The Isle of Raasay: a very boggy walk

10 September 1999

From Portree, first thing in the morning we went to the Isle of Raasay, which is squeezed between Syke and the mainland, on a 20 minute ride on a Raasay tiny ferry (there were 2 cars & 10 people). This was a place we had heard about when doing research on Scotland back in London and seemed like a nice, out of the way place to hike and relax. It turns out that the hostel is a 3 mile walk from the ferry terminal and there were sustained 40 mile per hour winds that day. We had planned to hitchhike to the hostel, but for the entire 2 hour walk we were passed by exactly one car. It was a gorgeous walk through dense forest and along rugged beach and finally up onto the heather covered slopes. We were thankful, once again, that we left the big backpacks in Seattle and took only our daypacks!!

The hostel is a gorgeous little stone farmhouse. The view out the front is across the straight to Skye and of the cliff and meadows that we hiked in the day before! The hostel is extremely isolated. It is a 30 minute walk to the only store on the island and a 20 minute walk to the closest building of any kind. We arrived at about 1pm and the sign out front said that the hostel opened at 5pm, but it said that we could take shelter in the temporary bunkhouse out back. The wind was amazing. We spent about an hour in the bunkhouse trying to decide what to do, we were all tired and hungry. We sat and read some of the comic books that were sitting in the flimsy, wet bunkhouse, but then i went out for a look.

When the warden saw me poking around outside he invited us inside next to the fire. We cooked up some lunch and then Cheryln and I walked down the road for about an hour while Justin took on a more strenuous climb over the hill to the highest peak on the island, Dun Caan and back through the forest. (He invited us to go with him, but we did not feel like we had enough food for a strenous hike.) When he returned around 7pm he said that he got to the base of the peak, but the wind was far too strong to attempt to climb it and he lost the trail while attempting it, so he walked back through the forest.

Now we had a decision to make. It was Friday evening. We wanted to see other places on the Isle of Skye... I REALLY wanted to see a Scottish castle. But the ferry didn't run on Sunday, NOTHING on Raasay happened on Sunday. There was so much to do on Skye and beyond that it was overwhelming. So we could leave in the morning or stay two more days.

I was exhausted from travelling and I very much needed a break, so after a lot of discussion we decided to stay at Raasay. The rather heated discussion produced one of our favorite, and most reused quotes of the trip. As we ran through possiblilties, Cheryln and i kept mentioning things that we could have done the in previous days and Justin, exasperated with us, said, "You guys are so Hypothetical!"

The little farmhouse was very cozy in the wind, and the following morning when we woke up my wish was granted. It was raining in sheets -- just pounding rain. The hostel was closed during the day usually, but if it was terrible weather, since there was NO where else to go, it stayed open. So I got my rest day. We ventured out in the late morning for a walk to the store in the rain, and bought food for a couple of days, but otherwise spent the entire day around the coal stove relaxing. It was wonderful.

The store on this little Island was really a cultural experience. Everything was behind the counter, or in the side room as a special order --and the accents made it seem like another language. The store was clearly the social center of town, and we were a bit of an attraction. During the hour or so it took us to dry out after we returned the warden told us all about the very bizarre politics on the island. The people seemed to be VERY bizarre and weird things seem to happen (I believe one quote was 'Law and Order stops at the Raasay ferry!')

Sometime in the mid-afternoon a very very wet person appeared at the window. It turned out to be the English couple we had seen at Mallig. They had walked up in the rain and were very discouraged. They had been obediently sitting in the wet bunkhouse faced with the same no-ferry-on-Sunday decision that we had faced! We invited them in. After warming up (and their own trip to the store) they decided to stay the weekend. It was a very interesting weekend. There were 7 of us in that little farmhouse, which was really just 1 room with bunkrooms off to the side. Cheryln & Justin & I, the English couple, the Belgian warden and the Scottish former warden come to spend 2 weeks and relax. We had some fascinating conversations and the house was very very cozy. The warden was a painter and had some wonderful paintings of the Island with the clouds and mountains and rain! No Passing

On Sunday it was crystal clear and very very still. The water was like glass. And it stayed that way all day long! We walked a couple of hours up the road through glorious terrain to the ruins of Brochel Castle 15th century castle which was in someone's backyard, where we had lunch.

The former warden had told us about the bizarre walls of stones we had seen, going diagonally up the hillside in front of the hostel. The two walls, really just piles of stones, run from the straight between Skye & Raasay and right up to the top of the ridge. It seems that the are 600 to 500 years old, and they were designed to lure the Kelpie (sea monster) out of the straight, up the hill and right off the cliff. Must have worked too, because we didn't see the Kelpie at all!

Then we walked through a very thick forest, heading for a different approach to Dun Caan. As we walked through it, parts of the forest were getting direct sunlight for the first time after several days Steaming forest of very heavy rain. It was stunningly gorgeous to see steam rising through the broken sunlight from the path, from the moss, from tree branches. I've never seen anything like it!

Outside of the forest we walked through the ruins of an 8th century village and started up a very steep heather slope. We had to ascend about 1800 feet to the plateau, which runs the length of the Island, for the long walk to Dun Caan. The heather was very wet and there were many boggy places, it was slow going, but very beautiful! The plateau was even wetter and we snuck around the bogs as best we could -- Justin went in to his thigh at one point! The view in all directions was stunning. 360 degrees of water and mountains and the very occasional castle. We could also see the sleek new bridge that was recently opened connecting the Isle of Skye to the mainland of Scotland at the Kyle of Lochalsh. (Which is called, of course, the Skye Bridge.)

We finally reached the base of Dun Caan at about 7pm. I was thinking that it looked like we could scamper up it quite quickly until I saw Justin standing near the bottom. It was probably close to 700 feet and almost straight up. We could have done it, if we had 2 or 3 hours, but with only 90 minutes to sunset, we had to push on back to the hostel -- but we found a trail and so the going was easier. Justin went ahead and cooked dinner and we walked through the sunset and into the darkness to our cosy hostel on the moor. The entire day we did not see a single person!

© Copyright Mark Canizaro 2000

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