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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.