A Rum Circumperambulation

Sitting at home scrutinising a map of the diamond-shaped isle of Rum, my eyes wandered clockwise around the island’s  coastline from Kinloch at the head of Loch Scresort; following the contours around corries, glens,  gullies and bays, crossing burns and climbing above cliffs before eventually returning to Kinloch to complete a projected Circumperambulation of Rum (I would have used the nautical term ‘circumnavigation’ but for  the erudite intervention of Mr Dave Hoult. Thank-you, Dave).

Anyway, looking at the map while sitting in my comfy armchair in front of the roaring hearth, dram of Laphroaig in hand, I thought – in the great tradition of Bluesky Bob – ‘hmm, looks like it’ll go’. Two and a half to three days tops to get around the 25-mile-ish coastline, I reckoned. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Having been for a walk in Scotland before, I knew that looking at a map under the influence of Laphroaig in the comfort of one’s own home could lead to bitter recriminations when actually on the ground.

Nonetheless, we set off for Mallaig on a Friday evening at the beginning of February. The weather had been appalling for several days and many ferries around the Hebrides had been cancelled. We weren’t sure the following morning’s ferry would go, but you can’t be giving in to the weather in Scotland.

We stayed in a great B&B in Mallaig (Springbank – inexpensive and top quality) along with some strapping Dutch fellows who were off to salvage a French trawler that had run aground near Kilmory Bay on Rum’s north coast a few days before. The 14 crew members had been rescued by helicopter. With any luck we’d get to see the bejiggered vessel as we – hopefully – made our way around the island’s coast.

The morning dawned wet though calm – the boat was sure to go. Fortified by a breakfast of far too many pork-based products at such an early hour, we staggered down to the quay and caught the Small Isles ferry. The crossing was a wee bit bumpy and the sky was an ever-changing canvas of roiling grey hues, but otherwise it was hugely enjoyable. Not least because we enjoyed a good chat with 15% of the isle of Canna’s population – the ferry would call at Canna en route to Rum. Amanda runs Canna’s cafe/restaurant with her husband Aart, Magda is custodian of Canna House and Stewart is the island’s National Trust Scotland warden. Canna has a population of just 21 souls.

So enthusiastic and enamoured of their island were these excellent folk, that we almost abandoned our plans to walk round Rum in favour of leaping off the ferry at Canna. All three are fans of Alex and Bob’s Bluesky Scotland, having hugely enjoyed their excellent blog posts about their visit to the island last summer.

Lovely Canna from Bloodstone Hill

With some effort, we resisted abandoning ship and continued on to Rum. By the time we arrived at the slipway on Loch Scresort, the weather had improved a bit. After dumping a pack with extra clothes, food etc at Kinloch Castle, we started along the pony path to Dibdil. The stone-metalled path was built for leading the indigenous Rum ponies laden with deer carcasses back to Kinloch Castle after a day’s stalking back in the heyday of the Bullough’s sporting estate. The path still serves that function today on occasion, though deer-stalking is a different business on the island today.

The path certainly helps with traversing the five miles of often boggy terrain over to Glen Dibdil. Though the path only climbs to around 200 metres, it still took us three and a half hours to get to Dibdil. This was largely down to time spent admiring the splendid views.

Eigg under weather, seen from the Dibdil path

Despite a couple of brief wintry showers, the walk over was fine and we were soon looking on to the lowering bulk of Sgurr nan Gill looming over Glen Dibdil.

 

Sgurr nan Gillean

After winding down into the Glen and crossing the Dibdil River, we soon arrived at the very splendid Dibdil bothy.

Unsurprisingly, given the time of year, there was no-one else at the bothy when we arrived and we weren’t expecting anyone else to turn up later. The evening light was already failing so I went off on a driftwood recce. Nada, zero, zilch – not even a splinter to be found. We used a little of the small amount of wood in the bothy and so cashed in some of our stock of bothy wood-gathering karma.

Very cosy it was too – Dibdil is a fine bothy and was in excellent order when we arrived. After a traditional bothy dinner of venison steaks, rice and veg, we turned in for an early night as it was a little parky.

Up with  the pre-dawn light, we were soon breakfasted, packed and out the door. The weather looked a little undecided, but we’d take what ever came our way. The pony path continued for the next few miles as far as Papadil and we were grateful for its help in steering through a complicated area of terrain.

Like the previous day, the walk over to Papadil took longer than anticipated – how would it be when we no longer had the benefit of a path after Papadil? Eventually, Loch Papadil came into view.

However, in my haste to descend to the loch I led us off the path, which brought us to a steep descent alongside a gorge and through some dense rhododendron thickets growing around the ruins of the old Papadil Lodge, once a deerstalking retreat for Sir George Bullough’s guests.

I have to admit to being a bit apprehensive about the onward route, the terrain looked a bit challenging and I was a little anxious about what the weather might do. However, the going was surprisingly good – if anything it was easier than the path over from Papadil and the ground was pretty much bog, tussock and heather-free. The coastal landscape looked wild and uncompromising, but we contoured along at around 120 metres and covered the ground quicker than anticipated.

Having skirted around the flank of Ruinsival – an outlier of the Rum Cuillin – Harris Bay came into view.

It took a little while to walk to the bay and we had a couple of rivers to cross, but we were standing in front of the Bullough’s ostentatious and slightly Gothic mausoleum soon enough.

Whatever you think of this striking edifice, it certainly has a sublime setting. We perched in the lee of Sir George’s tomb to eat our sarnies as the sky darkened out to sea. Before long the rain came slanting down and we sheltered behind Sir George and wondered whether we would have to abandon our plans to continue around the coast to Giurdil bothy. We had three hours daylight left and around five miles to walk; not a tall order, but we had a section of high cliffs to traverse, a bealach to cross at 300 metres followed by a very steep descent. Dense cloud had descended low over the island and the driving rain made the whole proposition a little shaky. What to do? Getting into the tent at 2pm in the rain wasn’t a tempting prospect .

Happily, however, the rain passed and the cloud began to lift. we shouldered our packs and set off again – destination Giurdil! As we climbed north-west out of Harris Bay, the cloud lifted a little off the Rum Cuillin, enhancing the majesty of this sublime landscape.

Onward we toiled as the weather continued to improve. A faint path helped us on our way and we began to feel optimistic about reaching Giurdil before dusk.

We climbed to 300 metres above the cliffs, then contoured around to the bealach between Sron an t-Saighdeir and Bloodstone Hill. There were fine views north to Canna, north-west to Barra and South Uist and west to Coll and Tiree.

Crossing the bealach, we descended contoured north-west for a while on a faint path along the flank of Bloodstone Hill, traversing above a scree strewn area before crossing a couple of gullies and descending very steeply on a grassy slope to the edge of the Giurdil River. The bothy came into view below us and the presence of deer and feral goats on the beach suggested that nobody was home.

This was another fine bothy we’d gotten ourselves into and as well as assorted combustible materials, some kind soul had left us two inches of 15 year-old Glenfiddich, which was used to wash dinner down in front of the roaring hearth. Sliante!

We had decided to spend two nights at Giurdil and spend the day running around the hills in the locale. The morning dawned a bit dreich, so we hung about for a while watching the weather over Canna.

The weather over Canna

Eventually, we decided to shimmy up the steep flank of Bloodstone Hill; this was hard work but once we’d worked our way up to the head of a gully we soon picked up the old pony path to the summit. To the south, cloud poured over the summit of Orval.

From the summit of Bloodstone Hill we gazed down on Canna resplendent beneath us, but you’ve already had that picture! We headed back to the bealach from the summit and then continued around Glen Giurdil on the pony path as far as the Bealach a Bhraigh Bhig. From here we made the short ascent of Fionchra (463m).

Fiona atop Fionchra, with Orval in the background

We then descended Fionchra’s tussocky spine to complete the horsehoe that returned us to Giurdil bothy. The afternoon was spent admiring geological phenomena and gathering pieces of agate from the beach. Sadly, we failed to find any bloodstone lying around.

In the morning, we set off early on the last leg of our circumperambulation. There is a path running from Giurdil as far as Glen Shellesder, a kilometre to the north-east.

Things were going swimmingly until we reached the Glen Shellesder Burn; while attempting to cross, Fiona slipped and came crashing down on her bahookey – she sported a bruise like a black and blue map of Iceland for several days thereafter. Fiona had also been carrying my old LX1 camera and it came pinging off her rucksack belt into the burn. It was submerged in its un-waterproof case for a good six or seven seconds. When retrieved, it was wet. There were no signs of life. This was a little sad as that wee camera had been a good friend… Two days later, it started to show signs of life! The stick that camera has taken and still it refuses to die.

Fiona during happier burn crossing moments

Continuing on, we gained a little height,  upped and downed a little before picking up a faint path across a stretch of boggy ground. We contoured along at around 9o metres, crossing a few burns and trying to stick to the sometimes elusive path. The coastal landscape was wonderful.

As we drew closer to Kilmory Bay, I thought it would be time to scan the shore beneath the cliffs for the grounded French trawler. Sure enough, she soon came into view, having managed to run aground at a very picturesque point.

Continuing on, we were soon in sight of Kilmory Bay and the red deer research base therein. Descending to the bay, we skirted around the shore and crossed a footbridge over the Kilmory River. Kilmory Bay has a very fine beach, allegedly her Maj’s favourite. The sand is a two tone mixture of reddish and paler hues and is deeply lovely indeed.

We hid behind some rocks to eat our sandwiches, protected from the wind-whipped sand. It was a bit chilly, so we soon set off again.

We continued around the coast, passing small bays and larger bays, such as the wonderful Sahnan Insir with it’s beautiful ruin.

We would have been better off turning around at this point, heading back to Kilmory Bay and then following the Landrover track back to Kinloch, but we weren’t to know that the previously benign terrain would become a boggy, tussocky, heathery nightmare. Just past Samhnan Insir, we met a chap  patrolling the coast in search of deer carcasses – he was with the deer survey rather than being illegitimately interested in festering fauna – he was the first person we’d seen since leaving Kinloch three days before. Was the coast round to Kinloch navigable from here, we asked. He said he’d not walked it himself, but thought that it was. Wrong.

We continued battling around to Camas Pliasgaig until we hit a deer fence that climbed up and over the hill into the hinterlands. The way beyond looked like much of the same and we’d had enough already. So we launched ourselves up along the deer fence, climbing up to 200 metres and over Meall a’ Ghoirtein before descending on rough, boggy and really annoying terrain to Kinloch. We won’t do that next time!

Arriving in Kinloch, we were met by a reception commitee of rather lovely Rum ponies.

A fine walk. Much recommended.

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26 responses

    • Thanks Alan. Unfortunately a technical hitch lead to only half the post going up. I’ve sorted it out now and it’s restored to its somewhat lengthy unexpurgated version.

      Cheers

  1. Another great article.- I especially liked the one on the Pyranees. You’re a brave couple to attempt going round Rhum in February, never mind in the height of summer.
    Sorry to be pedantic, but “bahookey” is normally spelled “bahoochie”. All the best, Russell

    • Thanks Russell, I’m happy to accept your pedantry – my attempt is obviously phonetically inclined! In return you can take on a bit of my own pedantry – being that the spelling ‘Rhum’ was an affectation of Sir George Bullough’s, which was reverted to the spelling ‘Rum’ some years ago.

      Brave or foolhardy. We were very lucky to get away with some fairly good weather over all for February. Thanks for reading.

  2. I really enjoyed reading that Pete, it has really got the juices flowing, so to speak. Were there any ghostly goings on at Dibdil? It is meant to be proper haunted that place. One story I read said that three guys went to sleep all in a nice neat row. They awoke the following morning to find each and every one of them had rotated 180 degrees during the night without waking up!

    People who have camped near Papadil Lodge have reported fleeing their camp in terror after the sensation of someone sitting on them in the night!

    You really do need to stop flinging Fionna into or across burns.

    Good idea leaving some kit at the castle, I was wondering if they would let people do that. Makes the rucksacks just that little bit lighter.

    • Aaaaggghhh! I wish you’d not told me that about the ghostly goings on, James. You must realise that I’m quite capable of sacrificing you to any bogey men should the need arise…

  3. An inspired walk and story indeed. Coupled with the gorgeous images, I fell like I’ve just journeyed alongside you – without the difficult bits and the submerging of a camera, of course! Wonderful…

    • Thanks Hoff. I’m sure you’d find much to admire in such a remarkable landscape. In fact, I think a Hebridean Odyssey of your own is something to consider at some point…

  4. Thanks for info on spelling of “Rum”, Peter. – And for not pointing out that I’d spelled “Pyrenees” incorrectly. That’s the problem with being a smart ass. – It can turn round and bite you in the bahoochie! Russell.

  5. Nature shows its grandness in strange ways. Who would have expected “stamping stones” in Glen Shellesder Burn, ready at hand to imprint maps on suitable body parts, whenever the need should arise. Well.., what did you need that Iceland map for at that moment? Wrong stone? Poor Fiona, when I think about looking up the whereabouts on her bahoochie in nasty weather. Great article, great images – as always.

    • Thankfully the Glen Shellesder stamping stone map of Iceland was only a 1:50,000,000. Anyway, you’re a bit late if you want to check Fiona’s bahookey map, Wilhelm, it’s faded considerably and now resembles a geological map of Carmarthenshire. Don’t tell Russell, but I’ve checked the spelling and it is ‘bahookey’ or ‘bahookie’, couldn’t find the ‘bahoochie’ variant anywhere. Anyway, if that’s Russell’s preferred spelling, I’m happy for him to continue using it.

      Thanks for reading and subscribing, Wilhelm.

  6. Excellent reading Pete. Guirdil is Bob`s favourite bothy in Scotland.Weather looked ok too given the time of year. I had a look at the section from Kilmory to Kinloch from the ferry but thought it would be an anticlimax after the western side of the island.Must get to the beach at Kilmory sometime though..!

    • Giurdil bothy is a wonder indeed, Alex. Have you been there since the sleeping deck has been installed upstairs? It’s worth walking a few kilometres beyond Kilmory for the wonderful rock formations and a couple of splendid bays – including Samhnan Insir. Much beyond, however, and it’s a complete pain in the arse; the terrain is all boggy tussock and the best of the scenery has been passed. Kilmory is wonderful, it’s funny how the red deer all hang out in the environs of the Red Deer Survey headquarters; perhaps they’re conducting their own research into the behavioural ecology of Edinburgh University zoology students…

  7. Another read of this fine post Pete, this time with a map of Rum spread out on my lap. Getting very excited about the impending trip. If the weather is fine when walking between Dibidil and Guidil would you fancy a high wild camp somewhere around Orval? Sitting outside tents watching the sun set from a high vantage point would be magical. It may be optomistic though!

    Just borrowed a book off a mate describing the Dibidil horseshoe on the Cuillins. Looks great but not an undertaking to take casually! He gives it as around a 6 to 8 hours trip. Can’t wait to be on the pointy bits!

    • Howdy James; in principle I’m happy to camp on the route over to Giurdil – weather contingent! Maybe Bloodstone Hill if conditions are calm-ish. Although being only 30mins walk from the fabulous Giurdil bothy may prove to tempting…

      Which book do you have with the DH, is that starting and finishing at Dibidil? The SMC Islands guide has it down as 5-6 hours starting and finishing at Dibidil bothy.

  8. I think that weather is going to play a big part in what we get up to Pete. Sadly I have just started wistful looks at Metcheck. Yesterday it said that the week would be mild, sunny and little wind whilst today it is forecasting temps of minus 5 during the day and snow showers whilst we are there!

    The book I borrowed is a Trailblazer – scottish highlands where Rum gets all of two pages. I think that someone should write a guidebook to Rum……………. He says Kinloch to Dibidil 2.5 hours and then the horseshoe 6.5 to 8.5 hrs although he does not make it clear if that includes the return to Kinloch. Anyway I rarely take too much notice of timings, who says that you can’t take 5 hrs to walk to Dibdil from Kinloch?

    Rich has been busy buying shiny new kit, waterproofs and rucksack. Me on the other hand splashed out on some shiny wicky pants from M&S………..

  9. I feel your incisive analysis will prove correct – whether the weather is with us or not will be a big factor when it comes to the pointy bits. Don’t fancy the Askival south ridge scramble in icy conditions/poor visibility/strong winds/driving rain or any combination of the aforementioned. Still, we’ll see. Glad you and Rich are able to invest in new garments for the world of outdoors. Writing guidebooks has left me so impoverished that I’m desperately trying to resuscitate some rather poorly items of kit…

  10. Well done Pete, and thanks for the credit. The word (circumperambulation) isn’t quite as long as the walk, and thinking of it was a whole lot easier than doing it! I must admit I thought you were brave (aka crazy) to try it in February, but you proved me wrong. Having already visited Dibidil, Harris, Guirdil and Kilmory, you’ve really fired me up to link them up in one route, as you and Fiona did. (I think I’ll wimp out along the track from Kilmory though…….)

  11. Pingback: Small Isles – Isle of Rum | Kilmory Bay

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