Wanted: a family to join the diminishing inhabitants of Muck

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The Independent Online

Clearing the population of Muck, the smallest of the Scottish Small Isles, was painfully straightforward. In 1828, the local clan leader loaded 150 people aboard a ship and took them to start new lives in the uncharted wilds of Nova Scotia. Rebuilding a sustainable community, by contrast, has proved a much more arduous process.

Muck, which in recent years has witnessed something of a population explosion, swelling its numbers to 35, is seeking a family or a couple planning to have children to help safeguard its long term future.

The call has gone out following the decision of a family of five to relocate to the Scottish mainland, prompting fears that numbers at the island's primary school, which currently boasts a roll of just eight, could fall too low. Catherine Murray John, 43, said it would be a "huge wrench" to leave the island next month after six years, but she had decided to do so after the second of her four children had reached secondary school age, requiring them to study on the mainland.

"I absolutely love the place. It has been a part of my life. The children have had a unique opportunity to grow up here, in a special place," she said.

Ms Murray John admitted island life was "not everyone's cup of tea" but that for those prepared to get involved in their local community, there were plenty of rewards. One of these would be a three-bedroom cottage on a wooded hillside overlooking the neighbouring isles of Rum and Skye, which had become available for rent.

Colin MacEwen, 29, whose family has owned the island since 1896, said it was still a "fragile community". Though there are part time jobs, mainly in farming, fishing and tourism, the islanders are looking for a self-starter.

"What we are hoping for is to try and find a family with ideas about starting a business or with a business they can pursue.

"We would try our best to help them with anything we can to make that possible," said Mr MacEwen. Anyone applying from a British town or city would have to be prepared for a major change in lifestyle, even though numbers on Muck are at a 60-year high and a new community centre is being built.

A passenger ferry runs from Mallaig on the mainland four days a week in summer and three days a week in winter. However, the island, just two miles long and one mile wide, boasts a wealth of natural wonders. There are 40 species of bird, Grey Atlantic seals, porpoises, minke whales and basking sharks brought here by the relatively benign waters of the Gulf Stream.

Despite a scuffle at a recent wedding on the island, there has been no crime for 50 years – not since 1960, when an estate worker stole two bottles of wine.

Toby Fichtner, 27, who runs the Port Mor House Hotel, which doubles as Muck's only pub, said there was a healthy mix of established families and new arrivals. "It's great fun, we have lived here for four years and really enjoy it. But it can be quite tricky to find suitable people. The place is gorgeous in the summer... but in the depths of winter, when the rain is horizontal and there are six hours of daylight, it doesn't suit everybody."