378. Mucking about on an island – The Isle of Muck

August 2021

When I walked the coast of England I made a point of getting to as many of the islands as I could. When I reached Scotland I realised there are so many islands and many are very large that to do all the islands would take many years. I decided to therefore concentrate on walking the mainland for now and come back and do as many islands as possible later. However I make an exception for islands I can walk around in a day. Of the Small Isles, that is the islands of Canna (which I’ve already written up) and Muck.

I walked around the isle of Canna on my last trip to Scotland, but the limited ferry schedules meant that was only possible on a Saturday (as was the case for Canna). As I was only in Scotland for one Saturday that meant I had to do Canna on a previous trip and Muck on this trip. It would turn out to be a fantastic decision to go to the Isle of Muck, as you will read below, I had a wonderful and memorable day.

To walk around Muck well again the ferry schedules only allowed more than 3 hours on the island on a Saturday, so Saturday it was. This time I’m not using the CalMac ferry but a smaller boat, the MV Sheerwater, operated by Arisaig Marine that is more a passenger-only pleasure boat and runs out of Arisaig, during the summer months. They run a day trip to Muck a few times a week but usually this is a 3 hour stay. However on a Saturday the trip is 5 ½ hours, which was enough time to walk around the island. Note that this was the case in 2021, when I did this walk, when the boat departed from Arisaig at 9:30am and arrived at Muck at 11:30am (with a stop on Eigg on the way) and returned at 17:00 (this time direct to Arisaig, arriving at 18:30). Unfortunately as of 2022 the longest day trip you can do to the Isle of Muck from Arisaig is 3 hours (possible on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday). However it is possible to do a longer trip (of around 4 3/4 hours) to Muck on Saturday (only) on the ferry from Mallaig instead (see details at the bottom).

I was staying in Fort William on this trip so after breakfast I drove around to Arisaig, which took around 45 minutes. The boat departs from Arisaig marina and fortunately the trip includes free parking for the day there. I had already booked tickets online and was told to download the QR code to show on the boat. At the marina there was also a gift shop. The boat was already there so I headed down onto the boat.

Sadly after a few days of glorious weather (unbroken sunshine) the weather appeared to have broken today. It was overcast, misty and with a few spots of drizzle in the air. I hoped this wouldn’t result in the boat being cancelled but fortunately it was still running. I opted therefore to sit in the outdoors but part covered section of the boat. The QR code wasn’t needed of course instead our names were ticked off, old fashioned, from a piece of paper on a clipboard!

On the outward trip the boat was first stopping at the isle of Eigg, which would take about an hour. Sadly you still have to wear masks in Scotland and this was mandated even on the outside area of the boat which was a shame. I hate them and find them very uncomfortable, so was glad of the opportunity to get off in Eigg and take it off!

Setting off from Arisaig we were soon disappearing into the mist, with the land disappearing. Further out there were some rocks which had many seals on them, which was a lovely sight.

Seals near Arisaig

After an hour we reached the isle of Eigg.

The Isle of Eigg

I took a photo of the map of local walks on the island for future reference but sadly noted there isn’t a path around the whole island.

Isle of Eigg

At the quay is a shop and toilets but since almost everyone on the boat headed here and it was crowded I headed on the road up the hill where there was a bench overlooking the harbour.

The Isle of Eigg

I carried a bit further along this road, now lined with pretty wild flowers but soon had to head back for the onward trip to Muck, another half an hour away.

The Isle of Eigg

The boat was quieter now because many of the passengers got off at Eigg, but a few had also got on there. The journey is quick though not so much to see this time and soon we arrive at the slipway on Muck which is near the south east of the island.

The Isle of Muck

This is in the village of Port Mor the main settlement on the island. The island as a whole has a population of just 27, though it does have some facilities, including a school and community hall. There is also a shop and a gift shop that is open 24-hours a day on an honesty system and a cafe which I hear is quite good but also has to be booked in advance (which I hadn’t). So I decided to start the walk by heading north along the road to the beach at Gallanach on the north coast of the island. This is the only road on the island and only the residents can drive cars here, or those with a permit (such as tradesmen).

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The road climbed a hill and over the brow of the hill I came across traffic – sheep!

Isle of Muck traffic

Just off the north coast of the Isle of Muck is the island of Eilean nan Each. This is a tidal island (off an island) so it is apparently possible to walk out there at particular low tides. However I could see that the tide wasn’t low enough today and it was also covered in mist.

Isle of Muck

I headed along the road (which now has grass growing down the middle), descending to the shore. There was a mini-bus parked on the grass here. I noticed the window was part open and the keys in the ignition. It is nice to be somewhere so safe people feel no need to lock up vehicles. (I remember this was also common on the Isles of Scilly).

I soon reached the beach and it was indeed a lovely sandy beach. To my amusement a couple of horses were grazing on the beach. This isn’t something I see very often but the amusing factor was more that they are a sandy colour, almost an exact match for the sand itself. Nice to see they have been colour-matched to their surroundings!

Coralag, Isle of Muck

They weren’t the only animals grazing here, there were also a number of cows grazing too (and some of those were sandy coloured as well).

Coralag, Isle of Muck

I headed down onto the beach avoiding a couple of sandy “deposits” left by the cows. At the far end of the bay, just behind some low rocks was a small farm. It was called Gallanach according to the map and is I suspect the only farm here. I decided to sit on the rocks at the end of the beach to have lunch. (I am wary now of sitting on grass for lunch, given the prevalence of ticks, though I am not sure if there are ticks on Muck).

Coralag, Isle of Muck

After lunch from the rocks at the end of the beach I found a sort of path back up onto the cliffs and good path on from there.

Coralag, Isle of Muck

Unfortunately this led to an isolated house and ended at the gate into their garden. Here there was a very rickety stile that I was able to use to get over the fence beside the garden (watched closely by the owner of the house from their garden who said nothing as I struggled over the wobbly stile but I suspect wished I wasn’t there). You can see the stile below.

The Isle of Muck

From here I made my way over the low grassy spit of land called Aird nan Uan.

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

There were a couple of stone circles near the north end of this, clearly graves some had much more recent plaques attached. It seems the area might still be used as a burial ground.

Stone circle, Isle of Muck

At the far end I continued back down the west side of this thin strip of land, passing a small sandy beach and then reaching a small private bothy at the end with a grass roof.

The Isle of Muck

Walking past oddly I could see some unwritten wedding invites propped up in the window! There is a story there I suspect, but I don’t know what it is.

Just beyond this was a beach made up of a mixture of broken shells and rocks, with a small amount of sand.

The Isle of Muck

Most of Muck is flat, but this far western part has a big hill that contains the highest point of the island. The ground here was very rocky with the land a mixture of rocks and grass but it meant the walking wasn’t too hard.

The Isle of Muck

As I headed towards the western point of the island I tried to stick as close to the coast but often found the paths would head down to a beach with steep cliffs or rocks beyond and become a dead end. So it took longer than expected and in the end I decided to stop trying to follow lower paths below the cliffs as they inevitably ended at a dead-end and I’d have to go back.

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

I passed another stone circle and the weather out to sea was still misty enough I couldn’t really see the horizon, the sky sort of merged into the sea with no line between them visible.

Stone circle, Isle of Muck

The west of the island was remote and undeveloped, with grass and heather covering the hills. As I reached the south west point of the island I had a high area of land ahead. Heading up the steep slope, past some sheep near the top it began to plateau a bit. After huffing and puffing up the steep slope I was glad it was levelling out. I was nearing the highest point of the island, marked with a trig point.

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

After the climb I was walking a bit slower. I hadn’t seen anyone for some time (well over an hour), it seems few explore the western part of the island.

The Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck

I had seen quite a few sheep but out of my right eye I caught movement. Looking to the right I spotted there was a huge bird of prey sitting on the rocks over to my right, preening itself. It was bigger than any I had seen in the wild before and I was pretty sure it was an eagle.

Golden Eagle, Isle of Muck

Golden Eagle, Isle of Muck

Perhaps a Sea Eagle (White Tailed Eagle) or perhaps a Golden Eagle, I know both can be found in this north western part of Scotland though I have never yet seen either.

Zooming in on my camera screen to get a closer view than I could see by eye it’s head looked a golden colour – probably a Golden Eagle then. What an amazing sight! Just as I thought I had identified it, without much warning it flew off. I managed to catch some blurry pictures as it did so, and it’s enormous wing span.

Golden Eagle, Isle of Muck

Golden Eagle, Isle of Muck

Now I had my doubts. As it took of I could see parts of it’s tail were white and also it had white under it’s wings. I know Sea Eagles have white on them. Perhaps that is what I saw. I was on a bit of high after this and headed towards the trig point.

Camas Mor, The Isle of Muck

The cliffs were so high now with amazing views down to the sea, far far below. The weather was still poor with a bit of low cloud causing mist around the trig point. I didn’t want to linger in case it closed in, as it would make find a route onward difficult.

Camas Mor, The Isle of Muck

The high point of the Isle of Muck

Ahead I can see a beach with some cliffs beyond.

Camas Mor, The Isle of Muck

The beach is a long way down and the cliffs beyond look pretty flat. It’s a long way down and it looks practically sheer ahead. I can’t get down there (well, not in one piece, anyway). So I have to turn left a bit inland following the contours of the land again.

Camas Mor, The Isle of Muck

As I’m heading down I spot the eagle again (well I assume it’s the same one), now perched on top of a fence post ahead. I manage a (poor) photo but it soon flies off again.

The Isle of Muck

I manage to catch a photo of it’s head and top of it’s wings but it’s out of focus and not zoomed in enough. That’s the last I see of it, sadly. The fence posts ahead made me worry I’d now have to cross a fence but thankfully it was dilapidated and posed no problem.

The Isle of Muck

As I’m making my way down this steep cliff, I spot the first people I’ve seen for some time a small group walking along the cliffs on the other side of the bay. It’s nice to see someone else and they seem to be making fairly rapid progress so I am hopeful there might be some sort of path.

The Isle of Muck

Getting down is tricky I have to keep zig-zagging so it doesn’t get too steep as I don’t want to fall. I make it to the bottom safely and head down to the pebble beach. The ground is a bit boggy at the bottom and I continue ahead to the much gentler cliffs on the far side.

The Isle of Muck

Heading up these is easier, but they are still far steeper than they looked from the top of the cliffs at the other side!

The Isle of Muck

I am conscious of the time. When I came here for the day I had 5 ½ hours. I was confident that was plenty of time. So confident I had bought a book and magazine with the expectation that I’d sit on that fine sandy beach on the north coast for an hour or so before heading back. My rest time was looking unlikely now and I was beginning to worry I might not finish the island at all. I needed to pick up the pace.

The Isle of Muck

Over to the left as I reached the top of the cliffs was a small pond, or boggy area (it wasn’t marked on the map as a pond). I was astonished to see that the surface of the water was almost entirely covered by birds! I didn’t have time to get closer but there must have been hundreds on this tiny bit of water. They looked like ducks of some sort but I wasn’t sure what. One looked like a female mallard but not sure about the rest.

Port Mor, Isle of Muck

Muck was certainly a great place to see wildlife. Back on the coast the cliffs were lower and the going easier.

The coast of the Isle of Muck

The coast of the Isle of Muck

Below the cliffs I spotted a small building with some boats beside it – perhaps another bothy?

The coast of the Isle of Muck

I continued east and was soon nearing the end of the headland where Caistel Duin Bhain and an old fort was marked. Well I assume this area of raised rocky ground is where the castle is or was.

The coast of the Isle of Muck

It was surrounded by cows who were already showing an interest in me. I decided I could see enough from here – no need to go over for a closer look!

The coast of the Isle of Muck

Now turning left I was soon overlooking the bay leading up to the harbour where I had arrived. The boats were pretty, reflecting in the calm waters.

The coast of the Isle of Muck

The coast of the Isle of Muck

I found what I thought was a good path that soon headed lower down just above the waters edge.

The coast of the Isle of Muck

It got a bit overgrown and I had to duck under some branches but then seemed to improve. However very irritatingly, it came to a gate leading into the garden of a house, whose fences went right down to the coast. Blast. No way to get along with trespassing (the right to roam in Scotland thankfully, and correctly, doesn’t cover private gardens). So I headed a little way back where I was able to get down to the bay itself. At high tide the water comes up here but now the tide was out so at least I could walk on the sand. Well as I found when I stepped on it, it was a mixture of mud and sand. This meant I had to make my way over it slowly, testing each footing was firm before putting too much weight down so I didn’t sink into a muddy area.

I made it across safely and picked up the road on the other side by the community shop.

Isle of Muck shop

I had started to read the notes for a walking route around the island last night but decided mostly to make my own way but I do remember it saying there was no access east from the port and the best bet was to follow a track up behind the community hall. I found that and followed it past buildings and up a hill towards some wind turbines. Here it sort of fizzled out.

I made my own way ahead over the open ground to the east coast. It was pretty but not as pretty as the west coast. For one there was a large fish farm just off-shore and some noise and voices drifting up from that.

The coast of the Isle of Muck

The coast of the Isle of Muck

I always find it odd that the Ordnance Survey maps do not show these, given they are structures so I think at least fairly permanent.

I made my way north. The east coast was a little more populated and soon I came towards an irritation. A dry-stone wall, that stretched right to the cliff edge. I needed to get across it, but there was no stile and no way around at the end. So I had to head quite far inland until I spotted a bit where a sort of make-shift stile seemed to have been made in the stones (or possibly others had crossed here). I was able to make it across here without damaging the wall. Here I made my way around the edge of the next field with a farm house nearby to my left. At the end of this there was a gate into the next field. This was the hardest part of the whole day! It was extremely overgrown with vegetation almost head high and that sort of tufty grass underfoot where there are patches of grass and then boggy areas of water between you can’t see (because it’s so long). So you put your foot down you can have them almost next to each other and at least 1ft difference in height, never sure if you’re going to step into a boggy area. I made my way across this with difficulty to a gate at the other side. This led me into another field, this time just short grass and a gate beyond down to the road.

The Isle of Muck

I was now just above the beach at Camas na Cairdh and so headed a few metres inland to the road. Now I had completed my loop but I only had 35 minutes to get back for the ferry. The distance however was only about 1.5km and it was road all the way so should be no problem. I followed the road passed the islands cafe. This has quite a good reputation but must be booked. I hadn’t, so I’d bought sandwiches with me instead. I stopped to have a quick look in the shop. This was more craft and stuff so there was nothing of interest I bought but I was impressed to see it was open 24 hours a day on an honesty system! I continued along the road and reaching the harbour I could see the boat was already there but this was expected since it is scheduled to arrive at 4:30pm and leave at 5pm. It was just before 4:50pm. I had made it with a little over 10 minutes to spare. I was pleased though I hadn’t expected it to be that tight!

The Isle of Muck

I could also see another larger boat just pulling into the harbour – the larger CalMac ferry which was scheduled to depart at the same time. Another couple were just getting onto my boat. I stopped to put my bag down to get the face mask out of it (that was being insisted on at the time) only to catch it in the zip and rip the strap off one side you are supposed to put over your ear. Irritating. Fortunately I had at least one more, though it had been in my bag for some time so not exactly fresh but it would have to do. I un-zipped the compartment of my bag where I thought that was only for the boat to let out a loud blast from the horn!

I ran down to it before I’d had time to find the mast and asked if they were leaving! The man said yes though I pointed out it was 10 minutes before it was due to leave. He told me they like to leave a bit early if they can and they thought everyone was here! Not good that I nearly got left behind! Fortunately when I explained I had just stopped to get another mask as I’d broken the one in my hand he offered me a fresh one from a packet they had on-board so I could get on and we could get going. I wasn’t late I confirmed the time on my phone and GPS so was frustrated they wanted to leave early as I could have been stranded here.

Anyway we soon set off back, passing the CalMac ferry. I suspect that is the real reason, they wanted to set off before that docked and it became busy. This time the boat was non-stop to Arisaig and we soon passed the Isle of Eigg, still with mist on the top (it had already picked up passengers from there before coming to Muck).

Arisaig

However suddenly the crew slowed and we were told there were Minkie Whales nearby. Wow! I have never seen whales before in UK waters. A member of staff came out to point them out and talk to people about them. We kept seeing them surface and show the fin on the top, quite a sight and they are indeed very big. It was such an impressive and wonderful sight and a great end to the day. We saw them for quite a while, I did get a picture though not very good, you can see one of them near the bottom right.

Arisaig

Later I was chatting to a member of staff on the boat who was showing people pictures of some of the wildlife and commented that they usually also see Dolphins and can pick them on radar to know where to go, but sadly none this afternoon. He was quite chatty so I decided to show him my photo of the eagle earlier. On showing him the first picture he told me it was a Golden Eagle but on seeing the photo of it taking off changed and said no actually, it was a Sea Eagle. Well either way I was pleased – it was an eagle anyway.

Later on, in the hotel I checked on my phone. The markings didn’t seem quite right. A sea eagle doesn’t have the white patches in the same place and the end of it’s tail is all white, whilst mine had white then brown feathers at tip of it’s tail, which didn’t match. A golden eagle doesn’t have white on it at all. Then I spotted the photo of a juvenile Golden Eagle. Well that looks to match up. Golden head, patches of white in exactly the same places as on my photo. So that was, I’m pretty sure, what I’d seen. (I later joined a Facebook group “UK Bird Identification” whose helpful members later confirmed from my photos I was right it was indeed a juvenile Golden Eagle).

Anyway the boat soon made it back to Arisaig and now it was just time to drive back to Fort William. The hotel I was staying at was a bit odd and the food in the restaurant pretty basic. They only had 5 choices for dinner (the menu never changed) all quite basic. Burger and Chips, Macaroni Cheese, Steak and Chips, Fish and Chips or Lasagne and Chips. I’d had all of them apart from the Fish (I don’t like fish) so fancied a change. So I’d booked a time slot at the Breweys Fayre pub next to the Premier Inn I had stayed at before, as whilst it might not be the best food it’s more than good enough for me and I know they have a good choice. Since I was last here you are even allowed to order food and drinks at the bar like you used to be able to (the last few times due to Covid rules that wasn’t allowed any more so you had to wait for the staff to notice you were waiting). I had a nice meal and time to reflect on what had been a fantastic day.

I had definitely made an excellent decision in going to the Isle of Mull, it had been a wildlife extravaganza and I felt privileged to see so much. The scenery on the island was also stunning, despite the mist. It is a small island, but it has a tremendous variety of scenery and a very beautiful coast line that had given me a very memorable day.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

MV Sheerwater operated by Arisaig Marine runs between 1st April and 30th September. In 2022 trips to Muck run on Monday (July and August only), Wednesday and Saturday. On all days there is 3 hours in Muck (from 12:00 to 15:00) and the boat departs from Arisaig Marina at 10:00 returning at 17:00. This boat does not run in the winter.

Caledonian MacBrayne Small Isles Ferry (MV Lochnevis) runs to the Isle of Muck from Mallaig on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the summer months. The sailing time varies and the service is reduced in the winter, but it does still run. However most days the boat arrives and departs again within 30 minutes, so no time for a day trip. However on Tuesday it is at Muck for around 2 hours and on Saturday runs two rotations, allowing for a 5 hour day trip, which will be enough time to complete this walk (at the time of writing it arrives at Muck at 12:25 and departs at 17:30).

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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6 Responses to 378. Mucking about on an island – The Isle of Muck

  1. tonyurwin says:

    A golden eagle and whales in one day! Sometimes you get the reward for exploring remote places.

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