Rum is a distinctive feature in the seascape west of Mallaig, with a particularly rich range of both natural and cultural heritage interest. Its geology is spectacular, even to a non-specialist, from volcanic mountains to the raised beaches that are obvious along much of the coast. The island is dominated by the peaks of the Rum Cuillin, a dramatic group of mountains which, although it does not include any Munros, offers some of the most challenging hill walking in Scotland. The Isle of Rum is part of the Small Isles National Scenic Area, a Special Protection Area for Birds, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. The island also has 17 nationally important ancient monument sites, so you can see why it is such a special place.
There is a wide range of habitats, many of them internationally important, including different types of heath, grassland affected by mineral flushes, bogs, lochs and scree slopes. There is little natural woodland, although small areas have been replanted in an attempt to restore some tree cover and there are some attractive policy woodlands around the village.
Land animal species are less diverse than on the mainland, but there are impressive herds of red deer and a wide range of breeding birds, including a large colony of Manx shearwater on the slopes of Hallival. White-tailed sea eagles were re-introduced in a successful programme some years ago; the birds have since colonised neighbouring islands and continue to breed on Rum. The island’s natural history has been intensively studied, making Rum world famous as a centre for ecological research. The red deer research programme is the longest-running study of large land animals anywhere in the world; other important research programmes look at birds and vegetation.
Rum’s designations include NNR, SSSI, SPA and NSA, though Kinloch village is now outwith all of these except the National Scenic Area.
Rum has a long human history. Archaeological excavations have uncovered the Mesolithic remains of some of the earliest human activity in Scotland; there are also signs of Bronze and Iron Age settlement. Evidence for these prehistoric periods is not easy for non-specialists to find on the ground, but there are dramatic remains of later times. At Harris, the extent of the cultivation strips known as lazybeds is a potent sign of the size of the community that once lived on the island. After Rum’s tenants were evicted to make way for sheep, shepherds were brought in from neighbouring islands to tend the flocks. There are substantial ruins of blackhouses from this time, as well as a poignant graveyard at Kilmory.
The most noticeable historic monument on the island is Kinloch Castle, built as a holiday retreat in 1897 by the Bullough family, cotton industry magnates, but largely abandoned, together with most of its Edwardian furniture and fittings, shortly after the First World War. Until the 1800s, the main settlements were at Harris on the west coast and Kilmory in the north. Now a permanent community of around 40 people lives at Kinloch, on the east coast, with a small number of red deer researchers staying seasonally at Kilmory. In 1957 the entire island was sold to the Nature Conservancy, with the exception of the Bullough family’s mausoleum at Harris. The Conservancy and its successor bodies, most recently SNH, owned and managed the island until 2009. Since then around 100 hectares of land and a number of houses and other buildings, mainly in and around Kinloch village, have been transferred to the Isle of Rum Community Trust (IRCT).
Isle of Rum Community Trust
Alongside the wonders of the natural environment, Rum’s community is undergoing a period of change. 2009 and 2010 saw the phased transfer of land and assets in and around Kinloch Village from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to Isle of Rum Community Trust ownership. This is giving the community and individuals control over their own destinies and creating unique, exciting opportunities for locals and people who would like to come and live here. Scottish Natural Heritage transferred most of the village land and buildings to IRCT in a phased handover in 2009 and 2010. Included in the land transfer were three blocks of land designated as crofts: IRCT has found a tenant for one croft and is currently looking for tenants for the other two.
The IRCT was set up in 2007 as a vehicle for change and development; it has three main aims –
- to manage community land and associated assets for the benefit of the Community and the public in general as an important part of the protection and sustainable development of Scotland’s natural environment,
- to advance the education of the Community about its environment, culture and history,
- to promote rural regeneration for the public benefit by providing housing for those in need and the improvement of housing in charitable ownership.
IRCTs vision for Rum is for a vibrant and viable community for people of all ages, building on aspects of cultural and natural heritage to achieve a sustainable and diverse economy with access to affordable, reliable and sustainable transport links to other islands and the mainland.
Apart from the provision of affordable housing, both to satisfy current demand and to enable new people to move to the island, our main goals at the moment are:
- To develop the Byre complex into a village hub of visitor facilities
- To improve access to the two crofts so they can be allocated
- Developing a new website for the island
- Developing income streams.
Rum’s varied characteristics attract a similarly wide range of visitors. Experienced hillwalkers come to walk the Cuillin hills; birdwatchers to see the Manx shearwaters and sea eagles; others to see the red deer, particularly during the rut. All of these groups will tend to stay overnight. Day visitors may arrive on the CalMac ferry, with one of the private boat trip operators or on the cruise ships that occasionally anchor off Kinloch. Most day visitors will visit the castle for one of the guided tours, then spend the rest of their limited time on the island exploring Kinloch village and the shoreline between the village and the ferry terminal. Anyone wanting to explore the island’s interior, including the hillwalkers and wildlife enthusiasts, needs to stay overnight because of the distances involved in exploring the island and the short times ashore afforded by all boat timetables. A gradual loss of housing stock through fires and changes in building use means that the castle hostel, the campsite and two remote mountain bothies are now the only accommodation options.
To visit the Isle of Rum’s website, click HERE