Introduction | Climate | Geology | Fauna | Flora | Agriculture | History | Employment | Entertainment | Transport | Eigg for the Visitor | Muck for the Visitor | Accommodation | Conclusion | Bibliography | Acknowledgements
The Parish of the Small Isles is made up of four islands, Canna, Rhum, Eigg and Muck. Linked by a single steamer service they form a unique parish sharing a doctor, a minister and a county councillor. Due to limited space this guide is about only two of these islands, Eigg and Muck. Also both Rhum and Canna have very limited accommodation for the visitor but both can be visited for a day and are well worth seeing. Rhum is owned by the Nature Conservancy and of immense interest to the scientist. Canna is in private ownership and run on similar lines to Eigg and Muck.
Eigg lies 12 miles south west of Mallaig, the nearest town, which is also the railhead for trains from the south and the departure point of island steamers.
Muck lies 2½ miles south west of Eigg, the smallest but the most fertile of the four islands. It is 8 miles north of Ardnamurchan, the furthermost west point on the mainland of Britain.
The climate is basically one of mild winters and cool summers. There are no great extremes of temperature, the January average being 41°F and the July 58°F. On Muck the highest temperature recorded is 85°F and the lowest 24°F, only 8° of frost. Eigg being the larger island has harder frosts but in general the sea prevents the land from heating and cooling too much. The lack of frosts result in sub-tropical vegetation flourishing wherever there is enough shelter. Cabbage palms and Eucalypts do well on Eigg.
The average rainfall on Eigg is 60" and on Muck only 44". Eigg’s higher elevation draws down the clouds and causes this remarkable variation in a distance of 3½ miles.
There are considerable differences in the monthly averages. Precipitation rises throughout the summer to reach a peak in October of 7.2" and then falls to 3.5" for March, April and May.
The prevailing wind is south west and periods of south west to north west with gales are common in winter while in summer the north wind brings the cool, clear atmosphere which shows the islands at their best. Anticyclones over Scandinavia mean long spells of easterly wind particularly in the first half of the year bringing cold dry weather in winter and warm hazy conditions in summer.
|The Sgurr of Eigg, August 2005|
The greatest part of both Eigg and Muck is composed of basalt lava flows of Tertiary age which have emanated from volcanic centres either on Ardnamurchan or Rhum. Step like features clearly seen on both islands represent these lava flows, the small escarpments being formed of the hard (slowly cooled) core of each flow; while the gentler slope between is composed of the more easily weathered upper and lower parts. The contact between two flows is sometimes marked by a thin red band once tropical laterite soil which was established between periods of volcanic activity. Beneath the basalts on both islands are a series of sandstones, limestones and shales of the Jurassic Age. In Eigg these form the low ground running round the coast from Kildonan to Laig and in Muck are exposed on the shore at Camus Mor. Being fresh water in origin, fossils are not abundant and are confined to stunted oysters, lamellibranchs and minor fish at Camus Mor. Ammonite impressions and Belemnites occur in marine shale on the west side of Laig Bay. Fossil reptile and fish remains are to be found in shale just above the low water mark at Eilean Tuilm and a quarter of a mile south of Rudha-na-tri-clach on the east side of the island.
Dolerite dykes are common on Muck, running north west – south east, often elevated due to erosion. They give rise to the broken coastline. There is also a large gabbro dyke on the east side of Fang Mor. This rock is similar to that composing the Cuillins of Skye.
The Sgurr of Eigg, composed of pitchstone, has a somewhat different nature. Due to a long cooling period it has formed hexagonal columns similar to Fingal’s Cave. Beneath the Sgurr has been found fossil wood. It seems likely that the pitchstone had flowed along a valley from the south east. Being harder than the surrounding rock, erosion left it in this elevated position.
The phenomenon of the Singing Sands is attributed to the uniformity of size of the quartz grains which form them; they only sing when dry.
The formation of the extensive inland cliff round the whole northern part of Eigg is due to the slipping of the basalt mass of Ben Buie on the underlying sediments.
Glaciation from the south east on both islands has removed the pre-glacial soil apart form a little boulder clay. Rapid weathering combined with blown sand has however produced excellent loam soils though very deficient in phosphate.
|Birds nesting in Eigg in recent years (* also seen on Muck)||Non-Nesting Birds seen in Eigg (* also seen in Muck)|
Red Throated Diver
|Birds nesting in Muck only||Birds seen on Muck only|
Long Tailed Duck
Yellow Billed Cuckoo
Great Grey Shrike
The natural history of the islands is interesting and varied. There are no large land mammals. Otters live and breed sparingly on both islands, rabbits only on Eigg where they are now much reduced by myxomatosis. Rats are numerous, many of them living about the shores and feeding on shell-fish. Short-tailed voles are very common long-tailed field mice and pigmy shrews less so. House mice are absent from both islands. Bats have been seen round Howlin House in Eigg.
Grey seals can be seen at Eilean Tuilm at the north end of Eigg and also about the harbour. In Muck they can be seen near Fionnard and Port Mor and along the north shore, principally at Godag, Port Chreadhain and Horse Island where two or three pups are born every year in the autumn. Common seals are occasional visitors.
Porpoises used to be very common particularly in Gallanach Bay, they can still be seen occasionally from the boat. These are the Muc Mara from which the island may take its name. Dolphins, giving magnificent aquatic displays of synchronised rolling and leaping can sometimes also be seen. Also Killer Whales, Blackfish, Rorquals and Bottlenose Whales. Basking Sharks, often in shoals occur but are not so common as they used to be. In the old days they were called sunfish and were hunted for their oil which was used in cruisie lamps; even after the last war they were harpooned and the livers used. They are of course large fish but can be confused with whales. When feeding at the surface however they show two fins, the smaller of which is the dorsal lobe of the tail and when they submerge they sink under the water instead of rolling under as whales do.
Some eighty species of birds nest on the islands. Passage migrants are numerous, some of which may overwinter, for example Turnstones and Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey-lag, White-fronted and Brent Geese in Muck, and rare visitors appear from time to time – Greenland Falcons (Muck), Hoopoes (Eigg twice), Waxwings (Eigg), Great Grey Shrikes (Muck twice).
As might be expected the emphasis is on sea birds in Muck (seventeen species nest mostly on Eagamol and Horse Island), and on land birds in Eigg, where there are bigger and older areas of woodland an high heather moorland so that Tits, Goldcrests, Willow-Warblers, Fly-Catchers and Bullfinches nest on Eigg but only pass through Muck on migration. Eigg has also Golden Eagles, Grouse, and three species of Owl nesting. Sea birds are rare, being found mostly at the north end. Puffins, Guillemots, Razor bills and Kittiwakes are absent but the Fulmer nests on the south cliffs and the Manx Shearwater on the inland cliffs round Cleadale, making misty moonless nights hideous with their terrifying clamour as they fly into their nests in the dark. They have decreased lately in Eigg, but there are vast numbers still in Rhum and Canna and ‘rafts’ of Shearwaters can be seen in the daytime resting on the sea. Solitary Guillemots and Razorbills can also be seen at sea in the Autumn each with its single young one swimming alongside.
Toads do not object to a little salt in their environment and are to be found on both islands and Eigg has also Common Lizards and Palmate Newts. Adders do not occur, although some twenty years ago a live one was found in Camus Mor in Muck. They are common in Ardnamurchan and it would be interesting to know how it travelled, perhaps in a bottle?
Owing to the disuse of insecticides in the farm programmes on these islands, insect life abounds but owing to the comparative lack both of shelter and calm days, midges and clegs are relatively scarce, particularly in Muck. On the other hand butterflies and moths are numerous and occasionally rare species are to be found, such as the Transparent Burnet Moth.
Between the tide-marks the animal life is particularly rich and is interesting because a number of southern forms which are found normally only in Devon and Cornwall and the west of Ireland, are carried north by the Atlantic Drift as larvae and mature here. They include a number of crabs and a small purple sea urchin.
The Atlantic Drift is stronger in some years than in others and then one may find two West Indian Beans, along the tide line, said to bring the finder good luck; the purple shells of Ianthina, a floating snail and the sails of Vellella, the “By the wind sailor”, blue if alive, transparent if not. Logs tunnelled by ship worms and covered with goose barnacles frequently come ashore.
Muck is a low green island with over a hundred acres of cultivated land. There is some good heather in Glen Martin. Most of the island is a Festuca-Agrostis pasture of fairly high quality spoiled by areas of bracken nowhere tall enough or thick enough to eliminate the underlying grass entirely. There is no natural woodland although it must have been present at some time since the remains of hazel and birch are to be found in a tiny peat bog at Bagh. The plant life is what one would expect on similar land elsewhere but it is surprising to find a few alpine plants growing 2,000 ft. below their usual level. The list is a short one: Dwarf Juniper, Crowberry, Club Moss, Rose Root Sedum, Mountain Cats-Paw, Pyramidal Bugle.
Until 1922 Muck was treeless apart from a few poplars on the cliff on the west side of Port Mor. In that year three small plantations were established both for shelter and amenity. Further plantings have followed in the last 15 years incorporating all the commoner British species. Given some shelter these are doing well. Notable failures are Scots Pine and Norway Spruce unable to withstand the salt spray which, during severe gales, penetrates all parts of the island. Specimens of more than 60 feet indicate the success of Sitka Spruce.
On Eigg two well grown Eucalypts stand behind the lodge. This Australian genus includes some of Britain’s fastest growing trees and could be of future importance on the relatively frost free west coast.
In Eigg most of the central plateau is heather covered. The grassland is on the lower ground and is often spoiled by the bracken which is everywhere taller and denser than in Muck. Natural woodland is fairly extensive round the pier. The alpines are even more in evidence being found particularly on the edges and ledges of the cliffs to the west of Ben Buie. Cushion Pink, Mountain Avens, Globe Flowers and Mossy Saxifrage make a lovely show in June.
Farming is the primary industry on both Eigg and Muck. It differs from farming on the mainland in that costs are higher and returns lower. A motor launch must be maintained for ferrying stock, cattle feed and fertilizer and men must be paid to run her. Even the nearest harbour on the mainland is far from the areas of production and consumption and land freight charges to Mallaig are high. Contractors are expensive and blacksmiths are several days away when machinery requires repair. All these factors make life hard for the island farmers.
Both Eigg and Muck are hill farms the sea being the boundary fence. The economy of both islands is based primarily on the exporting of the increase of the sheep and cattle; the produce of the arable land serves almost entirely as winter fodder for the stock. Potatoes and some eggs from Muck are the only other exports.
Eigg, 7,500 acres, is divided into Kildonan and Sandavore which are in the hands of the proprietor and run by his factor. Laig on the North West side of the island, 100 acres, is let. Muck is a single farm of 1,650 acres.
Both islands carry Blackface and South Country Cheviot ewes which lamb in April and early May. In mid July comes clipping, timed so that the ewes can grow a fleece for winter, but also as late as possible as after clipping the milk supply for the lambs falls away. Traditionally the clipper sits astride one end of a four foot stool with the sheep on her back in front of him. To prevent kicking two legs are tied. Increasingly sheep are clipped sitting on the ground, a faster method particularly if an electric machine is used as is done on Eigg. Ewes are brought to the clipper by the “crocker” and the fleeces are removed by another helper and rolled up in a bundle, later to be packed in large bags for despatch.
Cheviot wool is mainly used for Scottish tweed. The finer Blackface for carpet manufacture and the coarser is exported to Italy for stuffing mattresses.
August/September is the time of the store lamb sales and sheep have to be ferried to Arisaig and disembarked onto a seaweed covered rock. Bad weather can delay ferrying for lengthy periods.
In October rams are purchased for mating in November; older ewes are drawn from the flock and sold. On Muck 70 ram lambs of both breeds are left entire and wintered in sheds. The following Autumn they are sold by auction at Fort William and privately. Ewe lambs on both islands are wintered on the farm and on Muck they are driven across the tidal channel to Horse Island. Liver fluke is a problem in winter due to the wet nature of the hill land. Another is bracken, an ever spreading menace, unpalatable to stock and damaging to the grass below. This is particularly prevalent on basalt soils and unless checked soon most of the better hill grazing will be rendered useless within the next few decades.
Ecologists such as Frazer Darling have deplored the introduction of sheep to the Highlands for sheep are selective feeders and tend to eliminate the better grasses. But it is the high subsidies which in recent years have increased the number of cattle on Eigg and Muck.
The majestic but slow maturing Highlander is almost a breed of the past but her cross with the Shorthorn bull is still the basis of the cattle stock. A herd of Luing cattle has now been established on Eigg and the sale of pedigree bulls and heifers could be of great value in the future. Herefords are also kept on Eigg and Galloways on Muck. These cows are mated with Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn bulls, calving being in early spring. Hay, silage and cow cobs are fed from Christmas until early May. By early April all the calves should have been born and they run with their mothers until October.
Then come the Great October Sales. Oban is the main centre and MacBraynes send their cargo vessel Loch Carron to fetch the beasts. The calves are driven to the pier with their mothers and separated. Each is roped by the neck and hauled on board one of the launches where it is made fast to a ring attached to the gunwhale. Alongside the steamer a canvas sling is placed under the belly of each animal and it is raised on a derrick into the ship. By the time they are sold the calves are not looking their best. If poor prices are offered it is impossible to take them home.
Both islands have small dairy herds to provide milk for the islanders. When milk is plentiful butter is made.
Recent years have seen the reintroduction of the West Highland Pony to Muck. There is no stallion on the island so mares have to be taken for service to Rhum in the motor launch. There is also the last Clydesdale. 26 years old he is still used for light work.
Arable farming still follows an 8-course rotation on Muck; five years in grass is followed by oats, roots and oats undersown with grass. Good crops of potatoes, swedes, turnips, kale and rape can be grown.
On Eigg estate arable cropping is confined to rape grown to help hill pasture improvement and fatten lambs in autumn. In recent years much hill improvement has been carried out using lime, slag and grass seed. Hay and silage are the most important crops but because of poor weather conditions silage is replacing hay particularly on Eigg estate. Traditional hay ricks are still made on Muck.
There are 19 crofts on Eigg at Cuagach and Cleadale covering 294 acres, 90 of which are arable. Several crofts have been amalgamated and each of those worked have a tractor and other machinery. There are no sheep kept and the crofters keep their calves until they are 18 months old.
Farming in the islands is heavily dependent on subsidies. The future of these will be uncertain when Britain joins the Common Market and it is difficult to foresee a pattern of viable agriculture for the future.
|Dun Ban Fort, Muck, July 2006 - (photograph by Dr Julian Paren)|
Flint arrowheads and an axe-head dating back to the Stone Age are the first evidence of human habitation in the Small Isles but it is likely that they were occupied from earliest times. At the harbour entrance at Muck stands Dun Ban, a fortified rock with a perimeter wall and several internal walls. This together with a Dun found below Kildonan House, Eigg, and a wall across the west end of the Sgurr are all described as Bronze Age fortifications. A Bronze Age axe-head found on Eigg and a Bronze Age dagger dated at 800 to 400 B.C. found by drainers on Muck are on show in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.
The earliest recorded event was the landing of St. Donan, a follower of St. Ninian, in Eigg at the beginning of the 7th century A.D. He and his followers were massacred in 617, possibly by pirates. Martin Martin who visited Eigg about 1695 mentions opening a “sepulchral urn” which was found to be full of headless skeletons “fare and dry” but there is no tradition to account for them. This urn is behind the church, overgrown with grass and brambles.
Two hundred years later came the Vikings, who were to dominate the Hebrides for 400 years, first as raiders and later as rulers. Their mark has been left on many place names throughout the Small Isles; on the heights of Rhum – Hallival, Tralaval and many more; on the valleys of Eigg Cleadale, Galmisdale; but in Muck only the names Taolun and Sron na Teiste are partially Norse in origin.
Eigg must have been occupied for three grave mounds, considered to be those of wealthy and important people, were opened in the 1870’s and found to contain the remains of swords, brooches, cloth, knives and whetstones now on show in Edinburgh. The mounds can still be seen between Kildonan church and the sea.
At the west side, at Laig, there could have been a safe anchorage and even a boatbuilding enterprise, for the unused oaken stem of a Viking Ship was found in a bog there. A century ago there was a lagoon behind the sand dunes into which boats laden with seaweed for the croft lands were floated at high tide. It is now silted up but 600 years earlier it could have been a safe anchorage for the flat-bottomed longships of the Norsemen.
When the Viking domination came to an end at the Battle of Largs in 1263, the islands reverted to the Scottish crown. In 1309 tradition has it that Eigg was given by Robert the Bruce to Ranald MacRuarie, in exchange for the loan, when required, of a 26-oared galley equipped with men and provisions. MacRuarie’s lands, including Eigg, ultimately passed to his nephew, Clanranald.
Due to its central position Eigg was an important meeting place of the Clans. At Kildonan Clanranald gave up his claim to the Lordship of the Isles, held since his father’s death, and installed his half-brother, Donald in his stead in the presence of the clansmen. In 1545 Donald Dubh met his chiefs in Eigg and drew up a “Commission from the Lord of the Isles to treat with the King of England”. The island remained in Clanranald’s hands until 1828. 1826.
|The entrance to the Massacre cave, Eigg, June 2006
(photograph by Christian Jones)
On Eigg in 1577 occurred the famous massacre in the cave of St. Francis, notable even in those wild times. Accounts vary but it seems that the MacLeods of Dunvegan, seeking revenge, set out for Eigg with a strong force of galleys. The inhabitants buried what they could and hid in the cave, which although small at the entrance, is large inside. Next morning they sent a scout up to the ridge who was seen by the departing MacLeods. They followed his tracks in the freshly fallen snow and discovered the cave, lit a fire and smothered 395 people. It was only 75 years ago that the remains were buried at Kildonan.
Repopulation must have been rapid for in 1588 MacLean of Duart was assisted by the crew of the Spanish galleon ‘Florencia’ lying at Tobermory, with a raid on the islands.
In 1615 Sir James MacDonald of Sleat made a last bid to revive the ancient Lordship of the Isles which had been forfeited in 1493. Newly escaped from prison, he sailed for Eigg together with a fleet of 18 armed galleys where he met “Old Colkitto”. After holding a Council of War they provisioned their boats with Eigg cattle and sailed for Islay where they met defeat and rout at the hands of Argyll’s men.
The fatal event that changed the Highland way of life occurred in 1745, the attempt of Charles Stuart to regain the throne of Britain. This ended in the disaster of Culloden and the Rising was quelled with barbaric ferocity. Eigg did not escape, a year later, the 38 islander survivors of the campaign had returned to their families. Dr. John MacDonald, Kinlochmoidart’s brother, was also hiding on the island when Captain Fergusson of the Terror arrived, bent on reprisals. The Presbyterian Minister persuaded Dr. MacDonald to give himself up on a promise of clemency, but he was stripped and imprisoned aboard the Terror. Among his clothes was found a list of the princes’ supporters (this must surely have been planted). They were then seized and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The 16 who survived were transported to the Barbados.
Changes were coming. Under the hard hand of the military, clan warfare was impossible and clan chiefs were increasingly attracted to the bright lights of London. This resulted in a need for plenty of cash and large numbers of clansmen ceased to be an asset. At the same time Linton Blackface Sheep, thriving in the clean sheepless pastures, were spreading north. The islanders were reprieved by the kelp industry. Potash to make gunpowder was needed for the war with France. This was supplied by burning seaweed and on Muck the shores were worth £200 a year in rent apart from £252 a year for the land. This was for the eastern two-thirds of the island only. The land was intensively cultivated, every acre being put down to ‘lazy beds’ — six foot beds with a drain between, on which were grown potatoes and barley. Some of the latter was exported and grain was sent to be ground at Kildonan in Eigg where there was a water mill.
In 1815 came peace with Spain and the re-opening of the potash mines there. The price of kelp dropped steadily from a peak of £22 per ton to £3 in 1835.
On Eigg the last of the Clanranalds was becoming increasingly demanding of his tacksmen who had in turn to extract an even heavier rent from the unfortunate tenants. The island was sold in 1828 to Professor MacPherson of the Chair of Greek at Aberdeen. Clanranald’s cousin, Alan MacDonald, remained in Laig until 1850, when he died. The farm was so run down that his son emigrated to America and the farm was let to Mr. Stewart, a border sheep farmer who offered a high rent if the crofters were removed.
Almost the whole population of the township of Gruline was evicted in 1853 leaving crofters at Cleadale in the North West and Galmisdale in the South.
Kildonan Farm was rented by a succession of tenants, the most notable of whom was one MacFarlane who grew potatoes from Kildonan House to the Bealach Clith. In the 70s he had built a stone pier for loading sailing smacks and in years when potato blight was serious on the mainland and prices high, returns were excellent.
Mention must also be made of Galmisdale House which until 1846 was used as an inn.
In 1896 Eigg was bought by Lawrence Thomson. These were the finest days for the island. A fortune built by selling warships to the Japanese helped to keep estate management at the highest level.
Many miles of fencing were constructed and the Blar Mor at Kildonan drained. The crofters at Galmisdale were shifted to larger holdings at Cuagach, trees were planted and the pier improved. Before the days of good roads and motor transport, the sea was the great highway. All the traffic was coast wise and Eigg had ten fast paddle steamers calling each week in summer apart from cargo ships.
Then came the Great War and in 1913 Mr. Thomson’s death. He is buried on Castle Island. Before his death he had constructed the grave which is plainly visible on the highest point. From here he could see his three properties, Strathaird, Eigg and Muck.
|The Lodge, Eigg, 2003 - photograph by Callum Black|
The island passed to his brother who spent little time on Eigg and let the shooting in 1916 to Sir William Peterson. The lodge was burnt that year and Sir William bought the island. A new lodge was built on the same site that of the present rose garden but it was burnt in 1925 when the island was sold again. Sir William Peterson, a generous, extravagant man, was hampered by having five factors in nine years.
Sir Walter Runciman, again in shipping, purchased the island. Though not resident he put in hand an extensive programme of improvements, including the construction of the present factor’s house for the then general practitioner, the modernisation of several cottages and the farm steadings. His son did not take his father’s interest in the island and in 1966 sold it to Mr. Evans, the present owner.
The earliest account of Muck is by Sir Donald Munro, High Dean of the Isles who wrote of it in 1549 “very fertile and fruitful of cornes and grassing for all store and very good fishing, inhabit and manurit, a good falcon nest in it. It perteynes to the Bishope of the Iles, with one good highland haven in it”.
It had belonged to the MacIans of Ardnamurchan but about 1634 Donald Garve of Coll obtained a charter from the Bishop of the six merkland of Muck which he gave to his eldest son, Lachlan. He fought during the civil war and behaved with distinguished gallantry at the battle of Kilsyth. He was later shot by a MacIan who was raiding his cattle.
Five MacLean Lairds followed him until in the latter part of the 18th century the island was owned by another Lachlan who was also a soldier, fighting in the American War of Independence. He married an American Hannah Barbara Cottingham by whom “he had numerous issue”. He greatly objected to being addressed as Muck, as was the custom of the day but insisted on Isle of Muck, as he was careful to explain to Dr. Johnston whom he met at Dunvegan in Skye in 1774. He looked after his 187 islanders well, having many of them vaccinated against smallpox at his own expense. Lachlan finally became Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower of London and ran into debt to the tune of £2,700. This was paid off by Clanranald in exchange for the island which he held until his death.
In 1816 MacLean of Coll bought back Muck from Clanranald’s trustees for the princely sum of £9,975; he must have expected the price of kelp to remain high forever but it did not and by 1826 he too was in debt and was forced to clear out the crofters. Many left but the remainder built the village whose ruins lie above Port Mor. Soon they too left. They were replaced by cattle for the island was let to Choirechoille, the well-known Lochaber drover.
In 1854 the island was sold by the MacLeans to Captain Swinburne who also owned Eilean Shona. He is notable for owning a large fishing smack which worked as far out as the Rockall Banks and the house at the head of the present pier was used as a salt store.
The farm was let to the Thorburns, border farmers, who introduced Cheviot Sheep and paid a rent of £320 a year. As the price of wool was not much lower than it is today and as the sheep would thrive on the clean ground this must have been a very profitable venture despite the high rent and the transport difficulties.
In 1870 the Weirs from Ayrshire took over the tenancy and introduced cheese making, the only form of dairy farming possible. Acres of lazy beds were levelled and brought under the plough and two large byres housed the cattle.
In 1896 a drowning accident made the farm vacant again. The island had meanwhile been bought by Lawrence Thomson, owner of Eigg. Under his factors ‘Tormore’ and Mr. Glendinning, the farmhouse was enlarged and the present farm cottages built as were the barns which now house the farm crops. He died in 1913 and the island passed to his brother who let the farm to John MacDonald of Glenbrittle in Skye. The cheese making ceased in 1914 and the cattle stock was reduced.
In 1922 Commander W.I.L. MacEwen inherited the island and his son, Lawrence, farms it today.
Notable recent events have been the introduction of Blackface Sheep in 1922; the island’s first tractor in 1947; the radio telephone in 1956 and the electric light plant in 1970.
The population of Muck is 20, Eigg being 55 is the largest in the Parish; but these numbers are falling and must be reversed if the essential services and the community are to be maintained. The proprietor plays an important part in island life and in Muck is essential as the estate maintains the mail and other services. In Eigg the owner, Mr. Evans, is not resident but his factor plays an important part in the community.
|Eigg Primary School, 2005 - photograph by Mick Garratt|
In both islands the working population is almost entirely employed in agriculture and public service. In Eigg four workers are employed full time by the estate while four of the crofters act as ferryman, taximan, calor gas agent, postman, shopkeeper and postmistress. There are also resident on the island a doctor, lay preacher, registrar, school teacher and county councillor. In Muck two full time and three part-time workers are employed by the estate and there is a resident school teacher.
Tourism is playing an increasingly important part in the islands but as it depends to some extent on vacant houses being available this is not entirely a healthy trend.
There are two part-time lobster fishermen on Eigg and three on Muck. Further expansion of this industry will occur with the arrival in 1971 of a 35 foot lobster boat now being built in Orkney. Operated by two islanders from Eigg it should exploit to the full the excellent lobster fishing.
Both islands have primary schools with four pupils on Eigg and five on Muck. At the age of twelve the children have to continue their education in Fort William.
Both Protestants and Catholics are represented on Eigg, there being two churches. There is no resident priest but the parish is linked with Glenfinnan on the mainland. The Church of Scotland maintains a large Manse and the missionary keeps a dairy cow. He visits Muck every second Sunday, weather permitting, and holds a service in the schoolroom.
Gaelic is the native language of the islands but many of the children speak only English. The doctor travels to the other islands by steamer or hired launch. He plays the pipes at island Ceilidhs and is also the only bee keeper in the Parish.
Groceries, cigarettes, postcards and beer for both islands are sold at the Eigg shop which is also the post office and telephone exchange. There are 19 telephones on Eigg linked to Skye by submarine cable. The three telephones on Muck are connected with the mainland system at Morar by radio link. This system was installed in 1956. Before then when the launch was away from the island, a smoke signal was made in an emergency.
Although there is peat on Eigg, coal is the main fuel. Muck is peatless. Calor Gas is also used for cooking and in some houses, lighting. In Eigg many Start-o-matic generating sets are being installed while in Muck, tilley lamps were used until 1970 when two generating plants were installed, connected to most of the island houses.
There are only three television sets on the islands and the informal ceilidh is still the main form of entertainment. Organised ceilidhs are also held in both islands in summer. Here a variety of Scottish, Highland and Old time dances are performed to the music of pipers and the island band. Singing in Gaelic and English punctuates the proceedings and refreshments are provided.
Badminton is played in Muck during the summer when the barn used is empty of hay. Table tennis is played in Muck school.
Sea fishing is popular in the autumn and Lythe, Saithe and Mackerel are caught on hand lines, also occasionally bottom fish such as Haddock and Plaice. Lythe of up to l5 lbs have been caught.
Note from webmaster - these details are as given in 1971 - don't use these for your travel arrangements!
All the islands of the Parish are served by MacBraynes M.V. ‘Loch Arkaig’, a ship of 170 tons and a speed of 10 knots. She is fairly well appointed for passengers with a large saloon where refreshments are available. The only covered accommodation for cargo is in the passenger saloon. Due to the unsuitable derrick she is not well equipped to carry heavy loads. The fare between Mallaig and Eigg is approximately 40p.
MO WO ThO SO SO
Mallaig 1300 1300 1245 1100 1300
Eigg 1445 1445 1045 0940 1420
Muck — 1530 — 0820 —
Rhum 1600 1730 0930 0820 1535
Canna 1700 1830 0830 0700 0655
Mallaig 1930 2100 0600 — —
N.B. Summer 1970 Timetable
On Saturdays the service is run by Bruce Watt’s M.V. ‘Western Isles’ a ship of fishing boat design which allows islanders two hours in Mallaig for shopping.
At neither Eigg nor Muck are there steamer piers so passengers tranship to a ferry boat for both islands (fare 7½p) then to the launch in the case of Muck.
There are also trips to Eigg from Mallaig four days a week in motor launches run by Bruce Watt and Ewen Robertson of the Marine Hotel. These allow 2–3 hours ashore and are run in fine weather only. Transport on Eigg is provided by Dugald MacKinnon, Eigg 14, owner of a hire car who meets all steamers and is available for hire at other times. There are also about 14 private cars on the island. There are no cars or public transport on Muck as the road is only 1¼ miles long.
A new 35 foot motor launch is due for delivery to Eigg during the summer of 1971. This vessel will often be available for hire between the islands and to and from the mainland. Contact D. Kirk, Laig Farm. Phone: Eigg 17.
|Kildonan Church ruins, celtic cross and angel
(photographs by John Craig and Michael Wills)
Visitors to Eigg land at the stone jetty built 65 years ago, replacing Clanranald’s pier, still to be seen at the head of the harbour. Leaving the pier the road follows the shore then climbs around the fringe of the Lodge gardens; running north past the Manse, Doctor’s house, Church, School, Post Office and Shop. These were built before the days of motor transport and so were placed half-way between the two communities. Near the school a road branches off to Kildonan passing the disused water mill which once served both Muck and Eigg. The road then drops sharply down the Bealach Clith. Ahead is Rhum, 5 miles away. Below are the crofts with their strips of cultivated land and the fine beach of Laig.
The crofters do not keep sheep. As the croft land is unfenced cattle are kept during the summer in a field above Camas Sciotaig, the famous Singing Sands. These are 400 yards from the end of the new road.
A most interesting climb is the Sgurr. Approach this from Galmisdale House. Climb direct to the end of the ridge and walk under the cliff on the north side until the latter turns to scree. Once on the ridge which shows signs of early fortification, walk back to the summit at the east end. A good head is needed but the view is wonderful.
Ben Buie is less exciting for it is flat on the top which is on the edge of cliffs above Howlin. Approach it from Howlin, climbing the track once used by ponies carrying peats.
The ruins of Kildonan church are worth visiting though they are not much more than 500 years old. On the north wall is a stone inscribed with the arms of Clan Ranald and the date 1441. On the west is the crudely carved head of an angel. In the graveyard is the shaft of a fine 15th century cross. Other carved stones are preserved at the Lodge. To reach Kildonan Church follow the shore road past Clanranald’s pier, after crossing a burn turn into a gate, cross the field and pass out onto the hill following the top of the cliffs skirting Kildonan Bay. You will then see the church below you on the far side of the burn.
The Cave of St. Francis, scene of the massacre, is a mile from the harbour on the south shore. Go up the road marked private, and climb the first stile on the left, follow a path to the cottage and then along a sheep track till you come to a cliff fence. Pass along this until you come to a zig-zag track leading to the shore beside a small burn, turn left to the massacre cave and right to Cathedral cave.
Its entrance is only four feet high but there is plenty of room inside. Three hundred yards west, along the shore is the Cathedral Cave used by the Catholics in the years after the 1745 rebellion.
There are five sandy beaches on the island and no strong tides. The fishing is excellent and a boat is available for hire. Visitors are welcome at the island Ceilidhs.
Visitors to Muck normally disembark at Eigg and are met by the 36 foot Muck motor launch built in Mallaig in 1955.
|Port Mor, Muck - view from the harbour, 2004 - photograph by David Crocker|
Port Mor, the main harbour, is entered by a narrow channel between Sgier Dubh to port and Bogh Ruadh to starboard. On the west side of the harbour is Castel an Dun Ban (see History).
There are two stone piers but at low water the boat can only go alongside a rock. From Port Mor a road runs to Gallanach on the north side of the island. Above the right hand side of the road, leaving the pier, is the corrugated iron school used also as a church, and other houses.
Until 1922 Muck was almost treeless and the wood beside the road was planted that year. On the other side are arable fields whose fertility is based on blown sand. Rocky outcrops, however, hinder cultivation. The barn on the right stores hay. All crops are stored inside because of high rainfall and severe winter gales. Noticeable are the many stone walls built over 100 years ago from stones taken from the ruined houses. They provide excellent shelter for stock. The farm house is at Gallanach facing a Line sandy beach. Adjoining are the byres and outbuildings, fully utilised when Muck was a dairy farm. On a point on the west side of Gallanach Bay is a Bronze Age burial circle. At low water one can scramble over seaweed covered rocks to Horse Island where many sea-birds nest.
Ben Airean, 451 feet, is an easy climb from Gallanach. From its summit there is a fine view of the mainland and islands in every direction and cliffs fall almost sheer to the sea at Camus Mor, a large bay. During the last war large quantities of timber, wreckage and even mines were washed ashore and beach combing is an island pastime.
A quarter of a mile west of the farm house is the narrow harbour of Bagh past which is Shell Bay whose beach is covered in sea shells. Near the head of Bagh are a number of ruined houses one of which once sheltered a whisky still. A cave on the east side of the island and a ruin next to the shepherd’s cottage were also used for a similar purpose. The story is told of a raid by the excise men who seized the still and while they were being entertained with the product, an old still was substituted.
Visitors can walk anywhere on the island. There are six sandy beaches and the swimming is safe. The fishing is excellent and a boat is available.
They can also join in dances, badminton or football or any other form of entertainment and are welcome to help on the farm.
Eigg and Muck are ideal for those who enjoy a quiet holiday and the rapidly changing weather provides an endless variety of scenery. Visitors can wander over the islands at will, though not of course over farm crops and private gardens; closed gates should be left closed.
On Eigg there is one guest house offering full board. Write in advance to Mrs. D. Kirk, Laig Farm, Isle of Eigg.
|Gallanach Cottage, Muck - a self-catering cottage for holidays
(photograph by Dr Julian Paren)
There are also a number of cottages to let on a weekly basis. These vary in amenities from those fitted with Rayburn
cookers, hot and cold water and indoor sanitation to those without. Further particulars from:
The Factor, Eigg Estates,
Angus MacKinnon, Cleadale.
Donald Campbell, Lageorna, Cuagach.
Mrs. Mary MacKinnon, Treslaig, by Fort William.
There are also 2 caravans, details from Angus MacKinnon.
On Muck there is no accommodation providing full board but there are three cottages to let. Intending guests should write to L. MacEwen, Isle of Muck enclosing a S.A.E. Vacancies in July and August are rare. Camping is allowed on both islands with permission, and on Muck a barn is often available in bad weather.
All common groceries are available from Miss Peggy MacKinnon at prices fully competitive with Mallaig. Cottage guests should write in advance enclosing a list of requirements. This is essential in the case of large camping parties.
This guide has been written to increase the interest of the visitor to these islands. But also for another purpose. Study of the population figures show an alarming decline. Depopulation is the greatest problem facing the community and must be stemmed. If not it may well reach a level too low to support essential services such as a shop or doctor. Agriculture, the main industry, may well support fewer people in future as rising costs must be met.
Instead we need craft industry, weaving, knitting, and a hotel to employ the younger generation, perhaps farm workers, boatmen, lay-preachers or even crofters.
The seas teem with fish, the shores with shell fish exploited by boats from every part of Scotland. Markets are excellent, only the islanders willing to catch them are lacking.
|Munro, Sir Donald||Description of the Western Isles of Scotland called Hybrides,1549.|
|Martin Martin||Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, about 1695.|
|Johnston, Samuel||A journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, 1775.|
|Sinclair, Sir John||The Statistical Account of Scotland, 1796.|
|Gregory, Donald||History of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1837.|
|Miller, Hugh||Cruise of the Betsey, 1858.|
|Aitkinson, Robert||Island going 1949.|
|Evans P.R. and Flower W.V.||Birds of the Small Isles Scottish Birds, 1967.|
I would like to thank; Duncan Ferguson, Hugh MacKinnon and Dr. MacLean of Eigg for their help on the chapter on History; Mrs. E. MacEwen for Fauna and Flora; Ewen MacEwen for Geology and Mrs. A. MacEwen for typing the original.
Lawrence MacEwen, Isle of Muck. February, 1971.