Two years ago, almost to the very day, I discovered one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was our honeymoon, and we had journeyed to the Isle of Raasay, off the West Coast of Scotland. I’m not sure I can convey the wonder of such a place, suffice to say the experience wanders often into my thoughts and when I daydream about a life with less people and cars and chaos, my mind tends to stray to this small Island.
We travelled the length of the country by sleeper train, and continued our journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochlash, where we (and many other tourists) hopped aboard the bus to take us over the bridge to Skye. We were the only ones to jump off the bus at Sconser, where we boarded the ferry to Raasay.
The Isle of Raasay is sandwiched between Skye and the Applecross Peninsular of the mainland, with the cool water of the Sound of Raasay on one side and the Inner Sound on the other. These fresh and unpolluted waters are home to a diverse array of marine life, including seals, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.
Raasay, which in old Norse translates as ‘Roe-deer’, is the family home of the Macleod clan and the influence of this ancient clan is imprinted across the island. The family’s grand house is now an Outdoor Activity Centre, but stands proud and tall as a relic of the family’s dominance over Island life. These days tourism forms the basis of Raasay’s economy, but don’t let that put you off – we saw very few visitors during our week there but found the community very welcoming.
In 1912 the company Baird & Co purchased the Island and began to mine for Iron. During the First World War a section of the village was requisitioned for use as a Prisoner of War Camp (our cottage had been used to house prisoners), and German prisoners were used to keep the mine running during wartime. The mine closed just a few years later, but it’s ruins dot this peaceful landscape like strange industrial skeletons, and serve as a reminder that although a large portion of the Island appears untouched, man has left his mark.
The East Coast of the Island is a draw for fossil collectors. We explored the shores of the old crofting community of Hallaig, destroyed during the clearances. Although accessible, a good level of fitness is required to reach the coastline and it’s definitely a journey to set a day aside for. We hired bikes from the Island’s hotel and although we were not quite prepared to give our legs such a workout, the views made our aches and pains the next morning more than worth it, and we repeated our visit the next day (gluttons for punishment). On the first day we followed the dusty road along the South East coast until it began to trace a zig-zag shape as it climbed towards the Jurassic cliff tops. Upon reaching a grassy path, we locked up the bikes and continued on foot, following sheep-trails as golden eagles swooped overhead. On the second day, we cut down to the shore by following the river on it’s path, past waterfalls and the ruins of crofter’s cottages until we reached the beach. Embedded into the rocky coast are ammonites and belemnites, and a vast variety of large Pleinsbachian bivalves.
The most magical aspect of the Island is it’s ancient forests, with floors of deep and spongy moss. We followed the well-marked miners trail, as well as exploring the forest near the main village of Invervarish.
There’s so much more to this Island than I can possibly convey in a simple blog post. I haven’t even mentioned the incredible Calum’s road or the story of the Macleod Clan’s financial downfall (it has a lot to do with the stone mermaids, pictured above). It is quite simply one of the most magical and ethereal places I have visited and I long to return. If you plan to visit the Western Isles, don’t limit yourself to the tourist hub of Skye. Raasay might be just a fifteen minute ferry ride across the sound, but it’s a whole other world.
(It's also a bit wet sometimes!)
*A version of this post appeared on an old blog of mine called 'Before her wandering feet'.