Our blog - Rum, Apr'17

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !


28 Apr - 1 May 2017
Hiking and backpacking on the Isle of Rum. John was leading...

I hate wind. Have I ever mentioned that before? And I don't mean the affliction that follows too many dehydrated camp meals! ;) I mean the unpredictable, relentless and sometimes downright dangerous elemental force that can turn an otherwise perfect day into at best a challenge, and at worst a nightmare, where you are rattled and battered, staggering and bewildered. I hate wind.

Right, now that's off my chest, on to the trip - Our plan was for a full traverse of the Rum Cuillin. Not the 12-14hr traipse that goes from Kinloch to Dibidil and back again, missing out Barkeval and Ruinsival, (and in my opinion therefore not being a full traverse), and slogging back along one of the boggiest paths in Scotland. No. We are going to camp at Harris on the West of the island, and then do a clockwise traverse back to the tents, a much more pure and logical route.

Challenge one came when we contacted Calmac to check the bikes could fit on OK, as the normally do. We only did this on spec, and were surprised to be told no. It turned out the very high tide dictated that we had to board via a gangway and tight door rather than the ramp. Some guys managed to get them loaded the night before, but it meant we had a split party of cyclists and walkers. In practice, it wasn't an issue, and the advance party made the 13k ride from the village of Kinloch only about 30 minutes or so before the walkers, as they were cycling into a wind. Did I say wind?

The campsite is on some terraced land that used to be part of the hamlet of Harris, cleared in the 1820's as part of the turbulent history of man's tenuous habitation of the least fertile of the Small Isles. It is an eerie and atmospheric place, complete with incongruous neo-Greek mausoleum built by the Bulloughs in the 1930's. You can see evidence of the toil of the crofters all around you, with teetering walls made of far-too-rounded stones off the raised beach, and it doesn't take much imagination to think of the hardships endured in those past times. Currently it is inhabited by a herd of Highland cattle, the semi-wild pony herd, feral goats and more deer than you can poke a walking pole at.

We had an easy afternoon meandering along the coast to the high point at Gualann na Pairce, cameras snapping all the time, before descending for a dehydrated dinner.

Sunday morning dawned bright, but the flapping of the tents in the night meant the sleep wasn't as restful as hoped, despite our early turn-in. The fast-moving clouds confirmed that it was still blowing on top, and that the forecasted SE direction hadn't materialised. Still, it was dry and sunny, so we decided to try an anti-clockwise round instead, the idea being that we would shorten our efforts if indeed it was too windy on high, and avoid the narrow parts of the ridge early on.

The 'normal' route to Ruinsival is to skirt on the West side and pick your way up the open coire, full of weird eroded sandstone blocks, but I like a terrace system that faces the campsite, and although it looks formidable, it's easy enough, and we picked our way to the summit plateau, enjoying having hands on warm rock. Then we popped out into the wind. Oh dear. It was hats and gloves on, and we staggered drunkenly to the small cairn. The views were spectacular though in the bright sun, from Muck, out to Ardnamurchan and Mull, (correctly identified by Mike after some debate), Coll and Tiree, and NW to the Outer Hebrides.

The continuation towards Sgurr nan Gillean up the Leac a'Chaisteil is really just a broad ridge, but the effort required into the headwind was considerable. On reaching the coire edge, the views are simply awesome (to use the word properly rather than like one of our Colonial cousins! ;), with Askival looking particularly formidable. In the bright conditions, it should have been mouth-watering, but we all had some unease about the swirling gusts, as they seemed to come from everywhere. After a short break, we went for the summit, keeping a healthy distance from the coire edge due to the unpredictable gusts. MWIS had forecast 45mph, but as we had no signal, we had no update, and these were more like 60. We made the summit, but on the way down, one of the smaller guys was blown off their feet, and several others found it difficult to stand. It was obvious to tackle any precipitous ground and narrow ridges would be foolhardy. I particularly hate marginal conditions. Another 5mph and it was definitely off, so I swithered for a moment, but then accepted the obvious, and called it. Now what to do?

We opted for an off-piste descent down to the ruined Edwardian lodge at Papadil, along with its weird enclosures and evidence of habitation long before that. It was really interesting, both in terms of human influence and nature, with some spectacular rock architecture. We also discovered the myriad of holes awaiting the unsuspecting walker, and Christine made them her speciality, managing to find and fall down the vast majority of them, much to our amusement ;) After some gratuitous from myself, Gill and Richard scrambling up a particularly inviting outcrop, we set off for a wee coastal 'walk' back to Harris. By heavens it's tough going, with many inlets, gullies and rocky bluffs to contend with, and only deer trods to use as respite. Thankfully it was as dry as I have ever seen Rum.

After some hours of spectacular blue skies and blue seas, plunging rock formations and plenty of rests in the sun, we arrived back at Harris. The path that emerges takes you over a newish estate bridge, and along the raised beach formation. Down on the current beach below there was a whale stranding of some age, and the smell was testament to how long. The guys had popped down to see it the evening before, but I refrained, being of delicate constitution ;)

Despite its normally sheltered location from prevailing Westerlies, our site was still blowy as we made our meals, but it didn't stop us indulging in a few treats to make us sleep better. Indeed, Chris and Gill liked the whisky so much they decided to wear it and use it as perfume...or was that by accident? After some campsite blethering, we turned in one by one as the stocks diminished, (you can only carry so much, purely for medicinal purposes of course).

Monday we rose leisurely, still blowy conditions, but still dry, which made the pack up a dream. The cyclists took their time, knowing they had a great free-wheel down to Kinloch once the initial 250m ascent was over, and Alistair elected to go down to Kilmory bay en route. The walkers arrived at the village hall some 40 mins later but we could only get tea and coffee as the whole island had been at a celidh the night before, and were grossly hungover. Indeed, some were still drinking! Island life eh? We whiled away an hour in the sun, and then walked down to the otter hide where we saw some basking seals, before going back to the ferry pier to catch our boat.

The ferry was as busy as I have ever seen it, it being Bank Holiday Monday, and thankfully the wind dropped, so it was a calm crossing, via Eigg, where we were entertained by a piper on the pier. We had a square meal too, thus preparing ourselves for the drive home. The views of Skye and Knoydart were idyllic, and whilst we looked wistfully as the Rum Cuillin in the distance, we knew we'd had a good trip, despite the aborted ridge attempt. Yes, I would say it was probably the best failure I have ever had!

Thanks to Chris, the two Gills, Alistair, Mike and Richard for being great company, and for sharing a really good Bank Holiday weekend.

More photos by John are here on Flickr.

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