The Goats of Corryvreckan 2008
As hillwalkers, we visited Jura about l2 years ago. I had only been in Scotland a couple of years and about six of us set off from Craighouse one weekend to climb the Paps of Jura. I couldn’t believe so many bottles of whiskey could fit into a rucksack. We camped after a few hours walking north. That evening some of the guys stripped off and showered under the waterfall (one was ginger from head to toe) and afterwards everyone (except me) was falling down drunk. What a bunch of rugged guys these Scots were! We never made it up the Paps the next day – everyone was too hungover. (Stew had been over them anyway in his twenties). Now we return by sea kayak.
We took the ferry all the way across to Feolin on Jura. Our put-in was at Craighouse with the intention of travelling south with the tide through the Sound of Jura, then north along the west coast hoping to pass through Corryvreckan on the third day during neaps slack.
Sunday was a lovely and peaceful but healthy start of 37km to our first campsite in Glen Batrick.
Heading north up the west coast on Monday was also calm and relaxing with light NE winds and no swell. It was perfect conditions for exploring this fascinating coastline with its primitive beauty.
Reading up on the geology of Jura we discover it’s made of quartzite. The raised beaches were formed after the ice sheet which covered and depressed the land melted allowing the land to rebound leaving the beaches “raised” high. The shape of the arches, caves and cliffs give a remote, prehistoric feel to the landscape. Looking over towards the vast beaches of cobbled quartzite, you could almost imagine seeing a woolly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger watching us paddle past.
In reality we saw many herds of deer and of goats which seemed to live in the many caves. Sea eagles, otters and a couple of porpoises were also spotted. After a mellow 27km, we camped at lovely Glengarrisdale Bay.
With the Coast Guard on strike and no mobile phone reception, we had no weather report for the first two days. I relied on my barometer and cloud reading. By the evening of our second day I noticed a brief appearance of small mare’s tails (cirrus), and mackerel sky (altocumulus). Those who watch clouds know that these foretell deterioration (wind and rain) if there is a corresponding drop in the barometric pressure. The barometer hadn’t changed and there was still plenty of blue sky that evening. The morning of the third day was the big day to go through Corryvreckan and we had to be there at l.00 pm for the slack period. The sky still had a lot of blue and just before we left I looked at my barometer. It had dropped by 2 mb. Hmm. Oh well, surely we can be safely through and ashore within the next two hours before the bad weather hits us.
An hour into our paddle and our NE’erly had backed to SE and the wind was strengthening as quickly as the sky was darkening. We were entering the Corryvreckan – a sinister and malevolent place in which the wind together with the tide pushed a surging mass of steep, closely-spaced, shoulder-high waves against us. (We arrived slightly early as it was not yet slack to avoid wind against tide if we took longer than anticipated and missed the slack period.) We stayed close to the rocky coast so the eddies would help us. We had to trust they were there because you couldn’t see them for the steep waves. Some waves looked a bit more glassy than roughed-up and I believe those were in the area of the eddies. We paddled hard in what was now a F5 SE headwind. As we passed the northern-most tip of Jura and started to head south, the full horror of the situation emerged. The entire Sound of Jura was wild, heaving, hissing and completely covered in white tops. The wind was shrieking at about 20-25 knots. We were moving very slowly against the wind and waves and wondered how long our next two km to a sheltered landing would take. We could turn around and go back to Bagh Gleann nam Muc but that would mean going back through Corryvreckan. Suddenly, I spotted a small stony beach with a herd of goats watching us! Stewart went in closer to have a look. We must have been in another eddy because even though I had stopped paddling, I wasn’t being blown backwards. When he waved me over I shouted with joyous relief! This tiny, insignificant nick in the coastline on our OS map was labelled “Port nam Furm” in small blue letters. It was literally our miracle “port in a storm”. There are several of these tiny ports around Jura and must have been used by fisherman in bad weather in the olden days.
Shortly after landing, Stew made VHF contact with a tourist RIB heading for the Corryvreckan and requested a weather forecast. SE winds of F6-7 were forecasted for the day and the next two days. Stew assured him we were okay and had a week’s worth of food. We found a level, grassy campsite with a nearby waterfall, stream, and goats for company. In the tent we continued to listen to the VHF and heard a yacht rescue in progress. The Coast Guard captain exclaimed, “I’ve got 26 knots coming across my deck.” I glanced at my barometer which I keep hung around my neck. It had fallen significantly (4mb) in the two hours we were on the water. The alarm had gone off but I hadn’t heard it because of the noise of the wind and sea.
For the next two days we lived (and smelled) like goats – retreating to our cave (tent) when it rained and lazing on the beach when it was dry. The goats loved eating seaweed and especially the brown kelp. We had great views of the tidal races and watched the waves form and disappear with the different states of the tide.
We hiked up a trail on An Cruachan and watched the whirlpool and a fishing boat bob up and down hoping we didn’t witness it being sucked under.
As in most dangerous places, legends, myths and folklore are associated with Corryvreckan. One legend says the “Hag” or witch washed her hair or plaids in the Corryvreckan. Another ancient legend tells of a Norwegian prince named Breakan who fell in love with a princess of these islands and wished to marry him. Her father agreed to the marriage but only if Breakan showed his courage by anchoring his boat for 3 days and 3 nights in the Corryvreckan whirlpool. One rope was needed for each day – a hemp rope, a woollen rope and a rope made from the plaited hair of maidens. The first night, the hemp rope broke, but he survived. The second night, the woollen rope parted in the fearsome whirlpool, but he lived. The third night, the rope of maiden’s hair was set, but a severe gale broke the rope, the boat was sucked under and Breakan died. A surviving crewman buried Breakan in a cave today known as Uamh Breacin or Bay of the Pigs. The crewman made it back to Norway, told his tale and a Norwegian lady feeling terrible guilt admitted she was not a pure maiden after all and it was her hair that had weakened the rope. Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Breakan’s loyal dog had survived and not knowing what happened to his master, roamed Jura, his huge paws creating the mountains there. In a mighty leap he jumped across the Corryvreckan landing on Scarba and created the mountains there. Still not finding his master he jumped across the gap between Scarba and Lunga but slipped and fell into a raging tide which is now known as the “Pass of the Grey Dog”. This must be true because as Lunga is flat, the Grey Dog never made it there!
We were finally able to get mobile phone reception and after two stormbound days the forecast improved to southerly winds of 10 knots. (Coast Guard was still on strike.) The last day we were on the water by 6.50am to catch the last 4 hours of the ebb. The entire Sound of Jura was now flat calm. Being so close to Corryvreckan, our first hour was spent riding smooth, largish tidal swell waves that pushed us south. By lunch we had covered 25km. The east coast is less rugged and after 9 hours (some of it against the tide) and 42km, we completed our journey around Jura ending at Craighouse for a total of ll4km.
Our last day was spent on Islay on the Mull of Oa, where we visited a monument built by the American Red Cross in memory of a shipwreck during WW1.
That evening we stayed at a stunning campsite and while looking out over powerful surf, contemplated on our exciting and memorable week on Jura.
6 Responses to “The Goats of Corryvreckan 2008”
Debbie, love your trip report! Such beautiful coastline!
What is your experience with planning where you will stay for the night when you do your pre-trip planning?
Are you fairly free to make camp along that coast outside of established campgrounds? I notice buildings that look like private dwellings in the backround of some of your photos. I understood that you would usually be granted a trouble-free stay on most large estates so long as you do not camp within view of any residence and stay no more than one night.
Also, what make/model tent is that in your photos and how would you rate it? The two days you hunkered down in F6~7 winds would seem to bare testimony to its sturdiness! I have been considering a Hilleberg. Any input is greatly appreciated.
Thanks Globalstrider, glad you enjoyed it. Jura is a very special place.
UK Ordnance Survey maps are very good (The UK is covered at both 1:50k and 1:25k). The 25k maps in particular provide a lot of information on beach make-up and inter-tidal areas. You can therefore often have a pretty good idea of where you might be able to land and camp in the more obvious places. Other times, you paddle and hope!
As you’d expect, we look to camp well away from houses. One of the buildings in the photographs is an unoccupied sporting lodge and the other an open bothy for travellers to use. Information on Access Rights in Scotland can be found at:
Choosing a tent is compromise between strength, weight and space. Geodesic designs (multiple crossing poles) are stronger than other designs but heavier. We often camp on rock, gravel or peat where pegging can be insecure or not always possible. Whilst fixing pegging points to dry-bags full of rocks, boulders or logs can help, a geodesic design, which is to an extent free-standing, is a big help.
Our tent is a Terra Nova Quasar ETC (extended tent canopy). It is a geodesic design with an extra large porch formed by a cantilevered extra pole. With good pegging, I am confident that it would not fail in strong winds. We do carry pole repair sleeves as the poles can suffer from split ends in a coastal environment (when erecting)
Hilleberg make very good tents, at least one of which is geodesic. Both Hilleberg and Terra Nova advertise their tents on Everest expeditions. Many sea kayakers are fans of Hilleberg tunnel tents.
Hope its not too long before the birds have finished nesting in your kayak and you can get on the water 😉
Thank you for your reply. It is somewhat humbling when knowledgable people like you are so gracious with your time.
Stewart, well understood your comments regarding free-standing tents, I use nothing else, even when solo back packing. I accept the “weight penalty” for the “set up anywhere” capability as being well worth the extra grams. I have seen the Terra Novas now that I think of it, and I really love that extended canopy for hunkering down waiting out inclimate weather. My solo tent affords no such luxury.
The Hilleberg Tarra looks to be the closest match to the Quasar, the most significant difference being the linked inner/outer design of the Hille. I fully appreciate the idea behind the concept, I just have zero experience with a tent of that design. Decisions, decisions…
My question regarding overnight camping on private land stems from being a Land Rover enthusiast. I have read about “green laning” in the U.K. in various British publications, wherein mention is made of being allowed to camp overnight, specifically for one night only, provided the interloping Rover hooligans remain quiet and out of site of any occupied dwellings, no open fires, etc. This is supposed to be based on some archaic “right of passage” laws still on the books. Does that ring true, or does it sound like wishful thinking?
I do alot of travel by motorcycle during which I perform quite a bit of what we call “stealth camping”. The best plan for when and where to stop for the night is usually no plan at all, and so I am usually afoul of some ordinance or another when I make camp for the night. Frankly, it’s half the fun, but in the end we have no such pretense of gentility in the States; if discovered I would surely be shuffled along and perhaps fined as well. Again, it’s half the fun!
Debbie, your meteorological talents are commendable. I dabbled during private pilot license training, but just enough to get along. As obtuse as it sounds, it wasn’t until I read your blog that I realized how wreckless and stupid I’ve been in neglecting this skill. Thank you again in this respect. Most people post lots of pretty pictures of exotic locations without touching on all the intillectual capital spent on getting there in the first place. Please keep up the great writing. (Blogging? Typing? What the hell is the correct verb to use these days?)
Regarding my bird friends, yes, I actually did remove the nest from my kayak upon discovery. There were no eggs in it yet, so I did what I had to do. My canoe, on the other hand, had a nest in each end, both which contained eggs so I left them in place as I can do without use of the canoe for now.
I look forward to future posts on your blog and sincerely hope to correspond with you both again! Thanks!
Dartmouth, Massachusetts USA
Thanks for the kind words. Debbie has been working hard on her weather forecasting skills. It certainly comes in very handy on extended trips. She readily admits that she has a lot to learn. The more one understands, the more one realises that nature does not behave in a random manner. Chaos is simply our inability to understand.
Scotland and England have very different laws and traditions in relation to access to land. Scotland has a tradition of tolerance (more or less) of access, similar to Scandinavian countries. This was not however brought into statute law until Access Rights were introduced 10 years ago. Access Rights do not apply to motorised access.
Additionally, both Scotland and England have public rights of way established under common law. For a number of reasons, there are very few vehicular public rights of way in Scotland. Green laning is therefore not much done in Scotland. It is however different in England with many vehicular public rights of way, which make green laning more popular. It can however be controversial.
In Scotland, roadside camping is within Access Rights, but driving off road to do so is not. As with all wild camping it is better to do so with consideration for others well away from houses.
In terms of motorcycle touring in Scotland, the blog by Haywood (who has liked our home page) will interest you. Hope this helps.
It would really be great to experience canoeing and kayaking in corryvreckan this time. Before, I have gotten the chance to take corryvreckan cruising that was really amazing. I love the scenery.
This was a lovely blog posst