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Scotland by Sea

By Russell Murray, Business Development Manager
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Orwellian Utopia

After a long and satisfying day, I stood on my balcony at the Loch Melfort hotel and did nothing more than look west out towards the setting sun and the complicated water world of narrow sounds, islands, islets and sea lochs which form the drama that is the west coast of Scotland.

Before long the cooling sun was sending a shimmering path in my direction, the lighthouse at McArthur Head on Islay flashed its beam and the mountains, known as the Paps of Jura, faded to dark silhouettes.

Earlier that day I had set sail from nearby Craobh Haven across the Sound of Jura in a thick mist to land somewhere on that now dark coast. When we set out into that cotton wool world every sound was absorbed and we skimmed effortlessly through the still green waters.

Despite the mist, our captain, Cameron, was optimistic it would burn off. Sure enough, not long after we had put ashore at an anonymous concrete slipway known only to locals like Cameron, the green island was slowly revealed.

Greeted on arrival by shaggy highland cows munching in a field, our Wilderness Scotland guide, Ken Keith, led the way up the short hill to the island’s only road that follows the long east coast to the northernmost tip of the island. Ken pointed out peaks on the mainland and named the trio of rocky peaks that form the Paps of Jura all vivid now that the mist had burned away. The Sound of Jura on our left was now a deep and sparkling blue.

To the uninitiated, this was like any other rough road to nowhere but Ken asked us to imagine the overworked George Orwell on his ramshackle bike making his way to what he described as his “un-get-at-able” sanctuary at Barnhill.

Orwell, Ken explained revelled in the difficulties in getting here and felt it was only here that he could properly escape and concentrate on his dystopian novel – 1984.

Jura, however, was no dystopia and there was absolutely nobody for miles to watch us never mind some Big Brother figure imagined by Orwell.

Instead, on that particularly sunny day, we stepped out on the increasingly rough road without an inkling of “doublethink” and our only “thought crime” was perhaps hoping to see a white-tailed sea eagle to add to the numerous red deer and an otter. There were no definitive sightings but a few hopeful candidates.

Peering through the window of Barnhill, the basic cottage, Ken asked us once again to imagine Orwell’s austere existence while he typed out one of the 20th century’s most important novels with two fingers.

“Once back in the boat we were off to explore the Corryvrechan, the third biggest whirlpool in the world and one that almost claimed the life of Orwell and his young son. Such an introduction inevitably leads to apprehension.”

From Barnhill Ken led us down to the coast to rejoin the boat at a point that Cameron had described as a “rock with a ladder on it”.

Once back in the boat we were off to explore the Corryvrechan, the third biggest whirlpool in the world and one that almost claimed the life of Orwell and his young son. Such an introduction inevitably leads to apprehension.

For the unperturbed Cameron however, this was a good day for the whirlpool. A westerly wind would heighten the waves and there would be a decent flow through the narrow gulf between Jura and Scarba.

Revving the engine and then letting it subside Cameron drove us through the standing waves towards the maelstrom. A careless Orwell was capsized by the strong currents and was lucky to make it back to the shore but in Cameron’s capable hands there was little danger.

While Cameron charted his route Ken recounted the legends of the Corryvrechan such as the one where local people believe that it is here that witches come to wash their hair and that the white foam is the shampoo rinsed from their hair.

Rather more believably Cameron added that the whirlpool is the perfect feeding ground for porpoises, seals and minke whales as fish are drawn in by the strong currents and he broke off from his explanations to identify the many Greybacks that breached the surface.

It had been a memorable day and when total darkness finally descended and I could see no more than the lighthouse and lights twinkling on Islay I returned to my room for a good nights sleep and to relish the day to follow.

A new sea adventure, with Cameron’s twin brother Struan, would take us to uninhabited Staffa to the west of Mull. Here we would discover the world-renowned Fingal’s Cave where waves crash and wander among colourful puffins that nest on the ground with impunity.

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Meet the Author: Russell Murray

Born and raised in the Scottish Highlands I have always been passionate about all things outdoors actively pursuing white water kayaking, skiing and mountain biking in my spare time.

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