Edinburgh to Glen Dibidil

The Isle of Rum was a bit of a mystery to me until a few months ago when I heard about the challenging Rum Cuillin ridge traverse and read about the fascinating history of the island. Rum is home to just thirty people or so, all of whom live in Kinloch on the east coast, and with the rest of the island being largely uninhabited, rugged and wild. As one of the Small Isles, Rum lies between the Isle of Skye, Ardnamurchan and the Outer Hebrides. The mountains therefore provide a unique viewpoint and incredible views in every direction, particularly of the Skye Cuillins and the adjacent islands. I made a plan to traverse the ridge with a high-level camp but then also became interested in incorporating that into a full loop of the island in order to see more of the dramatic coastline. On this trip I wasn’t able to do the full ridge traverse, but I had a brilliant time exploring, wild swimming, bothying, camping and hiking around the island. Click here to skip the blog and go straight to the photo gallery.



The Journey to Mallaig

I took advantage of the Easter holiday which meant that I would have from Friday to the following Thursday and only have to use 3 days of annual leave. Bonus. I headed out on the 7.20am train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, before jumping on the train to Mallaig which arrived at midday on Friday. I love that feeling of stepping out from the door of my flat with everything that I need to survive for a week on my back, and not necessarily knowing what lies ahead. The train journey north was a great experience, with incredible views of remote, mountain scenery. The train was busy, with a variety of people heading to the outdoors: hikers, backpackers, bikepackers, and tourists all out to explore the coast and islands around Mallaig.


At the end of the train line and after a 6 hour journey, I arrived in Mallaig, a small port town and gateway to the Small Isles and the Isle of Skye via the Calmac ferries and the remote Knoydart peninsula via a local ferry service. It was midday and the town was buzzing with tourists. I considered my hunger levels as I saw the huge queue of people outside the fish and chip shop adjacent to the rail station. I breathed in the fresh, salty sea air and felt instantly more calm and relaxed – it is always a nice feeling to be near to the sea and away from the exhaust fumes that pollute Edinburgh and Glasgow city centres.

I checked in to the Mission Bunkhouse, my accommodation for the night. The Mission is a small hostel which raises money for the Fisherman’s Mission, a charitable organisation who provide support for fisherman and their families throughout the UK. I spent the rest of the day exploring Mallaig and particularly the harbour. It is perhaps an odd thing to say, but my favourite bit was probably seeing a harbour worker throwing a bucket of fish guts over the harbour wall – the large number of hungry seagulls amassing around him made for a rather dramatic scene.


The Coastal Walk from Kinloch to Glen Dibidil

It was an early start to catch the 7.30am ferry for the 1 hour 15 minute journey to the Isle of Rum. Fortunately, the Sound of Rum was relatively calm despite the very strong winds coming in from the south west. I stood near to the bow of the ship watching the dark isolated clouds moving overhead with streaks of rain falling beneath them and a rainbow beginning to arch over a rugged and mountainous-looking Rum. Looking back at the Knoydart peninsula where the sun was rising, warm crepuscular rays fell between the darkened clouds and reflected off the surface of the water below. The surface of my skin was tingling from the chill in the air, my beard pulling on my face and flowing laterally in the wind like an airport wind sock, but best of all, my heart was already pounding at the sight of this incredible place. This was a pleasant contrast to a pounding heart from the anxiety that I had felt in the city of late.

As the ferry pulled into Loch Scresort, me and just five others gathered on the lower deck to collect our bags before heading out beyond the pier and towards Kinloch. I had hoped that the island would be nice and quiet, despite it being Easter weekend, and so it was encouraging that so few had accompanied me off the ferry. At almost the precise moment I set foot on land, the rain began to fall and it was straight on with the waterproof trousers and jacket. I set out for Glen Dibidil on the path that heads south from Kinloch, bypassing the castle and the village centre. After just 30 minutes of walking, the rain had stopped and the sun was showing it’s face with increasing frequency. The footpath was not a well-maintained one and it was very boggy. I passed a lady and her daughter who told me that in 17 years of visiting and walking on Rum they had never seen so much water on the paths. The quality of the path didn’t matter of course. The scenery was beautiful and I prefer the challenge of walking over rough terrain.

As I made my way further around the south east coast, I got a clear view of the Isle of Eigg across the Sound of Rum, just 5 km away. There were several streams and waterfalls flowing down from the hillside but as the rainfall had not been too heavy, they were all easy to cross. I could already tell that there was going to be an abundance of glorious wild camping spots on Rum. After walking roughly 8 km, I arrived at Glen Dibidil. The view to the north was impressive, with the mountains and ridge towering above. I headed towards Dibidil bothy, on the opposite side of the River Dibidil, and found numerous points along the river where it was straight forward to cross.


Taking a Chill Pill in Glen Dibidil

As I had set off early in the day and only walked a short distance, I had plenty of time to kill in Glen Dibidil. I decided to camp that night instead of staying in the bothy – this definitely wasn’t to do with the stories that I’d heard about the place being haunted. After following the river down towards the sea I found a nice spot to set up my Hilleberg Soulo but also a nice little water pool for a spot of wild swimming. The river eventually ran off a rock ledge, forming a waterfall into a small rocky inlet and into the sea at high tide. Directly south of the bothy is a deep and narrow cave that runs out to sea. There are a lot of sea cliffs and caves around the coast of Rum, and with some of them being somewhat concealed, I would urge caution and careful footing on certain parts of the island.

I spent some time in the bothy, heating some water to make coffee and reading the bothy book. The occasional gust of wind caused a loose roof panel at one corner of the building to bang loudly – I felt reassured about my decision to camp. I took the opportunity while the sun was out to take a dip in the pool that I’d found. The water was crystal clear and, needless to say, ice cold. I felt slightly delirious as I got out of the pool and made my way towards my clothes, and my skin felt like it was on fire – in a good way. Invigorated. It wasn’t until I came to my senses that I noticed two walkers who had just descended from the ridge. I watched them go into the bothy briefly before walking on as if I wasn’t there. After they didn’t come to say hello, I speculated that this may be because they had caught a glimpse of my bare bottom as I had towel dried. If this was the case, I don’t think I would have come to say hello to me either.

While reading the bothy book, a particular comment had caught my attention, “Good to get away from the reality of ‘Trumpland’ for a couple of days”. It got me thinking about why I come out to these wild places, adventuring, alone. Of course, there is the feeling of excitement and adventure that comes with exploring a new place and sleeping outdoors. There is the physical challenge of hiking over rough terrain, climbing up hills and hauling a heavy pack. There is the beautiful scenery and for me, the opportunity to be creative through photography. There is certainly an element of escapism too. More often than not, life in the city is intense. We have many responsibilities, and our minds are constantly bombarded with information: political, emotional, good and bad. For me, solo backpacking simplifies life massively, and even if it is just for a few days, this can be very beneficial for the mind. My focus is on where I’m going to sleep that night, where I’m going to walk to next and what I’m going to eat and drink. I have total freedom to do what I want: to walk as much or as little as I feel like, to camp where I choose, to swim in the sea, to do nothing at all, to just be. I think that this is the key thing for me, that there is no pressure to be anything other than what I am, or to do anything other than the things that I love. It is very liberating.

That evening, there was just enough of a gentle breeze to prevent any build up of condensation in my tent. It is always satisfying to wake up to a dry tent. I dozed off to the white noise of the water cascading down through the glen in the warmth of my sleeping bag and in my home for the night. It had been a good day, a spectacular introduction to the Isle of Rum, and I was looking forward to seeing what the rest of the island had to offer. The following afternoon, I would ascend up and onto the ridge.


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