The island of whales and dolphins
The Isle of Muck’s name is said to come from the Gaelic Muc Mhara, ie the sea-pig, a generic name for dolphins and whales. From afar, dominated by its highest point, Beinn Arrainn, the island does indeed look like the curved back of a cetacean emerging out of the sea! The fact is that there are plenty of Whales and Dolphins coming to feed around the island in the summer months.
A productive landscape
Less rugged and much smaller and low lying than its neighbours of Eigg and Rum, Muck is on a more intimate and domestic scale. It also tends to get more sunshine! Yet its has plenty of wilderness, with rough coastal grassland, bird cliffs cliffs in the north, the uninhabited Eilean nan Each in the west, and numerous small bays, rocky inlets, and skerries providing great variety and interest on the south coastline. Inland, it is the green fields and fertile pastures that draw the eye, although areas of rough moorland and the stepped cliffs typical of the west coast’s volcanic islands are also common.This is a working hill farm and the landscape is shaped by the need to provide pastures and hay fields for the Luing cattle and the Lleyn, Cheviot and Jacob sheep as well as the pedigree Highland ponies. Well managed fields and arable cultivation also means a special attention paid to conservation farming: today, the corncrake has returned to the Muck hayfields.
No longer a treeless island
There is no natural woodland on Muck, 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. 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. Sitka Spruce have done very well, unlike Scots Pine and Norway Spruce unable to withstand the salt spray which, during severe gales, penetrates all parts of the island.
Bracken is not as prevalent on Muck as it is in other places, due to the cattle grazing over the centuries. But what is surprising is to find a few alpine plants growing 2,000 ft. below their usual level: Dwarf Juniper, Crowberry, Club Moss, Rose Root Sedum, Mountain Cats-Paw, Pyramidal Bugle
Gallanach and Port Mor, the island's 2 population centres
The farm and steadings are situated in Gallanach, historically the seat of the MacLeans of Muck. This part of the island is now a new hub of populations with a number of new houses built nearby. But further out, in Bagh, a reconstructed Blackhouse gives an impression of what the island townships would have looked like in the MacLeans’ time.
Muck population mainly resides in Port Mor, where most of the island population lived, especially when the land was cleared for sheep farming in the 19th century. The remains of the island’s most populated townships can be seen at A’Chill above the harbour. Today, Port Mor, (which means “the big harbour” in Gaelic) is where the school, the licensed café and the brand new community hall are situated. A highlight of any visit to Muck is definetly to enjoy the lovely harbour views whilst sampling the wholesome food, mostly produced on the farm or on the croft, and the delicious homebaking on offer.
A small but tenacious population
The population of Muck is currently about 38. The main demographic change has been the replacement of mainly Gaelic speaking West Highlanders by families from all over the UK, a trend similar to what is happening everywhere in the Highlands and Islands.
With so few people in the community, everyone joins in and works together to ensure things happen. Two years after building a fine community hall, the Muck Community Enterprise completed the electrification of the island in spring 2013, using wind turbines combined with solar panels, bringing at long last mains style electricity to each household, a very welcome and much awaited improvement!