Mallaig is a port in Lochaber, on the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland. The local railway station, Mallaig, 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. In the census of 1851 the heads of many of these households already described themselves as "crofter-fishermen" and by 1861 fishing was obviously becoming more and more important, as no fewer than 18 "fishers" were recorded there. However, fishing in the 19th century was a hazardous business. Everything revolved around the shoals of herring, which could not be depended upon to turn up where they were expected. The local boats were too small to follow the fish further afield, so if the herring did not appear in Loch Hourn or Loch Nevis in July, hard times would follow. In November 1881 there was a combination of gale and high tide which carried away a number of boats and destroyed some of the houses built near to the sea.
This must have affected Mallaig and Mallaigvaig seriously because the population fell from 170 to 133 and the number of houses from 31 to 28 by 1891. Fortunately Lovat provided replacement boats and nets at his own expense and in 1882 the fishing was so successful that 'two steamers ran daily with fish to Oban, which raised the price per cran to 38 shillings, the highest on record in Loch Nevis'. The opening of the Oban railway in 1880 and its impact on fish prices must have registered strongly with Lovat and his tenants. If a railway to Oban could do this then imagine what the effect would be of a terminus in Mallaig itself!
The majority of the community speaks English, with a minority of residents speaking in both English and Gaelic. In addition, traditional Gaelic is still taught in the school to pupils who choose to learn the subject. (Courtesy of Mallaig Heritage Centre)