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.
The only way in is by the Calmac ferry from Sconser on Skye to 1 Inverarish, the main village of Raasay, 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. Return fares are £13.40 per car, £4 per adult including driver, bikes free (Dec 2019). No booking, just turn up and pay on board. The usual ferry plying this route, MV Hallaig commemorating the abandoned village and launched 2013, 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 this is now derelict.
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.
- 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.
- The lane north of Brochel is Calum's Road, hewn out in the 1960s & 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 footpaths 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.
- Along the lane to Fearns are the ruins of an iron ore mine and village, active during the First World War when imports were restricted.
- 3 Hallaig is the abandoned crofting village mourned by Sorley Maclean. Follow the lane to Fearns then the footpath.
- Visit a distillery: see "Sleep" listing. Tours available M-Sa 10:00-17:00, £10; Su if pre-booked. The whisky first goes on sale in Dec 2020.
- 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.
- Raasay Stores and Post Office, 29/30 Inverarish Terrace, Inverarish IV40 8NS. M-Sa 09:00-18:00 (Post Office 09:30-12:00). Small licensed grocery shop.
- Silver Grasshopper is a jewellery designer just north of the distillery.
- Home in the Highlands is a gift shop on the lane south of Inverarish.
Try Raasay House, or buy your own food from the store.
Isle of Raasay whisky went into cask in autumn 2017 so it will be released for sale in Dec 2020. Meanwhile, "While We Wait" is a blend from a couple of undisclosed mainland distilleries that is reckoned to be close to the mature Raasay product. It's somewhat peaty, say midway between Dalwhinnie and Bowmore brands, and astringent, try adding a little water.
- Book early, Raasay's limited summer accommodation sells out as fast as Skye's. There's no organised campsite or caravan pitch.
- There's B&B at Raasay Gallery, B&B double £85, no dogs; Oystercatcher House, B&B double £90 cash only, no dogs; and at Allt Arais. Plus a couple of self-catering cottages.
- 1 Raasay House, IV40 8PB, ☏ . This combines upmarket hotel rooms with basic hostel dorms and outdoor activity centre. The bar and restaurant are open to non-residents. Hotel B&B double from £250.
- Raasay Distillery, Borodale House IV40 8PB (Near ferry pier). New whisky distillery: its product won't come to market until 2020 but the associated hotel is open. B&B double from £270.
Good mobile signal in Inverarish and a few other spots, but lots of dead areas.
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.