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Scotland: Escape to Raasay

The Hebrides are known for their remote and rugged beauty, and the little island of Raasay — between the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland — takes this beauty to the extreme

By Zane Henry
Published 28 Sept 2018, 09:00 BST, Updated 15 Jul 2021, 11:09 BST
Photograph by Alamy

There's a road on Raasay called Calum's Road. It got its name because a man named Calum built it. He built it because he wanted to connect the north and south ends of the island. It took him 10 years — the road is two miles long — and he did it by hand with a bit of help from a wheelbarrow.

Calum's Road reflects the character of Raasay. It's rugged, self-sufficient and very Scottish. The island is more or less the size and shape of Manhattan, but is home to only 160 or so people. There's one hotel, a couple of B&Bs, two shops and one school. Some cows. No Starbucks. The Isle of Skye hulks off to the west, casting a shadow that doesn't quite reach to where I'm standing on Calum's Road.

I'm staying at Raasay Distillery, having a tour of the first legal whisky production on the island. Rebecca, the island historian, later tells me about one of the islanders who was warned that inspectors were coming to the island to search for illegal distilleries. In a state of panic, he buried his still in the bog. Then he forgot where he hid it. It's in the bog somewhere to this day.

The distillery is the biggest news to hit the island in many years, and a prime reason Raasay is somewhere that people have actually heard about. It's relatively small, accessible and friendly, lacking the slick corporate sheen of some of the more monolithic distilleries in Scotland.

It's a great base from which to explore the island. I see individual stones on the peaks of Skye's Cuillin mountains — one of those views so arresting that I am hypnotised. Also visible are the ruins of Brochel Castle, seat of the Clan Mcleod, as well as Dun Caan, a striking flat-topped peak that's worth the hike. During the summer months, you can kayak in the Inner Sound, or cycle the winding circumference of the island.

But today, I'm happy just to walk along Calum's Road. There's no-one else around. No traffic. No noise. The air is clean and soft and empty. I kick a pebble against the rusted shell of a wheelbarrow resting beneath the road sign. It's a good road.  

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