Day 11 – 19/7/2010 – Mallaig, Lochaber, Highland to Isle of Rum, Small Isles. 30 miles on ferry. 10 mile walk on Rum Cuillin hills.

Route plan for the day’s ferry journey:

Route plan for the day’s walking:

It was raining when I woke up, but I couldn’t be late for the ferry to Rum, so I braved packing away my tent in the rain, and made my way to the ferry terminal. The ferry was extremely busy because there was a private party to be held at the castle and all the guests (about 150 of them) were on board. This was an unusual time to be heading for Rum, normally a quiet island with just a few visitors. Indeed, the boat was far larger and far busier than I had expected.

I ordered myself a cooked breakfast and ended up sitting opposite a local from Eigg. We were amongst the few people on the ferry who were not heading for the party and it was an odd feeling! I was intrigued how it must be to live on a small island, and asked him about the way of life on Eigg. Having lived there all his life, he hadn’t known anything different, but he told me that it can be frustrating “not being able to just go somewhere”, with the hassle of needing a ferry trip to reach the mainland. I then enquired about the weather. Despite the rain, Eigg actually has a mild climate for its latitude moderated by the surrounding waters. I was fascinated to find out that there is rarely any snow or frost in the winter.

I was warned: “Rum is a strange place… all the native people were cleared from the island in the 19th century. Nowadays people tend to come and go – perhaps work there for a few years, then leave – so there isn’t really a stable community. Eigg is different because it still has a tight community descended from indigenous people”. Now run as a National Nature Reserve, all the residents of Rum are employees of Scottish Natural Heritage, and their families. Previously in the early 20th century the island was the personal playground of an eccentric named George Bullough who paid his gardeners to wear kilts, created turtle and alligator ponds, and sent the laundry maid on a six mile trek to Harris on the other side of the island, to do her job away from the extravagant castle he had had built at Kinloch.

Despite its curious recent history, Rum is well worth visiting for its wildlife and dramatic scenery. The island is described in the 19th Century book The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland as “one heap of rude mountains, scarcely possessing an acre of level land”. Indeed it was the dramatic nature of the terrain in particular that enticed me to the island. The wilderness is populated by a huge variety of fauna and fauna on land and at sea (on the morning I arrived a Killer Whale was sighted). Rum is noted in particular for its birdlife, as a breeding ground for 23% of the world’s Manx Shearwater, as well as for Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles and Guillemots.

The ferry crossing was long, lasting around 2.5 hours. As we arrived on Rum, the cloud was burning off rapidly, and the skies soon cleared. This left us with dramatic views of the mists lifting and swirling around Rum’s Cuillin mountains.

Cloud clinging to the Cuillins of Rum

Cloud clinging to the Cuillins of Rum

View of Rum and Eigg from the ferry

View of Rum and Eigg from the ferry

When I arrived on the island I made my way to the castle (as did all the other guests). I was pleased that the weather had by then brightened substantially, and there were fine views over Loch Scresort. At the castle, I paid to use the laundry facilities and waited until I had some clean clothes in which to go walking for the afternoon and escape the bustle of the private party. Although some of the guests hinted that I might be able to surreptitiously join the evening’s Ceilidh (Scottish dance), I did not want to intrude. I therefore decided that an ascent of Askival, Rum’s highest point, would be a better idea, especially when I couldn’t guarantee another afternoon of fine weather.

Loch Scresort, Kinloch

Loch Scresort, Kinloch

Kinloch Castle, Rum

Kinloch Castle, Rum

By about 3:30pm I was setting off on my walk, aiming first for the 723m Hallival and then the 812m summit of Askival. The walk began with a steady burnside climb up to Corrie Dubh, providing good views back to Kinloch.

View back to Loch Scresort and Kinloch

View back to Loch Scresort and Kinloch

Stony path on the ascent

Stony path on the ascent

Later from the slopes of Hallival I enjoyed marvellous views of the Rum Cuillin ridge, and south to Eigg. The clouds, swirling above and below me, sweeping up the valleys and flirting with the hillsides, were awe-inspiring and made the landscape seem ethereal.

Hallival, towering in the mist

Hallival, towering in the mist

Dramatic view down Atlantic Corrie into Glen Harris

Dramatic view down Atlantic Corrie into Glen Harris

View NW from slopes of Hallival

View NW from slopes of Hallival

Askival and Trollabhal shrouded in mist

Askival and Trollabhal shrouded in mist

Askival from Hallival

Askival from Hallival

View to Eigg

View to Eigg

I did not quite reach the summit of Hallival, because although I was close, it required scrambling and after the scary incident on Arran’s A’Chir ridge a few days previously I decided against the risk. Askival looked terrifying enough – jagged, pointy and steep – and I decided to push on towards it. In reality the ascent was manageable and I bypassed an awkward bit of scrambling, although there were some exposed and airy moments.

The narrow ridge leading to Askival

The narrow ridge leading to Askival

Me at the top of Askival (self-timer)

Me at the top of Askival (self-timer)

The views from the top were well worth the climb: a large amount of Scotland’s dramatic west coast was visible – the Isle of Skye, its pointy Cuillins, and closer by, the Isle of Eigg. The views were very clear, although a front was quickly moving in from the west, so I headed on down the mountainside, scrambling across rocky scree. In one hair-raising moment, I dislodged a boulder, sending a cascade of rocks tumbling and ricocheting violently down the mountainside. I realised that the scree was unstable and that if a rock slipped above me the results could easily be fatal. The mist was flowing quickly down the mountainside, so I cut directly down the hillside to the coast path. It soon began to rain heavily, and I walked along towards Kinloch as fast as I could. The coast path had lost its usually spectacular views and I still had four miles to walk in the rain. To make matters worse, the path crossed several burns which were quite deep in places – I completely gave up any hope of keeping my feet dry. By the time I returned, I was drenched and then had to pitch my tent in the dark, by which time the rain had eased off just enough to allow the midges to strike with a vengeance!

Hallival in front of the Isle of Skye, from Askival

Hallival in front of the Isle of Skye, from Askival

View from the summit

View from the summit

Eigg and Muck, from Askival

Eigg and Muck, from Askival

Eigg sandwiched between the rocks

Eigg sandwiched between the rocks

Mist sweeping down the hillside

Mist sweeping down the hillside

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2 Responses to Day 11 – 19/7/2010 – Mallaig, Lochaber, Highland to Isle of Rum, Small Isles. 30 miles on ferry. 10 mile walk on Rum Cuillin hills.

  1. Jon Tainton says:

    Hi James, good images throughout this blog and an interesting travelogue. The image titled ‘View NW from slopes of HallivalIt’ shows a striped block of stone in the foreground which is possibly a layered gabbro and once part of a magma chamber of a volcano. It might be worth you getting hold of a copy of this very readable geology book , as it covers the Rum volcano and other areas you’ve walked/cycled through in the NW Highlands.

    I can’t believe you went scrambling on Arran in cycling shoes ….

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