Approaching Mallaig harbour from the Isle of Skye
Mallaig is a port on the west coast of mainland Inverness-shire. The local railway station is the terminus of the West Highland railway line (Fort William & Mallaig branch), completed in 1901, and the town is linked to Fort William by the A830 road – the "Road to the Isles".
The village of Mallaig was founded in the 1840s, when Lord Lovat, owner of North Morar Estate, divided up the farm of Mallaigvaig into seventeen parcels of land and encouraged his tenants to move to the western part of the peninsula and turn to fishing as a way of life. The population and local economy expanded rapidly in the 20th century with the arrival of the railway. Ferries operated by Caledonian MacBrayne and Bruce Watt Sea Cruises sail from the port to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, Inverie in Knoydart, and to the isles of Rùm, Eigg, Muck, and Canna. Mallaig is the main commercial fishing port on the west coast of Scotland, and during the 1960s was the busiest herring port in Europe. Mallaig prided itself at that time on its famous traditionally smoked kippers but today only one traditional smokehouse remains, Jaffy's and Sons. Mallaig and the surrounding area is a popular area for holidays.
Mallaig has extensive distance learning facilities allowing the local population access to all forms of education from leisure classes to university degrees through Lochaber College and the UHI Millennium Institute. The College is one of the most successful of its kind in Britain, with over 8% of the local population accessing its facilities. The college has published a PDF version of the 19th Century Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands report. Recently the Learning Centre has opened a Marine specific vocational centre and is at the forefront of developing Marine Certification courses for fishermen, as well as being a RYA certified centre.
Mallaig has a High School, opened in 1989 (however previously a secondary school existed in a slightly different location before this.) which caters for Mallaig, neighbours Morar and Arisaig, along with the nearby "Small Isles" Eigg, Rùm, Muck, Canna and finally for the nearby Knoydart Peninsula. The school has increasing numbers of pupils from the Small Isles, and as daily travel from home to school is impossible, these pupils are boarded in the schools Hostel.
Mallaig has several restaurants, cafes, and takeaways along with a community run Swimming Pool and Leisure centre. The main focus is on the tourist trade during the summer, however some are open all year round like the swimming pool and An Cala. It also has two hotels lots of self-catering accommodation and several guest houses scattered around the town.
There are two banks and three pubs. The village centre is compact and sits close to the harbour and railway station, with residential areas beyond to the south and east of the harbour. Most of the retail premises are in the main street, or on Davies Brae, which runs south from the village centre. The swimming pool is located at the high point of the village on Fank Brae.
There are also a couple of small minimarkets, and gift shops. An art gallery sells work by local artists. A small bookshop on Davies Brae offers a good range of books including an extensive Scottish history and heritage choice. A heritage centre next to the railway station is based around old photographs of the locality, but as Mallaig has only existed during the age of photography this offers a good introduction to the history and heritage of the locality. There are Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland churches, and also a Fishermen's Mission facility run by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. A small petrol station with restricted opening times is located near the harbour.
The West Highland Line links Mallaig railway station by rail to Fort William, Oban and Glasgow. The line was voted the top rail journey in the world by readers of independent travel magazine Wanderlust in 2009, ahead of the iconic Trans-Siberian and the Cuzco to Machu Picchu line in Peru. The four hour trip to Dumbarton Central railway station passes through spectacular scenery including seascapes, lochsides, mountain and moorland terrain, and offers views of Loch Lomond, the Gare Loch, Rannoch Moor, Ben Nevis, Glenfinnan and Glen Shiel, and Loch Eil to name just a few. The line also runs along the Clyde between Helensburgh and Glasgow and offers views across the estuary.
In the summer the town is also visited by the Jacobite steam train service from Fort William.
Sheil Buses operate a bus service from Mallaig to Fort William connecting to the villages en route. A bus service is also provided south along the A861 to the villages of Acharacle and Strontian.
Mallaig is an important ferry port and there are regular ferry services to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, a thirty-minute sailing. There is also a daily service to the Small Isles of Canna, Rùm, Eigg and Muck, although the timetable, itinerary and calling points differ from day to day. Calmac also offers a non-landing ticket which allows a visitor to cruise the Small Isles and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
In addition, a local ferry service owned by former lifeboatman Bruce Watt sails daily to Inverie in Knoydart, a very remote village, and also calls by prior arrangement (easily made) at Tarbet in Morar, a location that is only accessible by sea. This service also offers a non-landing cruise through scenic Loch Nevis.
Mallaig as a filming location
The Mallaig railway was used during the filming of the Harry Potter series of films, and the Hogwarts Express could often be seen in the summer during periods of filming. Many other local areas were used for location filming.
- Anon. "Mallaig and its story". Mallaig Heritage Centre. http://www.mallaigheritage.org.uk/exhibit/mallaig.htm. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
- Anon (2007). "The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands". Lochaber College e-library. Lochaber College. http://www.highland-elibrary.com/. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
- "Glasgow to Mallaig: Great Train Journeys". Daily Telegraph. 4 March 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/journeysbyrail/9907006/Glasgow-to-Mallaig-Great-Train-Journeys.html.