Corryvreckan Whirlpool

(Corrievrechan Whirlpool)

The world's third largest whirlpool, located in the Gulf of Corryvreckan between the islands of Scarba and Jura in the Inner Hebrides, is powered by the exceptional tidal races flowing around a rocky pinnacle which rises up 91m (298 feet) from the sea-bed to within 29m (95 feet) of the surface. This treacherous phenomenon varies in intensity both with the time of day and through the year, from flat-calm to a turbulent vortex.

Ancients believed that this was where The Cailleach (or the Hag of Winter - an old woman-goddess who spread the harsh weather of winter) washed her plaid. The name Corryvreckan (also Corrievrechan) means 'Breakan's Cauldron'. Legend states that a Norse Prince called Breakan, determined to prove he was fit to marry a local Princess, promised her father he would anchor himself over the whirlpool in a boat for three nights, entrusting his fate to the Cailleach. He had three ropes made; one each of hemp, wool and maidens' hair. It was believed that if the others failed, the purity and innocence of the maidens would give the final rope the necessary strength. On the first day the hemp rope parted, but they survived. On the second day, the wool rope parted but, again, they survived. However, on the third day the rope of hair broke too - a sign the maiden's who had supplied the hair were not as pure as all had believed - and Breakan's boat was sucked down into the whirlpool, drowning him along with most of his crew. Breakan's dog dragged his body ashore and he was buried in Breakan's Cave (Uamh Bhreacain) on the north coast of Jura.

The whirlpool features in the Powell and Pressburger film I Know Where I'm Going (1945), while in 1947, author George Orwell and his son were almost killed here in a small boat having miscalculated the tides while living nearby at Barnhill on Jura.

Remarkably, the pinnacle is popular with divers, who have to take extreme care to dive only in the narrow window in time when the whirlpool is inactive. Tourists can visit the whirlpool in boats from Ardfern, Balvicar, Craobh Haven and Easdale.

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