404am Morar to Mallaig

[This walk took place on the 23rd May 2019]

It’s always good to start a walk with no preliminary journey to make, so I have a great sense of satisfaction this morning when I hitch my rucksack on my back, step out of my very-overpriced hotel in Morar, and set off down the road.

Morar is a significant village and, although it doesn’t have a shop, it does have a railway station and a school. Close to the school is a zebra crossing, with a bright orange sign. “Drivers MUST give way at Zebra Crossings.”

I’ve never seen such a sign before and I wonder who this instruction is intended for? Impatient locals? Or foreign tourists who don’t understand zebra crossings?

Today the school is shut because it’s the day of European Parliament elections and the building is being used as a polling station. It seems very quiet – no queues of voters.

I leave the houses behind, and soon reach the end of the little road that runs through the centre of Morar. Now it’s time to join the A830 and head towards Mallaig.

Mallaig is a ferry port and a stepping stone to Skye and the smaller islands of Eigg, Muck and Rum.  I was worrying about how I would cope with traffic on this busy stretch of road… but I needn’t have been concerned. It’s still early and the traffic hasn’t built up yet. Also, there is a pavement!

I haven’t got very far along the road when a small car comes up behind me, pulls over to my side of the road, and an elderly lady winds down the window.

‘I saw you looking at my ram back there. No need to worry.’ I must have looked bemused, because she continues, ‘It’s common for sheep to shed their fleeces this time of year. I know he looks a mess, but he’s alright really.’

I’m not a morning person, and I’m still half asleep, so I actually have no recollection of seeing her ram. But, having kept sheep myself, I know they can look very raggedy in the spring. I reassure her that I have no concerns about her ram’s welfare.

She drives off, and I continue walking down the road. It’s a dull day, with spit-spots of rain falling from time to time. I’m about a mile inland from the sea and, without any further distractions, I walk quickly and make good progress.

Round a lazy bend and – ah – there’s the sea at last. I must be getting close to Mallaig.

Oh, look, there’s one of the ferries. Presume it’s heading for the port in Mallaig. Wonder where it’s come from?

This morning, over breakfast at the hotel, one of my fellow guests was telling me he and his wife had spent a day on Eigg and walked right around the island. Sounded lovely. (One day, when I’ve finished my circuit of the mainland, I really must return and visit some of the islands.)

I pass an emergency helicopter landing place. I guess if you are unlucky enough to be taken ill on Eigg (or Rum, or Muck) you might have to be airlifted to the mainland. I wonder how often it is used?

There are quieter roads, just off this one, on my right, and I can see driveways and residential houses. I begin to meet people. Cyclists. Dog walkers. Joggers. This man is wearing a T shirt that claims he has completed 52 marathons in 52 weeks. Crikey!

I’ve reached Mallaig. The road runs right next to the railway station and leads directly to the ferry port.

I watch the line of cars queuing for the ferry. From the size of this ship, I think this one must be going to Skye.

Skye. It’s tempting…

The next part of the coast is tricky and includes the peninsula of Knoydart – which I know is very isolated and has no road access. It will be a logistical challenge, and I haven’t yet worked out how to tackle it. I know some  previous coastal walkers have caught the ferry over to Skye instead, and then walked up the island, before rejoining the mainland via the bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh.

Yes tempting. And I wouldn’t have to worry about Knoydart. But would it be cheating to miss out Knoydart? I’m not sure.

Anyway, today I’m just going to enjoy wandering through Mallaig. It’s the biggest coastal town since… well since Oban, I suppose, if I don’t count Fort William.

This sign catches my eye. At first I think someone has simply altered the £40 to £80, just as many of the road signs in the Highland have had additions or amendments added. Then I realise the poster was deliberately printed with this correction.

The weather has turned really dull, and I don’t get many decent photographs of Mallaig. Shame. It’s very touristy, with a multitude of coffee shops and gift shops. But still quite a pretty place really.

The harbour is larger than I realised, with a variety of private boats, cruising boats, and ferries of all sizes.

I walk past the harbour and continue to follow the road around the bay. Mallaig seems to be divided into two sections. I’m leaving the touristy part behind, and heading for a more sedate residential area.

At the other side of the bay, as the road begins to rise above the shore, someone has provided a ‘Viewpoint’ sign. It shows the various landmarks you can see across the water. Eigg, Rum, the Sleat Peninsula on Skye, and the Cuillin hills, also on Skye. The problem is…

… you can’t see any of these things today. The clouds hang low, and all I can see is a band of rain!

Onwards. The road rises up and I walk through a park area and then along residential streets…

… until I reach the end of the houses. Here the road narrows and climbs up a steep hill. A very steep hill.

I puff my way up. The weather clears momentarily, and from the top I get a good view. At first I think I’m looking over to Knoydart – the next wild peninsula on the mainland. But, no, I realise it’s Skye.

Ah, so now I really can see Skye. I feel a thrill of excitement because it’s my first proper glimpse of the island. Didn’t realise it had such high mountains.

Further along the road, I see some signs for a circular walk. This walking route would take me up and back along the slope of the hill behind Mallaig. I’m tempted to leave the road – it’s all been road walking so far today.

But the circular route would take me inland and back to the main part of the town, and I still have some coastal walking to do. Maybe on the way back…

I pass scattered houses. Mainly holiday homes, I think. The road dips down, and I know it will come to a dead-end soon at a place called Mallaig Bheag. But, if my map is right, at the end of the road I can pick up a track to take me a little further along the coast.

There, ahead, I think, I can see the line the track makes as it climbs up the next hill.

I reach the turning space at the end of the public road and, yes, there is the track continuing onwards. A very beat-up old car – missing most of its bumpers – seems to have been dumped at the entrance to the track.

What a shame to dump a car here. I walk around the old car, and begin to follow the track up the slope. This is better. It’s good to leave the tarmac behind.

The track is rutted and gouged in places, but provides me with a gorgeous walk, sometimes through trees and sometimes through clearings with great views across the water below.

At the top of a rise I can see some buildings on the opposite shore. Check my map. Yes, I’m looking down Loch Nevis and over there is the settlement on Knoydart called Inverie. Low clouds hang over the high ground, giving the illusion of flatness.

Sadly, I’m about to run out of track. It dips down into a river valley, almost to sea level, at a place called Mallaigmore. (Mallaigmore is, I think, a single farmhouse.)

Across the valley are the ruins of farm cottages. I know the track peters out there. Other coastal walkers – far braver than me – have attempted to follow the trackless shore beyond the cottages and walk all the way along the southern side of Loch Nevis. But I’m not going any further than this.

In fact, I turn back just before I reach Mallaigmore itself, not wanting to disturb anybody in their private residence, and follow the track back towards the road.

Just before I reach the road, I hear the roar of an engine. The old, beat-up car with most of its bumper missing, is grinding up the slope towards me. I have to flatten myself against the rocks to allow it to come past. The driver winds down the window and we have a brief chat. Unlike the rude farmer yesterday, he seems quite happy for me to be walking along his track.

As he drives off, he tells me not to worry about the dog. The dog? Yes, following the vehicle is a dog, running at some speed and with it’s tail wagging. I’d be more worried about the car with pieces missing. Is it even roadworthy?

When I reach the junction with the public road, I see a newish car is parked at the end of the track, and I realise the driver I’ve just met has two cars. One is for driving along public roads. The other is for driving up his rutted track.

I reach Mallaig and decide it’s time for lunch. But the place, which was quiet when I walked through earlier, is heaving with people. I realise a large group are just exiting the station – a train must have arrived. I make a quick dash for the nearest café and manage to secure a table before dozens of people descend on the place. A queue of disappointed would-be diners soon builds up.

Later, after a good meal, I wander through the station. Ah, this is the reason why Mallaig is suddenly so busy. The steam train (aka the Hogwarts Express) has arrived.

I was going to catch the train back to Morar, but the proper scheduled service doesn’t run for a while, so I decide to catch the bus instead. I take a few more photos of the train.

There is a single gentleman waiting at the bus stop and he’s wearing walking gear too. We get chatting. Turns out he is staying in the same hotel, and we both agree it is overpriced. He’s only up for a few days. I tell him he’s lucky, I’ve booked an entire week!

It was only a short walk today, but I’m pleased to have achieved a major milestone by reaching Mallaig.

This walk = 7 miles
Total around coast = 4,203.5 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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11 Responses to 404am Morar to Mallaig

  1. jcombe says:

    I posted my provisional plan for Knoydart on your previous walk so I’ll not repeat it, but thought it might perhaps be useful to you. But I’m not planning to do that part of the coast until next year anyway now so I have time to change plans! But either way it’s tricky.

    I share the same view with the islands. If I go to do all the islands it will take about a decade to finish the coast. So sadly I’ve concluded I’m going to concentrate on the mainland for now and then come back and do most (or hopefully all) of the islands once I’ve done the mainland. Though if you can do Eigg in a day (and Muck perhaps, too) then I think I will do that whilst in Mallaig.

  2. Pam Ley says:

    We stayed at a lovely guesthouse in Mallaig, the local chemist and his wife ran it…Had to call in his pharmacy next day, after walking through countryside the previous evening, you’d have thought I had the Black death….absolutely covered in midge bites including all over my face!….. We’ve also stayed at the Morar hotel, years ago. Back then it was run by a MacLeod….dour Scot describes him well! It’s a lovely part of Scotland and loving the photos. The Cuillins are even darker and overpowering up close.

    • I could only book the hotel because everywhere else was full, or could only offer the odd day, which didn’t suit me. Yes, the midges were pretty atrocious during this trip too. They really do spoil the highlands.

  3. theresagreen says:

    It may only have been a short walk but packed with character and quirkiness. I love your accounts of your encounters with local people as well as the wonderful scenery.

  4. Karen White says:

    A great account of your walk. I remember the Cuillins of Skye even though I must have been very young when I saw them. I’d choose doing Skye over Knoydart simply because it’s so beautiful but the other thing I remember is the midges, they were horrendous!
    I’m very envious that you keep seeing the ‘Hogwarts Express’ as I’m a big HP fan.

  5. R Webb says:

    Some interesting non compliant signs there. Of course the illegal no camping sign instructions are enforced by the midges

  6. jcombe says:

    I did the rest of this walk (from Morar to Mallaig centre today). A bit of a boring road walk really but at least there was a pavement for this bit and some nice views.

    I used that ferry last year to re-locate from Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallaig. If you time it right for the ferry it’s much quicker to drive from Kyle of Lochalsh to Armadale on the Isle of Skye and then take the ferry to Mallaig. It saves a good hour! It is surprising how long it takes to drive between two places that are geographically quite close as the roads go miles inland to Fort William and back.

    I managed to see the “Harry Potter” train at the station too. In fact due to the train guards being on strike on Sunday and no Scotrail trains I had asked West Coast Railways, the operator of that train if they allowed local passengers between Mallaig and Arisaig in the hope I could use that train instead (there being no buses on Sunday and no replacement buses for the cancelled trains). They told me they did and I could buy a ticket from the guard on the platform but it was only permitted in one direction (why?!). However when I asked about the fare they told me it would still be their “standard fare” of £49, the price of a return ticket on this train between Fort William and Mallaig even though I was only doing about 10% of the distance! I declined their “offer” and did another walk further south then instead where I hadn’t planned to use public transport anyway.

    • Oh, it never occurred to me to take the ferry! What a good idea. As for that train ride – shame they couldn’t cut you a deal with the fares. What a wonderful experience that would have been.

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