By Flora Blissett
That’s what I learn when trying to connect to the WiFi to write this blog. We’re sat at the dining table, looking out over the patch of green before the stretch of blue. A little golden dog walks past on a lead. “Guess what his name is”, Alex says. Meike looks up from her work – burning the lettering into the newly sanded wooden signposts. I’m already starring out, hypnotised by the gentle waves coming into shore. “Biscuit?” I pose. Apparently not. He’s Kevin. This is just one of many things which will surprise and delight you on the Isle of Rum.
The other big surprise we all had was how much you can see in the dark. Last night – our first one on the island – the six of us piled into a borrowed Land Rover and bumped down the main road (really, a track) to Harris and then up to Kilmory to measure the quality of darkness across the island. This is part of Rum’s International Dark Skies application. But for us volunteers newly off the ferry, it was also a chance to get our bearings. And, as it turned out, to see the sites.
Lumbering gently along the road (again, it’s a track) we caught a few stags in the headlights. Some older ones, who stood confidently, gave us a composed stare, and then strolled off into the grass. Then some younger ones, whose antlers were mere twigs and points. They splayed themselves out in panic at the headlights, probably never having been this close to a vehicle before. Zig-zag, zig-zag, then leap! they’d be gone in a flurry of hooves and headshakes.
Eyes would catch the car lights too, off either side of the track. Two – or four – small metallic white circles burned out from the darkness. Several times, we crawled down to a near-standstill, wound down our windows and shone our torches to see what animal these eyes were attached to. Deer, stags, wild ponies. With everyone else asleep in the village, we were probably the only people for miles around.
After about half an hour, we reached Harris. “You’ll never guess what’s out here”, Alex said. And he was right. I don’t think any of us were expecting an early-twentieth century mausoleum resembling an ancient Greek temple. Nor were we expecting to explore the old Lodge right next to it. Ella got chucked the key (sadly not a rusty monster of a key like a Gothic castle would have, but it did the job) and in we went. Wood panelling, a dislodged stove, mattresses and skeletons of sofas furnished the disused rooms. Kettles were strewn throughout the house, as if ready to welcome hikers in need of shelter with a warming brew. Hopefully, the welcome will be a little less ghostly in 2025 when the refurb is complete.
“Guys…!” We were called around the side of the Lodge: the Aurora hummed grey-green in the distance. We stood in silence. Beneath us, the waves crashed into the invisible cliff face, the surf aglow with its own power and light.
The dark sky measurements showed good readings – a very dark sky. But down below it on the ground, the island was lit up for our eyes and imaginations, which our future explorations will reveal.