Late spring to early summer is a brilliant time to visit Scotland, so I made it a little tradition to go on a weekend trip around this time every year. The Isle of Rum is one of my favourite weekend getaways, because not only is it a car-free outdoor paradise, it also offers some of the best views in the Scottish Isles. This is a complete guide to everything you need to know about visiting the Isle of Rum – from getting there to finding accommodation and the best walks.
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Disclaimer: Always check local travel guidelines and restrictions, especially when it comes to visiting Scottish isles and other remote areas post-Coronavirus.
The Isle of Rum is one of the Small Isles and barely on any visitor’s radar. It lies in the shadow of its larger and much more popular neighbour – the Isle of Skye, which is just north of it. It is the perfect hidden gem on the west coast of Scotland. The island is more or less car-free (only locals with a special permit are allowed to bring cars onto the island and there are no paved roads), there is no supermarket (just a small village shop) and accommodation is sparse – that means you need to put a little bit more work into planning your trip to Rum, but in the end it really pays off and you get an island pretty much to yourself!
While foreign tourists might have never heard about Rum, it is a popular weekend destination for hikers and wildlife photographers. Even the BBC comes here frequently, to film the deer rut.
This guide contains all the information you require for a trip to the Isle of Rum – how to get here, accommodation options on the island, things to do and the best walks.
How to get to Rum
From Glasgow drive or catch a train to Fort William and from there to Mallaig. Travelling by train has the benefit of crossing the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. It takes about 5 hours on the fastest connection. Driving is faster (about 3.5 hours without stops), but there are many photogenic stops along the way and the road from Fort William to Mallaig – also called Road to the Isles – is one of Scotland’s most scenic drives. I recommend arriving in Mallaig in the evening to take the early morning ferry.
The ferry to the Small Isles – Rum, Canna and Eigg – is operated by CalMac. Seeing that this mainly a passenger ferry, it is not required to book tickets in advance, but you have to buy them at the ticket office prior to boarding. The journey from Mallaig to Rum takes about 1.5 hours and the return ticket costs £8.30 – make sure to hold on to it for your return journey.
Where to stay on the Isle of Rum
Rum has a very small population; only around 35 people live here throughout the year, and most of them are based in Kinloch, the only village on Rum. The island is owned by the Isle of Rum Community Trust, who also runs the different accommodation options on Rum. Most of them are located within 20-30 minutes walk from the ferry terminal in Kinloch.
Ivy Cottage Guest House is the only B&B accommodation on the island and has only 2 rooms. They offer breakfast, dinner and packed lunches, and even free WiFi.
Rum Bunkhouse is a self-catering accommodation on Rum which offers space for up to 20 people in dorms and has 2 fully-equipped kitchens. You can book individual beds, dorms or even the entire bunkhouse. The bunkhouse opened in October 2014.
Kinloch Village Campsite is where I usually pitch my tent. There is plenty of space for tents on the waterfront and facilities include a small wooden shelter, toilets and hot showers, as well as a fresh water tap by the water. Camping costs £6 per person per night and can be paid at the bunkhouse reception or the honesty box.
There are two camping cabins near the campsite which offer space for up to 4 people each. The cabins have no kitchen facilities, so make sure to bring all your camping equipment minus the tent and sleeping pad.
The BBQ Bothy is the latest addition to the Isle of Rum accommodation options. It sleeps up to four people but seats a lot more. If you camp in a large group, you can hire the BBQ Bothy to have a dry, warm and midge-free shelter and social space.
Outside of Kinloch, there are two mountain bothies. Both lie about 3 hours walk from the village in gorgeous scenic surroundings. They are maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association and offer basic shelter facilities. Dibidil Bothy has a wood burning stove and bunks; Guirdhil has an open fire and a raised wooden platform for sleeping. Make sure to bring your own sleeping pad and bag, as well as equipment and fuel for cooking. Bothies are free to use, but operate on a first come – first served basis.
Finally, you could also pitch your tent in the wild. Wild camping is legal in Scotland as long as you observe a few basic rules!
Unless you’re camping I highly recommend sorting your accommodation a few months in advance, because there are so few options. You can find details on how to book accommodation on the Isle of Rum and all contact addresses here.
Things to do on the Isle of Rum
The Isle of Rum is a paradise for outdoor lovers and there is a variety of outdoor activities you can do here.
Kinloch Castle is a Victorian mansion which was built as a summer residence for Sir George Bullough, a textile tycoon from Lancashire. There are castle tours available once a day, Monday to Saturday from April to October. It costs £9/person and you don’t need to book in advance.
Lots of people come to the Isle of Rum with their own mountain bikes to cycle across the island. There are two roads leading from Kinloch to Kilmory and Harris Bay, which offers a total of 11 miles of cycling. The smaller footpaths around the island are usually quite boggy, so it’s best cyclists stick to the road. Bringing your own bike on the ferry is free, but if you’d rather hire a bike, get in touch with Rum Crafts at [email protected].
My favourite thing about wildlife watching on Rum is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort at all. Even just sitting by the beach on a lazy day, you will see more sea birds than you can name without a guidebook!
There are several hides spread out across the island – the Otter hide just beyond the ferry terminal is a great location to spot otters playing in the shallow waters of the shore. Most other hides are used for deer stalking. The info panels inside tell you a lot about the deer population of the island, and you might even be able to spot some of them!
Boating & kayaking
On Thursdays during the summer, you can join a 2-hour guided boat tour to the Island of Soay to see breeding Manx Shearwater birds and hopefully also some marine wildlife.
If you are an experienced sea kayaker and can bring your own kayak or canoe, the Isle of Rum turns into a fantastic kayaking territory. With 30 miles of coastline, there are plenty of secluded beaches and rocky shores to enjoy the view.
Find out more about the boat trips and kayaking routes here.
On the way to Dibidil bothy, you come across a vast field of massive boulders at the foot of Hallival mountain. As always with bouldering, you need to bring your own mats and make sure you know what you are doing. This website gives an overview of the available bouldering problems, while this video is a great compilation of climbing some of them.
There is a variety of hiking trails leading around and across the Isle of Rum. Following the roads, you can cross the island on fairly flat ground, while the footpaths leading along the coastline are perfect for wildlife watching. The Rum Cuillin mountain ridge is made up of the peaks of Barkeval, Hallival, Askival, Trollaval, Ainshval and Sgurr nan Gillean.
For a full day tour try to take in the peaks of Hallival and Askival; if you have more time, base yourself at Dibidil bothy and hike the various peaks of the Cuillin from there.
The route to Kilmory is a relaxing 16km walk and ends at a gorgeous beach looking out over the Atlantic. On the way, you pass Kinloch Glen Waterfall!
For a full list of trails, check here.
Trails on Rum are not necessarily well marked, so navigation skills with a map and compass are required if you want to head into the hills.
Get the OS Explorer map for the Small Isles here.
During the deer rut from late September to early October, you should take extra care, as rutting deer can be aggressive and extremely dangerous. Keep your distance!
Even though none of the mountains on Rum are Munros, the weather on in the Cuillin can be vicious. Make sure you bring suitable hiking equipment and don’t go into the hills on your own. The next mountain rescue teams are on Skye and in Lochaber, so be aware and only hike trails within your abilities.
Other facilities on the Isle of Rum
At the Rum Visitor Centre, you can learn about the island’s geology, walking routes and pick up some useful leaflets. It is located by the Old Pier and is open every day during the summer months.
The Isle of Rum does not have any restaurants or supermarkets, so unless you stay at the Guest House, you’ll have to cook your own meals and bring supplies with you from the mainland. There is a small village shop that is usually open in the mornings and evenings and sells basic supplies, like tins of food and Wall’s ice cream – you know, the necessities. Next to the shop is the Village Hall which houses the Isle of Rum Teashop.
There is also a post office at the village shop and a red payphone box by the shore.
Good to know before you go
Cash is king on the Isle of Rum. Whether you need to leave money in the honesty box for the campsite, want to get a hot chocolate or cake at the village hall cafe or join a guided tour at Kinloch Castle, you have to pay in cash! The village shop has a chip and PIN and offers cashback. Considering the limited open hours of the shop though, I would not plan to rely on this service.
The island has limited rubbish and recycling facilities. Try to reduce the amount of rubbish you produce during your stay and take it off the island again. If you need to recycle something, there are large bins for glass, metal and general rubbish at the ferry terminal.
Scottish weather is unpredictable – even more so on the islands. Bring the right equipment for outdoor activities (good hiking boots, water- and windproof clothing, maps & compass etc.), plenty of warm clothes and dry bags to keep your stuff dry when all goes wrong. The two worst things that can happen to you when the weather is bad, are to be cold and hungry – make sure neither of them happen to you!
Read more: Packing for a trip to Scotland
If you’re anything like me, I just talked you into really wanting to go the Isle of Rum… Have you considered going off the beaten track in the Scottish Isles and visit the Small Isles for a weekend trip?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.