Last updated on September 22nd, 2017 at 07:26 pm
Round about this time of the year, usually at the end of April/beginning of May, I made it a little tradition to spend a weekend at the Isle of Rum. After two years in a row, I won’t be going this time because I’m involved with the Radical Film Network Unconference in Glasgow which is happening over the Mayday weekend. But old nostalgic that I am, I thought I’d share this little Scottish getaway with you to at least reminisce about the gorgeous island that you might have never considered for a weekend trip.
The Isle of Rum is one of the smaller Inner Hebrides and barely on anyone’s radar. It dwells in the shadow of its much more popular neighbour the Isle of Skye which is just north of it. The fact that the island is more or less car-free, there is hardly any accommodation available and there is no supermarket on the island make this the perfect hidden gem to get off the grid in the Western Isles. Saying that hardly noone ever visits the Isle of Rum would be underestimating the great appeal the island has to hikers and wildlife photographers – even the BBC comes here frequently to film the deer rut. Still, the Isle of Rum is a total insider tip and the perfect spot for an off-the-beaten-track weekend getaway.
How to get here
From Glasgow catch a train to Mallaig (this has the bonus of crossing the famous Harry Potter bridge!) which takes about 5 hours with the fastest connection. If you have a car you can also drive there and leave your car at the ferry car park; the drive takes about 3.5 hours. The road between Fort William and Mallaig, also called ‘Road to the Isles‘ due to Mallaig’s prime role as ferry port connecting mainland Scotland with the islands, is definitely one of the most scenic roads I have ever experienced.
The ferry to the isles of Rum, Canna and Eigg is operated by CalMac and in order to bring a vehicle across you’d require a special permit. Hence most passengers are travelling on foot and look like a crowd of hardy outdoor specialists. The return ticket from Mallaig to Rum costs £8.30 and must be purchased before boarding – also make sure to keep it for your return journey!
By the way, the ferry also goes to the Isle of Muck, which is a secret paradise by the looks of it!
There are a few options to stay on the Isle of Rum. All are located within 20-30 walking minutes from the ferry terminal throughout the one and only village on the island, Kinloch Village. Rum has a very small population, maybe 35 people. Word has it that all but one live in the village – with a single hermit settling out on the south-western coastline.
There is one bed&breakfast-style guest house, a newly-built bunkhouse with dorms, private rooms and self-catering kitchens, 2 camping cabins and a new BBQ bothy, and the seaside campsite. If you know what you are doing, you can also choose to wild camp or stay in one of the two mountain bothies. Not counting tent space and mountain bothies there are a flipping’ 36 beds available – cosy, ey? Read: book ahead unless you are happy to camp. You can find details on all options and contact addresses here.
We always went for the cheapest option, which is BYOT – ‘bring your own tent’ (£6 per person per night). The campsite is beautifully situated with a view over the bay. There are toilet and hot shower facilities, two little wooden shelters and picnic benches. The shelters can feel claustrophobic when the campsite is busy and the rain is pouring down (like almost non-stop during my first visit), but if the weather is dry there’s nothing better than lighting a bonfire to keep the midges away and have a BBQ dinner with a view.
What to do
The Isle of Rum is all about active outdoor adventures. You can visit Kinloch Castle for a laid-back cultural experience but honestly most people come here to do some hiking or mountain biking.
Biking: Every time I went on the ferry to the Isle of Rum there was at least a handful of cyclists onboard as well. Other than cars you can bring your bicycle across to the island and explore the trails to Harris and Kilmory on two wheels. A limited number of bicycles is also available from Fliss at Ivy Cottage for £15/day.
Hiking: There are numerous trails of varying difficulty: some of them leading reasonably flat-ish from coast to coast – to Kilmory (10mi/16km round) or Harris (16mi/26km round); others go along the coast and are perfect for wildlife watching – for example to the Otter Hide south of Kinloch Village; and finally there are paths leading up onto the throning peaks of the island. These trails are rough and often not signposted or visible tracks, so be prepared to test your navigation skills! (You should really know how to read a map and use a compass for these trails – just in case the weather turns!)
Wildlife Watching: Even if you fancy a lazy day by the shore you will run into more sea birds than I can name. For the real business head out to the Otter hide from where you can spot local wild otters hang out by the shore – if you are lucky that is. There is also a deer hide on the way to Kilmory which serves not only as a welcome shelter on a windy or rainy day, but is also an excellent space to learn about the deer of the island. Maybe you even spot some of them!
Bouldering: If you follow the path towards Dibidil bothy you will inevitably walk through the field of massive boulders at the foot of Hallival. As always with bouldering you need to bring your own mats and make sure you know what you are doing. This website gives an overview of the available bouldering problems, while this video is a great compilation of climbing some of these problems.
The Isle of Rum does not come with many luxurious frills, but there are a few perks that make it just that little better:
– The Rumbling Tum Cafe & shop: Whether you forgot to take enough food, you yearn for a sweet treat in ice-cream form or simply need a warm and dry place to get away from your cold and wet tent – the Rumbling Tum Cafe at the Village Hall and the neighbouring village shop are there to save you. Find more info on the opening hours here.
– Craft shop: On the way to the village hall you come across a little shed selling locally produced crafts and jewellery. There is an honesty box to pay if you want to purchase anything.
– Home-made jam: On the way to the ferry port I usually pick up a jar of homemade jam from one of the houses you walk by. The jars are lined up outside the cottage and there is an honesty box to pay for it. The woman who makes the jam is a painter and hand-paints every label herself – most of them show the view over the Kinloch bay from her house. So beautiful!
Good to know
– On the Isle of Rum cash is king. Whether you need to leave money in the honesty box for the campsite, want to get a hot chocolate or cake at the village hall cafe or join a guided tour at Kinloch Castle, cash is the way to go! Apparently the village shop now has a chip and PIN and offers cashback. Considering the limited open hours of the shop though, I would not plan to rely on this service.
– The island has limited rubbish and recycling facilities, so ideally you reduce the amount of rubbish you produce during your stay and/or take it off the island again. If you need to recycle something though, there are large bins for glass, metal and general rubbish at the ferry terminal.
– Scottish weather is unpredictable – even more so on the islands. Bring the right equipment for outdoor activities (good hiking boots, water- and windproof clothing, maps & compass etc.), plenty of warm clothes and dry bags to keep your stuff dry when all goes wrong. The two worst things that can happen to you when the weather is bad, are freezing and starving – make sure neither of them happen to you!
I just talked myself into really wanting to go the the Isle of Rum now… how about you?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.