A visit to the Isle of Skye is on everyone’s Scotland bucket list and so it should be with majestic mountains, fascinating geology and traditional Highland hospitality. The highlights and hotspots such as the Fairy Pools and capital Portree are bustling places, magnets for visitors. But if, like me, you hanker to get off the beaten track, consider contrasting a stay on Skye with a couple of nights on neighbouring Raasay. It’s only a half-hour ferry crossing between the two islands but you’ll feel like you are taking a leap into a different world.
Raasay is long, thin and rugged. Houses straggle out from the little harbour, interspersed with ruins, while the recently-established Raasay Distillery gleams like a beacon at the top of the slope, its golden cladding brightening the misty grey skies. We splashed out on a stay here, a little touch of luxury among the wilderness. The bar area is warm and welcoming, with picture views across the bay. In each bedroom a complimentary dram awaits for you to sample the local single malt, while Raasay gin is a favourite tipple at the bar. The distillery tour reveals the considerable efforts of the owners to establish their philosophy here and bring much-needed local employment. We were also excited to hear of their plans for another distillery in Kintyre, close to Campbeltown, once famous as a whisky destination and gradually regaining prominence among connoisseurs.
At McKinlay Kidd we often provide the advice, nicked from Billy Connelly, that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes, so pack a sexy raincoat and live a little! Travelling in April, we’d sensibly heeded this so were all set to explore the Raasay outdoors. Our first adventure was a drive to the far north of the island via the single track road, sometimes having to take it slowly around the pot-holes. Eventually we made it to the start of Calum’s Road. A local farmer, Calum Macleod was infuriated when the publicly-funded tarmac came to an abrupt halt just under a couple of miles from his croft at Arnish. Losing patience after years of local campaigning for a proper road without result, Calum took it upon himself to upgrade the footpath, his main tools being a pick, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. It took around ten years of hard labour from the mid-sixties for him to complete the one-and-three-quarter miles. Unsurprisingly this feat is now a thing of folklore, his barrow left rusting away at the start of his road near Brochel Castle as a fitting memorial to superhuman effort.
We continued by car to Arnish, taking it slowly on the twisty road, then on foot through ancient woodland, a beautiful refreshing walk with no other souls in sight. Every now and again the lichen-clad trees parted, providing gorgeous views across the channel back to Skye. The weather held for us, the sun even making fleeting appearances through the gathering clouds.
By the next morning soft rain had set in. Soft because it falls in gentle droplets but nevertheless enough of them to provide a proper soaking. Fortunately, our jackets were well water-proofed! We drove the short distance down to the south of the island this time, to the old ferry port where the remains of industrial heritage of iron mining are visible, now overgrown with grass and bracken and home to grazing sheep. We walked from here along the route of the old railway, taking in views either towards the volcanic plug of Dun Caan, Raasay’s high point, in front of us or back over our shoulders to the outline of Skye’s peaks. Even in the inclement weather we could understand why some say the best way to see Skye is from Raasay!
We carried on back towards the village, dancing across stepping stones to avoid boggy moss and trickling burns. Regaining hard-standing underfoot, we ducked into the community-owned island shop for takeaway coffee and chocolate to reward our efforts. As I wiped drips from the back of my neck, my thoughts strayed back to Calum and the contrast of his strenuous work undertaken in all weathers, day after day.
Words & Images by Heather @ McKinlay Kidd
Discover the Isle of Raasay for yourself from a less-travelled perspective on our unique See Mull & Skye Differently self-drive holiday. Raasay can also be included as part of a tailor-made trip – just let us know at time of enquiry and we can create a bespoke personal proposal. See more holiday inspiration on our website.