Rum on the Rocks – Bike ‘n’ hike

Over the last holiday weekend we set out to explore the Island of Rum which was a private and almost secret place until fairy recently. In 2014 the first campsite and bunk house opened and a trickle of visitors now calls by. It’s a place that neither of us had been to before in Scotland so we made plans to explore. The Isle of Rum or Rhum in Victorian spelling is within the inner Hebrides and is accessible by only one ferry per day. These depart Mallaig west of Fort William on a tour of the ‘Small Isles’. There are no paved roads on Rum and only about 25 residents on the whole island, so no car is needed. On the small ferry the car deck was covered in pallets for rucksacks and bike racks. A single delivery van was parked up. This is off the beaten track in Scotland that’s for sure!

On our way to Mallaig we stopped to see the Glenfinnan viaduct, this is the one famous in the Harry Potter movies, it’s a dramatic piece of engineering in the Scottish mountains and really photogenic. When we arrived there were crowds of people all stood around, tripods set up. Some Chinese and Japanese tourists had Harry Potter scarves on. This is crazy we thought, how is this place always so busy it’s just a viaduct. Something must be happening. We asked a person with a tripod and the response was that a steam train – the Jacobite was due any minute. Quickly in optimal photo position we saw it arrive in the distance.

In Mallaig we rushed and only just caught the ferry to the ‘small isles’ with not much time to spare. It’s a beautiful sea journey between the mountains and islets of the west coast.

The Isle of Rum is the largest of the so called ‘Small isles’ and certainly the most beautiful, it has had an up and down history. 500 years ago it was totally forested, but as the population grew the crofters deforested the island and the population reached a peak of 500 with 9 villages. In 1827 it was totally depopulated in a rather unpleasant manner by a Dr Lachlan, he replaced the residents who had farmed for generations with 8000 sheep, true to fate he was bankrupt only a few years later, but the abandoned villages never returned to life. In the late 19th century the Bullough family purchased the island as a sporting estate. They built the castle at Kinloch in a true to form Victorian show of wealth:

They also built a mausoleum based in a Greek temple style in the now abandoned settlement of Harris, it’s quite out of character for a Scottish island. Since Lady Bullough died in the mid 20th century the island was sold at a low price to Scottish natural Heritage to be maintained as a nature reserve since 1957. As a result it has a unique preserved nature among Scottish islands. Only with the outdoor access code in 2005 did visitors start exploring the island with its feral goats, red deer, eagles and burrowing colonies of Manx Shearwater birds among others.
Interestingly the original Bullough family mausoleum was underground in an octagonal structure and small a patch of mosaic from this can still be seen in the hillside. The newer Greek looking structure built in around 1900 at Harris bay can be seen here as the sun was getting low in the sky:

The island has a reputation as a strange place and many authors have frequently written about the ‘dark and sinister’ hills here, tales of hauntings and odd noises in the air! It’s certainly a weather beaten, wild place where you can imagine the myths and legends arising. The Rum Cullin is the high ridge of rocky steep peaks on the south. Most summits are a scramble to reach the tops. A Golden eagle nests on a cliff face on one.

Our tour started from the ferry dock in Kinloch on Rum, we had loaded bikes and rode past the castle and headed across the islands interior. Past an abandoned dam that apparently lasted only days before it burst!
The road was a dirt track, perfectly smooth for gravel bikes having recently been graded.
The views as we climbed up were pretty impressive:

The sea was soon visible as this track was only 14km long. A short ride to set up camp away from everyone. Biking then hiking is so often a good combination in Scotland where one can utilize the tracks before climbing a steep peak.
Luckily Rum doesn’t have a munro so the munro baggers don’t visit which does much to keep numbers down. There’s hardly a path in view anywhere we looked.
It’s not a long ride but there’s still time for a lunch stop!

We set up camp out of the westerly wind but right next to the beach. On the way we passed a herd of highland cows, all motionless and confused by us!

The view from the tent was pretty cool, on the beach was sadly a beached minke whale, a few weeks old now, the carcass still attracted seagulls but stunk pretty fruity to say the least.

Not a bad spot to wild camp:

We explored the cliffs in the evening, scrambling along the rocky coastline:

With the Dirty Reiver race next weekend we left the bikes by the tent to rest and the next day we set off to walk 20km up and down all the summits this side of the island. A lot of the route from below looked pretty intimidating and like they would involve serious scrambling.

As oftern the case they turned out they weren’t too bad, the 360 degree views were fantastic though. To get around we picked up the pace a bit and even ran some of the ridge lines, a novel concept for me! The hills here have a viking feel to them with the a Norwegian heritage:
Ruinsival, Ainshval, Trollabhal, Askival, Hallival, Barkeval along with the more Scottish Surr nan Gillean. It was certainly a decent walk with 7 summits climbed!

Photo evidence of me running along Trollabhal, even if I could hardly walk for two days afterwards. Bikes are better for my legs it seems!

After a long day on the tops we lost height and headed back down the steep way via the last summit of Barkeval.

That evening with wet feet we needed a fire and there was so much debris on the beach we thought we should tidy up a bit. This spot is so far from anywhere it means no one picks up all the plastic which washes ashore here and as a result the beach was dotted in all kinds of junk. It wasn’t hard to pick up enough wood and sticks for a good fire. We spotted the seaweed eating feral goats too:

With no paper or fire starters I split shavings of wood with a knife, sheltered from the wind it soon lit and the split sticks were dry on the inside meaning it burnt quickly and strongly. I love a good fire but hate seeing the burnt patches they leave behind so we rarely light one in the UK unless we can leave no trace.
To use the heat I found a band of old rusty metal and bent it into an arch, flat at the top a pan could rest above the flames. It worked well and we boiled litres of water for tea and hot chocolate!

There were no stars but still after dusk I took some pictures of Marion in the tent and me by the fire grabbing the last warmth. They lack the drama of stars but I like the effect:

On Sunday the weather had changed and we had a 10.30 ferry to catch, we packed up and saw fresh snow dusting the tops, the air was damp and cold. We waved goodbye to the hardy highland cows and rode off.

I found an intact antler too which I was super pleased with, deer normally eat them to regain nutrients each year but this had been missed for some reason. I probably should have left it but thought it would make a great coat rack!

The track back felt very different, the snow adding grandeur to the mountains.

With antler strapped on we rolled onwards to Kinloch and the ferry home.

On the way back the ferry stopped on Canna another beautiful looking island with a pretty church.

Altogether a great long weekend and the weather was much better than the photos might suggest. While small Rum is a peaceful and back to nature type of place to visit, there’s no fancy spas or hotels here!
There are two bothys on the Island of Rum Dibidil and Guirdil bothy but we preferred to wildcamp. With more and more people using bothys due to the recent huge publicity of a book being published and especially at a bank holiday weekend, you can call me anti-social but I think we’ll wildcamp more this year!

Any thoughts or questions?

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