A wilderness slackpack on the Isle of Rum pt4 – stormy weather

by backpackingbongos

I was woken a few times during the night by the wind rattling the bothy roof and a gentle patter of rain.  A couple of nocturnal trips to the loo due to a rubbish bladder were like a climbing expedition due to the sleeping platform being high in the roof.  Rich and Pete were up at first light, they were going to do a circular walk over a couple of low passes linking Glen Guirdil to Glen Shellesder.  I on the other hand was going to have a lazy day to rest my knee and generally bum around in the environs of the bothy.

Day 4 – 1.9 miles with 170 metres ascent

I was on holiday after all so it was nice to have a good lie-in to around 9.30am, luxuriating in a nice warm sleeping bag.  I went downstairs and spent a while drinking cup after cup of coffee and having breakfast whilst looking out of the window.  It was grey and drizzly outside and I could not be bothered to go and get wet yet so I sat and read the bothy book from cover to cover.

I started to feel a bit chilly sitting all alone in the dark building and thought that it would be nice to have a fire.  However we did not have any wood.  Some friends had stayed the previous September and told me where they had located some driftwood.  With Ibuleve gel and supports on my knees I pulled on my waterproofs and set off up the hill behind the bothy.  It was good to be out in the fresh air after the darkness of the bothy and the first rise on the path brought spectacular views along the coast past Glen Shellesder.  I could see the caves in the bays below and set them as my wood collecting objectives.

The scale of the surrounding landscape was brought into perspective by the two small figures walking towards me on the path below.  It was Pete and Rich and I stood for a while until they reached where I was standing.  It turned out that they had visited the bay where I planned to look for driftwood and had found nothing.  However an exploration of the caves was highly recommended so I left them to head back to the bothy whilst I descended to Glen Shellesder burn.

From the notes in the bothy the burn can be a tricky proposition in wet weather but it had not risen too much.  I got across easily a few metres upstream from the ford and crossed boggy ground towards the coast.  Steep slopes took me to the stoney beach with its waterfall, a line of cliffs in front of me.

I wanted to see what Pete had named the ‘vagina cave’, a tunnel that leads through the hillside.  After scrambling across treacherously slippery rocks I got to the entrance but did not walk right through it to avoid a wade in a pool of water.

The cave next door opened out into a large chamber with evidence of man-made walls inside and blackened rocks where people had lit fires.  The ground was covered by the accumulation of years of goat dung with bones scattered around.  At the far end there is a small opening and views to the beach on the other side.  Here I hit the jackpot and found a pile of dry planks, although they were covered in goat dust.  Pleased with my haul I loaded my sack with the smelly wood and made my way back to the bothy.

I dumped the wood with a victory flourish next to the fireplace and set about warming up with a hot drink and cooked lunch.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing with the guys in the bothy.

During the late afternoon the weather made an unexpected improvement, the skies cleared and the sun made an appearance.  Pete and Rich climbed the hill to the west of the bothy to explore Long beach and came back with an impressive goats skull complete with a set of horns.  Rich intended taking it home as a souvenir, so spent a while scrubbing off the goat gunk.

The evening was a fine one, the sun bathing the bothy surroundings in a warm glow and we all walked around taking numerous photos.

It was good to have a fire in the evening and we enjoyed our last night out in the wilds, the next day we would be heading back to the relative civilisation of Kinloch.  Popping out for a pee I noticed a magnificent stag silhouetted against the sky right behind the bothy, a bunch of his mates coming to join him until Petes appearance scared them away.

Bed time came even earlier that night and we decided that our plans for the next day would be dictated by what the weather threw at us.  We hoped to be able to continue along the coast and explore around Kilmory bay.

Day 5 – 6.8 miles with 420 metres ascent

I think that we were all woken at some point during the early hours by the racket that was going on outside.  The roof sounded like it was going to be lifted from the bothy and the rain was hammering down.  I laid there hoping that it would stop as otherwise it would be an unpleasant walk across to the other side of the island.

By dawns early light it sounded even worse and I felt like staying in my sleeping bag all day.  Duly up and packed we would take it in turns to stand by the door and watch curtains of rain being blown down the valley on the strong wind.  The Guirdil river which the day before was easy to cross was now a raging torrent and was getting higher all the time.  New streams had appeared on the surrounding hillsides and the ground around the bothy full of puddles.  Not the best day for a hill walk!

It was decided that we should seek the easiest way out to Kinloch and that the main Glen Shellesder path should be avoided because the river would be in spate.  Although more of a climb it was decided that the Glen Guirdil route to the Bealach a Bhraigh Bhig would be taken as it avoids major watercourses.  I seeded an idea in the others heads by suggesting a camp at Kinloch would be rubbish in this weather and that we should get a room in the castle.  We were not sure if the castle was open yet, but within a few minutes they were just as enthusiastic about sleeping somewhere warm and dry as I was!

Being the man with the dodgy knee I set off headlong into the wind and rain a good twenty minutes earlier, time for me to dawdle though the tussocks before being caught up.  The route to the bealach was actually not too bad and the rain eased up a bit.  However it was heads down through the mist until we started to descend the other side.  The Abhainn Monadh Mhiltich is marked as a fairly minor stream on the map but was now a major torrent, difficult to cross in its higher reaches it would have been impossible lower down.  It was with a bit of relief that we reached the firm surface of the main Harris track at Malcolm’s bridge.

You may have noticed a lack of photos from the day as I had double wrapped my camera deep inside my pack to keep it dry.  Although by this point it had stopped raining I had no inclination to dig it back out again.  Pete on the other hand was photographer extraordinaire that day as he is in the process of researching and writing a guide-book to the small Isle.  Myself and Rich were his models striding purposefully across bogs looking like the rugged outdoor chaps that we are.  This is why Pete was often up at the crack of dawn marching up and down hills with purpose during the week, whilst I was lazing around.  Look out for his Cicerone guide next year.

We made rapid progress on the final few miles down to Kinloch and were beginning to wonder if we would be able to get a bed for the night.  If not we suspected that the campsite would be a boggy morass.  I was keen to get my boots dried for the journey back home, my feet now resembling prunes after a prolonged soaking.

Luckily there was room for us at the castle hostel and it was with great relief that I got my boots into the drying room and my feet into my down slippers.  I spotted that one of the bathrooms had a nice big bath and I was soon laying in piping hot water slowly turning the water a shade of brown.  Arriving at lunch time we had a few hours to kill which was mostly spent by me in the castle reading room, relaxing in a comfy chair reading a book.  An exploration of Kinloch itself took all of ten minutes as the settlement is hardly a major metropolis.  The village shop appeared to double up as a bar with a contingent of contractors who already looked the worse for wear.

The wild weather made a return whilst we had dinner in the bistro and the castle manager thought that there was a possibility of the ferry being cancelled the following day.  We could do nothing but wait.

Waiting and travelling

The tiny castle bar was a microcosm condensing the worst of Scottish drinking habits.  A band of contractors had been cooped up on Rum for a few months doing renovation work and it was their final night. Most of them hated the place and a nightly alcoholic ritual had got them through.  Although good-natured it was not our scene and we left the impending carnage after a couple of hours for the comfort of our bunks.

The wind and rain lashed down once again during the night and it was a long wait the next day to find out if our ferry would be running.  The weather was not favourable for a few hours on the hills so time was killed sitting, reading and eating in the hostel.  Pete however did manage to twist the managers arm for a free tour of the castle and we wandered around open-mouthed at the opulence of it all.  For anyone interested in the history of Rum and some background on the castle Pete wrote a good post which can be found here.  My effort extends to the following three photos.

We finally got the news that we were waiting for, the ferry was running and may be arriving early as the bad weather meant that it had to turn back on the way to Canna.  Gear was grabbed and a mass exodus was made into the castle mini bus for the short hop to the pier.  Standing waiting for the ferry it was obvious that it was rough out there as we watched the white horses out to sea.  It was an odd band of people waiting, looking like a straggle of survivors from a post apocalyptic movie.  One of the contractors was still clutching a bottle of Buckfast and was looking worse for wear, rather him than me considering it was going to be a rough crossing!

It was rough on board and I felt rather green, I sat mostly in silence trying to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon.  Rich went upstairs for a lie-down whilst Pete managed fish and chips!  The ferry rolled and lurched with waves hitting one side and splashing over the boat.  I was glad to get off.

It was a further twenty-four hours before I got home.


9 Responses to “A wilderness slackpack on the Isle of Rum pt4 – stormy weather”

  1. Ahh! Happy days. And I’m back to Rum on Monday, yipee! Another fine post, James; it’s so much more enjoyable reading about the trip when you’ve done the writing. When I’m rich, I’m going to hire you as my scribe so that you can document my regal progress around the wild and remote nooks and crannies of our beautiful country. Pay and conditions will be exemplary of course. Great photos and great writing, James. Someone should be paying you for it!

    • Blimey that came around quickly Pete, you lucky lucky man. Please hurry up and get Rich soon as that sounds like a cracking job. I would even throw in Tuna fandango each night if the pay and conditions are right. I do wish that someone would pay me to write. Obviously any offers out there? Anyone? Please?

  2. great trip james, obviously alot to see and do despite it being so tiny. hope yr knees are improving

  3. The joy is in the sharing James more than the earning. Fantastic and I would love to go their.

  4. Can’t believe that castle. None more Scottish.


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