WITHIN MINUTES OF ARRIVING on the north side of Muck, we spotted several basking sharks lazily swimming around the rocky coastline. Feeling that this was a good omen, I looked forward to a weekend of excellent scenic diving.
I was with a group of keen divers who call themselves Rebel Alliance. Many of them are from Edinburgh. They regularly dive Scottish waters, and the Small Isles is among their favourite destinations.
Situated off the north-west coast of Scotland, the Small Isles consists of four small islands: Eigg, Rhum, Muck, Canna and the tiny island of Sanday, the last two usually being counted as one.
Muck, where we were going to be based, is one of the smaller islands in the group. Measuring only two miles by one, it has a population of just 35.
The name is thought to derive from the Gaelic muc mara, meaning “sea-pig” or porpoise, and these are often seen around its shores.
We had left the tiny village of Lochaline earlier that morning, and were headed north up the Sound of Mull and out towards the Small Isles aboard Peregrine, a Lochaline charter-boat.
These boats have been working the waters in this north-western corner of Scotland for many years, skippered by Dave Fergusson and Alan Livingstone. However, last year Alan retired, leaving Peregrine in the equally able hands of new co-owner Malcolm McNeill.
Lochaline Charters offers three dives a day on its boats, so there is the opportunity for a lot of diving over the course of a long weekend.
On the way out to Muck we dropped in on the Bo Fascadale wall. This lies a couple of miles north of Fascadale Bay, on the north side of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Many divers visit the Sound of Mull each year, and for frequent visitors who want something outside
the sound this amazing site is a popular choice. It’s worth the extra time it takes to get there.
We dropped in and headed east, down to the vertical wall studded with brightly coloured jewel anemones, which then plummets to more than 50m.
Nudibranchs hang on tightly, seeming to defy the surging waters effortlessly, while large shoals of pollack and saithe rove up and down the wall.
Varied shades of dead men’s fingers, white through to saffron, decorate it, poking their stubby fingers out to catch the swirling currents.
Climbing back on board to find that the wind would be on the west side of the islands the following day, it was decided to dive Eagamol, close to the west coast of Muck, while we had the opportunity.
As we arrived, we could see large seals launching themselves off the rocks into the clear water, disturbed from their siesta by Peregrine’s noisy engines.
Although considerably smaller than Bo Fascadale, this wall is dotted with anemones, and home to a variety of life, including different types of seastar, large velvet crabs, sponges and sea-squirts.
Leopard-spotted gobies sit on little sandy ledges, disappearing in the blink of an eye should you venture too close.
We followed this wall as it meandered in and out until it finally disappeared. Then we floated above the forest of
kelp, spotting tiny nudibranchs and swimming crabs as they quickly hid beneath the thick blades.
Later, as we motored into Port Mor on the south side of the island, we could see Toby, owner of the Port Mor House Hotel, waiting to relieve us of our luggage. This allowed us to have a leisurely 10-minute walk to the hotel, taking in Muck’s peaceful atmosphere.
There is only one road on the island, and as it crosses from one side to the other, there is no chance of getting lost.

FOR MOST OF THE year a daily ferry arrives at the little harbour at Port Mor from either Mallaig or Arisaig, and in summer the island attracts walkers and birdwatchers. As you walk up to the hotel you pass two tiny unstaffed craft shops aimed at the small tourist trade, with “honesty boxes” so that customers can leave payment.
Toby runs the hotel with his wife Mary, and they not only grow all their own vegetables but keep chickens and smoke their own salmon. Locally produced and caught venison, lobster, langoustine and pheasant also appeared on the menu during our stay, while homemade bread was always on offer.
The following day, after an immense breakfast, we headed out to one of the best-known dive-sites within this group of islands. Commonly known as Windmills because of the electric wind turbines on the hill above, it lies to the east of Muck.
We dropped in and headed east and then down to the wall, which drops in places to more than 70m. It was easy to see why this dive is so popular. The wall is coated with just about every colour of jewel anemone you could find, and fighting for space are patches of white cluster anemones, their longer, spiky tentacles making them easy to spot.
Many of the cup corals here are among the largest I have seen, the green ones glowing with an almost-alien luminescence. Large patches of apricot- and cream-coloured plumose anemones grow haphazardly, pushing out their furry-looking heads to catch food in the passing currents.
Tadpolefish were spotted by some divers, and several dogfish snaked their way along the wall. Glancing up, I could see large shoals of mackerel, their silvery sides shimmering in the rays of light that pierced the clear water. Fortunately we had a second opportunity to visit this fabulous wall later that weekend.
Motoring over to Eigg for our second dive meant a bit of time ashore for our surface interval before heading to our next site, Rubha na Craniag, to the east of Eigg. Many small fish such
as scorpionfish and dragonets were seen on this dive, in great visibility.
Another popular site that got the thumbs up from the group was Godag, which lies to the north of Muck. We finned down a series of rocky ridges and then south-east along a wall that was again thickly decorated with soft corals.
Huge clusters of pale-coloured plumose anemones grew on the large boulders where the wall divides.
While each of us had our favourite dive, I felt that the craggy Canna Wall was the most impressive. Situated off the south-east corner of Canna, it slopes steeply before finally dropping away to more than 60m.

EVERY CRACK AND CREVICE seemed to be a home for something: tadpolefish, rocklings, lobster, spiny and long-clawed squat lobsters, and many different crabs.
Tiny ribbons of nudibranch eggs were interwoven among the feathery spikes of hydroids that grew among the rocks. These provide shelter for the adults that graze off them, and the bryozoans that proliferate all over the rock face.
Spiny seastars worked their way round smooth, velvety patches of elephant-ear sponge, while sumptuous red and yellow cushionstars hugged the rock face. Working my way back up the wall, I shone my torch in some of the larger cracks, glimpsing flashes of iridescent purple, as a rock cook swam in and out of its beam.
Coming a close second favourite to the Canna Wall would be Camas Mor, to the south of Muck. This would be easy to miss in poor visibility, should you drop too far down the boulder slope.
Turn left at 15-20m to find the start of this small wall, which gradually increases in height until it reaches a vertical drop of some 30m. This then continues down a boulder slope to more than 50m.
With vis at around 20m, it is fascinating to swim away from the wall and then turn and look back, and see the divers working their way along the vertical face, against a fabulous backdrop of colourful soft corals and anemones.
A few lucky divers had some dolphins join them on their final stop, coming in close to check them out before disappearing into the distance.

WE HAD BEEN TREATED not only to some of the best scenic diving the UK has to offer, but also given the chance to see some of its large marine life.
Popular with people seeking a refuge from hustling mainland life, Muck is a haven of peace. Staying on the island also provides a chance to glimpse life in one of these unique communities.
Tourists can only admire the loyalty and resilience of residents who manage to survive the hard winters and precarious economy year after year.

Lochaline Boat Charters says it has held its rates for 2011, with whole boat hire from £360 per diving day, and three dives a day at no extra cost. Its boats the Peregrine and the Brendan take 12 divers each. Visit www.lochaline-boats.co.uk