New on Sidetracked:

Field Journal

The Isle of Rum

The Isle of Rum

Wild Guide Scotland – Isle of Rum
by Richard Gaston

Richard Gaston is co-author of Wild Guide Scotland, which uncovers the wilds and wonders of the Highlands and Islands, exploring the country’s best wild camping and swimming spots, hiking trails and the most remote beaches. Here he talks about Scottish bothies, and one of the wildest islands in the country, the Isle of Rùm.

With a population of only a handful, leaving most of the land wild, untouched and thriving with nature, the Small Isles are an archipelago of beautifully remote islands lying between the western mainland and the Outer Hebrides. The main islands – Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Canna – are close together but very different, each offering its own distinctive charms. Travelling to these islands is a pleasure in itself – the only way to get there is by passenger ferry (no cars!) from Mallaig at the end of the scenic ‘Road to the Isles’, the A830. As you cross the water there are views ahead of the Rùm Cuillin, a dark and forbidding mountain range that crowns the largest island of the group. This sparsely populated land of volcanic peaks, rugged coastline and undulating moors is a National Nature Reserve, home to sea eagles and thousands of red deer, which can be seen and heard in early autumn, roaring on the hills of Guirdil Bay. Here you can spend the night in the charming Guirdil bothy.

The Isle of Rum The Isle of Rum The Isle of Rum

Scattered amongst the wildest parts of the country, bothies are often situated in the most spectacular settings: nestled beside peaceful bays, at the foot of imposing mountains, or deep in the rolling glens. To reach a bothy often requires a great deal of effort carrying firewood, food, water and sleeping equipment, but the endeavour is certainly rewarded, especially if you have the place to yourself. Although on the outside some may look like pretty holiday cottages, they are in fact very basic shelters and provide scant facilities or comfort. They are a basic form of accommodation left unlocked for anyone to use as shelter, and survive solely on the efforts and passion of the Mountain Bothies Association – a group of volunteers who work year-round to ensure that the buildings can continue to offer sanctuary to the bedraggled hill-walker in need of a place to sleep for the night. No Scottish outdoor experience would be complete without a night spent under a bothy roof.

This particularly enchanting bothy, Guirdil, is set amongst the ruins of a pre-clearance settlement in Guirdil Bay on the wild coast of the island. The Guirdil River rushes down the glen and into the sea below Bloodstone Hill, a rocky peak towering over the bay where feral goats and deer often roam. The ominous name derives from the semi-precious jade-green mineral with flecks of red ‘blood’ running through it, found on its slopes and amongst pebbles on the beach. Inside the bothy, a large stag skull hangs above the stone fireplace and the window offers magnificent nearby views of Canna.

The Isle of Rum The Isle of Rum The Isle of Rum

Departing Rùm there awaits one more unexpected charm; like arriving on the island, leaving is also a pleasure. Before reaching the mainland, the ferry takes a scenic route around the north of the island towards the Isle of Canna for a brief visit. It’s an island rich with birdlife and – surprisingly, considering its remote location – inhabited. Perhaps another temptation to revisit and explore the archipelago.

Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures & the Good Life by Kimberley Grant, Richard Gaston and David Cooper is published by Wild Things Publishing (£16.99, May 2017) and is available to purchase at | @wildguidescotland

Richard Gaston is a self-taught photographer, from Scotland’s Ayrshire countryside, who honed his skills photographing mountains in the Highlands. With a passion for mountain culture, his personal work specialises in documenting the overwhelming pastoral peace that the natural world has to offer. Richard is particularly drawn to the dramatic essence of the Scottish Highlands whether it be in the force of winter or the charm of summer.

Instagram: @richardgaston