Mallaig and the Road to the Isles
Photo courtesy of the the official Road to the Isles web site
A 45-mile drive north-west of Fort William, the port of Mallaig on the rugged west coast of Scotland is the ideal base from which to explore all the magnificent scenery of the area, plus the Small Isles and Skye.
This part of the famous West Highland Line is said to be the most scenic train journey in Scotland.
A Mathieson Photography sells lots of photos and postcards of the Jacobite and other trains on the West Highland Line
The Jacobite steam train is operated by a private company during the summer for a spectacular ride. The morning service (departs Fort William 10.15am) runs Monday to Friday from 9 May to 28 October 2016, plus Saturdays and Sundays from 18 June to 18 September. The afternoon service (departs Fort William 2.30pm) runs Monday to Friday from 16 May to 26 August 2016. Click here for details. These tickets must be booked in advance via the train operator - telephone 0844 850 4685 or 01524 732100 or book online.
Photo copyright A Mathieson Photography
The summer ferry runs 6 or 7 times a day (including some Sundays at the height of the season) between Mallaig and Armadale on the Isle of Skye. The winter service is more limited. Journey time: 25 minutes. Vehicle reservation required. Bikes are carried free of charge.
Also from Mallaig, there is a ferry which visits the Small Isles.
Over the winter there is a vehicle ferry service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale on South Uist (this operates from 29 November 2014 to 31 March 2015)
The official Caledonian Macbrayne website lists the current timetables and prices in detail. Tel: 0800 066 5000 for vehicle reservations.
In the summer, you can get combined bus/ferry tickets from Fort William to Mallaig and then cruise to the Small Isles for a day trip. View the CalMac cruise options for details.
Alexander Mathieson is a local photographer specialising in photos and postcards for sale featuring the wonderful scenery along the Road to the Isles from Fort William to Mallaig, plus the Small Isles, steam trains, ferries and pictures of Highland transport.
Scotland Made Easy can plan a customised itinerary for a self-drive tour to suit your interests, budget and time available. They will book you into recommended accommodation where you are assured of quality, comfort and hospitality - usually in 4 star B&Bs in Scottish homes. Optional 'specials' include a night in a castle, church, lighthouse, country mansion, etc.
Whether you have already decided which places you want to visit or if you haven't a clue where to start, Scotland Made Easy will advise and take care of all the planning for you.
Car hire is available from J.I.M. Motor Vehicles, Harbour Building, The Pier, Mallaig - telephone: 01687 462 211.
Cycle hire is available from West Coast Cycles - the bikes can be collected at the Arisaig Hotel or the Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre. Mobile 07769901823.
Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre offers sea kayaks, sit on top kayaks and Canadian canoes for hire by the day or week. Tuition, coaching and guiding available. Telephone 07858 214 985.
Sea-kayak Arisaig specialises in providing sea-kayaks to groups and individuals for multi-day hire. Training and guiding available. Based at Glenuig Inn. Tel: 0795 735 6099.
My travellers' tips file may also be useful if you are planning a trip to Scotland. It covers airlines, national car hire, train information, maps, accommodation web sites, etc.
Local Events & News
- For events listings, see the Road to the Isles web site.
- For local news, read the local community newspaper West Word which has monthly reports from this area and the islands.
Mallaig is a small fishing port overlooking the Sound of Sleat which separates the mainland from the Isle of Skye. In the past, millions of herring were landed here, but today it sees Europe's largest catches of prawns.
It is at the end of the Road to the Isles and is an ideal place to stop overnight if you are catching the ferry to Armadale on Skye. It is worth staying a little longer to take a cruise to the Small Isles.
Mallaig is the end of the scenic railway line from Fort William. Next to the train station is the Mallaig Heritage Centre which explains all you need to know about the history of the local fishing industry and the building of the famous West Highland railway line. It includes a multimedia display, film show, lifeboat exhibition, gift shop and model railway.
When the fishing boats have just come in with their catches, you might see some seals in the harbour looking for the odd fish that could come their way.
When on boats in this region, I have seen alsorts of marine creatures including minke whales, dolphins and porpoises, so you stand a good chance of seeing some interesting wildlife here.
MV Western Isles has regular sailings to the Knoydart peninsula. In the summer months, it also offers 1-hour wildlife cruises from Mallaig. You may spot seabirds, seals, dolphins, porpoises, eagles, basking sharks, minke whales.
Knoydart Seabridge has regular sailings to the Knoydart peninsula so you can take a day trip by boat (or stay longer if you wish).
Sea.Fari Adventures offers scheduled boat trips from Mallaig (as well as Armadale on Skye) to cruise around the Small Isles and Loch Nevis (Knoydart) and go whalespotting. Contact Peter Fowler. Tel: 01471 833316 / Mobile: 0797 3509387.
Just 1.5 miles past Mallaig is Nevis Bank, 4 star self catering cottage overlooking a quiet beach opposite the Isle of Skye.
The Mallaig and Morar Highland Games are usually early in August.
MORAR (3 miles south of Mallaig)
Morar is the ideal place to watch the steam engines go past on the West Highland Line and admire the views of the Small Isles. The cross erected at the viewpoint commemorates the opening of the present church.
Morar is particularly famous for its spectacular silver sands where the movie "Local
Hero" starring Burt Lancaster was filmed in the 1980s.
Photo copyright Joanne Mackenzie-Winters August 1999.
Photo copyright Joanne Mackenzie-Winters August 1999.
Close by is Loch Morar where some of the movie Rob Roy was filmed. Twelve miles long and a thousand feet deep in places, it is the deepest fresh water loch in Europe. Here you can hire boats and canoes or try your hand at trout fishing. The loch is said to be the home of a monster called Morag. Sightings date back to at least 1887, but the most famous incident took place in 1969 when a creature bumped into a boat. The occupants reported that it was 25-30 feet long and had 3 humps. The loch was surveyed by a team from London University several times during the 1970s and 3 sightings were made, but no photographs taken. In 1990 several people saw an unidentified object in the loch, so be sure to have your camera ready just in case she pops her head up out of the water.
The English composer Arnold Bax was a regular guest at the Morar Hotel in the 1930s and amongst other works wrote much of his last five symphonies there. The Morar Hotel provides accommodation and incorporates the Silver Sands Restaurant. Regular music events.
ARISAIG (8 miles south of Mallaig)
Famous for its golden beaches and views of the Small Isles.
Arisaig Marine runs cruises giving you between 2 and 5 hours ashore on the islands of Eigg, Muck and Rum. The MV Sheerwater operates daily timetables from late April until late September, departing Arisaig at 11am. Tel: 01687 450224. The harbour office also contains a tea room, showers, toilets, shop and a laundrette.
The Land, Sea and Islands Centre was opened in 1999 in what used to be an old smiddy in the middle of the village. The Centre includes a viewing room overlooking the Small Isles, a souvenir shop, artefacts on crofting and fishing, a rebuilt forge, wildlife exhibitions and information about wartime activities in the village when Arisaig House and other buildings in this area were used as by the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during the Second World War. You will also find out about Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Warrior Queen and local legends. Admission is free for 2012 (donations are welcome). Opening times this summer are Monday - Friday 10:00 - 18:00, and Saturday 10:00 - 16:00. Telephone 01687 450771.
Astley Hall has a varied programme of events thoughout the year including music, drama and special events.
The Arisaig Highland Games take place in July each year.
The beach at Camusdarach was featured in the BBC TV series 'Monarch of the Glen' and in the film 'Local Hero'. Now licensed for weddings, so you can get married on the beach!
Photo copyright Traigh Golf Course
The Traigh Golf Course is situated between Morar and Arisaig.
It is a 9 hole course, par 68, SSS 65.
Visitors are welcome 7 days a week, and golf clubs can be hired at the clubhouse.
LOCH NAN UAMH (south-east of Arisaig)
Photo courtesy of the Road to the Isles web site
LOCHAILORT (halfway between Arisaig and Glenfinnan)
Here, Inverailort Castle was the headquarters for 42 Commando during World War 2.
Photo copyright A Mathieson Photography
There is also a railway museum here at the picturesque train station, plus a dining car and carriage where you can stay overnight. Tel: 01397 722 295.
The Glenfinnan Highland Games are held in mid-August.
Glenfinnan Brewery was officially opened in 2007 (tel: 01397 704309).
Visit the Glenfinnan Community web site for local info.
Take a cruise on Loch Shiel onboard the M.V. Sileas departing from Glenfinnan or Acharacle from April to October. Special events include evening cruises and ceilidh cruises. Follow the signs from the road to the Glenfinnan House Hotel. To check sailing times, phone 01687 470322. Visit the Loch Shiel Cruises web site for further info.
Photo copyright A Mathieson Photography
FORT WILLIAM AND THE WEST HIGHLAND LINE
SAIL OVER THE SEA TO SKYE
Why not take the ferry from Mallaig over to Armadale on the Isle of Skye? There are 6 or 7 sailings a day in the summer.
THE SMALL ISLES
Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna can be visited on cruises from Mallaig and Arisaig. See my page on the Small Isles for details.
The remote peninsula of Knoydart is one of the last great wildernesses in Britain and is only accessible by boat. The Old Forge in Inverie is mainland Britain's most remote pub - it serves good food and drink.
Knoydart Seabridge and MV Western Isles (tel: 01687462233 / 07939386330) are the main regular services by boat from Mallaig to Inverie and they can take you over for a day trip, or you can arrange accommodation in Knoydart and stay longer.
There is a holiday business at Doune, which incorporates accommodation, boat charter, outdoor activities and a restaurant. They take people around the Small Isles and all over the Hebrides.
Tom McClean's remote Highland Adventure Centre on the other side of Loch Nevis offers a bunkhouse base for canoeing, diving, fishing, climbing, hiking, orienteering, clay pigeon shooting, camping, etc. Ideal for sports clubs, school groups, scout groups, etc. You need to bring your own qualified instructor(s) with you. Expeditions can be made in Knoydart. Tel: 01687 462 274.
Accommodation in Knoydart includes:
- Lochside Bed and Breakfast offers accommodation at Inverie. 2 bedrooms. Contact Elaine & Paul Williams. Tel: 01687 462961 / Mob: 07958588127.
- Sandaig Cottage - self catering for 6+ at Sandaig bay just a few metres from the sea, and set in 400 acres of private land (4 miles from the village of Inverie).
For more information about Knoydart including transport and accommodation there, visit the Knoydart Foundation web site.
This ruggedly beautiful area is the most westerly place on the mainland and well worth a visit - click here.
Books & Maps
If you intend to go hiking, particularly in the hills, you will need the scale of maps provided by the Landranger series produced by the Ordnance Survey which is the official map agency of the UK. These can be purchased via Amazon in the UK:
Arisaig and Morar: A History
Arisaig and Morar, known in Norse and Gaelic as the "river-mouth bay" and the "great water". Book by Denis Rixson - a well known expert on the history of the West Highlands who has published several other local books.
. Paperback. 160 pages. Published in July 2002..
Order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Iron Road to the Isles
(A Travellers' and Tourists' guide to the West Highland Lines)
A user-friendly guide to the famously scenic West Highland railway routes: Glasgow to Fort William, Mallaig and Oban. Reprinted in 2009.
Featuring detailed one inch to the mile maps of the route accompanied by an entertaining commentary by Michael Pearson.
Features a historic introduction plus a Gazetteer of all the places served on the line, together with information on accomodation, eating out, shopping, things to do and places to visit. Superb colour photographs.
Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk
The Road to the Isles Marketing Group
Details on dozens of local B&Bs, guest houses,
Areas covered include Mallaig, Arisaig, Morar,
Self Catering Accommodation
Selection of log cabins & cottages ranging from 1 to 6 bedrooms.
Web site with virtual tours and instant online booking.
Also see Accommodation in Fort William & Area
Hostel / Camping / Caravans
- Sheena's Backpackers Lodge at Harbour View has mixed sex dorms (bedding provided) for 12 people, cooking facilities and lounge. Located close to the railway station ferry terminal. Tel: 01687 462764. The Tea Garden cafe and restaurant serves food all day.
- Sunnyside is a family-run, 4 star Touring and Camping Site on a croft by the sea, just 2 miles north of Arisaig village. Suitable for touring caravans, motorhomes, campervans and tents. 40 touring pitches all with the option of electric hook up. Hard standings and grass pitches for tents. Toilet and shower block, laundry room, dishwashing area, shop selling basic provisions, recycling, chemical waste disposal point, Wi-Fi. Tel: 01687 450643.
- Camusdarach camping/caravan site is 4 miles north of Arisaig on the old coastal road. Just 3 minutes walk from the famous sandy beach used in the film 'Local Hero'. Facilities include midge-eater machines, a toilet and shower block, laundry with washing and drying machines, washing-up areas and facilities for the disabled and babies. 42 pitches and 16 electric hook-ups. Green Tourism Gold Award. Open from March 15th to October 15th. Self catering properties also available. Tel: 01687 450221.
- Invercaimbe Caravan & Campsite is 1.5 miles north of Arisaig on the old coastal road to Mallaig (8 miles). Facilities include a payphone, a shower and toilet block, laundry room and facilities to wash dishes. Electrical hook-ups available. The croft has a beach front location and features Highland Ponies and Cattle. Open from Easter to October. Self catering properties also available. Contact Joyce and Ruaridh Ormiston. Tel: 01687 450375 / Mobile: 07919872309.
- Kinloid Farm campsite & caravans near Arisaig. Tel: 01687 450366.
Where to eat
Meals are available in Mallaig at the Marine Hotel and West Highland Hotel, also The Fish Market Restaurant (Station Road)
The Cornerstone Restaurant on the Main Street has a good reputation for fresh seafood.
Take-away food is available from the Spar shop and The Cabin café.
In Morar, meals are available at the Silver Sands Restaurant in the Morar Hotel.
In Arisaig, meals are available at the Arisaig Hotel and Old Library Lodge.
In Glenfinnan, meals are available at Flora's Restaurant at The Prince's House Hotel (tel: 01397 722246) and also The Dining Car at Glenfinnan Station (tel: 01397 722300).
For lots of local information, visit the official Road to the Isles web site
A Mathieson Photography has photos of Mallaig, Arisaig, Glenfinnan, steam trains, etc.