A trip to Rum is always something to look forward to and some days back I was stood on the deck of the MV Loch Nevis with James and Rich, rejoicing in the great natural splendour of the Small Isles as our ferry ping-ponged it’s entertaining course between Mallaig, Eigg, Muck, Canna and finally Rum. The journey lasted five hours and would have been absolute purgatory in heavy seas. Happily, the conditions were calm and the sea was a veritable mill pond.
Around 20 folk had boarded the ferry at Mallaig and by the time the Loch Nevis hove to at the slipway in Loch Scresort, we were but a small band of travellers indeed. Kinloch, Rum’s only settlement – with a population of 31 souls – has the feel of a post-Apocalyptic outpost where the survivors eke a living on the fringes of a once great civilisation; an impression given weight by the band of ‘alternative’ incomers occupying the slowly decaying Edwardian edifice that is Kinloch Castle.
The apocalyptic atmosphere was reinforced that evening when we repaired to the snug and lovely bar in the castle common room, after pitching our tents at the nearby campsite. A considerable amount of building work has been going on at the White House – a property owned, like most on the island, by Scottish National Heritage. Last time I was here, with Fiona in February, we’d encountered a number of the joiners, painters etc who were working on the White House. They came in for two weeks at a time from Nairn in north-east Scotland. It was clear then that they weren’t especially enamoured of the island and their coping strategy tended to involve getting monumentally blootered* (*Scots. colloq: pissed, paralytic, trolleyed, wankered). They were definitely good blokes and friendly to boot, but as Fiona observed, they appeared to be victims of their own Scottishness on the booze front.
So, we turned up at the bar, which was empty save for Georgy – the castle’s very own Kiwi frontierswoman, lit the fire and settled in with a bottle of Red Cuillin. Our cosy fireside chat was soon interuptted by the arrival of the aforementioned contractors who appeared to be nearing the end of a 24-hour bender. All very good-natured, but after a wee while it was time to head back tentwards.
I had a great night’s sleep and woke early to the sun erupting from beneath the night’s cloud cover. James popped his head out of his tent marmot-style to enjoy the promising-looking dawn:
The plan was this: myself and Rich would make an early start and head off to Dibidil bothy, dump our kit and leg it around the Dibidil Horseshoe – those peaks forming the jagged flanks of Glen Dibidil. James has been suffering from an as yet undiagnosed form of knee-knack, so he would head off a bit later at at a stately pace and meet us back at the bothy.
It was fairly bright under a canopy of cloud as Rich and I set off along the Dibidil pony path, no way to call what the weather would be doing by the time we hit the horseshoe. It was a fine walk in, chatting away to Rich who is an excellent dude of the highest order, and the burns weren’t running particularly high.
We set a good pace and after two and a half hours we arrived at the superbly located and luxuriously appointed Dibidil bothy. We dumped our kit and Rich pitched his tent to give it an air before we set off.
The weather was looking good as we set off back along the path a way before abandoning it at Cnoc na Cuilean and launching ourselves up the steep south flank of Beinn nan Stac. It was tough going on boggy and tussocky ground, but we gained the ridge soon enough and life became much easier. Rich spotted a Big Bird in the glen below so I whipped out the bins and sure enough it was a golden eagle malingering near the bothy. The eagle soon came our way, giving us a magnificent fly-past. If only I’d one of them zoom lense thingumys.
As we climbed, the view SE back to Eigg was a winner:
Soon enough, we skirted to the east of the rocky summit of Beinn nan Stac…
…to gain the Bealach beneath the south ridge of Askival – highest, mightiest and pointiest of the Rum Cuillin. The south ridge looked mighty fearsome as a cap of cloud swirled about the summit. Not fancying a tough scramble in poor visibility, I looked for a line around to the west ridge from beneath the vertical crags above the bealach. I picked out a route and uttered Bluesky Bob’s immortal line: ‘looks like she’ll go’ and off we set.
Up we went and turned the crags to the west thus enjoying a gentle scramble up to the west ridge, joining it just beneath the summit. Several feral goats enjoyed watching us making hard work of their natural domain, but just managed to bugger off out of shot before I could squeeze the trigger.
We ascended into murky clag, thus our endeavours went unrewarded by breathtaking views, but what was this adorning the trig point? a Nepalese prayer flag? no! in fact a pair of purple ladies’ undies! Could it be an offering to the Norse mountain gods? or was it in fact discarded by initiates of the 812 metre-high club? We moved swiftly on, descending the west ridge and energing from the murk atop the Bealach an Oir. The views from here were grand – all of the Rum Cuillin were visible, except the summit of Askival. It did look like the weather might descend again as clouds were racing in from the Minch.
We took a vote and decided to climb Trollaval from the bealach and see what conditions were like when we got to the top.
As we climbed, the clag descended once again. By the time we’d shimmied a route through the craggy terrain to the summit, we could hardly see each other. Trollaval’s second very pointy summit glowered malevolently at us through the murk – making our decision for us – retreat! The following day, when I was atop Trollaval once more in good conditions, I could see we’d made the right choice.
We began retracing our steps back down the ridge – or so I thought. It soon became apparent that we’d gone astray. Our immediate universe was looking very craggy indeed – shurely shome mishtake? Indeed; I whipped out the compass and decided that we’d gone a couple of degrees off course. A little jiggery-pokery, however, and we were back on course. Arriving back at the bealach without further misadventure, we descended into Glen Dibidil and squelched our way back to the bothy, where James didn’t have a steaming brew awaiting us. The good news was that his knee had been ok during the walk in.
The view down Glen Dibidil
We got a fire going in the bothy’s small stove and laid our schemes for the morrow. The plan was to head around the coast, either to either Harris bay or further on to Giurdil bothy. I was also keen to finish the Dibidil Horseshoe, so if the weather was good in the morning…