Lunga, Firth of Lorn

Lunga, Firth of Lorn

Infobox Scottish island

celtic name=Lunga
norse name=Langr-oy
meaning of name= Old Norse for 'isle of the longships'
area=254 ha (628 acres)
area rank=96
highest elevation= Bidean na h-Iolaire 98 metres (321 ft)
population rank=76=
main settlement= Rubha Fiola Centre
island group= Slate Islands
local authority=Argyll and Bute
references= [2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland] cite book| author=Haswell-Smith, Hamish| year=2004| title=The Scottish Islands| location=Edinburgh| publisher=Canongate| isbn=1841954543] cite map| url=| title=Get-a-map| publisher=Ordnance Survey]

Lunga is one of the Slate Islands in the Firth of Lorn, Scotland. The "Grey Dog" tidal race, which runs in the sea channel to the south, reaches 8 knots in full flood. The name 'Lunga' is derived from the Old Norse for 'isle of the longships', but almost all other place names are Gaelic in origin. The population was never substantial and today the main activity is an adventure centre on the northern headland of "Rubha Fiola". The surrounding seas are fished for prawns and scallops and there is a salmon farm off the south eastern shores. The National Scenic Area of which the island is part, hosts a growing number of outdoor leisure pursuits.cite paper|author=Howson, C.M., Mercer, T. and Moore, J.J.| date=2006| title=Site Condition Monitoring: survey of rocky reefs in the Firth of Lorn marine Special Area of Conservation| publisher=Scottish Natural Heritage| volume=Commissioned Report No.190.| location=Inverness| url=| accessdate=2007-07-28]


Lunga is 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) west of the island of Luing and just north of Scarba. The nearest town is Oban some 16 kilometres (10 miles) to the north. The channel to the south, "Bealach a' Choin Ghlais" (pass of the grey dog), is only 200 metres wide and is scoured by the notorious 'Grey Dog' tidal race which reaches 8 knots when in full flood.cite book| author=Murray, W.H.| date=1973| title=The Islands of Western Scotland|location=London| publisher=Eyre Methuen] According to an 1845 description:

... about 1 cable broad, and the stream of water during the greater part of ebb and flood rushes along the narrow pass with much violence. So great is the overfall on the current, that even during moderate tides it is impossible to force a boat through. [ [ Whirlpool Scotland] Retrieved 26 February 2007. This source is quoting Gillies, Patrick H. (1909) "NetherLorn - Argyllshire and its Neighbourhood". London. Virtue & Co.]

This strait is sometimes called the 'Little Corryvreckan' after its greater cousin between Scarba and Jura just a few miles to the south. [cite web| url=| title=Dive trip to Correyvreckan| accessdate=2007-02-24]

There are numerous islets in the surrounding waters. To the north is the isle of Belnahua and to the north west are "Eilean Dubh Mor" and the Garvellachs. Due west there is only Dubh Artach lighthouse between Lunga and the open Atlantic Ocean. At high tide the northern tip of Lunga becomes several separate islets with "Rubha Fiola" (headland of the tidal island) to the north, then "Fiola Meadhonach" (middle tidal island), "Eilean Ioasal" (humble island) and "Fiola an Droma" (drum-shaped tidal island) closest to Lunga proper. All around are smaller skerries and islets, including "Eilean a' Bhealaich" (island of the pass), Guirasdeal to the south west and Fladda to the north. This complexity of land and sea coupled with the strong tides makes these the most treacherous channels on Scotland's west coast. [Murray, W.H. (1977) "The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland." London. Collins.]

The highest point is "Bidean na h-Iolaire" (peak of the eagle) and the main bay is "Camas a Mhor-Fhir" (bay of the giant) to the south which provides an escape route from the Grey Dog. [Most English sources such as Murray "op cit" tend to call the tidal current the Grey Dog (singular), although Haswell Smith (2004) and various websites refer to the 'Grey Dogs' (plural). The latter is consistent with the original Gaelic, although not the associated legend. It is possible that the English use of the singular is intended to refer to the tidal race, and the plural to the many standing waves it creates.] The only other anchorage for passing yachts is at "Poll nan Corran" (the sickle shaped pool), on the east coast, which has a pebble beach.


Prior to the Pleistocene ice ages Lunga was part of a long peninsula stretching south west parallel to Kintyre. The Firth of Lorn glacier sliced this peninsula into several islands, including Islay, Jura, Scarba, Lunga, Luing and Seil. Later changes in sea level left raised beaches over much of the west coast of Scotland and Lunga has several examples. The bedrock of Lunga comprises a mixture of quartzite, limestone and shale called 'Scarba conglomerate' which predominates to the west and in the tidal islands to the north, with schist and mica-schist to the east. Unlike the other Slate Islands immediately to the north there is no commercially viable slate on Lunga, although the slate workers of Belnahua made use of the fresh water spring known as "Tobar a Challuim-Chille" (the well of St. Columba's church) north west of "Bidean na h-Iolaire" during times of drought. It is a trough, made up of flagstones, which reputedly never runs dry.


The legend associated with the "Bealach a' Choin Ghlais" is part of the same story that surrounds the naming of the nearby Gulf of Corryvreckan (English: the speckled cauldron). This is where the Norse Prince Breacan of Lochlann is said to have drowned when his boat sank there, so giving his name to this great whirlpool. [cite web| url=| format=Word| title=Whirlpool-scotland| accessdate=2007-02-25] The prince's dog managed to swim to land and went in search of his master. Failing to find him on Jura or Scarba he tried to leap across the strait to Lunga, but missed his footing on "Eilean a' Bhealaich" which sits in the middle of the channel between the two islands. He slipped into the raging current and drowned as well, giving his own name in turn to the strait where he fell - the 'pass of the grey dog'.cite web| url=| title=Sea kayak guide| accessdate=2007-02-26]

In common with many of the remoter Scottish islands the human population experienced a decline during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The highest recorded number was 29 in 1794, declining to 15 by 1891 and only 5 by 1931. The graves of some of the islanders are to be found in the churchyard at Kilchattan on nearby Luing. Lunga was not permanently inhabited during the 1960s and 70s.

Present day

The island is owned by the family of Torquil Johnson-Ferguson [cite web| url=| publisher=Who Owns Scotland?| title=Lunga| accessdate=2007-02-24] who runs the Rua Fiola adventure centre which caters for parties of school age children. The activities, which include rock climbing and canoeing, also make use of the nearby islets including "Eilean Dubh Mor" and "Eilean Dubh Beag". [ Rua Fiola Island Exploration Centre] Retrieved 26 Feb 2007.] The rest of Lunga itself, where there are only three houses, is primarily used for grazing animals.


The surrounding seas are fished for prawns and scallops and there is a lease for a salmon farm off the south eastern shores of Lunga just north of the "Bealach a' Choin Ghlais" by the islet "Sgeir Mhic an Altair". This part of the seabed is also a haven for the rare seafan anemone "Amphianthus dohrnii". The kelp "Laminaria hyperborea" dominates much of the surrounding infralittoral [ [ Ocean zone definitions] Retrieved 1 Mar 2007] in areas not swept by the strongest tides. In some sheltered locations with deeper water there are feather stars including "Leptometra celtica" and the hydroid "Lytocarpia myriophyllum". On land the island is home to European Otter and Red Deer. Atlantic Grey Seals, Minke Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin, and Harbour Porpoise are regular marine visitors. Golden and White-tailed Sea Eagles are also commonly sighted. The area is of growing importance for various leisure activities including scuba divingcite web| url=| title=Argyll Marine Special Areas of Conservation| accessdate=2007-02-26] and canoeing.

The island is part of the Scarba, Lunga and the Garvellachs National Scenic Area which extends to 1,900 hectares, [cite web| url=,502394,33_502425&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&PA_CODE=9147| title=Scarba, Lunga and the Garvellachs National Scenic Area| publisher=Scottish Natural Heritage| accessdate=2007-07-28] and of the Firth of Lorn marine Special Area of Conservation.

Lunga group

This mini-archipelago has no formal status although Lunga is clearly the largest island in the heteregeneous group that lies 'between the Isles of the Sea and the Sound of Luing'. [Murray, W.H. (1966) "The Hebrides". London. Heinemann.] In addition to Lunga and its immediate attendants which can be reached at lower stages of the tide the larger islands and islets in the group are:
*Eilean Dubh Mòr
*Eilean Dubh Beag
*Eilean nan Ceann
*Sgeir Poll nan Corran
*Sgeir Mhic an Altair
*Eilean a' Bhealaich
*An Tudan
*Liath Sgeir

These are often included in the Slate Islands



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