Sunday, 12 October 2014

Kilmory, Rum

Rum is largest of the small islands of the Inner Hebrides. It used to have the sobriquet, "forbidden isle". This was not due to the dramatic landscape, forbidding though that is, but to Rum's reputation as a rich man's, private playground. Uninvited visitors seen off, down the barrel of a shotgun. Everything changed in 1957, when Monica, Lady Bullough sold the island to the Nature Conservancy (Scottish Natural Heritage today) for £23 000. Most of Rum is now a national nature reserve, home to otters, eagles and red deer. Manx Shearwaters breed in burrows high upon the hills. The only way to get about the island is to walk.

Sailing to Rum the island's geological origins are obvious. The majestic mountains, the Red Cuillins are the weathered remains of a gigantic volcano; the sandstone plateau in the north of the island originated somewhere near the equator. The end of the Ice Age allowed small plants to colonize Rum, followed by woodland, birch, hazel and willow. The first people arrived 9 000 years ago. The earliest recorded human settlement in Scotland was at Kinloch. However Stone Age settlers lived on Rum for only part of the year. While there they supplemented their crops and livestock by catching seabirds, seal, deer and scavenging along the shoreline for shellfish.

Along with the other Hebridean islands, Rum came under the domination of the Norsemen. They left their place names behind; Halival, Askival (812 meters, the highest peak) and Trollaval. Orval, Papadil and Dibidil. Rum only became part of the Scottish Kingdom in 1266.

The islanders managed to maintain their lives in three isolated pockets of fertile land, at the mouths of the major glens.  Christian hermits arrived from Ireland in the 7th century. St Becca is said to have landed on Rum in 632. A stone pillar at Kilmory may date from this period. Kilmory was the second largest settlement on Rum, after Harris. Over the centuries the crofting and fishing communities of Rum gradually grew in number to around 400, until the Clearances of the 19th century. The remains of around twenty blackhouses survive at Kilmory, testament to the tenacity of the small, isolated community that once called this extraordinary place 'home'.

In 1825 Alex Maclean, the laird who held the island, decided to evict his tenants. He gave them one years notice, so he could lease Rum as a sheepwalk. 50 people were left behind on the island after 300 sailed on the 'Dove of Harmony' and the 'Highland Lad', bound for Canada. Two years later the remaining islanders were removed, aboard the 'St Lawrence', destination Nova Scotia. In 1845 Maclean sold Rum to the Marquess of Salisbury' as a sporting estate. The noble lord replaced the expelled population with imported deer.

The last people to live at Kilmory were two two laundry maids who worked for the Bulloughs, the last lairds of Rum. Apparently the Bulloughs did not want the sight of their laundry to spoil the views from Kinloch Castle, so they located their laundry on the other side of the island, eight kilometers away at Kilmory. So for the two laundry maids, their only contact with the outside world, and sole source of their news and gossip, was the arrival once a week of the  cart from the castle bringing the weeks dirty washing and collecting last weeks laundry. For consolation they did have access to the two most beautiful sandy beaches on Rum, that is if they ever had the time to enjoy them. Rubha Shamhan Insir has wonderful views of the Skye Cuillins: weather permitting. Just over the headland is Rubha na Moine, said to be the Queen's favourite beach, and picnic spot. Every summer on her cruise around Scotland, on the Royal Yacht Britannia, she is said to have come ashore here for a picnic, in this incredible isolated place, where there was no danger of intruders spoiling the royal picnic party.

Today the only (occasional) residents of Kilmory are scientists working on the Red Deer Study. The deer regularly come down onto the beach to graze on the seaweed at low tide. Rum's residents, who number around 30, all live in Kinloch, a village whose lifestyle has been described as akin to living in Antarctica. So isolated and introspective are they. But don't let that put you off. Kilmory is a return walk of 16 kilometers (10miles) from Kinloch, along a rough track taking around two hours each way. Don't let the midgies put you off.