Arts & Music, Food & Drink, Island enthusiast, Muck, North West, Outdoor Activities

By Robin McKelvie

Muck Tearoom

“We’re a tight knit community that just gets on with it,” smiles Bruce Boyd, owner of the Isle of Muck Tea Room. “Every island has its issues to deal with, but we’ve got a strong farming set-up here and a real community as you can see when you visit.”

Muck is the sort of island that often gets missed out. Nevermind getting overlooked for Skye, like many Scottish islands, the tiniest of the four Small Isles gets overlooked for community-owned neighbour Eigg, ships and sailors scooting from Ardnamurchan Point right past.

To be fair Muck is only two and half miles across and relatively flat. But it packs a lot in. And it sustains a community who have to generate their own electricity through solar and wind power as they are not connected to the National Grid. It’s a far cry from the island’s heyday when it had 300 islanders in the 1800s during the kelp boom, but I find the local attitude positive today.

Muck landscape

I’ve just visited again on a small cruise ship that tries to call in at Muck as often as she can. We bring a couple of dozen visitors ashore and our guide sets up a tab in the tearoom, which seems to be appreciated by Bruce who busies around serving everyone their superb cakes. The visitors also appreciate the chance to talk to him about the vagaries of island life.

The Green Shed with stamp point

Muck may often get overlooked, but the tea room is like a mini version of the island. It looks unassuming, but the homebaking is top notch (easily my best caramel shortbread of the year) and they also do a pizza night on Wednesday. In the evenings they also dish up a fresh shellfish feast – I’d be delighted if any café in my mainland town offered that. It’s got tables outside too where you can sit in the sunshine under big Hebridean skies and just take it all in.

This is my fifth visit to Muck and I’m pleased to see a new arrival – a Scottish Islands Passport brass rubbing stamp point and QR code. So don’t forget to check in when you visit Muck and add it to your collection. Digging into the app I learn that the isle was home to the last known sighting of a mermaid back in 1947 after an 80-year-old islander spied one. Muck also handily features in print in the Shaping Our Islands travelogue, also available to buy in Muck from The Green Shed!

Walking into Port Mor

The app helps me explore this main village of Port Mor too, reminding me there is a purpose-built Community Hall with an ancient 7th century Celtic Cross on display. It was found near the deserted village of A’Chill, a former township whose outline you can still trace. It also reminds me of the wee gift shop where you can pick up local arts and crafts, which make great souvenirs.

Much of Muck today is still very much a working farm. Its green pastures and well-kept fences are home to Luing cattle and Cheviot sheep. I stroll by ewes and their cute, shy wee lambs as I strike out across the island in search of the famous beach at Gallanach. En route pheasants dramatically bash by trying to show off and I listen for the call of the elusive corncrake. Muck’s traditional farming techniques have apparently drawn them back to the isle.

Lambs in Muck

The local waters are also alive with life. On my visits coming ashore and even walking around I’ve seen porpoises and dolphins, even a minke whale on the approach to Port Mor from the south. The isle also houses nesting puffins in summer and on this visit I spy as we sail away that flying barn door of the Scottish ornithologist scene – a mighty sea eagle. It circles high above being harried by a brace of nippy gulls. Its massive wingspan is a hindrance in close contact with the feisty and nimble gulls.

I hit the brow of the hill and the views really start. The rock spine of Eigg eases up from the cobalt waters and then Rum’s monstrous Cuillin mountains soar up like a rugged leviathan bursting out the Atlantic. It’s a picture-postcard scene that goes into overdrive when I reach the white sands of Gallanach. On this roasting afternoon they look positively Caribbean, though of course it should be the other way round as the Hebrides are millions of years older.


Muck though is no simple, wild abandoned island made to furnish postcards. I meet a family from the south of England who have booked a week here on a whim. Their wee boy is glad as he splashes about in the aquarium-clear waters and waves at the bountiful local seal population. His dad is appreciative too – “we knew it would be beautiful but it’s the fact that people manage not only to live here, but to thrive too, that has really surprised and impressed me. It’s like a window into another world.”

I push on around the white sands after a wee hop over to a tidal islet. A large farm stands between me and the island’s highest peak of Beinn Airein which only reaches 137m. Like many things with Muck that is not the whole story. It’s quite a challenge yomping up here across the rough grounds and then the views are sublime south to Mull and north towards the rest of the Small Isles and Skye. A farm worker takes time to chat about how the farm mixes traditional and modern methods for a “hybrid that works well here on an island with its unique needs.” Muck is the sort of island you just keep falling into conversations on.

Heading back to Port Mor, I wave goodbye to the dazzling white sands that are sure to get a decent amount of likes when I post them on social media. But as impressive is the spirit of the local community and the feeling of this being a lived in island that will most definitely draw me back for another visit. I’ll be bringing my Scottish Islands Passport app too (not forgetting to download the Muck entry so it works offline), which always adds richer layers to any island visit.

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