Monday, May 31, 2021

2021 Virtual Cruise - Island #6 - Jura

After leaving Scarba we head south into the open maw of Corryvreakan. Sounds pretty dramatic, terrifying, and death defying, doesn't it! Actually, the whirlpool is usually asleep. And that's how we find it as we stop off at the little island of Eilean Beag, on the south side of the whirlpool, at the entrance to Jura's Bagh Gleann nam Muc.

I'd marooned Wolfgang on Eilean Beag the day before, after he complained about my driving  skills (something not allowed on my ship). He should have felt honored, as it is a historic island. (Or is it an historic, I can never remember.) It is historic because George Orwell and his adopted son Richard, along with Orwell's niece and nephew, were stranded on this islet in 1947. Their boat had lost its motor while they were braving the waters of the whirlpool, and it is fortunate that they all survived, as no one was wearing a life jacket.

We rescue Wolfgang, then motor into the bay, where we can see our destination: a dark hole in the cliff-face: Breackan's Cave, where Prince Breacan, the whirlpool’s namesake, was supposedly buried.

We land on the beach east of the cave, then make the lumpy quarter-mile hike out to it. When we reach it we find the remnants of lichen-dotted stone walls that once guarded the approach to the cave, and as a last line of defense a fortification wall that spans the cave's dark opening. The cave extends 200 feet into the rock, and its mouth, pointed at one end, blunt at the other, is twelve feet high, and forty across. The final protective wall retains three feet of its height, and at its centre a narrow gap allows entrance to the interior of the cave.

As the story goes, Corryvreckan (Coire Bhreacain) is named after Breacan, a fifth century prince said to have drowned when his fleet of galleys came to grief in the whirlpool. Martin Martin wrote this of Corryvreckan and the cave: This gulf hath its name from Brekan, said to be son to the King of Denmark, who was drowned here, cast ashore in the north of Jura, and buried in a cave, as appears from the stone, tomb, and altar there.

The floor of the cave is carpeted with deer and goat droppings. There is no sign of an altar, although a thick stone slab lies at the far back of the cave. About four feet long, it may be all that’s left of the tomb mentioned by Martin.

After exploring the cave our hardy group returns to the ship, where I surprise them with one more stop on Jura. We had just seen a historic cave. (Or is it an historic, I can never remember.) Now we would be seeing another: Maclean's Skull Cave at Glengarrisdale.

Glengarrisdale is only three miles to the southwest, and so in short order we land on its broad shingle beach. Just above the shore we come to a red-roofed bothy, which the guide quickly enters on a mysterious mission, leaving us to explore the glen on our own.

On a small hillock above the bothy we find the site of Aros Castle, the Jura base of the Macleans of Lochbuie. They once held this end of the island, which was the location of the battle where the Maclean was slain whose skull lay here until 1976. No one knows for certain exactly which battle the skull was a relic of, as several skirmishes occurred here over the years. The most well known was a fight between the Campbells of Craignish and the Macleans in 1647. In Donald Budge’s Jura; an Island of Argyll, there is a transcript of an act of Parliament description of the battle:

Johne Mcallaster Roy alias Campbell, Neill Mcallaster alias Campbell, and others did … with guns, swords, bows, pistols and other weapons, came under silence and cloud of night to the lands of Glengarisdale, and there most cruelly and barbarously murdered John Mcgilliechallum, John Mccharles, Donald Mcangus, and servants to Murdoch McLean, all living quietly and peaceably at their own homes.

After looking around the glen we enter the bothy, where we find the guide fast asleep, and all the whisky bottles empty.

After sobering up the guide we follow him out of the bothy and up to a small cave in the ridge to the north. In it we discover a skull some mad-man left there in 2005, as a memorial to the slain Maclean whose skull lay here for so many years. 

Everyone is in fine spirits (especially the guide) as we return to Hjalmar Bjorge after our two Jura cave explorations. Then disaster strikes, once again. Earlier in the day I'd pardoned Nigel from his banishment to the engine room (for good behavior and some cash). I still did not trust his cooking, so I'd commissioned Nigel's wife, Clare, to the position of Chief Chef. The main course this evening is beef Wellington, and my mouth starts to water in anticipation. But when the starter arrives I blow my top. Kale salad!  Good grief!  On the Skipper's preference sheet I'd specifically stated the only kale allowed aboard is the kind with a silent 'k'. And so Clare is banished to the engine room. Nigel is happy with that, as it means he'll have a whole cabin to himself.

The following morning we head out to set a record: five islands in one day. Three of the Garvelllachs, and then Belnahua and Fladda of the Slate Isles.

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