Big Bothy Walk #28
I had found myself in Rùm prematurely. A number of factors, among which was a growing loneliness and increasing anxiety in the wake of being rescued, making me feel like I needed a change of scene. I was too inside my own head now. I had taken a night out back in Fort William after being talked into some Munro-bagging by Maddie and Maggie, and had taken the opportunity to resupply and actually do laundry, get a shower, and sleep in a bed for a change. When the train doors just didn’t open for me to rejoin my route back at Glenfinnan, I took it as a sign and rode to the end of the line in Mallaig to get on a ferry to Rùm.
Well, not so much a ferry; CalMac was messing around with their fleet so I ended up on the boat that took the post over in the afternoon. Just me and a pile of parcels; everyone needs their Amazon deliveries after all.
Rùm is the big boy of the Small Isles, but with only 40 people living there it’s hardly overpopulated. Despite this, humans have lived here since at least 8,000 BC and the archaeology holds some of the earliest evidence of human life in Scotland. At its peak there were 400 people living here.
A swooping igneous cursive makes up the interior. The same volcanic interruptions that created the Great Glen Fault smashed up the Lewisian Gneiss through the sandstone on top and created the island of Rùm. The dark rock that makes up this topography, along with so much of the Highlands, is some of the oldest in the world and these small mountains that rudely and ruggedly dive and ditch through the centre of the island are mere stumps of what they once were 60 million years ago. What is left remains after glaciers eroded away the core of the magnificent volcano that tore it above the sea,
Rùm, more evidently than other places, retains a lot of the Norse influence in its placenames. As cartography only graced the island after the indigenous population had been cleared, the stories behind these are sadly lost. The Rùm Cuillin on the south side of the island are not ‘Beinns’ or ‘Sgurrs’, instead they are made up of such intriguing names as Askival, Hallival and Trollaval, their meaning uncertain.
I camped the first night at the campsite outside Kinloch. There is not an awful lot happening in Rùm; there is no pub, no restaurant, not even a church. There is one small shop and a village hall and a café that is just never open. Of all the adults on the island, only one is not an employee of NatureScot; the schoolteacher, who looks after the education of all five kids that live here.
In the morning, I set off for the bothy on the west side of the island; Guirdil. Through Kinloch, I went onto the tracks that lead through the National Park winding through the mountain moorland of Kinloch Glen. The tracks disappeared at an intersection of valleys and a vague ATV path strode up around the side of Minishal. From here the route stayed high on the side of the hills, above Glen Shellesder; the river carving itself a ravine below me. A fantastic, fun walk; sometimes path, sometimes ATV track, sometimes just the slight compressions that mark where others walked before you., the ground tumbling quickly downwards cut over and over with small streams of silver water, I imagine this loveliness could easily become treacherous given just a push more rain. As it was there was still mud and bogs, but those had become an every day standard by now.
I reached the sea, which had glimmered at me every now and then since I had turned off the track, and made my way along the plunging clifftops, meandering to make the best way through the uneven ground and through two much deeper water crossings. In my sights was the rough and juddering top of Bloodstone Hill; a protrusion like an aging thumb below which, I knew, the bothy sat.
All at once, the bay opened up below me, to a long line of fallen walls leading to a pristine cottage; the ground in front decorated elaborately with seashells.
The bloodstone for which the looming hill behind is named is what first brought people to this bay; a dark green rock flecked through with crimson splatters of iron. Whilst it once would have been used to make tools that, on the mainland, would have been crafted out of flint, it was also pretty enough for a Mesolithic people to want to decorate absolutely everything in it.
The entire population of crofters on the island was evicted and sent to Canada during the Clearances, and a strange new population of unconnected strangers established themselves in tenancy. Giurdil was built for tenant shepherds, amongst the slowly decaying remains of the previous homes.
The re-establishment of Guirdil into an abode by the MBA was an emotional one; it commemorates the contribution of two of its founding members, and was in memory of another, who fell to his death on Askival. The interior structure looks far from sympathetic; the wooden frames between the old stone walls roughly separate the shell into two rooms and an attic. The current MOs clearly take a lot of joy in their roles and have decorated throughout with shells and skulls and various flotsam. On the walls they have placed maps and routes and poems and pictures that people have contributed. If only the owners, NatureScot that run the National Park, also regarded it as such rather than utilising frankly inconsiderate amounts of space as storage facility.
The left hand room was so full of various building materials that I was concerned there was a work party on that I hadn’t known about. More stuff was stored on the structural boards that held the attic room in place; just so much wire and bags of cement that it was honestly rude against the clear consideration and pride that the MOs took in their role. Many owners use bothies to store things, but I hadn’t seen one take such a ridiculous amount of liberty with it.
The right hand room was, thankfully, free of NatureScot’s clutter; a large fireplace and chairs were in front of a large fireplace with a kitchen counter running behind. Various skulls and pieces of found bone were decorating the space, and a lifering painted with the name of the bothy hung from shelves next to a small desk built in beneath the window that looked out to the sea.
I initially set up in the attic space, but when two 19 year olds arrived in kayaks I moved downstairs so I wouldn’t wake them in the morning. Andy and Rhodri were from Arran, and were incredibly impressive young men. Andy had just completed his sixtieth Munro, and done so in honour and remembrance of his father, who would have turned sixty this year. He was also planning to paddle his kayak around the entirety of the Scottish coastline after a gap year spent training in outdoor leadership. Rhodri was going to university to study meteorology; he insisted that he was not going to be a weatherman like his mates joked he would be. I hope their mums are really proud of them.
A search for driftwood didn’t give us very much but, determined, we attempted a fire of kelp and other seaweeds. It was briefly spectacular, then quickly disappeared.
The uncertainty that surrounded the weather and the ferries meant the boys changed their plans and would be leaving Rum the next day. After I made my was back to Kinloch in the morning, the rain was not letting up and the forecast had it keeping on for the next few days. I was told this was going to make Dibidil unreachable; the waterways would be too unsafe to cross. Initially I hoped to wait it out, but the winds on the first night saw me breaking camp after dark and scurrying to the hide to sleep. I didn’t really want to sit around in the rain and the wind for an unknown amount of days on an island with no pub, so I returned to the mainland. Dibidil would have to be returned for.
I did not return to Glenfinnan. I now had an offer of company, but only if I was able to make my way north to join them.
For more information about bothies, visit the Mountain Bothies Association website
If you are visiting a bothy, please be sure to follow the Bothy Code
When hiking in Scotland, familiarise yourself with the Outdoor Access Code
Owner: Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot): 0131 314 4181
Fuel: Some driftwood may be available, but its recommended to bring your own.
Water: Burn to the right of the bothy.
Notes: Open all year. During stalking season, daily activities and the active areas are posted in Kinloch.