A fleet-footed Rum Cuillin recce

After completing our Rum Circumperambulation, we pitched the tent at the shore front campsite, had a shower at the marvellous Kinloch Castle hostel and enjoyed a mince pie and chips in the castle ‘bistro’. Once dinner was despatched, there was only one thing for it – a pint of Red Cuillin ale in the lovely castle common room bar.

After warming our bones in front of the magnificent fire awhile, we tottered off to the tent. It had started raining and continued all night and for much of the following day with varying intensity – from drizzle to monsoon and back again with only brief pauses. Walking was entirely off the agenda, but the castle made for a fine refuge from the weather. We hung around the castle all day, playing scrabble, eating in the bistro and enjoying a guided tour of the castle generously conducted by Linda Hoejlund, the visitor service manager. It was  fascinating looking around this treasure house of exotic Edwardiana, but we gained an insight into the mammoth scale of the task facing Linda and her team, just to keep the castle ticking over. Kinloch Castle is in need of extensive renovation work including a major overhaul of the roof. It would be a real shame if the castle were to slump into creeping entropy – it’s a major asset for the island and its tiny community, but the SNH (Scottish National Heritage) has limited resources.

That evening, after a very agreeable day of relaxation, we enjoyed ‘oriental night’ in the bistro before making the inevitable pilgrimage to the bar. ‘Are you away tomorrow?’ asked the lovely barmaid. Fiona replied that we were catching the 2pm ferry and the barmaid said that this was a shame as the weather was forecast to be spectacularly good.

That was it. Back to the tent, alarm set; an appointment with the Rum Cuillin was on the morning’s agenda.

Up before dawn, we collected our waterproofs, gaiters and boots from the castle drying room and set of along the path by the Allt Slugan.

Looking back on Kinloch at the head of Loch Scresort, the Black Cuillin of Skye in the background

The path is very distinct and easy to follow as it climbs beside the river – crossing a couple of burns flowing into it along the way – until it reaches the Coire Dubh. This didn’t stop me losing the path by crossing what looked like a ford across the river and following some ATV tracks which soon became indistinct. Once we’d gained the corrie I could see the path on the other side of the river and realised my error. We kept close to the river and soon arrived at a partially collapsed old stone dam. Here the path conveniently crossed to our side of the river. This is where the path marked on the OS Explorer map runs out. A short distance ahead, 160 metres above and almost directly south of where we stood, the low point of the Bealach Bairc-mheall between Barkeval and Hallival provided the obvious line of ascent. However, there was no sign of a path making directly for the bealach, but there was a distinct path skirting around the eastern side of the corrie as it ascended. this looked promising, so we followed her up. After gaining around 100 metres, we realised that this path would take us over the Cnapan Breaca, which made for a more direct route to the eastern end of the bealach and thence onto Hallival, this is the route used by folk who are not involving Barkeval in their round of the Rum Cuillin.

Fiona on the Cnapan Breaca

Once over the Cnapan Breaca, we were gazing up at the magnificent spectacle of Hallival above us with bright morning sunlight flooding around the distinctively-shaped summit from the east.

As we climbed, a sheen of frost was evident on the rocky terrain. From below, several large, vertical outcrops of gabbro looked to present something of an obstacle between us and the summit. As is often the case, once we’d got amongst it there was no real problem stitching together a route up through the rocky terrain though the frost meant three-point contact was the order of the day. We were soon standing by the cairn on the 722-metre summit. It’s no overstatement to say that the views were breathtaking. In every direction. To the south stood the daunting eminence of Askival, at 812 metres the highest of the Rum Cuillin.

To the south-west, Trollaval (right) and Ainshval…

…and Sgurr nan Gillean beyond Ainshval – tucked behind Askival in this pic:

To the south-east, Eigg lay resplendent, bathed in the intense morning sunlight.

To the south-west, we looked down the Atlantic Corrie to Glen Harris and Barkeval, with Ard Nev, Orval and Fionchra beyond:

The shadows are cast by Hallival and Askival.

We could have stayed atop Hallival a long while on such a pristine morning, but we decided to knock off Barkeval while we were here and then leg it back for the ferry. Somewhat elated by the experience, we had to remember just how slippery the frost-sheened rock was in places. We descended to the bealach with due caution before climbing the 130 metres to the summit of Barkeval (591m). The actual summit is around three-quarters of a kilometre west beyond the first cairn encountered at 517 metres. There are several rocky outcrops on the summit ridge and finding the top in murky conditions would be a challenge. Today though we were enjoying the loveliest day that 2011 had yet produced.

Once we were on the true summit, we took in the views onto Ard Nev, Orval and Fionchra:

Down Glen Harris to Harris Bay:

The same view enhanced by Fiona’s Caspar David Friedrich-esque posing:

The view back up the Atlantic Corrie to Hallival and Askival was quite good too:

Checking my watch, I realised we only had two hours to get back down to Kinloch, strike camp, pack and hot foot it to the ferry slipway. Time to go.

We made it with five minutes or so to spare. It really was the best use of a morning I’ve had in a while; I think Fiona might agree. We celebrated with a fine lunch of CalMac haddock and chips. It’s not a bad old life.


18 responses

    • Hello Russell, bizzarely the sunlight that morning was almost too much. In the Hebrides. In February. Days like this do happen and I’ve been fortunate to experience a few out among the Hebs in winter. I remember walking in my t-shirt along the west coast of Jura a few years back – in February. Thanks for reading, Russell.

  1. Magnificent photos…makes the previous day a distant memory I bet.
    Having said that I find myself enjoying pottering around nowadays as much as I do getting into the hills 🙂

    I`m aiming to go over to Rum pre midge season for a few days.

    • Hello Alex, I’ll be back over to Rum myself at the end of March with James from Backpackingbongos; then back again mid-April with a small group. In between all this myself and the Lovely Fiona are getting hitched down in the sunny south. Given that I occasionaly need to resort to a modicum of paid employment, a busy couple of months looms. When will you be going yourself?

  2. pete- I hope you and Fiona have as many wonderful travels together as we are having. Now on the south island. Every Maori we have met claims to be Scottish. A good talent scout and geneologist could get a good scottish first 15 together in a month.

    • Hello Warren and Esther, we’re doing our best! It’s definitely the Scots who’ve left the strongest mark on NZ; I wouldn’t be surprised if many Maori have some Scots in their heritage. Many place names, especially in the South Island, have a distinct Scottish leaning. We once took a water taxi skippered by a chap called Val Mackay who led the local Scots pipe and drum marching band while his wife taught Highland dancing classes in local schools!

      A Scots-Maori team is quite a formidable thought. Get a few of those extra big, rough and tough Polynesian lads too!

      I’m really looking forward to your next post – apart from heading south out of Papakura, I don’t think we went to anywhere you’ve been on your route…

  3. As Writes of way would say, that was Lovely. With you every step of the way there Pete. Do you think that we will get a whole week of weather like that at the end of March? I really do hope so! At least if it is not the bar looks like a good place to fester in and they do Red Cuilin to boot, does not get any better than that! We will have to get our heads together at some point to get some planning done. As long as it includes the two bothies and a couple of nice hills then I will be happy! Just to let you know that Rich confirmed yesterday that he got his train tickets so will definately be coming along. You will have both of our dashing good looks and charming wit / sarcasm to look forward to!

    Did you mentioned the getting hitched bit?

    • Hello James, yes, heads together and all that. Rich – great, we’ll be able to muster a stretcher party and casualty combo if needs be. Didn’t mention the getting hitched thingumy before, it’s a recent idea. We saw that our dear Prince Wilhelm Saxe-Coburg Gotha was getting married so we thought we’d follow his fine example. Neither of us are the marrying type apparently, but there you go. Now, off to Dirty Dartmoor…

  4. The fact that you are already talking about stretcher and casualty combos has got me a little bit worried!

    Not sure what the marrying type is really but you obviously are now.

  5. My notification was lost somewhere near the bottom of my inbox for some reason, so I’m taking this little stroll somewhat later than usual! Lovely all the same; though perhaps more importantly, I hear through the sub-continental grapevine that congratulations are due!! And in fact I’ve just seen it mentioned in the comments above…many best wishes to you both!! Wonderful….

    • Hoff! I told you months back and invited you and Joules on the off-chance you could make it to Blighty. Perhaps it was such an unlikely piece of information that you swiftly edited it from your conciousness?

      • Or this ageing, addled brain has begun unintentionally sifting information and storing some of it in inaccessible places. The moment I read your reply the door to that particular dusty cupboard swung open and I remembered!! Please forgive me Paul…I mean Peter. Still, congratulations are in order!!! At least until I remember to stop…

        love Hoff

  6. Glad you both managed to get a fantastic looking day on the hills Pete.And no midges!Never been around the castle properly yet.Looks fantastic.

    • It was a cracking trip, Bob. The castle is definitely not to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s a great thing that this astounding time capsule of exotic Edwardiana has been preserved – well worth a look and the bar is great! Sliante!

  7. As I sit here watching the snow belt down outside I can’t help but think lucky devils! Meant to go to Rum looking for bloodstone (I think) way back in the 70’s but never got there. I have to say your exploits are making me think about it again. Great stuff and definitely something for you to remember!

    • Hello Ken, just been watching the snow myself coming up through the Lowther Hills on the train. A fair dusting, but it’s all turned to slush here in Glasgow. I’ll be back to Rum again in a couple of weeks’ time. We looked for bloodstone on the beach at Giurdil – didn’t find any, but got some nice bits of common-or-garden agate. I couldn’t recommend a visit enough, such a wonderful place and I’m sure Maisie would love the beaches and wildlife.

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