A natives guide to Raasay
Guest blog from islander Alastair McGowan
When you first arrive on Raasay it can become a daunting task to decide what to do, where to go, and what things are on. But never fear weary traveller as I, your friendly neighbourhood hero, am here to shine a light on everything that Raasay has to offer.
Check the ferry times
First things first you must make sure (I can’t highlight the importance of this enough) TO READ THE FERRY TIMETABLE. As there is nothing worse than paying hard earned money to experience the beauty Raasay has to offer but instead experiencing all that sleeping in your car at the ferry waiting room has to offer.
I don’t mean to come off condescending but you would be surprised by the number of times tourist miss the ferry, on weekdays and Saturday’s that isn’t so bad as there are plenty of sailings throughout the day and an extra later sailing on Saturday in the summer. But on Sundays, there are only three sailings.
As you first arrive on the island you will spot the Georgian mansion ‘Raasay house’. Once the seat of power for the MacLeod’s of Raasay, it is now a hotel and activity centre. This might be where many of you readers will be staying for their time on the island but even if it’s not I’d advise going to the house at some point in their stay. It has a wonderful selection of food, activities and also provides hired bikes and bus tours of the island. Their shop offers helpful tools for travellers such as the ‘Exploring Raasay’ guidebook by Nick Fairweather that gives advice, directions and the difficulty of the best walks on the island. Also sold is the book ‘Calum’s road’, written by Roger Hutchinson who lives on the island. The book tells the true story of Calum Macleod who over a period of 10 years constructed one mile and three-quarters of road by himself with little more than a wheelbarrow, shovel and pickaxe. He did this to fight against people having to move away from his home in the north end of the Island due to how isolated it was. It is a story of the power of human determination and of the love you can have for your home, there is now a cairn near Brochel castle on the island that gives recognition to Calum’s achievement. Raasay House also has the only restaurant and pub on the island so if you would like to end the night with a refreshing beverage, it’s the place to be.
Raasay Community Stores
A staple of the island is ‘Raasay Stores” the community run shop that offers an assortment of food, drinks and all different things a traveller would find useful. From Monday to Saturday the shop is open from 9 till 6.
Just outside the shop is the community bulletin board that can tell you of anything exciting happening on the island. It could tell you of a range of events such as ceilidhs; The traditional Scottish dances that come with an insurance of music that forces you to your feet to dance and hoot to your heart’s content. And don’t be afraid to get involved if you don’t know the dances just ask a local to help you out, besides falling over and stepping on some toes is a part of the fun. So come along and have a taste of Scottish culture.
If something more sophisticated takes your fancy why not visit Raasay’s art gallery, that houses a mixture of art from the gallery owner and a mixture of jewellery and ornaments from other artists. The owner summed up his art saying that ‘variety is the spice of life. I would get bored doing the same thing over and over again’. The shops opening times are 11am to 5.30pm from Tuesday to Saturdays from Easter to October, so why not come and see the mixture of art and enjoy a friendly conversation with the owner who in my short time talking to him had the obvious pouring out of him, that he had truly fallen in love with the island. And If it is jewellery you are after then a must do stop would be at the silver grasshopper jewellery shop, that sells lovely jewellery and other great gifts, that will be perfect mementoes of your visit to Raasay. The shop is open from 1-5 pm from Tuesday to Saturday.
Raasay has an array of beautiful views, both of the island and of Skye that you can’t get anywhere else. It simply is a beautiful Island that never tires the eye. Each day you are on the island there won’t be a scenic sight that ever looks identical, there always seems to be slight changes or different perspectives that never fail to entice the eye. Now on an island such as this, it can be hard to know where to start or which places to pick, especially if you are on a tight schedule. So, I am going to recommend some of my favourite spots on the island that you should try to visit to get an Idea of the scenic sights that Raasay offers.
Temptation Hill and The Pictish Stone
Now if time is of the essence for your stay on Raasay a good short walk is temptation hill. They are different paths you could take to reach temptation hill but if you are staying at Raasay house the quickest route is from the road behind Raasay House. If you follow it you will also go past the Raasay Pictish stone and not much further than that you will see a walking route sign post, next to a winding path that takes you up the fairly steep hill. Once you reach the top you will think that the hill couldn’t be more aptly named, as once you see the magnificent view of the sound Raasay and the curves, ridges and peaks of the Cuillins that dominate the skyline, you will be tempted to never leave the island. Also at the top of the hill is a memorial stone of a 19-year-old girl who died, the stone was placed on temptation hill as it was her favourite spot.
If you have a few hours to spare then your options for walks are much more varied. Such as the miner’s trail. To get to this walk just follow the main road from the ferry terminal, turning right once you reach the farm steading continue on this road and you will pass the church then the road splits off, go left here walking on the road alongside the Forrest keep going on this road and you will walk over a bridge keep going straight on until you reach a large tower like structure that are the remains of the old mine railroad. There is a sign saying the miner’s trail next to the path that takes you onto the trail. The rest of the walk you will be able to handle without out directions. It is a beautiful walk, with lovely views of the Cuillin and displays the typical Highland image of Heather for miles to see and brooding tall Scots pine trees scattered throughout. The walk comes to its fruition when you reach the hill above the old ferry pier that opens up to a truly jaw dropping view of the Cuillins, with the remains of the of the old mining buildings all over the hill.
Another of my favourite spots on the island is Hallaig that is both one of the most beautiful spots on the Island and a place steeped in great tragedy and sorrow. From the parking place at ferns follow the path northwards, you will walk along a memorising view of the east-coast of Raasay, and will eventually come to a memorial cairn for the people of Hallaig and other cleared crafting townships. On this, you will find a poem by native and famous poet Sorley MacLean titled Hallaig. The poem talks about the damage and impact the clearances had. You can choose to end your walk here or carry on the path and be able to see the abandoned township of Hallaig. Throughout Raasay’s history, people had settled in Hallaig and one can only think that there could of still be people living there today if not for the highland clearances. Once housing 34 families, family’s who had been in Hallaig for generations, were forced to leave their home, many going on emigration ships in search of a better life now that Hallaig had been taking from them. By the time it was over Hallaig’s population had dropped from 127 to 6. There is an eerie sense as you walk, touch and see the abandoned township. All that is left of the centuries of lives people had in Hallaig is ruins. If you close your eyes and listen to the swishing of the wind on the grass, for the cras
hing of the sea on the shore, and calls of the birds soaring in the sky. If you take them away is a
ll that is left silence? Or can you faintly hear the sound of children playing in the bracken, the men tending to their croft, and the sound of a crackling fire in the hearth that keeps the family warm?
Now we come to the best view on the island, the summit you will have seen on your journey to Raasay. The flat top the Island is known for, Dun Caan. There are two ways you can reach the highest point on the island. One being more difficult and longer while the other still being some distance is a much easier route and is the one I would recommend. Make sure to pick a clear day to climb Dun Caan otherwise you won’t get to appreciate it as best you could, make sure to bring warm clothes as even on a warm day it can still be quite chilly at the top. While it can take some time to reach the top you will hardly notice as you will be in a euphoric state seeing the fantastic views on the climb, and once you have reached the top of the basalt summit it will be near impossible to not fall in love with the island as you witness all the beauty that surrounds Raasay in one place. From the Cullins to Apple cross, you will have the views and perspectives of these places you could never get anywhere else. It floods your body with longing to try explore the rest of the world in an attempted to find anywhere that comes close to that beauty, and gives you a sense of awe that no matter what humanity creates, it will never come close to the beauty of the natural world. Well, it at least has that effect on me, but to find out for yourself you will have to make the climb.
And that brings this guide to an end. I hope it can be helpful to those that read it and are unsure on what to do on Raasay. Enjoy your time on the Island and get out and explore as that’s really the true wonder that Raasay offers, that you can go off the trail and path and find yourself in a place that can actually make you wonder if you could be the first person to be in this place for a very long time. It’s an Island that is perfect for feeding that sense of adventure and exploring in you. It’s an Island filled with beautiful views and friendly people. It’s an Island truly unlike any other.