Friday, 23 June 2017

The bones of the place

After three days of cloudless blue skies and warm conditions it was a slight surprise to wake to a grey, cool and breezy morning - even though it had been forecast. 

Our plan for the day was to head up the west coast of Jura and position ourselves ready to transit the Gulf of Corryvreckan at slack water.  As slack water wasn't until late afternoon and we only had 23 km to paddle, we had plenty of time in hand.  Unfortunately, on the one morning that we could have lingered over breakfast the weather had other ideas!

We struck camp and packed relatively quickly, dressing much more warmly than we'd done on the journey thus far.  The forecast was for an improvement in the afternoon, but right now it didn't feel much like a late Spring day!

The Jura coast north of Shian Bay is a wild and rugged place.  Landing options aren't that plentiful and there's a lot of crags falling straight to the sea; the bones of the land are laid bare here.  Ahead we could see the dark shape of the island of Scarba; the Gulf of Corryvreckan lies between Jura and Scarba. 

We paddled past a couple of bays, at one headland we were treated to a marvellous view of a Sea Eagle soaring off the cliffs above us.  We stopped for second breakfast at Corpach (place of the dead), so named because it's one of the places where bodies were kept in caves awaiting passage to Oronsay or Iona for interment.  It was quite cold on the beach so we decided to make it a brief stop and to head on to Glengarrisdale where we could utilise the bothy whilst we waited for the flood tide to slacken in the Corryvreckan.

We paddled steadily north from Corpach and after an hour or so arrived in Glengarrisdale Bay, the bothy here is one of the very few buildings on the west of Jura - and none of those that do exist are permanently inhabited.

We carried our boats a good way up the beach because the flood still had three hours to run and, as the previous evening's full moon had reminded us, it was right on Spring tides.

Maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association, Glengarrisdale is a gem of a bothy; there often seems to be a correlation between the degree of remoteness and the quality of a bothy.  I had really good memories of the last time we visited, it was good to find the place still in excellent condition.  We had a good two hours to wait before setting out for the Corryvreckan and so lit a fire with the last of our firewood to help dry damp kit while we enjoyed first luncheon in comfort.

One of the alternative names for Glengarrisdale is "MacLean's Skull Bay"; a skull and femurs reputedly belonging to a MacLean slain in a clan skirmish sat in a prominent place on the shore until they disappeared in the 1970's. There may no longer be human bones here, but there are plenty of others.....we called David from the bothy to seek his Veterinary surgeon's opinion.......

.....on these bones,a pair of metre and a half long blades with curious marks and channels on and through them.  David confirmed our amateur guess that they were likely to be the jaw bones of a Minke Whale - unfortunately his professional opinion was that this particular specimen was beyond help!

There were plenty more skulls and bones in an old fish box outside the bothy and we spent a while identifying which species they were - mainly deer and goats.  Some folk may think of a skull collection as macabre, but I just find them interesting from a naturalist's perspective - though I doubt if such a collection would be that welcome at home!

And speaking of macabre, an inventive bothy dweller had modified one of the skulls to make one of the most remarkable candle holders I've yet seen......

......but which, it has to be admitted, has a certain style!  We lit the candle to gauge the effect; on a dark night with just candlelight inside the bothy this centrepiece above the fire would be doubly effective.....

As our two hour stop at the bothy drew to a close we extinguished the fire, cleared and secured the bothy and headed back down to the boats.  It was time to head for the Corryvreckan - a passage with a fearsome all thoughts of skulls and bones were very firmly left behind us.


  1. Ian, between the upcoming Corryvreckan, "the place of the dead", Skull Bay, and other such macabre items in a box, this is the first time I have felt a "chilling" reading through a sea kayaking post. :) Well done! Warm wishes from us both.

    1. It's a strange thing D&J, but the various bones and skulls collected at Glengarrisdale don't "feel" macabre; just sort of in their place. Not sure I'd have felt the same about MacLean's skull though....

      Warm wishes

  2. Great candle holder. A bothy still on my 'to do' list but can't see me getting there now. Always a shock when after a few good days and heaven on earth surroundings the weather suddenly turns to cold, grey and fairly unpleasant.

    1. It certainly is Bob, somebody has a sense of humour as well as an artistic eye! It has to be admitted, Glengarrisdale is "out there" and would be a tough walk - worth a visit though.....