Lunga (Slate Islands)

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Gaelic name Lunga
Norse name Langr-oy
Meaning of name Old Norse for 'isle of the longships'
Lunga is located in Argyll and Bute
Lunga shown within Argyll and Bute
OS grid reference NM706086
Coordinates 56°13′N 5°42′W / 56.22°N 5.70°W / 56.22; -5.70
Physical geography
Island group Slate Islands
Area 250 hectares (0.97 sq mi)[1]
Area rank 96= [2]
Highest elevation Bidean na h-Iolaire 98 m (322 ft)
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Argyll and Bute
Population 0
Main settlement Rubha Fiola Centre
References [3][4]

Lunga is one of the Slate Islands in the Firth of Lorn in Argyll and Bute, 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 Special Area of Conservation of which the island is part hosts a growing number of outdoor leisure pursuits.[5]


Lunga is 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) west of the island of Luing and just north of Scarba. The nearest town is Oban some 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) to the north. The channel to the south, Bealach a' Choin Ghlais (pass of the grey dog), is only 200 metres (220 yd) wide and is scoured by the notorious 'Grey Dog' tidal race which reaches 8 knots when in full flood.[3][6] 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.[7]

This strait is sometimes called the 'Little Corryvreckan' after its greater cousin between Scarba and Jura just a few miles to the south.[8]

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.[3][4] This complexity of land and sea coupled with the strong tides makes these the most treacherous channels on Scotland's west coast.[9][Note 1]

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.[11] 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.[3]


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[6] 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.[3]


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.[12] 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'.[13]

Lunga was mentioned by Donald Monro in his 1549 manuscript Description of the Western Isles of Scotland. He stated that "Lunge" was "three myle of lenthe, twa pairt myle of breadthe, with a paroch kirk, guid main land, inhabit and manurit, guid for store and corn. It possist be M’Gillayne of Doward, in feu fra the earl of Ergile. It is a havin sufficient for Highland galeyis in it, layand from the southwest to northeist in lenthe."[14]

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.[3]

Present day[edit]

The island is owned by the family of Torquil Johnson-Ferguson[15] 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.[16] The rest of Lunga itself, where there are only three houses, is primarily used for grazing animals.[3] In 2001 the island had a population of 7[17] but in 2011 there were no "usual residents" living there as recorded by the census.[18]


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[19] 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 diving[5][16][20] and canoeing.[13]

The island is part of the Scarba, Lunga and the Garvellachs National Scenic Area, one of 40 such areas in Scotlands, which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure its protection by restricting certain forms of development.[21] It also forms part of the Firth of Lorn marine Special Area of Conservation.[20]

Lunga group[edit]

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'.[22] 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
  • Ormsa
  • Belnahua
  • Fladda
  • Eilean nan Ceann
  • Sgeir Poll nan Corran
  • Sgeir Mhic an Altair
  • Eilean a' Bhealaich
  • Guirasdeal
  • An Tudan
  • Liath Sgeir

These are often included in the Slate Islands



  1. ^ This complexity also makes measuring the area of the main island and its outliers difficult. Livingstone's Tables provide data for the individual portions as follows: Lunga, 250ha, Fiola Meadhonach 19 ha, Rubha Fiola 20 ha. However, Haswell-Smith provides 254 ha for the whole group of islands that are connected at low tide.[1][3] The 2001 census offered a figure of 259 ha without providing a definition of the area measured.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Rick Livingstone’s Tables of the Islands of Scotland" (pdf) Argyll Yacht Charters. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  2. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7. 
  4. ^ a b Ordnance Survey. OS Maps Online (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure. 
  5. ^ a b Howson, C.M., Mercer, T. and Moore, J.J. (2006). "Site Condition Monitoring: survey of rocky reefs in the Firth of Lorn marine Special Area of Conservation" (PDF). =Commissioned Report No.190. Inverness: Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  6. ^ a b Murray, W.H. (1973). The Islands of Western Scotland. London: Eyre Methuen. 
  7. ^ Whirlpool Scotland Retrieved 26 February 2007. This source is quoting Gillies, Patrick H. (1909) NetherLorn - Argyllshire and its Neighbourhood. London. Virtue & Co.
  8. ^ "Dive trip to Correyvreckan". Archived from the original on February 12, 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  9. ^ Murray, W.H. (1977) The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland. London. Collins.
  10. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012. ,
  11. ^ Most English sources such as Murray (1977) 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.
  12. ^ "Whirlpool-scotland" (Word). Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  13. ^ a b "Sea kayak guide". Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  14. ^ Monro (1774) No. 31
  15. ^ "Lunga". Who Owns Scotland?. Archived from the original on January 19, 2004. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  16. ^ a b Rua Fiola Island Exploration Centre Archived February 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 26 Feb 2007.
  17. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  18. ^ National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  19. ^ Ocean zone definitions Retrieved 1 Mar 2007
  20. ^ a b "Argyll Marine Special Areas of Conservation". Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  21. ^ "National Scenic Areas". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 2018-05-24. 
  22. ^ Murray, W.H. (1966) The Hebrides. London. Heinemann.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 56°13′N 5°42′W / 56.217°N 5.700°W / 56.217; -5.700