Our second day on Rum was going to less about height and more about distance. We were heading over to Guirdil, the other Bothy on Rum. And what a beautiful start to the day – it was blue skies from the start. The occasionally heard cuckoo from the day before had made a couple of appearances during the night, I was blaming that, rather my snoring for keeping tent partner Nigel awake.
I’m not sure of the exact distance but I think it is about 6 or 7 miles as the crow (or cuckoo) flies between Dibidil and Guirdil bothies. But we weren’t cuckoos* so the real distance covered along parts of the coastal path and via the Harris Mausoleum was about 12 miles I would guess. And the best part of a day’s walk.
(* The cuckoo became a bit of a standing joke, in moments of quiet and rest during the day, the cuckoo (we were sure it was just one, stalking us) would pipe up. And some of us live in Marsden.. a village with its own ‘cuckoo legend’. So to come up to Scotland and be stalked by a cuckoo was pretty funny. We were hoping for Eagles, we got Cuckoos.)
The route took us essentially south-east to north-west of the island and across a few rivers (burns). There was quite a bit of rough moorland (which I felt at home on) and some steep cliffs that the path shadowed in places. Not any real climbing but it was still a fair trek. All of the sea views out to the further Hebrides were fantastic. Now we were on flatter ground (although some scrambling was still needed in a couple of places) I wished I had carted my DSLR with me. Ah well.
The first place we came across from Dibidil was the abandoned hunting lodge at papadil. Which I now know (see the link on the last post) is a name associated with early celtic ecclesiastical settlements. The little lake here was really pretty and ‘exploring’ the disused lodge was interesting.. we even had a curious deer appear as we headed away from the lodge and back up hill.
The lodge itself was overgrown with Rhododendron bushes.. very much like some occasional parts of the moors where I live (Marsden, Yorkshire). Victorian land owners had a penchant for planting these shrubs near estate houses. Left to their own devices they get really big of course. When the lodge was in its heyday the hunting parties would come around the island by boat whilst the staff would head inland from Kinloch. (Quick Ad: I was told that by author of a book on walking the small isles, Pete). Now it has reverted to a wild wood as it were, with shrubs / trees growing through the lodge windows and doors.
We then flanked around Ruinsival and its fairly steep slopes and headed to Harris bay, which was about a 3 hour tramp across some occasional rocky parts but mostly moor / bog (although not at all boggy when we were there). In wet and rainy weather I’m sure this would have been a lot, lot slower to cross with some very claggy sections.
Harris itself annoyed me. I think that’s the best word for it. The mausoleum is an oversized brash thing, a testament to one family’s vanity. John Bullough had the money (made from the cotton mill industry) to aggrandise his own passing. To be fair, he wasn’t the instigator of the enforced land clearance of the original island crofters (that came before him) but the building set amongst such a lovely ‘wild’ landscape is historically both interesting and annoying at the same time.
Without the distraction of the previous day’s vertigo, I had time to think about the islands. I was actually conceived on Skye (mum and dad lived there for a year when they were first married) and my mum was Scottish. Her family were from (more latterly) southern Scotland, working class folk from around Paisley. But (having started to trace my family tree) elements of the family originated further north. I’ve been to Scotland lots of course (and lived in Paisley for a year or so aged about 10), yet I’ve never been to any of the Islands before. So being on Rum and also seeing some of the more distant isles from various advantage points over the weekend was kind of cool. I think that was why the brash Harris mausoleum annoyed me, it cut through my romanticised revelries of celtic ancestry
Anyway – one great thing about Harris was the beach, it was great to be able to take our boots off for a while and sit under a blue, warm sky! What a great place to eat and have a break.
Some of the guys even had a paddle, to soothe those aching feet
I should mention that getting photos on the last 2 days (we had a 4 day trip in all) was thanks to a solar charger thing I bought recently. I’ve done kit review as it really worked out well. (see separate post).
From Harris we then had about 4 hours of hike across a mix of moors and also some rock / scree fields. And part of the route brought us pretty close to some very steep cliffs .. we kept back for the most part but there were a couple of places (around ominously named Wreck Bay) where you got some excellent views. Mr Vertigo kept a couple of feet back from the very very edge of course.
There had been some evidence of deer (and also some goats that I think live on Rum?) wherever we went – but that was mostly in the form of droppings and ticks. The ticks themselves were not so obvious on this particular day – more on the following, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Real deer evidence came around the Wreck Bay headland area where Steve picked up a really nice antler. Which was proudly strapped to his rucksack for the rest of the trip.
Speaking of evidence of wildlife.. I meant to mention on the previous post that sections of the Cuillins were riddled with burrows for what I think were Manx Shearwaters. The evidence being the holes themselves and lots of bird droppings. But of the birds, no sign. I’m guessing they were out at sea before coming back for the nesting season?
There was then a longish schlep across rough moors before we crossed Bealach an dubh-bhraigh and found our way towards Glen Guirdil.
The glen itself is really impressive, with Orval (at about 570 metres) imposing itself at the head of the glen over to our right as we walked down the steep glen flanks, in what was the beginning of late afternoon sun. The glen is steep-sided and the river at the bottom (Guirdil River) gets really full in wet / winter weather I believe. Thankfully it wasn’t in spate when we picked our way eventually across it after a long descent into the valley. It must get bad though as there are crossing suggestions posted on the notice board in the bothy. Up and behind us (and with the soundtrack of yet another Cuckoo) was a fenced off plantation and behind that, Bloodstone Hill. The hill dominated the view from the Bothy once we got to it.
Giuirdil Bothy was, for me, the more interesting of the two Bothies. I think the location, right on the edge of a bay, and the collection of derelict / collapsed building next to it make it really interesting. The guest book tells of the regular visits of deer down to the seashore. We did have a couple appear at twilight but they stayed behind the bothy , not straying onto the beach itself. But I think there is (or was) a stag called Brutus (if I remember the name rightly) who is a beach comber on occasion.
We decided to bivvy again rather than use the empty bothy but it was the base for the evening meal prep and also the place to stay warm in the rapidly cooling late evening air. We gathered up a lot of dried seaweed with one of the flotsam fishing crates, which we replenished again in the morning for the next visitors. The dried seaweed burned really well in the old fireplace and after a long day’s hike it was great to sit and chat with some candles lit and a fire on the go.
I would happily spend a week or two based at the bothy to get into the place and it’s quietness. And having a deer mooch about as you eat your breakfast outside can’t be bad.
Ah, update on Brutus. I just googled to check I’d got the name from the guest book right.. and turns out he’s a TV celeb. As seen on Autumn Watch on the BBC apparently:
So, that was the second day on Rum. Really enjoyable.
I’ll write up day 3 separately, it was essentially a hike across to Kinloch, dodging ticks (some of us) and eventually eating cake (all of us) without any climb or much elevation but for the sake of completeness I’ll do a quick post when I can.
Finally, the second instalment of my recent (ish) trip to Rum.
Actually, firstly – a quick ad :
before this trip I was chatting to a blogger and a man with real knowledge of the Scottish Islands, Pete writes over at http://writesofway.com/ and was really helpful and mentioned he was bringing a book out in June. This book looks really good, if I head up to the Small Isles of Scotland again, I’ll get it. In fact, I think I’ll get it anyway. Here’s a link to it : go buy it yourself if you’re interested in this part of the world
Back to the trip:
I’ve been delayed in writing up the actual Rum trip (see earlier post on the detour we took on the way to Rum) mostly because of time as I’ve been setting up a new consultancy/freelance business (another Quick Ad : I’m over here at markkellynet.com). Which has meant quite a few evenings of work and less head space of late. But also, for the first few days after my return, I found it hard to type for any length of time. I must have wrenched a muscle in my arm at some point along the Cuillin ridges. Really wrenched it, as it ached for a couple of weeks, enough to wake me up at night (and nothing but nothing makes me lose sleep normally).
Anyway a few weeks later – here I am and here’s my take on the trip up and around the Rum Cuillins. There’s definitely something new to see on Rum at every turn.. paraphrased nicely as ”tha rudeigin ùr daonnan ri fhaicinn” in Gaelic. Okay, I know no Gaelic, that came from a from a quote on the Rum Community website : http://www.isleofrum.com/
Some facts about the Cuillins and what we planned to achieve:
The idea was to head off from Kinloch (where the ferry comes in) and walk across the mountains of Barkeval, Hallival, Askival, Trollaval, Ainshval and Sgurr nan Gillean, We would then come down into Dibidil to the bothy and either stay the night in there or camp / bivvy close to it. And that was pretty much what happened. The weather was fantastic, we couldn’t have wished for better – blue skies and some occasional breeze. Just the thing to traverse around a gigantic volcanic caldera (the remains of an enormous volcano whose dome collapsed to leave pretty dramatic sides, with some of the rock being 3 billion years old – although more latterly shaped by glaciers). To save my geologist son embarrassment with my non technical / flawed descriptions, have a look at some rock facts and figures here :
Anyway, back to the hike itself. We set off in warm sun and high spirits. The climb out of Kinloch quickly gives you some great views of both Rum and over to Skye. Further into the hike / climb we could see other islands and lots of sea. The weather over towards Skye was more dramatic and we could see we were missing some fairly hefty showers. Phew.
I’m not going to give a peak by peak account of the first day, I’ll let some photos give you a sense of the place. But overall I would say (for me) that it was challenging. And beautiful. And remote. And quiet. And soul-stirring. And fun. And challenging. You get the picture. That was a word that was going around my head on the top of most of the peaks. In some places and at certain moments it was really tough for me. I don’t mind tough, we all build personal stories and myths about ourselves, internal narratives – and one of mine is that I’m tenacious and also probably too dim to know when to stop slogging forward. Which is why I loved schoolboy rugby in the cold and rain, I really enjoyed the ‘battle’. And I really engaged with Frodo’s travails when I read Lord of the Rings as a youth. But parts of the Cuillins were definitely ‘tricksy’ for me. Even under warm blue skies.
I’m not going to dwell on that too much but that old monkey on my back of vertigo did affect me a few times. My over-riding memory though is of wide open views, sweeping vistas and brilliant views across to the other islands. And once we were down at lower levels and I could stop-with-the-fear-already, the sense of remoteness, beauty and tranquillity won through. I would happily hermitage at either of the Bothies (is that the right use of the word?) for a few weeks. Actually, mainly at Guirdil (more of that in the next post).
Here’s a map to give you a sense of the island :
The link above is from a site I stumbled across when I searched for ‘maps of rum’. And it turns out to be a really interesting find. The site is (I think I’ve summarised this correctly) is a resource related to Celtic ecclesiastical culture and geography. And it contains a lot of information on the early history of the islands, well worth a read and I wish I’d read it before we got there – always good to have some context for a place you are ‘exploring’.
As mentioned, the plan was to cross all of the Cuillins, reaching the highest point at 812m (I believe) on top of Askival. As it happened we ‘skipped’ Barkeval so we could get to the bigger peaks sooner. As we stood below some peaks, I wasn’t sure how we were going to traverse some of the ridges, paths are not so clear on Rum, there’s no ‘tourist route’ as such although there are set routes detailed (see link to the book above) and it meant some scrambling in places. Nothing that needed ropes but still a bit tricky for me. These are obviously non mountaineering grade descriptions I’m using. If you read this blog you’ll know I’m not a seasoned / technical mountaineer. I’m a hiker. So ‘tricky’ and ‘scramble’ will have to suffice for my descriptions of types of climb we encountered.
Some photos (using my camera phone to save pack weight so quality is a bit ropey):
So now there is a gap here in the photo diary.. no photos from on top of Askival.
I kept my phone stowed away as I climbed / scrambled my way up the ridge of Askival. There were two routes up.. the rocky actual ridge route with a lot of exposure or the the path to the left (as we looked at it) that was a few feet lower, off the actual ridge but still with some exposure / vertiginous views in places. I, with a couple of the other guys took that route. But it still required a steady foot and a good grip in some places, so getting my phone out a la tourist just didn’t happen
Sitting up by the trig point at Askival felt great though and (again) we were grateful for the clear skies and the views we had. We gthen picked our way downhill before starting the route up to Trollaval. I was (technically speaking) knackered after the previous two peaks but team leader Ali whispered ‘walk fat boy, walk’ into my ear and I did just that. Actually that’s not true, he rightly made the point that this was no race and the views from the top of Trollaval woud also be excellent. So I got up there in a great frame of mind.. fuelled by another pork pie and some Jelly Babies (yes that does make me sound like a fat boy but we were all eating a lot to keep energy up of course). Quick Ad no. 3 : I’ve found (after a tip off from a seasoned walker) that jelly babies are great for tactical sugar / energy boosts. Probably as much psychological as physiological, I’ve had a bag with me (as well as dried fruit and nuts) on ascents of Snowdon, Scarfell Pike and the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. (end of Ad).
But after Trollaval I had basically lost my nerve with some of the exposed parts particularly on Askival and my legs were wiped… there’s only so much adrenalin they could take. Doh.
So after some soul searching and rather than joining the the ascent of Ainshval from Bealach an Fhuarain with the rest of the guys, I decided to head down the wide , glacier-scraped valley below us and aim for Dibidil Bothy. They continued up the steep / rocky ridge of Ainshval and onwards to Sgurr nan Gillean. I gathered later on when they met me down near the bothy that the descent from Sgurr nan Gillean was pretty difficult after a long days’ peak traversing and I was glad I’d stopped when I did. I wanted some energy for the next day (the less elevated by quite long hike to Guirdil Bothy).
More of that in the next post.
That hike down to Dibidil was fantastic, blue skies above me, a horseshoe of peaks around me and the sea (and nearby isle of Eigg) in front. There was a river with occasional waterfalls which I followed and over to my right, keeping their wary distance, a herd of about 20 Red Deer. We never actually saw a group larger than this – to say there are about 1500 Red Deer on Rum I had expected to see more but I think they congregate around the other side of the island.
I even made a couple of rock balances as I had plenty of time on my hands and messing about with absolutely no time pressures is a rare thing and should be celebrated.
Once the rest of the group (you know, the fit, fearless section) met me at Dibidil we pitched the fly sheets and sorted out a bivvy spot for the night. Then found a small rocky cove to cook up our food in. And with some dry seaweed we got a pretty decent beach fire going to watch the moon rise above Eigg. Awesome and a really enjoyable evening.
next day : across the island to Guirdil Bothy..
I’ve got two big walking dates in my diary for this year (so far) and I’m just beginning to fact-find about the first of them – a trip to Rum (Rùm) and a traverse of the Rum Cuillin. This will be in early May and I can’t wait. I’m excited for a few reasons, one is the obvious thing of getting out in to the wilds (including some camping and staying in a bothy) and of walking somewhere new - but I’m also intrigued by this part of the world. Despite being conceived (as a person, not as an abstract construct) on nearby Lewis and despite having a Scottish mother, I haven’t ever been to the Scottish islands. Shame on me. Hopefully this will be the first of a few excursions.
The other reason I’m excited is that one of my sons has been to Rum and his description of the island (despite the ticks) was captivating.. names like Trollaval are fantastic : Mountain Of The Trolls. In my head that’s a mashing together of the spirit of some of the isolated parts of Iceland we both saw and my childhood (and recent film-based) Tolkien recollections. And I saw Troll Hunter recently too, to add to my (probably inaccurate) imaginings of the strangeness of the place. Not sure if one will visit the bothy that I think we’re staying in .. but I’ll have my camera with me just in case. And not just Trolls but ghosts frequent the bothy too apparently .. even better
And judging by the photos I’ve seen from son Joe, on Flickr and on the blogs below, it looks to be a dramatic and beautiful place.
The second trip I’m planning and need to definitely, definitely get in shape for is the National 3 Peaks challenge which I’m sure everyone knows is 3 mountains in 24 hours. I’ll be doing that with and for a rough sleepers charity that I support called Simon on The Streets. More of that another time. I checked with my GP and I got the all-clear on the 3 peaks. I’ve climbed some big hills (that’s not a metaphor, well, it is a bit) in the last 18 months so I should be okay but it’s always good to check in with the doc. My blood pressure has regulated to a good level in the last few months – thanks to the medication no doubt but also by really cutting out salt, reducing the ridiculous amounts of coffee I used to drink and watching the processed food intake. Salt – don’t do it kids, it’s a killer.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to both trips!
More on Rum from a couple of great blogs I follow: