Over the years I have sadly neglected most of Scotland’s west coast islands. Because there are Munros there, I have been to Skye and to Mull. I had also been to Gigha. So in the summer of 2021, I decided to start to put that right and planned a trip to Rum. Rum has a central ridge of gabbro mini-mountains, much like Skye. Those hills are called the Rum Cuillin, the highest of which is Askival.
Away from that ridge, Rum also has two Marilyns. So with some flexibility in work arrangements, I awaited a promising weather forecast and hoped that, when it came, I would be able to find space on the ferry across to the island and accommodation on it. That forecast came at the end of August.
It is a long drive from home to Mallaig, the port from which the ferry to Rum sails and so I arranged to spend a couple of days climbing other peaks en route. Fortunately there was space on the ferry and I arranged a spot at Rum’s campsite.
I was blessed with great weather for all three days that I was sailing to/from the island and I was on the island itself.
The crossing was smooth.
The ferry first called at the island of Eigg with its striking inselberg, An Sgurr.
Rum was, at one time, in private ownership. One owner had Kinloch Castle built. This is well seen as you enter Loch Scresort. Its stone was imported, so the building looks a little out of place. It is a Victorian house finished around 1900 as a residence of a Lancastrian textile mogul. But it fell into neglect and now has an air of decay, though it has been used sporadically since. And tours of it are available. The island of Rum is now owned by NatureScot and most of it comprises a National Nature Reserve.
After the ferry docked I walked the half mile or so to the camp site, pitched my tent and generally sorted myself out for three days in the Rum hills. It was around the middle of the day. So I had planned to climb on of the two Marilyns not on the ridge that same day. Daylight hours would not be problem in Scotland at that time of year.
The first of these Marilyns was Mullach Mor. It was a surprisingly rugged little hill, but with fantastic views of the southern end of the Skye Cuillin, Bla Bheinn and the Broadford hills on Skye, as well as the Rum Cuillin and the distant mainland.
So just before 2pm I set out for a look at what Mullach Mor had to offer. This is the lowest of the island’s Marilyns but with a decent prominence relative to its height.
I followed the track first past Kinloch Castle. The track leads on to a crossroads where I went straight on over the bridge and then immediately turned left onto a track which is shown on the 1:50000 OS map (but not the 1:25000). This is the designated North Side Trail and occasionally waymarked with a yellow eagle sign.
The path then generally contours along the side of the hill. Not much height was gained as I passed through scattered woodland. Eventually another marker post is reached. This directs you along a path which goes downhill at this point. However, the correct route is straight on. There is an old path which is marked on the OS maps but which, in summer, may be overgrown. Follow this. In a matter of metres the path crosses a small bridge and carries on contouring the slope. Even after dry weather the path was quite wet and sometimes difficult to follow as I suspect that it is not much used.
The path continues for another kilometre before it reaches the edge of the woodland (and then continues to join up with the main track to Kilmory and Harris in a further 1.5kms). Once at the edge of the woodland it is then a question of finding the best way up. There are no more paths. The summer long grass made it difficult to see good foot placements on the rough ground. The way gets slightly better with elevation gain.
There is 200m of ascent with some small crags to navigate around. After some effort the gradient eventually eases and the summit trig comes into view. Now is the time to appreciate the effort and to look at the 360 degree views described above. It had only taken just over 90 minutes from the tent but it felt longer. So I spent over 30 minutes on top taking in those views before returning roughly the same way to the path at the edge of the woodland.
I reversed my route to the marker where I had ignored the downhill path. This time, to vary the route back, I followed it. It lead very pleasantly downhill towards the river before turning east and following the river to a convenient footbridge (not marked on the OS maps) which in turn led back to the main track back to Kinloch.
The Rum Cuillin
The traverse of the Rum Cuillin in a single day is one of Scotland’s classic mountain days. There are a couple of ways that it can be tackled. First a rough coastal path can be taken from Kinloch towards the bothy at Dibidil at the north west of the island. From there an ascent of Sgurr nan Gillean is made and the ridge can be followed back north to Hallival and a descent made to Kinloch from there. (Of course, this can all be done in reverse as well).
The second option is the one that I took. From Kinloch campsite I went via the Castle and followed a good track to Coire Dubh.
I made an early start being away by 6.30am. Sunrise with the clouds made for an orange glow.
The track took me up to the col between Barkeval and Hallival. Hallival rears up to the left. The hills here mainly have Norse derivations. Hallival is hill of the hall, presumably because of its shape.
Indeed the whole ridge is visible, twisting one way and then another.
Hallival presents a series of rock bands as its steep slopes are tackled. One required a bit of tricky scrambling. However, after then the summit ridge was gained.
A haze inversion persisted. A cruise ship floated through the channel between Rum and Skye.
I managed this zoom shot of Sgurr Alasdair and Sgurr Dearg on the Isle of Skye.
And this hazy shot of the Knoydart hills.
The drop off Hallival is also steep, albeit a bit less craggy. I had seen animal droppings on the summit ridge and wondered how any animal might get up there. Goats is the answer. The deer would never make it. I saw this one-horned specimen on the way down.
I was soon at the col before Askival. The way is straightforward until this barrier on the ridge is met.
Fortunately a narrow path bypasses this obstacle to the left. You then pick your spot to ascend steep rocky ground to meet the ridge above the barrier.
By the time I had reached Askival’s summit, some fair weather cloud was swirling about. Askival is the island’s highest point at 812m. Not massive, but you do climb every metre of its height and more. Askival is hill of the ash tree.
Here looking back at Hellival.
And on to Trollabhal (right) and Ainshval with the cloud. Those two would be my next hills.
Time to go. I started the descent. Again it was steep and I drifted too far to my left. This resulted in a slightly awkward traverse back to the main ridge line. But I eventually reached the lowest col of the day – the Bealach an Oir. I just had goats and deer for company.
I contemplated another steep ascent up to Trollabhal. This is hill of the trolls, so called because the Norse inhabitants mistook the noise of burrowing Manx Shearwaters for the noise of trolls. I was there outside of the breeding season, so did not see any Shearwaters, but about a third of the world’s population nest here each year.
Some miss out this peak because it is not a Corbett. That is a shame. It has an interesting and awkward double top. Of course, the (slightly) higher one is the furthest away when approaching from this col.
So I gritted my teeth and ground my way up the slopes ahead. After an initial rise, the ridge went up in a couple of rises before the final sharp rise. There was a bit of a scramble to the first top and then a more exposed way over to the higher top.
As was the case for all of the tops, the view was wonderful. Here is a panorama showing (left to right) Hallival, Askival, the lower top and the island of Eigg.
I stopped here for a while, in the centre of the Rum Cuillin. It was around 1pm. So I had been going over 6 hours. After a rest and some food/drink, I scrambled back to the lower top. From here it was possible to break south down broken slopes and reach the next col – the Bealach an Fhuarain. Here is the photo of the route down.
It was then to my final peak of the day, Ainshval – rocky ridge. A direct approach is not possible. A rising traverse is taken to the right until a run of scree is met. From there a loose path zig-zags up to the ridge above the crag that blocked the way from the col. Once on the ridge it was necessary to take the slopes to the left of the crest where another loose path took me up to a plateau where the summit cairn was located.
I was now at the furthest point from Kinloch; it was 14:40. A pair of deer objected to my presence and grunted their disapproval.
I ignored them! Here were the views.
And the cruise ships were still out in force taking advantage of the calm conditions.
The ridge continues on to Sgurr nan Gillean, a hill without a Norse derivation meaning hill of the young men. But the ridge loses its ruggedness here. I decided not to go out to that top.
It was time to return. In going back the same way, I did not have to re-ascend any of the peaks. I could traverse beneath them to reach each of the three cols that I had already crossed. This time I would just pop over them and drop into the corrie on the other side.
By the time I reached Atlantic Corrie beyond Bealach an Oir, I was quite tired, and parched. The day had been warm and the sun relentless. There was a bit of a drop into this corrie and then an ankle turning traverse of almost 2kms to the next col. From there, the path back down to Kinloch beside the Allt Slugan a‘Choillich could be seen. I dropped steeply to it.
It was then a (pleasant) plod down to the village. Here there is a small shop and I bought four litres of fluid and immediately downed two of them. I do not think that I had become so dehydrated since my visit to several of Australia’s 2000m mountains.
The final day involved a climb of Orval, a return to pack up the tent and a ferry back to the mainland.
The summit of Orval has got to be one of the best viewpoints in the UK. The panorama spreads from the Outer Isles to Canna, round to the Skye ridge between Banachdich to Garsbheinn, then to Blaven and the Broadford hills, Sgritheall, Ladhar Bheinn, Sgurr na Ciche, distant Ben More on Mull, the Rum Cuillin and many more.
Keep it for a good day.
I walked from Kinloch campsite past the Castle again and followed the road to Kilmory and Harris. I took the branch towards Harris after 3 kilometres or so. In another kilometre and a half, just before Malcolm’s Bridge there is an old grass path which I took.
This path can be wet, but rocks and wooden walkways liberally sprinkle its passage so that you can avoid the worst of the wetness.
Just beyond Malcolm’s Bridge there is a vehicle track which might lead a little more directly to the objective, which is Bealach a’Bhraigh Bhig.
From afar it looks like a band of rocks will prevent access to the upper parts of Orval. In fact it is straightforward where a narrow drainage line / path takes you above the rocks.
From here, the upper part of the hill is largely trackless. On the way up I followed the line of cliffs overlooking Canna. A group of fine looking deer ran away at my presence. There is a further 200m of ascent from the pass but the trig point and slightly higher cairn soon come. One can then admire the panorama described above.
The walk can be continued to Àrd Nev with a descent south to the road to Harris. But I had a ferry to catch. So I returned by the outward route just taking a slightly more direct line back to the pass and using part of the upper reaches of the vehicle track before reverting to the grass path.
Fionchra would also be easily climbed from the pass.
It was then back to the camp site and a walk back to the ferry terminal for the sailing back to Mallaig. It had been a wonderful three days with the weather forecast being spot on. I was also struck by the fact that in all three days, despite the good weather and the holiday period, I had seen no-one else on the hills.