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.

Trail (UK) - - Isle Of Rum -

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.

VIN­CENT LOWE / ALAMY

Har­ris Lodge and the Rum Cuillin hills from Har­ris Bay.

The Isle of Eigg from the sum­mit ridge of Trol­lab­hal.

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