The Small Isles on the west coast of Scotland are a relatively off beat set of islands that each offer something different to each traveller. Eigg, Rum, Canna and Muck are small but surprising destinations but I’m not writing about these Scottish Islands on this post but rather looking to help you get there on the Small Isles Ferry.
I have been on this ferry numerous times when we visited friends who lived on the Island of Rum. We’ve done the journey at all times of the year too.
Updated February 2023 for the summer season!
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The phrase ‘it’s not the destination but the journey that counts’ can be used here for sure. Even on dreary winter days the ferry trip is a beautiful one with the Isle of Skye in the distance and the wonderful marine life to look out for. Whether you’re staying over on the islands or heading for a day trip it’s a really amazing journey.
I hope this article answers your questions about using the small isles ferry in both summer and winter.
Here’s some points that you need to know about the Small Isles Ferry:
- The Small Isles Ferry is run by Calmac, one of the main ferry operators in Scotland. A smaller boat runs from Arisaig during the summer months.
- There is a different timetable through the winter months but it generally runs all year
- Each days sailing is different and arrives at each island at different times. Not every day connects to every island.
- Low tides can affect the sailing times and landings through the year
- Bad weather and tide surges can also affect whether the boat can land. Muck often cannot be accessed in really stormy weather.
- It’s possible to island hop between the islands if you’re planning to stay over – will require some serious studying of the timetable!
West Highland Hotel, Mallaig
If you need a hotel in Mallaig before departing for any of the Small Isles this one could be a good option for you. Close to the ferry for ease on those early morning departures!
Book well in advance if you need a bed!
How to get to the Small Isles
You have two options to get to the Small Isles but both of them are ferries!
Calmac runs the main ferry from the port of Mallaig but in the summer months there’s also a smaller boat that can take you from Arisaig to the small isles.
Unless specified, the information in this article will relate to the Calmac ferry.
How long is the ferry journey?
This is not quite as straightforward to answer as you might expect.
Because the ferry goes to more than one island in a day and in a different order depending on the day, it can range from around 1 hour to 4+ hours.
If you’re flexible you should aim to take the ferry that has your intended island as one of the first stops. Otherwise it can be a long journey!
Here’s how the ferry goes currently:
Winter 22/23 timetable
- Mon: Mallaig > Eigg > Muck > Rum > Mallaig
- Tue: Mallaig > Rum > Canna > Rum > Mallaig
- Wed: Mallaig > Eigg > Muck > Eigg > Mallaig
- Thu: Mallaig > Rum > Canna > Rum > Mallaig
- Fri: Mallaig > Eigg > Muck > Eigg > Mallaig
- Sat: Mallaig > Rum > Muck > Eigg > Mallaig
- Sun: Mallaig > Canna > Mallaig (needs to be requested in advance)
Summer 2023 timetable
- Mon: Mallaig > Eigg > Rum > Canna > Rum > Eigg > Mallaig
- Tue: Mallaig > Muck > Eigg > Muck > Mallaig
- Wed: Mallaig > Rum > Canna > Rum > Mallaig
- Thu: Mallaig > Eigg > Muck > Eigg > Mallaig
- Fri: Mallaig > Muck > Eigg > Mallaig > Rum > Canna > Rum > Mallaig
- Sat: (Loch Nevis ferry ) Mallaig > Rum > Canna > Mallaig > Eigg > Rum > Canna > Mallaig
- Sat (Loch Brusda ferry)Mallaig > Muck > Eigg > Mallaig > Muck > Mallaig
- Sun: Mallaig > Rum > Canna > Mallaig > Eigg > Muck > Mallaig
What is the timetable?
I’m not going to reproduce the timetable here because there’s a lot of details there and it’s important that you get the information straight from the ferry company.
Be aware that there is a summer and a winter timetable for the Small Isles – winter has a much reduced service but still runs. If you’re travelling when the timetable changes – March and October – you’ll want to double check your times.
See the timetables here:
Can you do a day trip?
It is possible to do day trips to the Small Isles where you’ll get a few hours to explore one of the islands.
You can only do day trips on certain days to certain islands because the ferry does different routes each day – you’ll need to look at the timetables to check when you can. Not every days sailings allows day trips – familiarise yourself with the timetable and double check with Calmac if you’re not sure.
It’s worth remembering that bad weather can leave you stranded on the islands if the ferries get cancelled – keep abreast of any weather situation!
Please double check the timetables – what you’re looking for is the ferry arriving on an island twice on one day. Check the time you’ll have on the islands too to make sure it’s enough for you.
In winter 2022/2023:
- Rum – Tuesday and Thursday
- Eigg – Wednesday and Friday
In Summer 2023:
- Rum – Monday, Wednesday and Saturday
- Eigg – Monday and Thursday
- Canna – Saturday
- Muck – Tuesday and Saturday
We did a day trip to Canna one time and a couple of hours is plenty to have a small wander around, take in the small shop and explore the church.
Can you take cars?
Cars can use the small isles ferry but it’s limited to locals or those with a permit. There’s no real need for cars on the islands as they are so small.
Visitors to the Small Isles cannot take their cars on the ferry.
See below for information on parking in Mallaig before getting the ferry.
Do you need to book the ferry in advance?
It is currently recommended to book the small isles ferry in advance. You can call the Mallaig office to book.
How much is the ferry?
Prices correct as of February 2023 for the summer season
The ferry is fairly inexpensive since most people will be just foot passengers. Cycles are free. The actual cost depends on your island destination:
|Destination from Mallaig||Single (adult/child)||Return (adult/child)|
If you’re looking to take the ferry from Arisaig the prices in Summer 2022 were as follows (prices show adult/child fare and are for a return):
- Arisaig – Eigg: £20/£15
- Arisaig – Muck: £25/£15
- Arisaig – Rum: £30/£15
Car parking in Mallaig
If you’re coming to Mallaig and travelling to the Small Isles you’ll likely be leaving your car in the car park and wondering about the safety and cost of it.
There’s a really large car park as you enter Mallaig and just opposite the train station. Parking is free and there’s spaces for cars and also motorhomes.
It’s directly next to the police station so we’ve always felt safe leaving our car or camper van there while we’ve been away.
It’s a short walk to the ferry terminal. It’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to find a parking spot before your ferry departs! We’ve had a few close shaves over the years and it’s not fun!
Getting the train to Mallaig
If you don’t have a car and want to explore the small isles it’s really easy to get the train from Fort William to Mallaig (and you can pretend it’s the Harry Potter train as you ride over the Glenfinnan Viaduct!) and connect on to the ferry.
Some of the ferry departures coincide with a train arriving from Fort William (and subsequently the returns too). If you take a look at the timetable on Calmac’s site you can see there’s sometimes a time entered for the train departure – if you take this you should get into Mallaig at just the right time!
In summer there’s also train that goes from Glasgow, via Fort William, that will get your to Mallaig in time to take the ferry. Currently that’s on a Saturday – but do check when the 2023 timetable is released.
Unfortunately the steam train, the Jacobite, is a return only ride so if you’re planning a Small Isles visit you’ll need to get a regular (muggle) train.
About the Non-landing cruise – no longer available
There used to be a non landing cruise ticket that you could take in the summer months to enjoy the ferry ride without alighting at any of the islands and returning to Mallaig.
This is no longer available in 2023 as the company wanted to make sure there was enough tickets for locals.
If this changes and the ticket comes back I’ll update this section.
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