If you’ve ever seen Brigadoon, you’ll appreciate Scotland’s Isle of Muck even more. It’s a blend of past and present and a reminder of simplicity in complicated times. There’s no post office, no church, and no bar. Located in the middle of nowhere -- or, more precisely, 39 miles from Mallaig, Scotland -- the Isle of Muck is the perfect place to get away and admire hauntingly beautiful landscapes and wildlife. It sits in the Sea of the Hebrides and is one of several interesting small islands, such as Eigg and Rum.
You can get there from Mallaig or Arisaig, depending on the day you go. From Mallaig, you’ll be on a larger ferry boat that’s better for those who suffer from seasickness. I missed the days for that, so I departed from Arisaig, another quaint town in Scotland, on a smaller boat that took slightly longer than the ferry. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but it’s Scotland. The weather tends to be colder and windier, even in summer, and smaller boats rock more. Thankfully, the captain carried magic pills to help his passengers get their sea legs. I have no idea what he gave me, but within 15 minutes, all my queasiness was gone.
When you disembark on the Isle of Muck, you’ll see a small sign with a map. I suggest taking a photo of it, since there’s no tourist office on the island, and this will be the only glimpse you’ll get of the lay of the land. Especially if you’re there for only a few precious hours, you’ll want to make the most of your time. Unfortunately, a few hours doesn’t give you enough time to see most areas, but you can prioritize.
Automobiles aren’t allowed on the Isle of Muck (apart from those owned by residents and contractors), so you’ll have to wander on foot. Even if you stay on the island, you’ll be picked up at the port. The Isle of Muck is roughly 2.5 miles long by a mile wide, so you’ll have to choose a direction, stick with it, and then return to the port. The road is well paved, and most of the walk is gentle, as long as you stay on the road. There are several areas you can climb to to see beautiful views of the hills.
Here are a few ways to spend a day on the Isle of Muck.
Visit The Craft Shop And Tea Room
The Craft Shop is, for all intents and purposes, the center of town. It’s a tea shop with a small souvenir shop attached to it. It’s a very pleasant experience to sit and enjoy a pot of tea and a scone or a slice of cake there. If you’re really hungry, they have excellent locally caught seafood as well.
If you’re not one of the first people off the boat and into the shop, however, it’s likely there won’t be enough seats. If you can’t get there when you arrive, plan to go back about 45 minutes before your return boat departs. This is the only food option on the island, and it’s open only from about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the days the boats run.
The souvenir shop is small but has nice local crafts. If nothing else, you might want to get a card to commemorate your visit.
See The School And Community Hall
Next to the tea room are several small stone buildings. Among them are the school and community hall. When I visited, I happened to be on a boat with the newest schoolteacher. She was moving from Edinburgh to take the post. Her grade-school class would have five pupils. It would be a far cry from life in the big city, and we spoke about all that she had given up and what she was looking forward to.
Walking through the area made me feel like I was in a prior century. There’s something magical about old ways in a new world that makes this a fascinating place.
Say Hello To The Cows
Frankly, the resident cows are impossible not to see. With only 40 people inhabiting the Isle of Muck, there are more cows than people. There are also a lot of sheep, but they tend to remain in enclosures, while the cows walk along the road as if out for an afternoon stroll.
If you’ve read my articles for a while, you won’t be surprised to hear I was overjoyed that the first greeting I got was from a cow. Near the tea room, there’s an area where the cows gather, and up the hill to your left is a herd of small bulls. All of them tend to be friendly (or patiently waiting for you to move out of their way).
Walk To The Beach At Cairidh Bay
The walk to the beach at Cairidh Bay will captivate your senses. If the sky is the perfect stormy gray, with rays of sun bursting through the clouds, you’ll find the rolling green hills and grazing sheep shrouded in eerie and beautiful light. Once you arrive at the view of the sea, you might have to stop and realize you’ve been holding your breath in admiration.
Once at the bay itself, you’ll be tempted to take a seat and enjoy the view. You’ve got another choice to make: Will you spend your time taking in the beauty, or will you explore more of the island?
When I went to Cairidh Bay, there was a red boat that added the perfect pop of color to the scene, and there was a lone cow sleeping on the beach. It’s not often that one sees a cow on a beach, so I walked over and took some photos, which woke it up. As it stood, I discovered it was a bull. I carefully ventured up the hill along the beach. This is when I met the owners of the nearby farm. They explained that the bull I saw was done with his duties for the season and was now taking a well-earned vacation.
Continuing onward, I saw beautiful views in every direction and even a pheasant perched in a field.
Look For Seals At Port Chreadhain
Depending on how you’ve budgeted your time, whether you plan to get to the tea room, and how fast you walk, this will either be your last stop or you’ll have to skip it to make your return boat. The port is best known for its seal colony, though, of course, sightings are not guaranteed.
Head To Gallanach Bay
You probably won’t have time to get to Gallanach Bay in a day unless you walk there directly from the port and skip Cairidh Bay and the seal colony at Port Chreadhain. As you walk toward the bay, you’ll pass the cottages and lodges where visitors stay.
You can see Horse Island from Gallanach Bay. During the warmer months, a puffin colony lives there. You can see them, and the other bird life, by walking to the island. However, you can only get there during low tide. You might want to speak with a local to make sure you get the tide times correct.
Where To Stay
I regretted not having more time on the Isle of Muck. There are semiwild horses and many other beautiful spots and wildlife to see on the island, but the other downside of the smaller boats is that they depart at later times, so you’ll have less time to explore.
If you do stay, there are only a few accommodations, including a yurt, a bed and breakfast, and some lodges and cottages. Consult the island’s website for options and contact information. You’ll definitely need to book in advance.
What To Know Before You Go
Make sure to check the ferry and boat times well in advance of your visit. The smaller boat from Arisaig gives you less time to explore the Isle of Muck if you go for just a day. The ferry from Mallaig only departs four days a week.
The locals are extremely friendly. Don’t be shy about saying hello and asking about life on the island and tips for exploring it. You might even get invited to a local event or to a farm. This is one of the most unique places I’ve ever explored.
For more to see and do in Scotland, see this page.