The world’s third largest maelstrom, the Corryvreckan, lies in wait between the isles of Jura and Scarba, Scotland. Being where it is, it is bound to not only have a history worth repeating, but is bound to have stories, myths and tales attached to it.
One mention of the whirlpool comes from Donald Munro in 1549: “ther runnes ane streame, above the power of all sailing and rowing, with infinit dangers, callit Corybrekan. This stream is aught myle lang, quhilk may not be hantit bot be certain tyds.“1 (“There runs one stream, above the power of all sailing and rowing, with infinite dangers, called Corryvreckan. This stream is eight miles long, which may not be handled but by certain tides.”). Donald was a Scottish clergyman with the honorary title of “Dean of the Isles”; his father was chief of the clan Munro and 10th Baron of Foulis, and most importantly to history, Donald wrote a description of the Western Isles of Scotland. Included in that is the Hebrides (Inner and Outer), which have been noteworthy since at least AD 83, when Demetrius or Tarsus wrote about his journey to one such island, the retreat of holy men.
The name itself comes from the Gaelic Coire Bhreacain – “Cauldron of the Plaid”, and is connected with a myth of Cailleach Bheur, an old hag who was said to stir the waters of the strait in order to wash her plaid. Breacan was also thought to be the name of a Norse king – whether he gave his name to the maelstrom, or the modern name of the strait is a pun on his name, is debatable. But he is said to have tried to escape from his father (another tale claims he was trying to impress a local princess – but perhaps there’s an element of truth in both the tales) and was swept into the current.
In 1947, George Orwell was nearly drowned in the Corryvreckan along with his three-year-old son and two companions; only because the currents changed were they able to row away from the danger, sans motor that got eaten by the maelstrom, and were then shipwrecked on an uninhabited rock, with no supplies. They were rescued by a passing fisherman, and three months later the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four was complete.2
2 (Source: Taylor, D.J. (2003). Orwell: The Life. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. 385–7)