plant life, it is difficult for anything to grow because of the turbulence and depth of the areas waters, but there are a number of soft corals and other indigenous species that can be observed.

It is fair to say that Corryvreckan Whirlpool is a unique phenomenon that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. We encourage you to take a boat trip this spring or summer and see Corryvreckan for yourself. You will have a new respect for the awesome power of the sea, in an area of immense beauty that will leave you breathless.

We hope this post has inspired you to book our Corryvreckan Whirlpool cruise, don’t delay its a popular one!

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