A wilderness slackpack on the Isle of Rum pt3 – across the hills

by backpackingbongos

I spent a contented night in the tent, one of those rare pitches that are lump and bump free and totally flat.  A heavy rain shower in the night only served to make me feel even more cosy.  Morning came cloudy but bright, the hills once again clag free.  Pete was already up and packing his gear away, he had another big day planned.  He was going to follow the coast around to Guirdil bothy and dump his gear before heading off on a lightweight assault of the Orval horseshoe.  Rich and I planned to have a later start before lugging our gear directly over Orval and down to the bothy.

Day 3 – 7.2 miles with 720 metres ascent

I love lazy wild camping mornings, time to potter around, drink coffee and have a leisurely breakfast.  The previous evening we were a little nervous just in case the herd of Highland cattle gathering around the lodge came to pay us a visit.  Thankfully they didn’t but during the morning this fine beast ambled down to the beach to feed on the plentiful kelp.

Packing up I realised that much of my gear had a nice goaty slick to it and was carrying a distinctive odour.  I suppose that is one of the pitfalls of spending the night where wild goats hang out.  We crossed the beach and climbed up to the mausoleum to have a close look at it, surrounded by cows it was more of a moosoleum.  Anyway it has the splendid Rum Cuillins as a backdrop, is there any better resting place?

Harris lodge itself was firmly locked but a good peer through the window showed that it would be a cracking place to stay.  Our first destination of the day would be the conical hill of Ard Nev which could be tackled directly from Harris bay.  However after a couple of days walking rough tussocky bogs we decided that the main Kinloch track would be quicker and easier and much better for my knees.  It certainly made for a quick ascent and we soon had a good view down to Harris and across to the Rum Cuillin.

The summit of the track hits the 250 metre contour before its descent towards Kinloch.  With height gained we made a direct beeline for Ard Nev, its steep and rough slopes being hard work after the easy-going track.  During the ascent it was re-named ‘Hard Nev’.  The leg work however was worth it for the grandstand view of the Cuillins.

Gaining the southern shoulder before the final summit cone, Orval showed itself to us for the first time.  From this angle it is a large grassy dome, it was not going to reveal its full splendour until our descent down to Guirdil.

For a while this image kept popping into my head, perhaps I was pronouncing Orval incorrectly?!

Both of our legs were a little wobbly when we finally reached the summit of Ard Nev and we hunkered down for a spot of lunch.  The views were extensive, although it was clear that the weather was beginning to change with a freshening wind and a few spots of rain.

The descent north-west was on easy grassy slopes and we began to make a mental note of the best line of ascent up the very steep eastern ridge of Orval.  Lines of wet crags were defending a direct ascent and we picked our way up the best we could, each taking a slightly different line.

A couple of hundred metres below the summit we left our packs and made a quick ascent to the trig point and cairn, the summit itself being fairly uninspiring with the clag beginning to gather around us.  Returning back to our packs we could see a figure that looked like Pete contouring round the Bealach a Bhraigh Bhig, we waved but he did not spot us.  Packs back on we walked to the line of crags that guard the summit to the north.  The views down into Glen Guirdil were pretty impressive and the sheer cliffs made my stomach knott up when I got too close to the edge.

The descent to the Bealach a Bhraigh Bhig was much steeper than the map suggests and we had to gingerly pick our way down a small gully before arriving on easy grassy slopes.  The valley below presented us with a perfect u shape, framed on the horizon by Canna.  I have now promised myself that Canna is probably going to be my next island destination.

A narrow pony path is picked up at Bealach a Bhraigh Bhig and we followed it for a few hundred metres before breaking away across rough boggy ground.  There is no proper path down into the glen but we managed to patch together a series of deer tracks until an old wall was reached.  Here a reasonable path leads down to the bothy.  My knees were giving me trouble during the descent, probably due to the uneven boggy ground.  With a pack on you tend to lurch from one step to another.  Rich being the good chap that he is decided to push on ahead to dump his pack and come back up to take mine down the last section.  Approaching the bothy it was Pete who made the ascent back up, Rich had timed his arrival just as some tea was made!

Guirdil bothy is in a sublime location, right on the beach at Guirdil bay.  It is dominated by Bloodstone hill which towers above it, looking much higher than its 380 metres.  A perfect little bothy, surrounded by rugged hills and with the sea lapping at the shore a few metres away.  What more can you ask for?

The inside is split into two rooms, the right hand side being the main living area with a fireplace and a few benches and chairs.  The room next door has a ladder leading up to a sleeping platform high up in the roof.  You do have to be carefull getting up in the night for a toilet trip!

When I first arrived at the bothy there was a huge stag grazing on the kelp on the beach, he had a magnificent set of antlers on him.  Later that afternoon we spotted a sea eagle perched on the ridge to the left of the bothy.  We stood and watched him through binoculars until he finally took off round the corner.

The rest of the day and evening was spent simply relaxing in the idyllic environment and watching the clouds getting lower on the hills.  The previous inhabitants had left some wood for the fire but it was wet and green.  We suspected that it had been taken from live trees up the valley.  A small fire was got going with the peat bricks that Pete still had in his pack before we retired for an early night.  Whilst standing in the dark outside brushing my teeth, numerous pairs of eyes reflected from the light of my head torch.  A herd of deer had gathered for the night to eat kelp on the beach.

10 Comments to “A wilderness slackpack on the Isle of Rum pt3 – across the hills”

  1. This all sounds perfect!
    We’re heading to Skye this summer for some walking – can’t wait

    • Indeed it was Rachel. Skye is a fine destination and I hope that you enjoy it. Fingers crossed that the weather is good for you and the midgies don’t come out to play!

  2. Great pictures, you’re trip has got me thinking I should make an effort to get back to Rhum sooner rather than later. After all I have the Marilyn, Mullach Mor to climb, it was in the forbidden quarter almost 40 years ago!

    • I really recommend that you get back soon Al. Maybe avoid the midgie season as I have heard that they are pretty full on in Rum. There is no forbidden quarter any more, so nothing stopping an assault on the hill. The bothies make a great base too.

  3. bloody great this! looks gorgeous, moody hills and peat bricks, doesnt get better.

  4. What a superb wee island…you’ve got me thinking…

  5. Thanks David and Fraser, a splendid place it is.

  6. Great stuff again James.
    I’ve got a couple of weeks set aside for the western isles in May but I’m almost tempted to change plans!
    Although I think thoughts of facing the mighty Rum midge may keep me on my original tack.
    Good luck on the TGO challenge BTW.

  7. More wonderful wilderness and a great account as usual.
    I can understand why it might get busy in April and May, that’s the only time the weather can be really good without the horrendous midge levels. I remember hearing about one guy in summer eating his breakfast submerged up to his neck in a lochan wearing a midgenet.

  8. Thanks Paul. Insanely jealous of your trip to the western Isle as somewhere I have always wanted to visit, maybe next year. I hope that you have a great time. The TGO challenge is approaching rather quickly at the moment!

    I think that you would love Rum Geoff, I can’t recommend it enough to you. I do hate the midgies and the idea of eating breakfast in a loch with a headnet on is one way to put me off a visit in the summer! October is probably a good time to visit and you would get to hear the stags roaring away.

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