Our blog - Rum Cuillin, 6-9 Jul'18

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

Rum Cuillin

6-9 July 2018
An extended weekend of bike-backpacking, hiking and scrambling on Rum and its famed Cuillin. Johnny Walker was leading....

In this line of work, I am often asked what is my favourite hill/mountain/area, and I am always a little vague, as how does one differentiate, rank and classify some of the wonderful places we go? That said, I must admit that I do rather have a soft spot for the Isle of Rum. It is unique. It has a feeling, and atmosphere all of its own - from the rugged and spectacular basalt Cuillin hills including their two Corbetts; the lower Northern hills, bristling with history and unrivalled views; the beautiful beach at Kilmory with the longest-running mammal study in the world, (that of the island's deer population); the manx sheerwaters and their unlikely hill-top burrows; the otters; the lonely bothies at Dibidil and Guardil, the ruins at Papadil; the excellent tracks across the island; the incredibly ostentatious and eccentric castle built by the fabulously rich Bulloughs, their eerie mausoleum at Harris, and finally the delightfully laid-back decrepitude and independence of island life. Things are ruled by tide and weather here, and you need to relaaax!

Day 1 - Getting to Harris

So with all that in mind, I was looking forward to meeting my group of Steve, Sarah and brothers Alan and John at Mallaig. The long run of good weather was to break on the Sunday, but we knew we had good days on Friday and Saturday to capitalise on, and we discussed the plan on the ferry journey to Kinloch. We would cycle across the island to the West, and make camp at Harris, not far from the mausoleum mentioned above, where George Bullough (who had the castle built), his father John and wife Monica are interred in sarcophagi! That would give us a natural starting point for a FULL traverse of the Cuillin.

I say 'full' in such a way as most people do some sort of linear route from the hostel or campsite at Kinloch, maybe using Dibidil bothy. That makes it either a challenge as you are carrying overnight gear, or a rush against time for the ferries, and more to the point, the first and last hills of Barkeval and Ruinsival are usually missed off. Our route is longer at 19k, and has 1800m of ascent and descent, but is elegant in its completeness and logical circle.

Day 2 - Rum's Cuillin

We set off early, and apart from doing battle with the pesky clegs that have been enjoying the warm spell, made our way without delay to the West flank of Barkeval, stopping only to ensure we had plenty of water for the rest of the day. As it turned out, the day was cooler than expected, and breezy up top, so neither the clegs or thirst were the problem we feared initially. The daunting looking basalt crags are skirted easily, employing a number of handy natural ledges, and before long we had our first summit and commensurate views of Skye and the rest of the island.

Hallival was next, and as was to be the case for the rest of the day, what looked a steep and difficult way fell easily to some careful route-finding. I don't think you ever quite go 100% the same way each time, as the rock is so fractured and intricate, but a way is always there if you look, and we had fun picking our way up. I won't rattle on any more about the views of Eigg, Muck, Canna, Arisaig, Morar and Skye - they were hazy, but spectacular, and made even more so later in the day as the cloud lowered in an almost reverse-inversion.

After some nice down-scrambling, the narrow path to the foot of Askival is a joy, and again, more devious route-finding brings you up onto the highest point on the island at 812m. You then lose a lot of height en route to Trollaval, and many a Corbett-bagger elect to cut across to get Ainshval, missing Trollaval. Big mistake! The scrambling up is fun, and the airy traverse to the second summit the highlight of the route in my opinion. We loved it, moving carefully across the dry, welcoming warm rock to the grassy summit perch for photos.

From there the continuation to Ainshval looks very challenging indeed, but yet again, there is a good path that takes you up the coire through scree and broken basalt without any real difficulty. After one more un-named top, Sgurr nan Gillean is next, before retracing our steps and descending the wide and grassy Leac a'Chaisteil for our last summit on the ridge, Ruinsival. Here the cloud had really descended, and I had the compass out, aware of the yawning drops to our right as we started our descent.

There are no paths here, but a reassuring buttress-edge that enables me to hand-rail down a ledge system towards the relatively easier grassy ground into Glen Harris, despite the thick mist. We were very surprised to stumble upon a young chap on his own, just wandering about the island exploring. He was the son of a local, over on his break from Uni., and he had scrambled up the blocky hillside, but was now looking for a safe way down. We chatted, and he wisely joined us for a while until we could see the way again. Of all the places on the island I would have NOT expected to see anyone!

Back at the camp, well-fed, we reflected on our long day. It had been excellent, and we toasted it with a little whisky before retiring satisfied....purely medicinal of course ;)

Day 3 - Ard Nev and Orval

Sunday dawned wet and windy. Myself, Sarah and Steve went for the hills of Ard Nev and Orval, whilst the brothers decide to cycle to Kilmory. This was a typically Scottish wet day, and we all made the best of it, satisfied with our objectives. Indeed, Sarah and I also cycled down to Kilmory, and had a long chat with Ian from Wales, a typical island 'incomer' who was single-handedly renovating the deer study cottage, where he offered us shelter from the rain to eat our lunch. The day did brighten up to allow some drying of clothes back at camp, and we chatted and took turns in cooking meals before turning in for our last night under canvas.

Day 4 - Our return

Monday dawned still. Too still. Too grey. Midges! Actually, though I lay fearful in my tent initially, they were just a pest rather than a scourge, due to the exceptionally dry spell previously. It did put paid to our planned 'relaxed breakfast' though, and we high-tailed it to Kinloch, enjoying the fantastic descent on the bikes. Sarah went for a wee run, whilst the rest of us whiled away the morning at the idiosyncratic cafe at the village hall. It cannot be explained...you just have to go. Finally, we had a guided tour of the castle, again, outrageously idiosyncratic and delightfully eccentric....and that's just Ross the guide! A treasure that I hope we manage to retain, as it is decaying quickly, (the castle that is!).

So to the question at the top of the page. What is my favourite hill/mountain/area? Hmmm, I think Rum is right up there.......

Thanks to the guys for their company, enthusiasm and patience as I enthused and raved my way around the island :)

More photos by Johnny Walker are here on Flickr.

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