Isle of Rùm Walk

Kinloch to Harris, an island coast to coast

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Statistics and Files
Start: Kinloch Distance: 7.5 miles (12 km) Climbing: 317 metres
Grid Ref: NM 41167 99149 Time: 3 hours Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Rùm
Start: Kinloch Distance: 7.5 miles (12 km)
Grid Ref: NM 41167 99149 Time: 3 hours
Climbing: 317 metres Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Summary: The journey to Rum was part of our 2017 Summer holiday around the Inner Hebrides. On this trip were three good friends of mine, David Pascoe from Hayle and father and son Mike and Danny Poulton from Rochdale, where I live too. We had been to Skye previously and had viewed the mini Cuillins of Rum while there so we just had to visit. We relished the prospect of walking over to Harris and wild camp on the deserted side of the Island. Its beauty and remoteness certainly enhanced our adventure. I hope you enjoy my tale. (Neal Lever, January 2018)

(Note: Statistics relate to the walk from Kinloch to Harris. You will need to factor in the same statistics for the return journey)

The Walk: I suppose I should start with a brief introduction to the island. The thirty one people that permanently inhabit Rum live at Kinloch. The ferry docks at Kinloch on a regular basis in the summer months with supplies etc. the islanders depend on this service and without it Rum would be uninhabitable. There is a campsite at the bay (in which we camped first night) plus a youth hostel and a Bed and Breakfast, all mod cons you might say. The community hall connected with the Post Office and general store is the life hub to the islanders and has a limited WIFI connection. Ginty runs the stores and PO and we have her to thank for the supply of bottled beer and whisky for without that I guess those bastard midges would have had the better of us, especially Mike. Kinloch castle is worth the visit to Rum (if you like castles) although it seems to have become a conundrum as to what to do it. It is tired and is being renovated which has been in the hands of the Scottish national Trust for quite some time now. Various areas have been saved from collapse and work, as we have been informed, is ongoing. Once over you could stay there and have dinner at the large table in the great hall. There is also a B+B which is open all year round we believe and a couple of craft shops. It is a sparse Island but in my mind and my fellow travellers truly beautiful and well worth a visit.

Rum sunset looking towards EiggRum sunset looking towards Eigg
Mike Poulton blazing the trailMike Poulton blazing the trail

A moody cloudy ceiling to the start of our day of which I was sure would burn off as the morning unfolded. Within an hour the cloud started to separate with vibrant blue sky sliding down the ever brightening sunrays. Breakfast was speedy, as was kit and tent packing, forced by the burly appetite of Rums resident bastard midges. After a night on the campsite at Kinloch. our journey today was to walk the 13k across the island, East to West, and camp at the deserted village of Harris. I say village, one bothy and one mausoleum. It would have been the populated side of the island had the bay been deeper for ships.

My pack felt heavy today, maybe due to the previous day we had in the Rum Cuillins, clambering around on the basalt rock of Ainshval on a beautiful summers day, also the four or five pints of ‘Fursty Ferret ’we had at the Post Office come convenience store and the couple of whiskies back at camp with David Pascoe my mountaineering buddy I met in the Himalayas did not help. Also with us was father and son team Mike and Danny Poulton who are neighbours of mine I have known for eons. The early morning temperature was around 16/17 degrees’ lovely to walk in but no breeze so we would have to be a bit pacey to stop the midges biting. They seem to run out of pace around 5kph. I chuckle to myself as we set off, regaling last evenings conversation in which we invented ‘O’, which is freeze dried water in a bottle, light to carry, just add H2…..easy. We may patent it.

We leave the shoreline campsite and set off. We soon come upon Kinloch Castle at the head of the bay. The castle was built in 1897 by George Bullough a Lancastrian industrialist who inherited the island and a considerable amount of money from his father. It is a splendid building but is in need of renovation. We head west where we climb gently on a very well maintained bridle path, through woodland, mainly pine trees with a distinctive perfumed filled air of morning freshness that lingers at the tip of your nostril, not sharp to intake but a pleasant aroma that does not offend. Still no breeze but the clouds are burning off and the temperature is picking up. After a couple of miles of gradual climbing, almost unnoticeable, we decide to rest for a while and drink. Re-hydrated ‘O’ of course from one of the islands many mountain streams. The water was glistening and sliding downhill like a lazy snake.

Can anyone map read?Can anyone map read?
Looking back to KinlochLooking back to Kinloch

We move onwards with road lined gorse bushes that stand to attention either side of the road, some in bloom and some not. Gorse is one of the only bushes that has the ability to flower at any time of the year and as many flower in winter as in summer. A strange affair with no answer one feels. Then on our left hand side the mountain peaks start to show themselves, blacken summits stripped bare of life by time and weather, it’s a foreboding place for almost all life. The odd beetle or ambitious walker may scramble through the blackened rocks then hundreds of feet lower vegetation clings to the mountain side as if hanging on for dear life as the elements pull and tug at it as if it was not meant to be.

Life is good and carefree. I find it difficult to hold a thought in my mind nor have a care in the world. It’s not that my life back home is awful, far from it, I have a lovely wife with two lovely step children and I could not be happier. It is the timelessness and peacefulness, the tranquility that I find from being in the mountains, a sense of rejuvenation, mind cleansing that can only happen here. I don’t feel guilty and nor should I, it’s a balance, a maintenance of ones being, a recharging process that all should possess in whatever form.

Cooking Midge and PotatoesCooking Midge and Potatoes

After a couple of hours on our journey we meet two university students studying geology, we chat for a while about this perfect place to study. They tell us a little about of what they are trying to achieve during their working vacation. It is all very interesting and we could not agree more how Rum is the perfect place to study. It turns out that there are quite a few groups around the island collating information. I almost wish I had studied geology now. After our nice but brief geology lesson we press on and soon are heading down towards Harris which is still a way away. The land is slightly more expansive here, more marauding. We cannot see Harris but the sea air is filtering our way. I’m breathing in slightly salty air. A tang is on my tongue too. A sea bird of some description saws above with great ease on the mountain thermals and swirling updrafts. I feel we are close to seeing the sea.

All of a sudden David spots a red deer, in all its majesty, horns erect, red coat shining in the afternoon sun. It stands perfectly still taking in the breeze, nostrils pouting, we are down wind and have been momentarily quiet and that is why we are so close. It seems to want to show off, and why shouldn’t it, for it is a splendid and magnificent animal. If there is a place in this world where this beast should reside, then Rum is definitely the place. Harris is more remote with only a bothy and its occasional occupants to bother the deer so I guess they can live with that.

Mining relics Mining relics
On the way to HarrisOn the way to Harris

We carry on descending and the Rum Cuillins are by now are in full view, blackened tops adorned in sunshine with greenery spilling down like raspberry ripple on a melting ice cream. Evidence of, but not quite in view, is the widening area that is the bay of Harris. Deer by now are plentiful and are too numerous to count. Sea birds fill the sky like interference on my granddad’s old TV. Wildflower and busy insects litter the land in a beauty that can only be found when land has been bereft of man’s interjection for quite some time. Life here apart from humans is on an epic scale.

Down we journey and as we turn a corner finally the sea and Harris is in full view. Bullough’s mausoleum stands tall and proud and is very impressive. At the end of the road and before the grounds that house the mausoleum is what looks to be a well maintained bothy. All of Rum is owned by the Scottish National Trust (SNT) apart from the immediate land surrounding the mausoleum which is entrusted to the Bullough family. Bullough, who was a show off, originally built another mausoleum which was connected to the surrounding hill not more than 100 yards away. However, when he proudly showed it off to one of his friends, he remarked that it looked like a Victorian toilet. Bullough was infuriated with this remark and promptly blew it up with dynamite which made me laugh. Remains of the old building are still clearly visible in the hillside.

A daydreaming Neal LeverA daydreaming Neal Lever
Bullough family MausoleumBullough family Mausoleum

After an hour of decent with the coast in constant view we arrive at our intended wild camp site but soon dismiss it in favour of another more interesting spot. Two secluded bays either side of a strip of peninsular type land jutting out to the sea is far more preferable, with views to die for. The two pebbled beaches either side of our pitch are adorned with drift wood gathered and worn by time and sea. A perfect pitch you may say. I have camped in many places but not many as beautiful as this. There isn’t a cloud in the sky by now, however, there are midges. There seems to be just enough breeze to keep them at bay though. Tents soon pitched and dinner on the go. Bla wilderness stew (freeze dried rations) for me, which seems quite appropriate considering our home for the night.

After dinner David and I decide to go and investigate the cliffs further north to us. What started a gentle walk turned into quite a climb with false summit after false summit. The cliff rock strata is quite dramatic here with all kinds of twisted connotations blackened and manacled together then ravished by time and sea. Millions of years of formation and erosion. We spot more deer. A couple of stags keeping a watchful eye on each other, so much so they didn’t even notice our approach until we are about thirty yards away. There off. Shortly we arrive at a good vantage point and the Isle of Eigg comes into view. Quite a distinctive shape with what from a distance looks like a flat top mountain then a spur sticks up out of the island like a sore thumb.

Dave and I wonder back to camp to meet Mike and Danny. Armed with a little whisky left from the previous night we trundle down to the pebbled beach and build a huge campfire from the plentiful supply of driftwood. The wood is scattered all around, fantastic shapes and different sizes. I guess some of the wood is countless years old with an air of mystery as to its origin. How far had some of these pieces travelled and what were they a part of before our campfire. Some pieces look like they have been in the sea for centuries. One will never know. After a game of baseball using drift wood and buoys lost from their boats, we decide to call it a night. As we head back up onto the peninsular where our tents are pitched I gaze back to see the burning embers of our campfire and wonder if this day will be forever etched within my mind. I do hope so.

A perfect pitchA perfect pitch
Not quite grasped this fishing larkNot quite grasped this fishing lark

The sky is still like a midsummers day even though it has past 11pm. I am tired so sleep. I awake around 2.30pm for the inevitable call of nature and daylight is still upon us. In the morning our neighbours Mike and Danny are up early. Mike remarks that he too was up around 4am and remarks how light it still was. So the 10th of June and no darkness on Rum, fascinating. I always imagined that days of no darkness would be on much further northern countries.

Mike and Danny are almost packed and ready to set off. Mike remarks he may need a little more time to get back to Kinloch in time for the ferry which leaves at 2.30pm. Aching legs I suppose and he is 73 years old, but very spritely. As they set off David and I have a little more leisurely breakfast and by the time we set off we are probably an hour behind but feel we should catch them up. It’s a good job I packed the walkie talkies.

“Mike to base camp over”. “Come in Mike what seems to be the problem, over”. “I have lost my wallet, over”. “You knob, over”. “I went to the toilet earlier this morning and it may have dropped out of my pocket, over”. “So you want David and I to go and inspect your business in order to find your wallet, over”. “Yes, over”.

I must interject here. There has been many a time when one has helped friends in distress but never before have I searched for someone’s business. “Seriously, over”. “Please, over”.

After a while of searching under instruction of where the said business was and indeed wallet, it was to no avail. We break the bad news to Mike and agree to set off otherwise we may miss the ferry. Apparently, there is quite a few quid in his wallet and David and I feel quite disappointed in not finding Mikes wallet. After an hour or so of walking we come across Mike’s wallet lying in the middle of the road exactly where it had dropped from his faulty sewn back pocket, or so Mike professed once reunited with it. We managed to beat Mike and Danny back to Kinloch and Ginty’s Post Office come pub. Mike could not believe how we had passed them. The short cut we had professed in taking was indeed true. Although it was not a short cut in the truest sense, i.e. as in a different route, which may have been mentioned. In fact the short cut was indeed in the back of the Landover which passed them a mile from the end of the journey having visited the bothy at Harris.

Get the beer in Mike!

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