Mallaig, derived from old Norse “Mel Vik”, meaning sand dune bay.
While the Vikings, Lords of the Isles and Jacobite warriors lace the West Highlands with tales of legend, they seemed to be mere passing shadows to Mallaig itself. With the Rough Bounds – the inhospitable wilderness between Lochs Hourn and Shiel – separating Mallaig from the inland hubs of the Central Highlands, the bustling coastal hub that we see today was a fairly late arrival on the scene. Only really growing and flourishing in the mid-19th Century, the village would go on to become one of the herring capitals of Europe, with the fruit of the sea continuing to fuel the place to this day.
In 1841, merely a couple of dozen resided here, in lands owned by Lord Lovat. It was he who pushed them towards fishing as an occupation, with the idea rapidly taking off and the population soon multiplying. The railway found its way from Fort William, through those Rough Bounds, at the turn of the century, giving unprecedented access to new, international markets. Mallaig was on the map.
One of the main ferry hubs of the west coast, travellers from near and far surge onto boats headed for Knoydart, Skye, the Small Isles and even the Outer Hebrides. Chartered sails, wildlife cruises and bespoke fishing trips are also available from Mallaig pier. The calm pace of winter season is shattered as the population surges with visitors in the midst of their adventures. While we’d always encourage you to stick around for a bit and explore some of the many things to do in Mallaig, the excited energy of traveller anticipation is what makes the place tick.
The game-changing trainline continues to be a focal point, with daily comings and goings of both the Scotrail trains and the tourism big-hitter the Jacobite Express. A novelty since the 1980s, the iconic steam train puffs its way back and forward from the Fort during tourism season.
The excellent A830, the Road to the Isles itself, spans a spectacular one hour scenic drive from Fort William and ends in the village. Truly one of the great road trips of this land, explore our blog section for inspiration for things to get up to along the Road. Take your time, the magic is out there.
The main hub on this stretch of the coast, there is a small Co-op supermarket, fuel services, toilet and parking facilities. Not to mention a host of places to sleep, eat and drink, many of whom you’ll find within our membership. Locally-sourced seafood and traditional live music are particularly worth seeking out. And don’t be surprised if your ear catches a little passing Gaelic, it’s still proudly taught in the local schools. Mallaig is still at its heart a working fishing port and prides itself on its fresh catches including traditionally smoked kippers. The fishmonger Andy Race & Jaffy’s provide genuine oak smoked kippers from shops on the harbour.
You can also find a bank, pharmacy, bakery, art gallery, post office, bike hire and gift shops.