Raasay (Gaelic: Ratharsair, "Roe deer isle") is an island off the east coast of Skye in the Scottish Hebrides. The north of Skye has three stubby fingers, and Raasay is a detached fourth finger 14 miles long by 5 miles wide, with Rona its detached fingernail. The channel separating them from Skye is only a mile or two wide but is deep, being gouged out by glaciers. In 1773 Boswell visited with Dr Johnson and wrote "My survey of Rasay did not furnish much which can interest my readers". In the 19th century, as in many Highland areas, Raasay was forcibly de-populated; the poet Sorley Maclean (1911-1996) was born and grew up on the island and Hallaig is his best-known work relating to the Clearances. The island's population in 2011 was 161, with few children, and has not seen the revival found on other Scottish islands.

Get in Edit

1 Inverarish, the main village of Raasay, has Calmac ferries from Sconser on Skye, taking 25 min. These sail year-round, M-Sa roughly hourly (08:25 to 18:45, with a 21:00 sailing Sat) and three on Sundays. Until end of March 2024, return fares are £14 per car, £4.20 per adult including driver, and £2.10 per child. No booking, just turn up and pay on board. The usual ferry on this route, MV Hallaig commemorating the abandoned village, is a small ro-ro with deck seating and a passenger saloon but no cafe. There are toilets on the ferry and in the waiting rooms by both jetties.

Old maps may show Raasay's ferry pier at Suisnish a mile further south, but that is now derelict.

Sconser has free parking, and it's on the Citylink bus routes from Glasgow and Inverness, plus local buses run between Broadford and Portree. See Skye#Get in for routes.

Get around Edit

You can easily walk the south end, between ferry pier, Raasay House and distillery. You need wheels to go north along the bleak ridge lane, where some wag has erected a sign to the North Pole and a caution against flying pigs. There's no public transport, taxi, car hire or filling station on the island. Most visitors bring their own car, as much to shelter from the wind, rain and midges as to explore. Raasay is a very relaxing place for the fourth and fifth gears of those cars: motorists spend much of their time straining in first and second, and seldom get above third.

See Edit

  • St Moluag’s Chapel is a 13th-century ruined chapel just behind Raasay House (see Sleep). St Moluag christianised the island in the 6th century and lived around here as a monk.
  • 1 The Pictish Stone stands in Kennel Wood a little way north of Raasay House. Its style suggests the 8th/9th centuries; a similar nearby stone was described in Victorian times but disappeared circa 1900. There's also a faint Pictish cross carved into the rocks along the shore.
  • 2 Brochel Castle is just a stump of masonry on the northeast coast. It was built in the 15th century and abandoned in the 17th.
  • Calum's Road, the lane north of Brochel, was hewn out in the 1960s and 70s. Until then, the road ended at Brochel and didn't reach Arnish. This area had been spared the clearances and was still populated, but residents either had to lump it on rough paths to the roadhead, or take a boat to Portree as if they lived on a separate island from Raasay. Complaints and petitions to the Council got nowhere: there was neither money nor political will for roads or any other development in such a remote spot. So Calum Macleod (1911-1988) set about building a road, while continuing his work as a crofter, postman and lighthouse keeper, and his interests as a local historian and Gaelic author. It was just a couple of miles, but across rugged terrain, to create a track suitable for 4WD. The government undertook the initial rock-blasting but from there on it was hard slog by Calum and his brother Charles. His feat has inspired songs, a book and play; it's crying out for film. In 1982 the Council adopted the track as a public highway and tarmacked it, but this came too late to save the Arnish district from depopulation. And it meant Calum could no longer legally drive along his road, since he'd never bothered getting a driving licence.
Dun Caan from Loch na Mna
  • 3 Iron ore mines and the miners' village lie in ruins along the lane to Fearns. The mines were active during the First World War when imports were restricted.
  • 4 Hallaig is the abandoned crofting village mourned by Sorley Maclean. Follow the lane to Fearns then the footpath.

Do Edit

Brochel Castle
Calum's Road
  • Walk: the Forestry Commission, who manage Raasay's woodlands, have a helpful leaflet showing strolling and hiking trails around the island.
  • Climb Dùn Caan, the island's highest point at 443 metres (1453 ft). The path leaves the lane 2 miles north of the ferry pier. It's an obvious but rocky path heading southeast onto the ridge, then a sharp ascent to the top. Steep drop-offs give fine views but make descent hazardous in misty weather.
  • Spot the vole: the Raasay vole (Clethrionomys glareolus erica) is found nowhere else in the world. It's a bank vole, but darker and heavier than the mainland variety.
  • Look up your ancestors: Raasay Heritage Trust are based in the village mill (which they're trying to restore) south of the pier. They can help with ancestor research. The big emigration and clearances from the island were in the 1840s after the potato harvest failed, as in Ireland; civil registration in Scotland began in 1855.

Buy Edit

Eat Edit

Try Raasay House, or buy your own food from the store.

Drink Edit

  • Isle of Raasay Distillery is in the former Borodale Hotel 200 yards east of the ferry pier. Its whisky first went on sale in 2020, and they also make gin. The basic tour takes one hour, adult £15, child £5. The shop and bar is open daily 10:00-23:00. They also have accommodation.

Sleep Edit

Book early, Raasay's limited summer accommodation sells out as fast as Skye's. There's no organised campsite or caravan pitch.
  • B&Bs are at Raasay Gallery, B&B double £85, no dogs; Oystercatcher House[dead link], B&B double £90 cash only, no dogs; and at Allt Arais. Plus a couple of self-catering cottages.
  • Raasay House, IV40 8PB (200 yards north of ferry pier), +44 1478 660266. This combines upmarket hotel rooms with basic hostel dorms and outdoor activity centre. The bar and restaurant are open to non-residents. B&B double from £200.
  • Isle of Raasay Distillery has six double rooms, B&B double £200.

Connect Edit

Abandoned village of Hallaig

As of June 2022, you get 4G from all UK carriers around the ferry pier at Inverarish, but the rest of the island is dead. 5G has not reached Skye.

Go next Edit

The islands south and north of Raasay can't be reached from here. To the north, Rona is reached by occasional boat trips from Portree. To the south, Scalpay is a private deer-stalking estate and can't be visited. (Not to be confused with Scalpay on Harris.)

So to get anywhere else, you have to return on the ferry to Sconser on Skye.

This city travel guide to Raasay is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.