TRAVERSE OF THE CUILLIN OF RUM
Jeremy Ashcroft takes you on an island adventure that takes in a fistful of fine summits along a narrow meandering crest.
There is one constant theme to every mountain walk on Scotland’s west coast and this is the presence of the Inner Hebrides. Scattered across the horizon and seemingly out of reach, their magical profiles always lift the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a scorcher of a summer blue sky day, or the depth of winter with only short cloud-free breaks between squalls, they never fail to grip your heart and sooth your soul. The crazy pinnacles of The Cuillin of Skye is the very first thing to grab your attention. Once over this burst of drama, the focus is on the subtleties of the scenery and the other islands will snap into clarity. It is with this clarity that the Isle of Rum will hove into view, its perfect profile of sail-like mountains having an almost mesmeric attraction. Sat in flashing blue waters, it has the look of some great mystical sailing ship plying the seas in a perpetual state of motion.
Rum’s mountain range is the Cuillin of Rum. Although sharing the same name as those on Skye, the summits are nowhere near as big or tricky. They do however share the same atmosphere, so unique to island mountains and which is at its most extreme on Rum. It's difficult to pin down why, perhaps it's the remoteness or because of the balance of scale between mountain, sea and island size. Whatever it is, it makes Rum Cuillin an adventure you must experience.
A dog-legged ridge links the main peaks of the island. This doesn’t make for an easy traverse of all the peaks but it certainly adds to the entertainment. To successfully do the full traverse you’ll need to be happy with Grade 1 scrambling. You’ll also need good route finding abilities, and a fair bit of stamina, as it’s a long old day. For a delightful addition to the adventure you could spend a night at Dibidil. Set between mountains and sea, the bothy there is the perfect place to split the route and rest your weary head.
“Perhaps this atmosphere is due to remoteness or perhaps it’s because of the balance of scale between mountain, sea and island size.”
NM401995 The start of the route is up 1 through the woods behind Kinloch Castle alongside Allt Slugan a’ Choilich. On the way up beside the burn you will notice a powerhouse. This is part of a hydroelectric scheme that generates power for the castle. Kinloch Castle was the first residence in Scotland to have an electricity supply! A steepening past a dam for the hydroelectric scheme leads to the high hanging corrie of Coire Dubh. Another steepening up the back wall of Coire Dubh then leads to the broad col of Bealach Bairc-mheall.
NM386970 From the col, the 2 entertaining north-west ridge of Hallival leads direct to the summit. The views north towards Skye are just stunning while the peaks of The Cuillin look other- worldly. The linking ridge between Hallival and Askival is delightfully exposed but the going is relatively easy over grass with the occasional rock steep. NM393951 Askival, the highest peak 3 on Rum opens up a whole new vista.
Its summit is gained by a short easy scramble up its capping layers of gabbro. Just below the summit is the Askival Pinnacle which gives an entertaining finish, however if you don’t fancy tackling it, side stepping around to the east can avoid it. The route turns sharply from Askival and descends the steep west ridge to Bealach an Oir. The normal full traverse from Bealach an Oir continues up the east ridge of Trollabhal. However a handy short cut across the grassy lower slopes of the south-east face exists, which leads in an almost horizontal course to Bealach an Fhuarain. Also should you need an escape route in bad weather, a northern traverse around the head of Atlantic Corrie leads back to Bealach Bairc-mheall.
4 NM377952 From the summit of Trollabhal a steep rocky descent leads to Bealach an Fhuarain. The start is tricky to locate so cast about before you start to make sure you have the correct line. Head west in a rising traverse from Bealach an Fhuarain to bypass the buttresses at the base of the north ridge of Ainshaval. This leads up broken ground and scree to a shoulder. From this shoulder follow the upper part of the ridge. It's narrow, rocky and rather exposed so if you don’t fancy the crest it can be avoided by a narrow path on the east side. 5 NM378943 The summit of Ainshval is a lovely whaleback crest. From it you can sneak views into the high secretive corries on its flanks. You may have noticed numerous burrows on the steep grassy slopes; these are nesting burrows of Manx shearwaters. They return at dusk in great numbers after spending the day fishing. Sgurr nan Gillean is the last of the peaks on the Cuillin of Rum traverse. It's reached by heading south along a high but easy grassy crest, passing the dip of the col at the head of the Nameless Corrie and unnamed summit along the way.
6 NM380930 Don’t descend down the east ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, as it is truncated and very steep. Instead descend south, gain a broad shoulder then turn east and head in a loop round to the north-east to gain the path for Dibidil.
7 NM392928 Dibidil is an important archaeological site with a ruinous collection of shielings abandoned during the clearances. Close to the shielings is an excellent bothy maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. It makes an ideal stopover if you wish to split the traverse over two days. If you plan to stay at Dibidil it is worth informing the ranger of your arrival on Rum.
8 NM395930 The Dibidil path is the easiest way back to Kinloch. It is a fine – though sometimes boggy – route being poised high above the craggy shoreline. However it is deceptively time consuming particularly with tired legs.
Ainshval from the summit ridge of Trollabhal with the blue skies we all crave.
Harris Lodge and the Rum Cuillin hills from Harris Bay.
The Isle of Eigg from the summit ridge of Trollabhal.