Archive for April 7th, 2011

April 7, 2011

A wilderness slackpack on the Isle of Rum pt2 – the rugged coast

by backpackingbongos

Pete upset the spirit world by proclaiming that he does not believe in ghosts.  The Dibidil spirits got their revenge by paying him a visit in the night.  Nothing explicitly went bump in the night but he said that he was aware of something entering the room whilst he was sleeping, whatever it was touched his hand.  Rich spent the night in the other room and did not get up and I had not felt the urge to hold Petes hand that night.  I had read of a few ghostly going on in Dibidil prior to the visit.  The best one being three climbers who has bedded down for the night on the floor, all in a nice neat row.  They woke up the next morning to find that they had all rotated 180 degrees in the night.  Beware if you visit Dibidil on your own!

Day 2 – 5.8 miles with 530 metres ascent

I slept the sleep of kings in my bothy bunk, comfy in my down cocoon.  Although only 8am it looked like Pete was long gone, he had decided the night before to finish the horseshoe if the weather looked ok.  It was a bit cloudy outside but the hills were all clear.  Rich had wisely invested in a lie-in and was just stirring in the room next door.  I would love to say that I quickly packed up and headed out for a big mountain day but instead continued the bothy pottering theme.

A couple of hours later I decided that I would start my slow walk to Papadil lodge along the now much fainter pony path.  My knees had not suffered too much the day before and I wanted to continue to take care of them.  There was also the small matter of possibly the roughest section of coast on this backpack beyond Papadil.  Slow and steady would be my motto.  I arranged for Rich and Pete to meet me at the ruined lodge and started the climb up the large boggy tussocks to the path contouring above the bothy.  As I gained height I spotted Pete ‘the mountain goat’ making quick progress down from Sgurr nan Gillean.  The views back to Beinn nan Stac and Askival were stunning, I felt a bit deflated that I had to leave out such magnificent peaks.  However just to simply be in such wild and remote coast and mountain scenery is a privilege.

I managed to lose the path completely near Loch Dubh an Sgoir probably because I was spending too much time gawping slack-jawed at the scenery.  Sgurr nan Gillean looked fantastic from there with just a small amount of mist grazing its summit.

Relocating the path once again due to a cunningly placed cairn, I made steady progress to Loch Papadil which suddenly revealed itself nestled in a bowl in the hills.

Approaching the loch from above the location of the path once again eluded me and I ended up surrounded by the usual tussocks from hell as I struggled to pick my way down.  The lack of stability underfoot was less than perfect for my knee, helped even less by a big hole that swallowed one leg.  By the time I reached the trees I was rather hot and flustered and had to flick off a few ticks that had managed to hitch a lift from the long grass.  I knew that there was a lodge somewhere in the woods which had been taken over by rhododendron and it was a boggy battle to find it.  From what remained nature had clearly won the battle.

Across the river there was a lovely grassy clearing with the low walls of ruined buildings.  I made myself comfortable and ate lunch whilst I waited for the other two to appear.  There are several areas in the direct vicinity that would make perfect wild camping spots, flat and grassy and the remains of an old fire pit to have a campfire with the plentiful supply of fallen wood.  However Papadil does have a bit of an atmosphere about it, fine in the daytime but I think that I would get the willies if I spent the night alone there.  This feeling may well be influenced by stories I have read of campers nearby fleeing in the night after being visited by some invisible force.  The accounts are the same, campers wake up with the sensation of being sat on, pinning them down.

Anyway within half an hour Rich and Pete appeared on the hill above and managed to make a rapid descent to where I was sitting.  Plans were made for the rest of the day.  Pete had been keen to push on to Guidil bothy whilst myself and Rich fancied a wild camp next to Harris bay.  The talk of a fine forecast (I had managed to check the weather on my iphone) and a driftwood fire on the beach soon changed Petes mind and we all headed off together towards Harris.

The route to Harris is rough and pathless and you have to pick a line with care to avoid cliffs shelving steeply into the sea.  We made a beeline straight up steep slopes to roughly the 120 metre contour which gave fine views back to the loch and the pinnacle which guards its seaward side.

The Allt na Gile makes a deep gash in the hillside and we contoured its steep slopes to cross the stream before contouring round the other side.

Traversing further along the coast we constantly had to adjust our route as lines of cliff rose up to meet us.  The going was rough but not half as bad as the map suggests and we had the company of some outstanding coastal scenery.  Wild, remote and rugged, these days it is this sort of landscape that really rocks my boat.  Mountains and the sea blended together in perfect harmony.  I have the feeling that not many people explore the coast between Papadil and Harris bay which is a shame because they are missing something special.

Approaching the 200 metre contour I needed a rest as I was struggling to keep up with the other two.  I hoisted my pack off and arranged to meet them at the spot we had picked as a potential camp spot.  I sat there for a while taking in the scenery, happy just to be in such an isolated spot.

Towards the near horizon I spotted a cairn, unusual considering that there is no vestige of a path.  I also spotted Rich and Pete loitering at the cairn getting ready to set off once again.  A steady traversing ascent brought me to the cairn and a breathtaking view to the north, Harris bay looking magnificent with Orval as a backdrop.  I could just make out the other two as specs on the hillside, looking insignificant amongst the grandeur of it all.

From the cairn a vague path started and it was good to disengage the brain and simply follow it as it gently took me down at an easy gradient to the new bridge over the Abhainn Rangail.  I soon came to a raised beach, something that I have only ever seen on the Isle of Jura.  An old settlement had obviously used the rounded stones to build their boundary walls.

I made my way down to the chosen wild camp spot and what a great spot it was.  Perfect flat short-cropped grass like a bowling green, an oasis amongst the rough ground.  The sea to one side and the mountains on the other.

There was however a distinctive smell in the air and the reason for the cropped grass became apparent with all the animal droppings on the ground.  The heady aroma was coming from a few metres away, a herd of wild goats had made camp on the beach and we were spending the night in their on-suite.

Thankfully camp was completely tick free and it was nice to be able to wander around without having to watch out for them crawling up your leg.  My boots were like two sponges full of bog water and my feet like prunes, it was good to lay in my tent for a while giving them some air whilst listening to the waves lapping the shore.

After a long mountain day Pete was the first to get his dinner on the go, cooking his favourite backpacking treat of tuna fandango.  This looked a damn sight more appetising than my freeze-dried add water to a pouch muck.

Fed and drift wood gathered around an old fire pit, I wandered up the slope behind camp to get an overview of our chosen spot.  The location really could not be any better.  There was not a soul around for miles and we just had goats on the beach and highland cows by the lodge and mausoleum for company.

As afternoon drifted into evening the camp fire was lit, the dry bleached driftwood catching with only a twix wrapper as kindling.  Some of the driftwood almost looked too good to burn, like the skeleton of some long extinct animal.  The heat of the fire took the chill out of the air and it was a fine way to pass a few hours.