A Rum One

This is what backpacking feels like.  I remember now.  A blistering hot day with a headcold on the Rum Cuillin Traverse.

A week before that, we came in on the ferry.   Connections between places are made suddenly obvious with water travel, that are not apparent until you leave dry land.

Out from the village, and south to Dibidil, past gaping fissures in the rock and diagonal water falls into the sea.  The hirsel here was built in 1848, after the clearance, and lived in by 'Johnny Come Over' and his wife, her sister and 6 children.

So we took Johnny up on his offer, and stayed the night.  Old Norse forms the basis of most place names on Rum. Dibidil simply means 'deep dale'.

 The sun left the hills blushing, and Eigg rested under moonlight.  There's a cuckoo in the glen.

We walked round to Papadil, the priest's glen, on a soaking wet path.  Feral goats gazed and grazed lazily as we picked our way across the marshy places.

After Papadil, an exhausting few hours of contouring under Ruinsival and it's upthrust plateau - off path and sidefooting and covering a km an hour or less across a rocky nowheresland, finally to Harris, with its strange raised sea shore, which we took for man made, but isn't.

The weather came in, and I went to visit the Bulloughs, the old owners of Rum, at the Mausoleum.  Skye Air Sea Rescue buzzed the tent in the gloaming at 10.30pm, I remembered not to wave at them.  Looking for a couple who had come unstuck coming down from Hallival, dehydrated, we later heard.

My girlfriend calls this 'forcing art to nature' which makes me laugh out loud, but all I did was place the antler - it's not a stage set, only a prop.  I'm not sure it's art or nature, either.  But there are ghosts here on Rum, and lots of them, and that is worth an intervention, an acknowledgment of some sort or another.  A ceremony for memory.

More hills, hills and goats, walking north now, always the sea on our left flank, across open moorland in the sunshine, past future wild camps by hidden lochans.

Slowly to the rounded summits of Orval and Fionchra, a sweeping inverted S of a ridge with a pleasing logic in relation to our destination.  The Rum Cuillin are now behind us, as we hide from cold winds behind our bags to eat.

Down to Guirdil bothy before the storm hit, and the rafters shook, and the walls sweated cold water from rain pushed through by the gale.


In between successive weather fronts I went outside to listen to the Sound of Canna.


Deer graze in the shelter of the ruins, goats eat kelp on the beach.  A few moments of stillness in between gusts and squalls.  There's a cuckoo in the glen.


More heavy memory:  ''An 'immemorial isle of graves' for, as an anonymous writer says, 'there is nothing left to mark the presence of its old population save the foundations of their dwellings. Their lives and their legends have no other memorials but the nettles growing in waste places." (Waugh 1883).  

Slow to clear in the morning and a river to cross, in spate and my partner is frightened.  Running fast but knee deep at the beach, then more rolling moor.  Then, quiet smiles as bodies chime with gentle contours - it's day 3, and we are in motion.   In the distance we see Ranger Mike, who lives at Kilmory.  Later on at camp, he approaches to talk.  Ranger Mike is the only person we meet in our 4 day circuit of the Island.

The huge beach at Kilmory, where the red deer project is based, and then round the headland a little further, to somewhere that shall remain nameless here, because it is too finely balanced to manage too many visitors.  A beach camp, a driftwood fire, watching eiders and oyster catchers glide into land at bird's eye level, nesting gulls on the dunes and the Skye Cuillin drawing clouds like a magnet from the four quarters of the sea. 

 The 'golden' hour, and a Minky whale skull. 

 Heaven, an empty gas canister, and burnt fingers in the fire.

To go further south east around the coast I had heard was not easy, so another line was chosen.  A straight line this time, up and over, steeply through waist high heather and narrow crags and yet more quiet water lochans big and small, following a burn that once fed the sheilings, a line used by calving deer to hide their newborn whilst they come down to the shore to feed.  Yes, this is what backpacking feels like, I remember it now.

Back to the village past native trees planted by the Bulloughs and the NCC.  Successfully identifying a Stone Chat, a big deal for big city dwellers.  Not onto the Kilmory track.  We take an older path, a memory line, soaking wet but better used to keep it open.  A corner store that welcomed us back, an island people, a new community Trust, some room around the collar at last.  Then a day spent thermarest surfing, nursing a cold.  There's a cuckoo in the glen here too.  A visit to the hunting lodge built by an eccentric Edwardian millionaire, a tour shared with contemporary millionaires straight off private yachts.  ''Could this item be purchased?''  ''No, I'm sorry, this is a museum.''  ''Pfft, I'm sure someone could make an exception!''  It's another universe.  Kinloch so far is lost in time, well worth your time, I want to believe it will heal in time.

But we have work to do before we leave - the central mountains beckon.  The Rum Cuillin is a long, 13 hour day out.  On the way we walk past hundreds of tiny burrows.  There are no rabbits on Rum, these are Manx Sheerwater nests.  Rum hosts 1/3 of the world population.  Hallival looking to Skye. 

Following a massive sweep of crumbling rock across 6 summits, another inverted S, the complex and shattered descents harder than the climbs, but most of the scrambling is easy enough and not exposed unless you choose the harder lines.


Up before Askival's Pinnacle, Sheerwater beaks scattered on a ridge betray an Eagle's feeding place. By the time we reach the pass of gold, before Trollabhal, we are ourselves as shattered as this high wild line.  Joined at the hip, at the side of the mountain.  As it should be.

Ainshval looks like it won't go at all, but it does.  Slowly.  We reach the last hill and look out to sea.  Yes, this is what backpacking feels like.

And Eigg, calm and welcoming, seems to acknowledge our efforts on a thirsty descent, down hard and steep from Sgurr nan Gillean.

Let's stay at the bothy in the deep glen again tonight.  We can walk to the ferry in the morning. 

Our Rum Cuillin traverse is now a route on Walk Highlands