A murky walk around the coast of Muck

Muck can be a little awkward to get to from the other Small Isles and I’d had trouble trying to fit it in to the itinerary along with Canna and Eigg. I have to admit that I saw the prospect of visiting Muck as slightly annoying – a bit of a detour just for one walk that didn’t look that interesting.  Muck is very small – even for a Small Isle – it’s possible, so we discovered, to walk around the little critter in its entirety in four or five hours. You can probably see what’s coming – another one of my ‘how wrong can you be?’ posts. How wrong can you be? Muck is very small, but a more idyllic wee island would be hard to find.

We set off from Eigg on the Shearwater, the wee ferry/island cruise boat that sails out of Arisaig. There were a few tense moments as a doomsaying scaremonger was spreading the untruth that the Shearwater was fully booked and then Fiona mislaid her purse etc. But in the end it was all fine, purse found, plenty of space on the boat.

The crossing was very enjoyable; we stopped out in the middle of the Sound of Eigg as the skipper thought we might see some dolphins, but they were a no show. Within an hour we’d arrived at the pier by Port Mor, Muck’s harbour and main settlement.

We headed straight over to the north coast of the island – less than a mile – to pitch our tent on one of the loveliest informal camp sites you could wish for. There is a permanent yurt for hire and a composting toilet, a wee burn for your water and magnificent views of the Rum Cuillin. A friendly family from Southport were staying in the yurt, but ours was the sole tent.

Having pitched, we headed back to Port Mor…

…and made a beeline for the cafe/craft shop to refuel with an outrageously good and incredibly cheap herring salad before starting our circumperambulation. By the time we left it was nearly 3pm!

The plan was simply to walk around the coast staying as close to the shore as natural and man made obstacles allowed. We headed initially south-east out of Port Mor, through a few stock gates and fences onto the low-lying coast. This was easy enough, contouring along on a faint, narrow path avoiding boggy bits, crossing the odd fence, leashing Dougal when sheep or cows were in the vicinity. In truth the coastline of eastermost Muck isn’t all that exciting, but what it does have is some fine views on to Eigg and Rum.

We continued on our way and within an hour we were looking down on our campsite and beyond to the tide-separated islet of Eilean nan Each – Horse Island.

The skies had darkened and a soft, silvery light underlit a blanket  of  low cloud sailing in from the north-west. Would our circumperambulation be scuppered by rain and poor visibility? We’d have to take our chances. Continuing on, we briefly joined the road to Gallanach Farm, which sits above a lovely bay with a fine beach.

We walked around the bay and followed a path up along the coastline again to walk out along the peninsula of Aird nan Uan.

Looking back on Gallanach Bay

The tide was in, so we’d not be able to walk across to Horse Island this time. Next visit for sure.

We retraced our steps back along the peninsula and then continued along the coast, passing this rather splendid private bothy – must be a hassle mowing the roof.

Continuing on in the gathering murk, the coastline soon began to take on a different character. The landscape was beginning to look a lot craggier and we soon found ourselves climbing up along the high cliffs of Muck’s west coast.

This  was exciting stuff, the coastal landscape of high cliffs and rugged shoreline in the murk made for something of a contrast with the earlier part of the walk. It would have been great to have some views, but at least it wasn’t raining.

We continued, following a narrow path along the agreeably springy-turfed cliff tops and eventually found ourselves beneath the looming bulk of Beinn Airein, rising to 137 metres above the cliffs at Muck’s south-western extremity. The top was shrouded in a mantle of murk as we climbed steeply up the hill’s south-western flank near the cliff edge. This added to the excitement of what had turned into a surprisingly engaging walk.

However, a little too much excitement soon appeared as we arrived on the summit to find the place packed tighter than a can of corned beef with frisky cows. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but by ‘normally’ I mean when we went walking before we had Dougal. The big scary Labrador is fwightened of cattle. He is cowphobic, or bovinophobic (natch) to give this terrible malaise its pathologised name. Dougal chooses to express his fear of cattle by barking gruffly and persistently while emitting clouds of tangible fear odour – a combination that whips cows into a wild-eyed murderous frenzy.

Removing ourselves and Dougal from this fraught situation – atop a high cliff in dense murk surrounded by hostile cows – provided a tense couple of minutes. We eventually descended beneath the murk having out-manouvered Dougal’s bovine nemesis

Continuing along the coastline, we had a few more stock fences to negotiate and we were soon feeling fairly knackered. Behind us the clag finally lifted from Beinn Airein. Mysteriously there was no sign of the cows…

We decided to cut directly across the peninsula south-west of Port Mor to return directly to the village. This probably didn’t save us any time or effort as our cross-country route was rough, boggy and tussocky in places. However, we had soon joined the track winding down to Port Mor and we decided to call in at the Port Mor hotel for a pint and some crisps. We’d been told that the hotel’s restaurant was fully booked, so we were happy to sit in the garden enjoying the view out over the harbour while nursing our very welcome pints of ale. We were a bit sweaty and dirty anyway and didn’t want to put anyone off their dinner.

The hotel owner seemed concerned that we would be returning to our tent unfed and wondered if we might like some steamed langoustine followed by pork curry. Yes, we might like that very much we answered and ordered a second pint each to boot. It has to be said that we weren’t charged a great amount for the fine food we were served. We felt well and truly rewarded for our endeavours. It was a lovely evening and we returned to our tent well and truly at peace with the world.

In the morning it was a bit blowy. Our friendly yurt-dwelling neighbours hadn’t slept a wink as the sail cloth fabric of the yurt was quite noisy in the wind. We’d slept soundly and not heard a thing. We packed up and headed back over to Port Mor in search of coffee.

Fiona and Dougal installed themselves at the cafe/gift shop while I headed off round the peninsula that we’d missed out the previous day. I needed to check out the route and take some snaps for guide book purposes.

Near the end of the peninsula the remains of the Iron Age fort of Caisteal an Duin Bhain (castle of the white rock) sit atop a cylindrical upthrust of volcanic rock standing sentinel above the entrance to the harbour of Port Mor.

Further round the peninsula the coastline is rugged and beautiful and I was glad to have had the opportunity to see it in clearer conditions than the previous day’s.

Having walked the remaining stretch of coastline, I headed back to Port Mor and soon enough we were making our way to the pier to catch the ferry back to Mallaig. All in all it had been an excellent 24 hours on the lovely wee isle of Muck.


10 responses

  1. Excellent stuff once agian Pete…particularly like the sound of the pork curry 🙂 I had a notion to go to Muck after seeing the cliffs on the west side from the ferry to Canna last year.
    Just back myself from a glorious 4 days in the far north between Melvich and Durness.Managed to scramble half way down a sea cliff and sit next to a crowd of puffins a few feet away 🙂

    • Blimey that was quick Alex! Could be an all-time record for writesofway. did you manage to snap a few pics of the puffins? Don’t tell me you left your camera at the top of the cliff?!

      You know how it is with the islands, Alex, they’re all different. I really enjoyed staying on Muck, so peaceful. The cliffs on the west were surprisinly impressive and there looks to be a lot to explore along the shore beneath them. Bet the views are grand when you can see anything at all.

      All the best


  2. “I have to admit that I saw the prospect of visiting Muck as slightly annoying” – It must be a hard old life Pete having to drag yourself to Hebridean Islands for a spot of rambling and camping, sipping beer and eating curry. Poor Mr Edwards!

    Ah the phantom cows of Muck, they are well documented, like the grey man of Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms. There to install fear in canine companions. Anyway be careful with cows round Dougal especially with calves. In the Cheviots the other week Reuben would have been a flattened pouch if there had not been a fence to hop over. I have never seen such a look of pure intent to commit violence in a cows eyes before. There is always a report of a hiker with dogs in the Peak District being killed every year on our local news.

    • Ever since I got chased along with my ex, Sabine, and her Dobermann across the cliffs of Normandy by a marauding, wild-eyed herd of homicidal heifers, I’ve been acutely aware of the perils of pooches in the presence of cows. Luckily, we too found a fence to jump over. Unkuckily it was electrified.

      Glad you and Reuben lived to tell the tale. Recieved wisdom is to let the dog off the leash if menaced by cattle as they’re likely to trample both of you.

      I suppose it does sound a bit ungrateful, grumbling about visiting Hebs. I tell you what though, I’m looking forward to going back to the Small Isles without having to think guidebook.

      Peace and love

      Mr Edwards

  3. You are certainly beating us round the islands Pete.Not been to a single one this year.I,ve been getting out and about this summer but mainly to big music events,festivals etc.I,m enjoying the change though.

  4. Having been the recipient of some loutish bovine behaviour myself your caution is well advised .
    Glad to see the template with the black background has disappeared.I had to highlight the text to change it to white to read it in the past 🙂

    • Instant vindication! That’s what I like. I changed it because it was giving me a headache.
      Usually, if you run at personal-space-invading cows bellowing ‘Whooouuaaarrrggghhh!’ or somesuch, they run away; they’re not really having any of that if you’ve got a persisitently barking pooch with you. Unlike Milly, Dougal’s too big for the old rucksack smuggling trick.

  5. Nice to see that you have changed your Theme Pete, alot easier on the eye. Your words will be much more pleasurable to read!

  6. I glad you approve, Mr Bongpackingbingoes, if you hadn’t I shall have been forced to select a theme you did approve of. Alex Blueskyscotland approves (therefore, so must Bob), so that’s almost everyone in favour; at writesofway the customer always comes first.

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