To the tune of the Prince classic, natch. This post is about the utterly stunning island of Raasay, which lies between the west coast mainland and the Isle of Skye.
What. A. Place.
Let me start with this: I am completely and totally in love with the Isle of Skye. At last count, I think I’ve visited 12 times. It’s *probably* been my favourite Scottish holiday destination (Aarrgh! Don’t make me murder my darlings!! I mean, maybe it’s Assynt?!) ever since my first holiday there at the age of 17. *Insert theme tune from The Wonder Years here*. In the summer of ’92 a bunch of us rented a house in Teangue right in the south of the island (that area’s called Sleat and is lovely, incidentally). We had all just left school and were in the early days of reckless drinking and (not me, I hasten to add) immature shaggery. It got messy. Very messy. That’s a blog for
another day never. But, it started a love affair between me and Skye that remains to this day. Rest assured, there will be MANY blog posts about Skye along the line. But today, let’s focus on Raasay.
This May (2017) the Grown Up Boyfriend and I headed to Skye on holiday again and this time, I finally got my arse in gear to get round to visiting Raasay. Why has it taken me this long to visit?! Possibly, there is JUST TOO MUCH to do on Skye (and, yes, that does include copious amounts of whisky drinking and eating of seafood), but this time I was determined to jump on the wee ferry from Sconser (bless you, and all who sail in you, CalMac!). After some advice from a pal who knows Raasay well (nice one, Carolyn), we decided to take the car so we could cover more ground. It was the right decision, as we managed to see a lot of this beautiful place in just the one day that we spent there. However, I reckon if you were one of those “cycling types” it’d be bloody fantastic on a bike. I am not one of those “cycling types” (I have The Fear of The Chafe).
We started at Raasay House. This place used to be a kind of hunting lodge / Big Hoose for the landowner and is now a hostel / restaurant / bar / cafe / info point / outdoor activity centre / place to rent bikes (they even have electric ones – hmmm, maybe I could deal with that next time…) which was lovingly restored and reopened in 2009 after a fire. It’s a stonking place: the staff were really friendly (and the bakewell slice and coffee when we arrived was a winner). And check out the view back to Skye from just outside:
At this point, let’s pause for a Moment Of Honesty. The weather was F**KING AMAZING when we were there. And, although I think Raasay would be ace no matter the weather, let’s not be silly: the sun helped.
Incidentally, we were served excellent Cullen Skink in the cafe at Raasay House for lunch later in the day.
Ah, bollocks, now I need a Cullen Skink digression. Right, it’s one of the favourite Scottish things to eat but allow to me to present some feedback to many Cullen Skink chefs: IT NEEDS TO BE MORE THAN A BOWL OF HOT CREAM! Sure, get enough cream in there, but please remember the beauty is in the tasty smoked haddock and not TOO many tatties. And don’t serve me a shitty white roll with it: nice, oaty, grainy, rustic bread please – or oatcakes (but only if there more than two – I HATE running out of the bread-type product before I finish the main event). <End Cullen Skink digression>
Raasay has a *fascinating* history, which I won’t go into on this blog post, as I’m not an expert. Suffice it to say, it’s been home to a prisoner of war camp, a mine, a “Berlin wall”-type set-up (no, really) – and now they’re building a distillery. To get more info about the history of the place (and this is where I learned the facts above) I cannot recommend this book more highly:
This is a *brilliant* read. This guy – Calum MacLeod – lived in a crofting community right at the top of Raasay and fought for years to get the council to build a proper road to it, so that folk would be less likely to leave that part of the island. The council continually refused, year after year, and eventually he got tired of waiting and did it himself. But, like, seriously! He properly engineered it so that it was serviceable and ready for tarmac – it took him about twenty years. Anyway, this book doesn’t only tell the story of Calum building the road, but is a fascinating insight into Raasay’s history as a whole. Get it bought and read. You won’t regret it. Promise.
We visited Calum’s road, for the photo opportunity. It was great to see and I loved the tributes left to this pretty inspiring man.
Possibly the most famous literary Raasay resident was the poet Sorley MacLean. He wrote a lot of poetry about Raasay, a particularly well known work being Hallaig, named after the crofting village which was wiped out by the Highland Clearances (I *really* don’t have time to get in to the Highland Clearances in this post. Start your research here). We drove to Fearns on the east of the island and walked the couple of miles round the coastline to Hallaig. I can honestly say this was one of the most beautiful walks I have ever done, with views back across to the mainland and to Skye. This is the view looking back to Skye from the start of the walk:
At the end of the trail, there’s a bay that you look down upon from above. It was serene, calm, silent (just a few baas and cheeps) and just totally idyllic, with just a hint of spookiness (in a good way – you can sense that “things went down” at Hallaig…):
We didn’t spend enough time on Raasay on this first trip. Simple as that. We headed back to the ferry for about 3pm (*that’s reminded me of a story about the ferry en route back), but I WILL be back. You could happily spend a week there and not be bored: there are LOADS of walks and superb scenery to explore. Next time I will definitely get up to the top of the island and walk to Fladda and head up to the top of the highest hill, Dun Caan. I can just imagine that the views from there will be awesome.
Oh – and I’ve just remembered! One of my favourite Scottish authors – Lin Anderson – sets one of her superb novels from her Rhona MacLeod series on Raasay: Deadly Code. Read it. It’s brilliant. And gory. And scary.
Can’t wait to return to Raasay. And the fact that there will soon be able to get a distillery tour there too, well, that’s so much the better.
*The story about the ferry en route back. So, we queue up (you cannae book your car in, you just chill) and just in front of us was this MAMMOTH truck type thing (it had been doing Important Things at the distillery build). So, we all get on the ferry – including this monster – and we settle in a sunny spot on the top deck bit. Then I see ANOTHER huge truck driving on at the last minute. We’ve just anchored off (I KNOW that’s not the proper phrase, but I’m hardly a maritime expert, so meh) and the Ferry Man comes down from his wee look out thing (told you – not a maritime expert) and says to the workie bloke near us “Eh, is that your crane?” Bloke: “Aye”. Ferry man: “Aye, you’ll need to take it off, we’re too heavy”. At this point, my arse slightly collapses, cos we have actually started moving. Bloke: “Aye nae bother”. Ferry man: (by way of clarification to Bloke) “Ach it’s fine, you just need to take it off, then we’ll move the other truck in front o’ ye and then you can get it back on”. Bloke (who completely understood this): “Oh aye, balance it at the back”. At this point, I am *slightly* perturbed at the fact that TWO big f**k off machines are going to be on this ferry – cos I refuse to try and understand buoyancy – and spend the rest of the 25 min journey expecting to sink. Happily, the CalMac Ferry Man knew his stuff. We didn’t.