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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The grounds are a little wild and overgrown, but have some pretty features.
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.
Walk – The Otter Hide Trail
After lunch we left the village, skirting the shore of Loch Scresort, back towards the ferry pier.
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.
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.
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.
The trail led us behind the castle and uphill towards Rum’s mountainous interior.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
On the outskirts of the village we popped into Rum Crafts – a tiny honesty shop stocked with arts and crafts made by the islanders.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Until next time …