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, while the rest of the island is protected as a National Nature Reserve. As such, it is largely uninhabited, and remains 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, of the islands, the land and the sea. 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 as much of the dramatic coastline as possible. While I didn’t complete the full ridge traverse, I had a brilliant time exploring, wild swimming, bothying, camping and hiking my way around the island.

The Journey to Mallaig

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. 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 inhaled the fresh, salty sea air and felt an instant calmness that I had so missed.

My accommodation for the night was the Mission Bunkhouse. 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 one of my favourite sights was seeing a harbour worker throwing a bucket of fish entrails over the harbour wall – the ensuing mass of hungry seagulls circling around him made for an interesting and dramatic coastal scene.

The Coastal Walk from Kinloch to Glen Dibidil

It was an early start to catch the 7.30 am 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 clouds and dense bands of rain looming overhead, while a rainbow arched over a rugged and mountainous-looking Rum. Looking back towards the Knoydart peninsula where the sun was rising, warm crepuscular rays fell between the 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, and my heart pounded at the sight of this incredible place.

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 heading south for Glen Dibidil, bypassing the castle and 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 almost entirely bog.

As I made my way further around the south east coast, the Isle of Eigg came into view across the Sound of Rum, just 5 km away. There were several streams and waterfalls flowing down from the hillside but nothing too problematic 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 and headed to the bothy, appreciating the impressive surrounds.

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 and a small rock 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, there were at least one or two occasions where I was taken off guard and nearly plummeted into the abyss. Take heed.

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 staggered out of the pool and made my way towards my clothes, high on endorphins and skin on fire, 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. They appeared to be ignoring me and 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. I want to say there is an element of escapism too, but I think that what I actually mean is connection, or re-connection. More often than not, life in the city is intense, and it can be easy to start to feel distant from the water, the trees, ourselves. We have many responsibilities, and our minds are constantly bombarded with information: political, emotional, good and bad. Out here, my focus is on where I’m going to sleep at night, where I’m going to walk to next, what I’m going to eat and drink, how the wind feels when it touches my skin. 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 admire each and every blue hue in the ocean and the sky, to do nothing at all, to just be. I think that for me, this is the key thing, 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, and I was excited to see what the rest of the island had to offer. The following afternoon, I would ascend up and onto the ridge.

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