Scotland: The Isle of Rum

The rain has stopped. The air is still and moist, and the midges are swarming.

Packing up our tent, we cycle down to the ferry terminal. Lashing the bikes to the railing, then upstairs to break into our nutella for a civilised breakfast at a table.

The ferry takes us to Mallaig. We aren’t sure where we’re going next, it will depend where we can get to. Alex finds a ferry going to Rum, but we’ll have to travel down the coast a little, it leaves from Arisaig.

There’s time to do a quick grocery shop, then we hit the road. Just the A-road, which is wide and quiet with a good shoulder. The B-road would be more scenic, but there isn’t time. In Arisaig it’s straight to the ferry terminal, buy one-way tickets to the Isle of Rum, then jump on the ferry.

It’s not so much a ferry as a small sight-seeing boat. It carries us, some daytrippers, and some locals off for a few days of hiking and hunting. Our bikes are dismantled and tied to the roof, and we sit in the back of the boat, watching the view as we bounce along past seals and sea birds, until Finn falls asleep on my lap.

We pull up at the dock in Kinloch, Rum. The large jolly tweed-wearing Scotsmen with their large jolly Scots sons get off to go on their hunting trip. The daytrippers disipate quickly. We’re left alone on the dock, reassembling bikes.

Into Kinloch, we wander past a small field with horses – Finn wants to know why they don’t have horns on their heads. I try to explain about unicorns.

The Isle of Rum is one of the Small Isles, and its thirty or so residents all live in Kinloch. It’s been inhabited since around 8000BC, with neolithic folks, early Christians, norse, various Scots clans, before the crofters who lived here in 1826 were largely packed off and sent to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia so one man could turn it into a sheep farm. That failed miserably, and the island was eventually sold to the Marquess of Salisbury who converted it into a sporting estate, which eventually had a castle built on it (fourteen under-gardeners worked on the grounds and were paid extra to wear kilts). It was finally sold to Scottish Natural Heritage, to become a national nature reserve.

The average annual rainfall is 120″ in the hills.

Riding out of Kinloch, we don’t see anyone else for the next 24 hours. It’s wonderfully deserted. We pedal first along the dirt road, and then start pushing our bikes up the steep and boggy path. The plan had been to see if we could get to Dibidil Bothy. It starts to look unlikely. Without Finn we would have more of a chance, but the trail-a-bike makes everything harder, and Finn himself is very mistrustful of this boggy ground after the incident in Glen Affric. It’s slow going, and very wet.

We see red deer, and reach the saddle. From here we can see out to ocean on both sides of the island, and decide it’s as good a place to camp as any. It’s cloudy, with patches of rain, but there are glympses of blue sky around. The wind is light, and the weather forecast is good.

We set up camp, cook dinner, and get Finn to sleep. I’ve been experimenting with sleeping without a pad, but start to get too cold after a couple of hours. I’m listening to the audiobook of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh. It’s a really well read audiobook, and I’m enjoying the story – although it feels out of place in our current surrounds.

Then the wind picks up and changes direction. It starts to rain. I start having flashbacks to reading tent reviews before buying our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 tent – it performs poorly in windy conditions. This is confirmed as Alex and I take it in turns to sit bracing the side pole that’s dipping and bowing, coming dangerously close to snapping. On our long European cycle tour we had a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent that had a few poles snap – they’re great tents, but the lightweight poles come at a price.

Around midnight a few pegs pull loose and the tent starts snapping wildly. Alex lunges out into the rain and starts trying to stabilise it with rocks. We debate the merits of re-orienting the tent where we are, but decide the wind is too strong, and make the call to relocate. I sit up, bracing the tent, as Alex scouts out a better spot. Confirmed – we can move to the lee of the rock we’re camping above.

I get Finn dressed in his rain gear. He’s unimpressed at being woken up, and doesn’t want to stay put when I carry him to the proposed new tent spot.

I empty the tent of heavy items, we unpeg it, wait for a lull, then run it down to the new spot. Re-peg. Re-insert child and other items into tent. Although it’s wet and windy, it’s not cold at all. Thankfully.

With everyone inside the newly erected tent, I find a spot for Finn. We curl up and relax as the tent seems properly sheltered here. Although it’s far from flat ground – the four corners of the tent plunge deeply, and finding a place to sleep is more about nesting.

Finn largely takes the whole episode as a matter of course, just saying in the morning: “When we’re in my place Mama, we don’t get up in the night to move things.”

After packing up camp the next morning, the singletrailer gets a flat tyre within a few hundred metres. After that hiccup, we find it’s much faster going – a good chunk of the terrain is actually rideable on the way down.

We have time to kill, so wander over to Kilmory Bay before backtracking out through Kinloch Glen to lunch in the community hall, and drink coffee from mugs that look like they came from a 1980s kitchen. I worry that the world might end and we’ll be stuck on the Isle of Rum forever. It feels a little as if time doesn’t really touch it, and perhaps the world has already ended.

The ferry is late, but the world hasn’t ended, and it eventually arrives to take us back to Massaig – again. It’s raining, and we gleefully splurge on fish and chips before riding to Camusdarach Beach. They let us in despite being full, and we watch the sun as it sets over the Isle of Eigg and the Isle of Rum.

Distance: 23km on the mainland, 23km on the Isle of Rum
Elevation gain: 300m on the mainland, 340m on Rum
Location: Mallaig to Arisaig, ferry to the Isle of Rum, then ferry back to Mallaig, and a wander down the coast to Camusdarach Beach

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