A DAY on the Scottish mountains should always feel like an adventure but there’s an added edge when you are heading for the islands.
The feeling of remoteness, the military-style planning and the variables of the journey itself all add to up to something extra special.
You feel like Robinson Crusoe in reverse as you happily watch the ferry pull away from shore leaving you stranded in a strange land for a few days.
Rum is one of my favourite places and the Cuillin mountains provide one of the best ridge walks in Scotland. But to reach them and complete the circuit in time to fit in with the ferries requires a bit of planning.
Whereas the likes of Arran and Mull have a regular ferry service, Rum is not so straightforward, with boats only crossing on certain days and at varying times. The ideal way to do the hills is to stay over for a few days but if you are pushed for time then Saturday provides the only chance to get in and back in a day.
That gives you nearly 11 hours on the island. The mountain circuit and coastal walk back can take around 11 hours. One minute late and you’re there until Monday.
When I last did the round in 2009, I travelled over on the Friday ferry, had a few hours exploring and then an early night at Kinloch Castle. There was a small restaurant and a lovely wee bar in which you were largely left to your own devices, only ringing for a barman when needed.
Now there’s a spanking new hostel beside the castle with a good modern kitchen but, alas, no four-poster bed like the castle. There’s also a good campsite with wooden igloos for those who fancy roughing it but not too much.
I was up and away at 5am on a stunning Saturday morning on the Coire Dubh path up to the Bealach Bairc-mheall and soon I was on my first summit, Hallival. Purists will say the ridge begins with Barkeval, the smaller peak on your right, but my eyes were firmly on the clock and I would rather have time to spare at the finish.
The ridge leads on to Askival, the highest point on the round. Hallival was now just a pointed top sticking out of a low layer of wispy cloud as I made my way up the ridge.
Soon you reach the Askival Pinnacle but if you don’t fancy the challenge it is easily turned on the left. You also notice lots of holes in the ground. These are nesting burrows of the Manx shearwater, but unless you are here around dusk it’s unlikely you will see any activity as the chicks stay tucked away deep underground.
The twin rocky peaks of Trallval provide an easy scramble in spectacular terrain. A careful descent leads to Ainshval and then the easy walk round to Sgurr nan Gillean. As I made my way along this ridge, a sea eagle circled and shadowed my progress.
A drop down over rough ground brings you out at Dibidil Bothy, and then there’s only the small matter of the three-hour coastal path walk back.
Eigg and Muck have been constant companions on the round, and although they start to fade as you get closer to the pier, you can rest assured that a day in the Cuillin certainly won’t fade fast from the memory.
(First published Daily Record, March 27, 2014)