Fishing boat on the slip at Mallaig
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Fishing boat on the slip at Mallaig

Standing on the northwestern coast of Morar in Highland Council Area, Mallaig faces out over the Sound of Sleat to the Isle of Skye. It is the main west coast port and transport hub between Ullapool and Oban and represents the end of the West Highland Railway Line. Car ferries link Mallaig and Armadale on Skye and with the 'small islands' of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. A small passenger ferry serves Inverie across Loch Nevis, providing access for walkers to the Knoydart peninsula.

In 1746 Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed here on his flight from Skye. He would have been captured had he not hidden under a plaid at the bottom of his boat. Comprising only a few houses at that time, Mallaig subsequently developed with the building of a pier, the introduction of the railway and the development of the herring fishery. The local Laird, Lord Lovat, built the first pier in 1846 and paddle steamers began serving Portree and Stornoway from Mallaig almost as soon as the railway opened in 1901. By the 1880s, hundreds of tons of fish were being landed daily. Cured fish was exported at first by steamer and later by rail, which also permitted the transportation of fresh fish. By the 1960s Mallaig was the largest herring port in Europe, however a decline in fish stocks had a devastating effect and, although a fishing fleet still exists, it is now prawns, langoustine and lobsters that are the principal catch. The harbour remains significant, with a new fish market opening in 2007 and improved facilities for yachts created in 2011. The upgrade of the A830 road to Fort William, completed in 2009, also had a positive effect on the local economy.

Mallaig benefits from a primary school, post office, police station, fire station and a lifeboat station. The white-harled St Columba's Church overlooks the harbour and dates from 1903. Mallaig Heritage Centre opened in 1993. The hill of Cara a' Ghobhair rises about 3 miles (5 km) east of the village and gives splendid views of Lochs Morar and Nevis, and over the Sound of Sleat to Skye and Rum.

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