Gulf of Corryvreckan whirlpools


A recent trip up to Scotland gave an opportunity to visit and experience the Gulf of Corryvreckan from close quarters. It’s somewhere  I’ve wanted to see properly close up for many a year. I’ve passed it by on a number of occasions, first on family holidays back in the sixties then taking my own kids to have a look as we sailed towards Colonsay.

The sixties visits are all but a vague memory and the Colonsay trip was on a Calmac and although the conditions were favourable then, we were still a fair way away and got no real sense of it’s power or mysticism.

Preparing the rib for an early morning start
The Grey Dogs tidal race between Lunga and Scarba
The Grey Dogs
The Grey Dogs with Scarba backdrop

Myths, Ledgends and Geology

There are many myths and legends associated with the whirlpool that bring a romance to it and the one that brings a wry smile concerns the maiden whom was not quite as ‘pure’ as she had purported to be! The legend is explained here. 

We travelled into the heart of the whirlpool from Easdale soon after seven in the morning, the early start giving the most favourable conditions for seeing it at its best. It’s an impressive ride out on the rib and our first port of call was to visit the Grey Dogs, a rapid run of water between the islands of Lunga and Scarba. It produces a waterfall effect and was running at an impressive ten knots as we moved across it.

From here we moved on to the waters between Scarba and Jura and at last I was to feel something of the extraordinary power and magic of the whirlpools. The first thing that struck was the size of the area where the waters were running rough, much bigger than I had imagined. Turbulence everywhere and constantly changing with water rising and falling all around. In the rib you get into the heart of it all and out again!



The geology of the area is the key to the production of such dangerous waters and I came across a really good graphical animation that explains how the waters are funnelled through the sound and then pushed up by an underwater pinnacle to create the whirlpool.

Photographing the Whirlpool

Photographing it was difficult. Again it raises a real  problem with photography in that it’s a medium that purports to be the closest to reality but in actual fact is probably one of the worst to give over a real sense of ‘being there’ This problem is always emphasised by something that has a lot of movement and relies also on sound to state its presence, and both are paramount in experiencing the Corryvrekan. In stating this it would seem obvious to simply move over to film, as movement and sound are key distinguishing differences to how photography references reality. But even film falls short and I find that other media, including words, are often far more powerful in translating a sense of reality. Why this is so is something I’d like to really explore. I’ve also decided that the images work better in black and white, another interesting debate to be had here too!



 Watch your equipment!

For this trip I took the Canon G12 in it’s waterproof housing and, rather against my better judgement and at the last minute, I also took the D3 with the Sigma 50-500mm. No problems with the Canon, all safely cocooned in its housing but a different story with the D3! I took a dry bag to put it into when the going got a little wet and to be fair we were warned when to put all cameras away. At times there was three or four inches of water lapping around my feet as we ploughed through and got side on to some of the worst water. When I returned the D3 to its ‘safe’ dry bag, after a bit of photography in the Grey Dogs, I must have left the bag slightly open (thought  I hadn’t, but that’s water for you!) When I took the camera back out after passing through the whirlpool it had been sitting in a small pool of salt water! It began to do strange things and when back on dry land I let it completely dry out really slowly. The salt was the worry but I think I’ve got away with it as all’s back to normal. The lessen has to be not to bite off more than you can chew and be content with not having everything but being comfortable in the knowledge it’s all safe.

Returning to Easdale

It was a great experience and probably all the better for it being a heavy overcast day. The tide was right for a rough experience and we got it, but talking to the skipper of the rib it wasn’t a  ‘perfect storm’ when all the waters coalesce into one large pool. We had many small developing pools and a lot or rough water but nevertheless it was impressive!


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