Isle of Rum – having a whale of a time in the Small Isles

In this blog I’m going to transport you to the Isle of Rum for another armchair tour of Scotland. In August 2019 we spent three days and two nights on Rum, the largest of a group of Scottish islands know as the Small Isles. Rum is 9 miles long and 8 miles wide and has a population of 33. And while the island may be small, its rugged terrain gives an impression of vastness.

Getting to the Isle of Rum

CalMac run a ferry service to Rum (and the other Small Isles), from Mallaig on Scotland’s West Coast. Visitors aren’t permitted to take cars into the island, so if you’re incapable of travelling light, you’ll be in for a rude awakening when you arrive on Rum. We had to lug heavy bags along half a mile of rough track to reach our accommodation.

Accommodation on the Isle of Rum

Visitor accommodation on Rum includes bothy, B&B, hostel, campsite and glamping hut. We stayed in a glamping pod (one of two on the island). There’s also a shepherd’s hut and a Mongolian barbecue hut.

Glamping Isle of Rum

Our pod cost £35 per night for two sharing. It was basic, but cosy and suited our needs perfectly. We had lights, sockets for charging our phones, a table for our camping stove and mattresses to lay our sleeping bags on.

Gamping Isle of Rum

Outside, was a small porch with chairs. Toilet and shower facilities were a stone’s throw away.

Best of all though was the location – by the sea, on a remote Scottish island. Who could ask for more.

Not so good was the low door frame on the pod. I bumped my head on it (despite a warning sign) dozens of times during our stay on Rum. We love a bit of slapstick comedy and I provided lots of it on this trip.

Accommodation Isle of Rum

Day one – exploring the Isle of Rum

Once we’d settled into our accommodation, we headed out to explore the island and look for its most famous residents.

Meeting the famous Rum Ponies

Rum ponies (a breed of Highland pony), were first recorded on Rum in 1772. Seeing the ponies on his tour of the Western Isles, Samuel Johnson described them as “of a breed eminent for beauty”. He was right, but like all Highland Ponies, Rum Ponies are strong and hardy. The herd living on the island today are used to carry deer off the hills during stalking season.

We met our first Rum ponies in the grounds of Kinloch Castle, a short distance from our accommodation.

They were beautiful, elegant beasties and reminded me of Icelandic Ponies.

The boy was smitten and snuck a friendly nose boop.

Rum Ponies, Isle of Rum Scottish travel blog

Kinloch Castle and grounds

Kinloch Castle, isn’t the type of property you’d expect to find on a small Scottish island.

The late Victorian pile was one of the first houses in Scotland to have electricity.

It was built as a hunting lodge for wealthy Lancashire industrialist Sir George Bullough. Bullough, inherited the Isle of Rum from his father.

Today, the castle is in the hands of Scottish Natural Heritage. Visitors to the island can take a guided tour of the interior, or do as we did and enjoy the castle from the outside with a ramble in the grounds.

Kinloch Castle, Isle of RumKinloch Castle, Isle of Rum

The grounds are a little wild and overgrown, but have some pretty features.

Isle of RumIsle of Rum

Lunch – Kim’s Kitchen

Finding somewhere good for lunch can make or break a day out for us. We struck gold on Rum with Kim’s Kitchen, which was housed in the community hall in Kinloch – the only settlement on the island.

After exploring the island each morning, Kim’s Kitchen was like stumbling upon an oasis in the desert. Her soup, sandwiches and home baking were amazing.

The community hall was fab. As well as a cafe, it had a pool table, small library and a ranger station where you could find out about the island’s flora, fauna and forthcoming guided walks, talks and tours.

Kim’s Kitchen, Isle of Rum

Walk – The Otter Hide Trail

After lunch we left the village, skirting the shore of Loch Scresort, back towards the ferry pier.

Isle of Rum

We’d only been on Rum a few hours, but already the calming effect of island life was rubbing off on us.

Back at the ferry pier, we followed a path uphill. It offered a good view of Loch Scresort, so we stopped to enjoy it.

Scottish travel blog

Rest over, we continued along the path. It soon led us into lush, green woodland and past the remains of an abandoned village.

We discovered the otter hide by the shore, camouflaged by the greenery it was nestled in.

Perching on a bench inside, we opened a hatch and scanned the shoreline for signs of life – nada. The otters were in hiding, but we enjoyed our walk nonetheless.

Scottish travel blog

And, with the island being a National Nature Reserve run by Scottish Natural Heritage, there would be other opportunities to spot wildlife (hopefully).

Later, back at the pod, I cooked us a pasta dish on the camping stove. After dinner, we sat on the porch with a beer and wine – arms flailing like windmills as we swatted midges.

Day two – exploring the Isle of Rum

After a good night’s sleep, we woke early and were showered and dressed before we saw any other signs of human life.

We feasted on porridge, chocolate brioche and coffee for breakfast, before setting off for a morning hike.

Hike – The Coire Dubh Trail

It was a lovely morning and we fancied a hill trek with a view, so decided to follow the Coire Dubh Trail which starts at Kinloch Castle.

Coire Dubh hike Isle of Rum

The trail led us behind the castle and uphill towards Rum’s mountainous interior.

Coire Dubh walk Rum

We gained height quickly and the view opened up in front of us. It was stunning.

In the spring and summer months, the hillside is home to the Manx shearwater. The hardy, little seabirds nest in burrows and their distinctive call can be heard echoing across the hillside during the twilight hours.

Coire Dubh walk Isle of Rum

On a bright, sunny morning we had no chance of seeing or hearing the burrow dwelling beasties, but the blue sky and bonnie view more than made up for the lack of wildlife.

Coire Dubh walk Isle of Rum

We carried on until the incline plateaued, then rambled over rough, rocky terrain for a while, before turning to retrace our steps downhill.

Back at ground level, we had another tasty lunch at Kim’s Kitchen, before setting off for an afternoon adventure.

Coire Dubh walk, Isle of Rum

A wildlife watching boat trip

We’d booked to go on a two hour, mini pelagic boat tour with Rum Ranger Trudi. Tours run from Rum on Thursday afternoons between April and September, when the MV Sheerwater from Arisaig, drops sightseers off on the island to spend a few hours exploring.

Rum is one of the best places in Europe for spotting seabirds and cetaceans. Truth be told, our expectations were low, but after spending the morning on our feet we were looking forward to basking in the sun as we bobbed about at sea for an hour or two.

MV Sheerwater

Other than a French family of four who were staying in the barbecue hut beside our pod, we had the boat all to ourselves. There was plenty of space to stretch out and get comfy. Even better, should any wildlife decide to make an appearance, there would be no jostling for a view.

MV Sheerwater

Leaving Rum, our journey took us towards the Isle of Skye. From the sea we were treated to an incredible view of the Cuillins.

We spotted a whole host of seabirds too, including the Manx shearwater, skua, gannet and shag. There was even talk of dolphins, as a tour boat from Skye had just spotted a pod of them off the coast of Canna (another of the Small Isles). We scanned the sea, hopeful of catching sight of a fin, but saw nothing.

Just off the coast of Skye, lies a tiny island called Soay. It has a population of three, one of whom is Anne Cholawo. Anne was a career girl working in London, when a holiday to Skye changed her life forever. Holidaying on the island, she saw an ad for a vacant property on Soay and several months later she was living in it.

Anne went on to write a book about her new home, called ‘Island on the Edge – a life on Soay’. We were lucky enough to witness a tiny part of what life is like for Anne, when she rowed out to the MV Sheerwater in a dinghy to collect the island’s mail.

Mail delivery Isle of Soay

Mail deliveries done, our attention turned back to wildlife and the pod of dolphins who’d eluded us so far.

We set off in search of them. Trudi was inside talking to the crew, when I thought I heard the word whale.

I told Mr G, but he was dubious to say the least.

Then Trudi appeared and confirmed my earwigging had been correct. The crew had spotted a whale to the left of the boat. I was sitting on the right hand side of the boat, and as desperate as I was to see a whale I didn’t move. I’ve no idea why, but it was me who was first to shout “WHALE”.

There was a mini stampede to where I was sitting. Trudi asked where I’d seen it and as I pointed in the general direction it surfaced again. A magnificent minke – we were all ecstatic. In 2018, Mr G and I had spent hundreds of pounds on a whale watching trip in Iceland. We lurched about on an insanely choppy sea for several hours dressed like Nanook of the North and all we spotted was a jellyfish. Scunnered, doesn’t even begin to cover how we felt afterwards.

It turned out our minke whale wasn’t alone – there were two of them. We watched spellbound for twenty minutes or so, until they swam off towards the Isle of Skye and disappeared.

Minke whale Small Isles

Minutes after our whale encounter, we spotted a pod of harbour porpoise. Talk about great value for money.

The trip had cost us a grand total of £20, yet it was without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had. We witnessed something magical that afternoon and it left us feeling euphoric.

Wine, beer and euphoria

Back on Rum, we walked to the island’s general store/post office to stock up on goodies.

Isle of Rum General Store

We spent the evening inside our pod (door open and midge screen closed), chattering ten to the dozen about our whale watching experience and drinking a toast to our good fortune.

As darkness fell, we headed outside to watch the sun setting.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunset Isle of Rum

Day three – exploring the Isle of Rum

Our last day on Rum arrived far too soon. After breakfast we packed our bags and trudged along to the pier to store them in the ferry waiting room.

It was pouring down – our run of good luck with the weather had come to an end. We decided to shelter in the community hall and spent a relaxing morning there reading, chatting and drinking coffee.

When lunchtime arrived we enjoyed our third and final round of soup and sandwiches from Kim’s Kitchen.

After lunch, we decided to have one last potter before catching the ferry back to Mallaig.

Rum Crafts

On the outskirts of the village we popped into Rum Crafts – a tiny honesty shop stocked with arts and crafts made by the islanders.

Rum CraftsRum Crafts

One item caught my eye immediately and I had to have it. A whale painted on a piece of driftwood, found on the island – it was the perfect keepsake to take home from Rum.

Isle of Rum Crafts

Goodbye Rum ponies and shy otters

Leaving Rum Crafts, we visited the grounds of Kinloch Castle to say goodbye to the ponies.

The rain finally stopped, so we decided to do the otter hide walk again.

Isle of Rum

The otters remained conspicuous by their absence.

The boy spent his last wee while on Rum, charging through the woods with a look of delight on his wee face.

Isle of Rum

It was a fitting end to another incredible Scottish adventure.

We’d spent a little over £100 on two nights accommodation, return ferry tickets and a boat tour, yet left Rum with wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.

If you liked this armchair tour, you may also enjoy a virtual escape to these other island gems:

Isle of Colonsay

Isle of Tiree

Until next time …

24 thoughts on “Isle of Rum – having a whale of a time in the Small Isles

  1. Lovely! Of the small isles, I’ve only visited Eigg, but I was lucky to stay in Cleadale on the Northwest end of the island, which has a spectacular view of Rum! I can’t wait to get to Rum one day.

  2. What a wonderful trip. The Small Isles are one of the few parts of Scotland I haven’t been – the ferry timetable has always thwarted my plans to go. At this rate I may never get there. Great to read about your time there.

    1. The islands are fab. You could always stay on the Mainland and get the Sheerwater over ftom Arisaig to give you a flavour of the Isles.

  3. Wow! What an incredible stroke of luck seeing those whales! I also adore that honesty shop, and I had no idea there was a castle there. This looks like such a gorgeous, relaxing getaway (definitely something I need right now!).

    1. It’s an amazing place to get away from it all and cheap too. Definitely worth spending a few days there.

  4. Loved the Pony and Casper together. What a beautiful time on the Small Islands. Still can’t get over how dog friendly Scotland is to what it was like when I was growing up. South Australia is pretty much like that. It’s either a National Park, or a Conservation Park but either way No Dogs Allowed.

    1. He loves animals and always wants to say hello. Such a shame Australia isn’t more dog friendly. We have a great time out and about with the boy.

  5. What a lovely description of this beautiful island. Your style of writing is really great, both vividly informative and wickedly entertaining 😉👌In combination with the magnificent photography, each and every of your blog reports is such a joyful opportunity to become acquainted with Scotland’s treasure trove of natural beauty ! Thank You so much ! 🙏

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I’m so happy you enjoy the posts and the virtual tours of Scotland. 😊

  6. Thanks for your blog. Rum an island which I have seen twice but not yet bagged (I bag islands rather than munroes!). I have bagged Canna where on the same boat trip we bumped into a neighbour (whom we later found out was on honeymoon!) and saw gannets, puffins and wild goats. Last year I was on Isle of Muck where on the way out from Arisaig we encountered a young Minke whale, only a few feet from our boat. Never seen a whale before. It was like Moby Dick. So I have bagged Rum from my Sofa here in London with a coffee with all thanks to you for sharing with wonderful descriptions and photos. Take care.

    1. Glad you enjoyed your virtual landing visit to Rum, you definitely need to get there for real. We love the islands. We’re back in the Small Isles later this year and will be spending a couple of nights each on Canna and Muck. Looking forward to four days of hiking and wildlife spotting.

      Take care

  7. Always a great pleasure to receive and read about your adventures and wanderings with the Wee White Dug, Mr G, and you, Sam. Love the action shots of Caspar revelling in being in the great outdoors. Lovely! Thank you so much.

  8. I love the “wee fellas” Harris Tweed bow tie and Collar … very stylish! going to visit bowzers bows for my Aussie Mozart!

  9. Ahh. Just a delightful re-romp in glorious Scotland! Thanks and good health to you from Oklahoma.

  10. Hello! Casper I want to tell you that I love to hear from you and all those beautiful places where you live, I have ten Westies and I love them deeply, from Buenos Aires we send you many licks and kisses. Thank you for being my friend. The Duchess Tabó.💕🐾😘👋🏻

    1. I’m so glad you enjoy reading about our adventures around Scotland. Westies are wonderful so I can see why you love them so much. 😊

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