35 Shots of Rum

It’s a little challenging thinking up post titles when you’ve written hundreds of posts about the same place in a few months. So I took the opportunity to name this post (and all those that sail in her) after a film by the excellent French film director, Clair Denis. The tenuous link being that this post contains 35 (photographic) shots of Rum.  You’ll be glad to know that my next trip is going to take me somewhere different – Coll and Tiree to be precise.

Anyway, two weeks ago my lovely friends Andy and Jen, together with Kirsten who I’d not previously met, came up from sunny Brighton and we set  off from Glasgow to Mallaig very early on the Monday morning to catch the 10.15 ferry from Mallaig to Eigg and Rum. thanks to Kirsten’s highly accomplished overtaking of sleepy dawdlers and erratically driven articulated lorries, we arrived in Mallaig by 8.30am; time enough to get fleeced £6 each for an egg and bacon roll and cup of tea at the cafe/backpackers’ hostel. Boo. Should have waited for the Calmac breakfast.

This being the Easter hols, the ferry was utterly rammed with folk; a complete contrast to my last couple of visits where the crew outnumbered the passengers. We enjoyed a calm and sunny crossing and most of the peeps disembarked at Eigg, including a very excellent guy I’d been chatting to, name of Peter Khambatta – a mountain guide living in Morar. I also enjoyed talking to a couple of guys who were off to visit Rum for a week with a group of fellow environmentalists; good bunch of people who I kept bumping into around the place – it is a Small Isle after all.

Arriving at Kinloch, we dumped some spare clothes at the castle and set off around the Dibidil pony path to Dibidil bothy. I won’t talk you through it as there’s already a couple of earlier posts about this walk, so instead here’s a couple of pics:

The walk over was lovely and we saw a golden eagle to boot. Three hours after leaving Kinloch we were at Dibidil bothy. Shortly after arriving, Andy and myself headed off up Glen Giurdil, making a beeline for the Bealach an Oir between Trollaval and Askival; the girls had decided to stay home and catch up on some knitting. After 45 minutes’ yomp we arrived at the bealach.

Andy looks at me sideways

From the bealach we launched ourselves up the west ridge of Askival, which unsurprisingly is much harder going up than coming down as I had done on my last visit to this fine mountain a few weeks before. Up and up and up and up we went; it’s only 810 metres, but it seemed much more.

We eventually got to the summit and this is the view over to Hallival, east along the main Rum Cuillin ridge:

On the way back down, the light did something lovely:

We decided to scramble around the western flank to the bealach between Askival and Beinn nan Stac, but then we couldn’t be bothered to follow the reverse of the Dibidil Horseshoe route back into the glen. From above there appeared to be a viable steep but even slope running from the bealach into the glen that avoided the crags on Beinn nan Stac’s western flank; we went and investigated. It was a good ‘un. We managed to slide 200 metres downhill on our arses, accruing only a little dampness on the way. What larks!

Back to the bothy where Kirsten and Jen were ravenous; quick, cook the venison steaks and crack open the Whyte and Mackays:

The following morning was hazy, but dry as we set off around the coast bound for Harris Bay by way of Papadil.The first part of the walk benefits from having the old pony path to follow around to Papadil. It’s a little sketchy in places, but a great help in some complex terrain.

Loch Papadil

As reported in previous posts, the first part of the second half of this walk from Papadil to Harris is quite tough going, but manageable if you work your way up to the 25om contour after crossing the Allt na Gile.

Coastline near Allt na Gile

The walk over was fine and I left everyone having a break by a cairn sited on the flank of Ruinsival just where the view opens up onto Harris Bay with Orval and Ard Nev rising to the north of the bay and the high cliffs climbing north-west away from Harris before dropping away to the prow-like point of A’ Bhrideanach, Rum’s western extremity.

From the cairn, a rough path contours then gradually descends around the northern flank of Ruinsival; I followed this and eventually crossed the Abhainn Fiachanais by hopping and skipping across boulders in the river, then continued on to the Abhainn Rangail, which I crossed by way of a fine and sturdy new bridge. From here it was but a short walk past a massive raised beach which sits above the bay and some huge old dry stone walled enclosures before dropping down to an excellent bivouac site by the beach.

The rest of the gang arrived a little later and the afternoon was spent pitching tents, gathering driftwood for a fire, wandering around marvelling at the geological phenomena and worrying the resident wild goat population.

Harris Bay with the westernmost of the Rum Cuillin to the south and the wacky Bullough Mausoleum in the foreground

Worried goats

Next morning dawned hazy, but it was still dry and the sun lurked behind the slight murk.  After breakfast, packing up etc we continued the route around the coast, climbing north-west away from Harris Bay and up along the high cliffs of Rum’s north-west coast.

After pausing for some snacks on the high cliffs above Wreck Bay, we continued around the flank of Sron an t-Saighdeir and through to the bealach between Orval and Bloodstone Hill. From the bealach we skirted along the NE flank of Bloodstone Hill before descending very steeply into Glen Giurdil.

Soon enough, we were crossing the Giurdil River to arrive at Giurdil bothy.

Giurdil bothy sit back from the beach below Bloodstone Hill

After a spot of lunch and a little light malingering in the vicinity of the bothy, we decided to make the short hike over to Glen Shellesder to gather driftwood for the fire and to explore the wonderful undercliff world of caves, subterranean tunnels, rock arches and other such geological phenomena. Soon after we set out, a huge coastguard chinook came clattering overhead and thudda-thuddered around at the head of Glen Giurdil. Were they rescuing an injured climber or walker? Needless to say, my pics of the ‘copter were pants.

Down amongst the undercliff world  as like being in the Land that Time Forgot. As well as being all-round excellent company, Kirsten had done her degree in geology, so she was merrily instructing us about sills and dikes, metamorphic rocks, isostasy and vulcanology. She’s a great laugh too and my dog likes her! Cheers Kirsten.

First up for exploration was a wonderful subterranean tunnel;

The tunnel was filled with water to a depth of a two or three feet for much of its length, but Andy employed his rock climbing skills to work a way through to the other side.

The rest of us joined him by going through another tunnel, which has a pitch black, cavern at one end; sorry no pics. Out the other side and there was Andy standing in front of a huge rock arch, the size of Marble Arch.

Wee Andy is lower left in picture. Notice the crossed sills at the apex of the arch.

We scrambled around the shore some more, gathered some driftwood and returned through the big cave.

We headed back to Giurdil, laden with wood; I continued south-west along the shore a while and the rest of the team went back along the cliff. Back at the bothy we met an exceptionally nice lad called Tim, who’d walked in from Kinloch via Glen Shellesder, having arrived on the earlier ferry. The rest of the afternoon was spent doddering around the bothy environs, drinking tea and chatting. In the evening we put some of the driftwood to good use.

I pitched my tent away from the bothy so that my snoring didn’t keep the company awake.Shortly after I turned in, the patter of rain on  rip-stop nylon ensued – the first rain we’d had and it was at night. Excellent! The following morning dawned sunny and clear. The haze had lifted. This was our fourth day on Rum and the weather was still good and getting better; something was amiss! We bade the lovely Tim goodbye as he set off straight up the very, very, very steep NE flank of Bloodstone Hill, hauling a 25kg pack. Tim says it was less, but I don’t believe him. If you read this, Tim, I’d love to know how you got on.

Tim and pack psyche themselves up for the ascent

Our team set off soon after, continuing around the coast from Giurdil to Kilmory; it was a fine walk – the weather was lovely, the views sublime.

Wrecked French trawler

After a couple of hours we had Kilmory bay in our sights. What a lovely bay it is. It’s reputedly Betty Windsor’s favourite beach, so we were glad she wasn’t there as the place would have been closed off with Special Branch snipers positioned in the dunes.

We had our sarnies in this most sublime of settings. There was not another soul in sight; at least for a little while, which was bizarre seeing as it was already 11.30am and this was the Easter hols and the weather was glorious. Perhaps everyone was at the shops. We mooched around a bit and the went for a wander up the coast to admire the fine weathered Torridonian sandstone outcrops.

Soon after, Andy, Jen and Kirsten headed back to Kilmory to return to Kinloch via the landrover tracks along Kilmory and Kinloch glens. I continued around to the lovely bay at Samhnan Insir.

I found a weathered and sun-bleached whale vertebra on the beach and got a phone signal for the first time in days. I spoke to my lovely wife, back in Glasgow. The sun beat down. All was well in writesofwayworld. So there was just the small matter of climbing up and over Mullach Mor (304m) on my way over the hill to Kinloch.

I followed a spur climbing parallel and east of the Allt Samhnan Insir and the terrain wasn’t too bad. Gradually up, then a bit of a climb to the broad top of the hill, past Loch Samhnan Insir, on to Boat House Loch and thence to the Vannesa pillar atop Mullach Mor.

The descent was a royal pain in the arse (hoho, one of several in recent weeks!), largely because I should have stuck to the rocky ridges dropping obliquely into Kinloch Glen, but no; I thought I’d be clever and go for a direct descent across the ridges and got myself involved in knee-twisting, ankle-jarring tussock-world instead. Will I ever learn?

Once down in the glen it was but a gentle if slightly lengthier than anticipated pootle up a scenic path and soon enough I was back at Kinloch Castle. That evening, beers were drunk in the castle’s Common Room bar.

There’s still the final day of the trip to relate, but that can wait ’til later.


13 responses

  1. I was reading this and looking at the photies and wondering why you had elected to not mention Fiona or get a snap of her. Leaving her at home on such a fine trip is not on sir! It all looks rather familiar, somewhere I will have to return to as soon as time permits. Your friends are brave wearing shorts on the west coast at this time of year. I would be picking ticks out of dark places for days to come. I am waiting for later to read the next fantabulous installment.

    • Andy and Jen were pulling ticks from dark places for a couple of days, before they put their longs on. I did tell them…

  2. Yo ho ho, I lost my bottle on Rum – I can picture you sitting there deliberating the blog title. I got the first draft via email!

  3. shorts and gaiters – a classic look! but goodness gracious look at those sands…incredible. I like the look of those goats too, if I wasnt a vege i’d be sharpening the knives right now.

    another cracker sir, thanks for sharing

    • Thanks David; the shorts/gaiters combo is beloved of Kiwis myself and Andy picked up the habit in NZ, unfortunately it’s very wrong for the tick-infested Highlands and Islands. On the subject of which, do you fancy an island trip future along with Monsieur bongo an’ all?

  4. Has the Fisherman’s Mission finally shut up shop in Mallaig – did a fine breakfast and you could get a shower

  5. I never tire of these titles, Pete, but as mentioned above, I had two versions of this one! A bonus indeed…

    Delightful tale regardless of title and gorgeous images of shifting sands to go with it. Looking forward to the next one!

  6. Pete,

    You were right, it was steep! Had a great day, ended up camping in the spot you recommended (thanks for the wood) in Harris after going along Bloodstone Hill, Orval and Ard Nev.

    Weather held for a few days so managed horseshoe staying in Guirdil. Thanks for the tips on the route, definitely going to be back


    PS Rucksack got a bit lighter after a few more dinners, think I overstocked on supplies!

    • Hello Tim,

      Great to hear that you had a good day over to Harris. We watched you ascending the steepest bit of the slope up to Bloodstone Hill through the binoculars from afar. It made me sweat just watching you! It was grand meeting you, Tim; hope to have the pleasure again.


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