There are only two "proper" roads on Rum (i.e. tracks made specially for humans...there are lots of so-called "pony tracks" that humans are allowed to use too, if their boots are good enough). One leads to Kilmory - the other, to Harris. They are both completely different places, almost as if they were on different islands. Autumn is stag rutting time so that means it's time to go to Kilmory!
|Stag at Kilmory (Photo (c) Ali Morris)|
Kilmory faces north, to Skye, Soay and the mainland, a sheltered beach at the end of a valley full of deer. It's bleak, stony and isolated, a few houses dotted about to remind us of when this used to be home to just two girls who spent all summer here doing laundry for the grand folk up at the castle (Lady Monica and George didn't like to see knickers hanging from a washing line). Now it's home to Rum's deer research team, two or three people (and their laundry) who spend their days tracking the animals to find out what they get up to, which ones are the most successful breeders, which ones are most likely to get ill and which have the loudest roar (I may have made that one up - proper info on www.isleofrum.com/wildlifedeer.php). If you've seen Autumnwatch over the last few years, you'll have met some of our stags and hinds on TV - and our researchers have names for them all.
|Kilmory Beach (with bathing beauty) (Photo (c) L Becker)|
|Inquisitive hind (Photo (c) L Becker)|
A bit different from our trip to Harris a couple of weeks ago! That was full of inquisitive creatures...and it was the first time I'd actually made it out of the village to the other side of Rum. Just in time - I'd started to feel there was no other side. It was a blazingly hot day and we borrowed mountain bikes to attempt the stony eight mile mountain track. Within about 10 minutes I was already pushing the bike as even the first part of the journey up to the "deer gate" (the barrier to stop the deer wandering into the village and eating everyone's beans and cabbages) was too steep for me to manage. I thought I'd got fitter in London but getting through a Keiser Cycle class is not the same as scaling an actual mountain! Oh, alright...we hadn't even got to the mountain bit yet, it was just the path up to it. Mel was sympathetic: "When I first came here I had to push the bike all the way there...you're doing really well." Really? I feel like an idiot but I'm determined to show I'm not a useless towny tourist. I keep going as much as I can as the landscape gets more and more amazing. Pretty soon we are heading along Kinloch Glen, where the eagles hang out. No eagles today but views right across to Skye and the mainland, a pure blue sky and my lungs nearly bursting with the determination to keep cycling. Every time I thought it had to get a bit easier, it just got harder. "Don't worry, after the first four miles it's all downhill to the sea." Four miles uphill?! We stopped now and again at the waterfalls that came down the mountain. Rain comes straight off the tops here - clouds drift over from the Atlantic or the mainland and hit the mountain peaks, so that from a boat looking back Rum looks like the Forbidden Island it was once known as, with dark clouds swirling over the island like a whirlpool. But if you're on the right side of the mountain, you'd never even realise it was raining. That's what it's like today - we have even got our own weather, shared it seems only with the Rum ponies and Highland cattle, as we don't spot anyone else.
|Photo (c) L Becker|
Up and up we go, until eventually Mel's promise comes true and we can freewheel down the terrifyingly steep and stony track to Harris Bay. My hands are numb with clinging to the handlebars, the wheels are bouncing off the track and I'm trying to concentrate on the road rather than get distracted by the views. Trying to slow down to avoid a curious herd of Highland cows, it occurs to me at this late juncture that I will probably die if my bike hits a rock and I fly off....Mel is already a mile ahead down the spiralling path as she never puts the brakes on downhill - I grit my teeth and try to be as brave.
|View down to Harris from the track (Photo (c) L Becker)|
|Ponies small - or far away?|
|Ponies a bit nearer... (Photos (c) L Becker)|
But in some way, it seems to make us happy...though maybe only because underneath we still feel that certainty that we do have some control. On the other hand it's a challenge for conservationists - you want people to connect more with nature, but what happens once you've started to actually live this close to "nature" as a reality, not just visit it at weekends? How much and what kind of "civilisation" do we really want and need? What kind of island do we want? Who is the island "for"? Humans don't like nature to get too out of hand; being here makes me realise how many primitive fears we still have about animals, the weather, the wilderness. Maybe that's why some people feel an urge to cover it all in concrete or drill for oil in the Arctic. They haven't found a way to live with wildness. I'm glad we're in a place where some of it still exists - and I will learn to get over my fear of cows!