“ A small island on the west coast of Scotland. The island is about two miles long by one mile wide. „
About 15 years ago when my children were small I was looking to find somewhere to take them on holiday which would give them an insight into a simple life, and to give them a holiday which would stay in their memories for ever. This was the dream, but the reality then was that with four children under 10 we were not able to leave Europe and search out a desert island somewhere, so we found an alternative that was to have lasting impact, and that would provide them with an experience many children would never even imagine in their wildest dreams.
The year was 1994 and the month was August. We had booked an adventure on The Island of Muck. I know many people reading this will wonder what planet I am on but it is a tiny island in the Small Isles off the coast of Mallaig in Scotland. I had found a cottage in the brochure "Country Holidays" and we had booked a two week escape from the world.
The Isle of Muck is just 2 miles long and one mile wide and is home to 38 people. In former times the population was greater, and in 1821 there were 320 people living there. It is believed that the island was occupied even as far back as Mesolithic times and artefacts have been found dating back to the Bronze Age. It has been in the MacEwen family for over a hundred years.
Now in those days we had never driven so far in our lives and had booked the train from Essex to Mallaig, but due to a rail strike we were forced to bundle the children into the car and head north for the 12 hour drive to where we were to catch the ferry. The journey seemed so long and the "are we nearly there yet" chorus from the back was deafening, but eventually after many stops and the passing back of party rings, packets of crisps and dare I tell you- "potties" we arrived at the fishing town of Mallaig.
We then pulled the car onto the quayside and started to unload and prepare for the crossing. Yes something else I haven't yet mentioned was that we were self catering and you guessed it there was no shop! We had dutifully sat and planned the menus for the two weeks and had brought several large boxes of food from home, and we then went to the local supermarket to stock up on fresh food. We then went to buy our tickets and finally to park the car safely in the car park because no cars are allowed on the island! So within a few minutes we were onboard the Cal Mac vessel bound first for Eigg, and then it was to deposit us on Muck 1 hour 40 minutes later. We felt like explorers as if we were starting out on an unique adventure in unchartered territory!
When we arrived at Eigg we were anchored outside the harbour and were amazed to see a flit boat coming out to meet the passengers who were disembarking. This set the stage for what was to be the beginnings of our adventure.
After a further 40 minutes or so we stopped at Muck and heard the announcement that we were to disembark, and we saw in the distance a small flit boat coming towards us. We looked on in amazement and horror and wondered how we were going to get across the sea onto this boat, in what was by then quite a rough swell! We were grabbed purposely and securely by the boat man and each of us made it, and we watched our boxes and bags as they dangled over the boat suspended in the air under a large Cal Mac crane and were eventually deposited to safety.
Subsequent visits we made to the island over many years which followed saw the holidays being accompanied by Molly our Shih Tzu who was also involved in this exercise and had to be passed over. That really freaked me out as I pictured her slipping overboard!
It wasn't over yet, the boat then sped off towards the main harbour called Port Mor past seals bobbing in the water and the endless call of gulls. Then we were told that the tides were wrong and we would have to transfer to a small rowing boat and after that it would be shoes and socks off to wade ashore. This we did and completed the magic journey. We were met by the owner of the island Lawrence who kindly loaded our bags and boxes onto his tractor and told us to have a welcome drink in the craft shop and tea room, before making our way to the cottage about a mile down the road.
We walked into the craft shop and were made to feel so welcome and eagerly consumed the best slices of chocolate cake we have ever eaten, and we then set off to walk the mile along the only real road on the island which connects the Port with the main farm at the other end at Gallanach Bay.
I have never in my life seen anything so beautiful as the scene which greeted us. The sun was as bright as you can imagine and the lush green fields were alive with sheep and there were hens walking along the road with us. The look on the faces of my children will stay in my mind forever. The sea was all around us to the right and as we walked the path Lawrence came past us with the tractor and pointed to the house we were going to be staying in.
I can't begin to tell you my feelings when I saw the view as we approached the house. It was perched high on a hill overlooking a gorgeous sandy bay. We opened a small creaking gate and commenced climbing the steps of which they numbered over 100 through a path surrounded on both sides by rich fuchsias. At the top the view was awe inspiring. The islands of Eigg and Rhum were in the distance and from the kitchen window the views were for ever.
For the rest of this review I will tell you about the island as it is today as we went back there in 2006. The cottage we rented all those years ago many times in succession is now in occupation, but I will tell you about some of the alternative houses which are just as lovely and one in particular which has breathtaking views.
You can walk wherever you like on Muck and the pleasures are endless. You have to remember though it is a working farm so if you have a dog you must keep it on a lead at all times, and you must also shut any gates you open. That being said the island is a children's paradise with cows who lie on beaches and seals who bask on the rocks in front of the houses. Wild mushrooms grow as big as saucers and we used to walk the hills and collect them cooking them on our return, the place is peaceful and the owners of the island make you feel so welcome. When we were there you could help with milking. My children spent hours and hours with buckets and spades and hours watching seals and porpoises in the bay.
The community spirit is very much one of each person helping each other and although MacEwen's make up a large percentage of the island they are often looking for families who feel they could make a contribution to life there. There is a school for infants and juniors, but secondary provision involves leaving the island and staying as a boarder with families on the mainland so it isn't for everyone.
Each night we were there we would sit outside and stare at the night sky which was incredible, you could see all the constellations and we even saw shooting stars. The garden of the house we stayed in was alive with toads and each night the children would go on a toad watch with torches!
On our last visit in 2006 we stayed in a cottage a short distance away called the "New House" (it isn't new its actually older than most on the island but is affectionately called this!) which is a lovely wooded house which reminds me of something from Enid Blyton's "Five Go Down To The Sea Stories". It is a house which can sleep up to 10 and you can choose to spend your nights in the attic! The views from here are superb.
If you go to www.isleofmuck.com you can see some photos of it and availability charts too. The other cottage which has a superb position is called Gallanach Cottage and although I haven't stayed there it has the most wonderful position on its own at the end of the bay and would also be a dream location.
There is also a cottage called Seileachean which is actually behind the one we stayed in all those years ago, this does not have the sea views the others do but is still a cosy retreat and was built after we stayed there in the nineties.
For those who love adventure there is also a yurt which you can stay in which is a Mongolian shelter currently £15 a night. This has camp beds and pillows provided and is in a secluded position. There is also bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation detailed on the website.
Walking on the island is so enjoyable and if you are feeling fit you can climb the only hill -Beinn Airein (at 451ft). At one end of Muck is a small island called Horse Island which you can visit at low tide. The children always loved this as they used to fear getting cut off!
Muck has no mains electricity and when we first went there the only power was using a diesel generator which was quite an experience. A few years ago the community started their own wind powered scheme, and they also now have a back up diesel generator which supplies the island. Since our first visit the island has a new pier built in 2005, thus making no further need to disembark at sea.
So yes times have moved on but the place and the island remains an escape from the rat race, and somewhere you can take a family to experience a glimpse of heaven. The craft shop does lovely food so you can eat out instead of cooking, and although there is no shop you can phone The Spar on the mainland in Arisaig and they will deliver anything for you by boat on the next regular sailing from Arisaig in the summer months only. Winter supplies come from the supermarket in Mallaig and are shipped on the Cal Mac ferry so if you have a sudden urge for a tomato or an avocado you can sort most things. Its funny but when we were there the first time you suddenly fancy all kinds of goodies you don't normally just because you can't easily get them! It didn't help either on our fist visit as we had brought far too many packets of dehydrated Bean Feast that we really were losing our appetites by the end of the holiday! Subsequent trips we took account of this and actually had more deliveries of fresh foods!
There is a doctor on the nearby island of Eigg which we used many times over our trips when one of our daughters had recurrent earaches. He would pop over in his inflatable dingy and if the weather was too rough antibiotics would be sent over by ferry having explained symptoms on the phone!
Even now all my children who are mostly grown up remember their holidays on Muck and my eldest son who now lives in Arizona went on a camping trip before he left and spent 3 days on a remote beach on Muck with just himself and the seals for company.
The holiday is a great place to take a family and one which I feel has been the highlight of my children's memories. The simple pleasures, days spent basking in the sun with little buckets of shells, or peeking out of casement windows at angry seas has cemented in their and our memory a very special place where the friendliness of the people and the wildness of the coastline marry to make a very special place which words can't adequately portray. Quite simply this is a paradise off our own shores.
www.calmac.co.uk-cost for a return per person on the ferry £15.90.Freight charges apply for boxes of food.
This review is also posted on Ciao by myself under the user name Violet1278.