Barely three months had passed since James and I had visited the west coast of Jura, during our four day escapade we had been pounded by the elements as we scrambled and stumbled over unrelenting tussocky sodden hills. Our efforts were rewarded with some great bothies and wild camps and of the course the experience of exploring the rugged beauty of Jura’s coastline. Now we were heading back, but this time to pay a visit to Jura’s northern and much smaller neighbour, Scarba. A diminutive and entirely unpopulated island with one main summit of just 449m. We’d seen the craggy silhouette of Scarba whilst walking over Ben Garrisdale at the end of a clear day last November, the propsect of exploring the nooks and crannies of a lonely hebridean island with a population of 0 greatly appealed to us both. So it was a real treat to receive an e-mail from James last month inviting a party of four (and two dogs) to use Scarba as a base for his stag do.
A quick glance at an OS map of Scarba shows a rocky coast line peppered with caves, cliffs and waterfalls. Perhaps the islands greatest claim to fame is the Gulf of the Corryvreckan (roughly translating to “the cauldron of the speckled seas”). This narrow stretch of water separates Scarba from Jura, the combination of depth, currents and a sizeable underwater conical rock creates a volatile tidal race and the worlds third largest whirlpool. I didn’t pack my speedos.
A cynic may suggest that by choosing a deserted mountain in the sea off the coast of Western Scotland in February which can only be accessed by private boat as his venue of choice was James’ way of saying he didn’t fancy a night on the lash in a city centre as his stag do. Maybe it was just a way of avoiding being tied up to a lampost for the night. After a great lunchtime curry from the Indian Community Centre in Nottingham James, Rob and Reuben and myself boarded the van and made for Glasgow where we would collect Pete and young Dougal the chocolate labrador. Reuben displayed an unprecendented level of enthusiasm whilst we passed over the A66.
An overnight stop at Pete’s gave us all chance to catch up and make some vague plans for the weekend in front of a roaring fire before heading out to get lashed in Glasgow and find a stripclub for James. Actually it was bed by half eleven after a lovely fish pie and ready for an early start.
Scarba cannot quite justify a Calmac ferry port so we had arranged to get to the island from the quiet port of Croabh Haven with the assistance of Duncan, captain of The Farsain. For a very reasonable price Duncan had agreed to drop us off at a jetty on the eastern side of Scarba and all being well collect us on the following Monday. It’s not uncommon to have all four seasons in 15 minutes in the hebrides so extra days food had been packed just in case the weather played up and postponed the return trip. Part of me was secretly wishing for this to happen as it would have been great to call work on wednesday to say I couldn’t make it in because I was stranded.
The heavy grey clouds and drizzle that had hung around all morning cleared just in time for our crossing, heavy packs stuffed with food, tents and booze were lugged onto the deck and our wee boat left the harbour. The ocean was calm as a mill pond, within minutes the recognisable mound of Scarba came into view, its only habitable building Kilmory Lodge stood out white against the rusty golden hills.
With time to spare Duncan went beyond the jetty to point out location of nests in some Scots Pine belonging to a pair White Tailed Eagles. If that wasn’t enough Duncan generously treated us to a five minute tour of The Grey Dog, a tidal race that sits between Scarba and Lunga. The water appeared to split and divide as various currents flooded into one another through the narrow channel. Duncan steered the Farsain through the ebbs and flows with ease, each side of the boat gurgles with small whirlpools and gushing currents.
With the Farsain bobbing away into the distance we picked a decent track which passed the lodge and contoured the eastern side of the island. The odd sheep and herd of deer raised their heads to watch us pass, the novelty of having an entire island all to ourselves for the weekend was just sinking in. Before long we came to the head of a glen which we would be calling home for the next three nights, at the foot of the glen lay a humble wee bothy which looked out to Jura. There’s nothing quite like the slow approach to an empty bothy with not another soul in sight.
This wasn’t an MBA bothy and was a little rough around the edges but as a shelter it served us well as a place to have a fire and gave us a large room to cook and eat in. I wouldn’t be too keen to spend the night alone in it though, it had a creepy feel to it. There was a decent sheltered area to pitch our tents a short walk from the bothy, an icy burn churned into the sea next to our site, giving the clearest coldest drinking water you could imagine.
The small bay near our site had an abundance of driftwood which we set about stacking, we clearly weren’t going to struggle for firewood during our stay. With the domestics taken care of and the ramshackle bothy looking a little more lived in we ventured out to explore the nearest stretch of coast.
An impressive rock arch had formed a natural doorway to Rubha Righinn. The dogs bounded happily along the slippy rocks whilst those with two legs ambled along at a gentler pace, deer paths disappeared and reappeared whilst the dogs occasionally requiring to be hoisted up some of the more tricky and steep sections of craggy coast.
Within the hour the sun was beginning to set and cast a beautiful golden light over the Corryvreckan and made a silhoutte of Jura, making one of the worlds most volatile natural water features appear calm and inviting. As the sun sank behind clouds the views evolved and became more breath-taking by the minute.
A clear sky brought a chill to the air prompting a return to the bothy in the fading light. After a dusky scramble back along the coast, the bothy had lost its stark and unwelcoming feel and now offered us warmth and comfort. With zero light pollution the sky was plastered with lively bright stars. My point and shoot digi camera was never going to do it justice but you get the idea.
After a few beers and rum infused coffees round the fire we left the cosy bothy and retired to our tents, in what has now become something of a ritual I piddled about with some very amateur shots of tents in the dark before my hands became too cold and I wrapped up in my sleeping bag to try and get warm.