Ferry ride, whisky, woodland walk and cake!
Christmas is over, the house has been stripped of all signs of the festive season, the tree is shivering naked in the garden bar one bauble that I managed to miss. It’s grey, wet and windy outdoors and we need something to look forward to, something to plan to get us through the last half of winter. What better than to start thinking about a vacation?
I was looking through some photos from last Summer and thought I would share with you a particularly enjoyable day on the beautiful Isle of Raasay back in August. Hopefully it will it will chase away any Winter blues and inspire your vacation plans for this Summer.
The main purpose of our trip on that sunny August day was to visit the Isle of Raasay Distillery. Also as we had the dogs with us, a walk would be in order and hopefully we would find somewhere nice for coffee and cake, as no day out is complete without cake!
So, we parked the car at Sconser on the East coast of Skye and toddled down to the slipway to wait for the ferry to come in. Once the travellers coming from Raasay had all disembarked, it was our turn to board. We trundled down the gangplank, dogs eager to go, they knew not where but eager anyway, as were we. We were joined by no more than half a dozen vehicles and a handful of back packers, purchased our tickets from the ferry man for the meager sum of £4 each, return, and made our way straight up to the top deck, not wanting to miss the views.
For me there is something quite magical about boarding an island bound ferry. I love the sense of anticipation, I know that we were already on an island, having just left Skye, but she is a large island in comparison, with all the amenities one could possibly need, and a bridge making it relatively easy to come and go. We have lived on a remote island, Unst in the Shetlands, so I know that it’s not without its challenges, but island life does hold a special place in my heart and it’s always good to be on one, even if it is only for one day.
The sun shone warm on our faces, the sea sparkled like diamonds and a fair breeze blew away the cobwebs. We settled down, eager to set sail. The ferry took us via Loch Sligachan, famous for it’s king scallops, and across the Sound of Raasay to the south west corner of the Isle of Raasay, where the ferry terminal lies snuggled in the shelter of Churchton Bay.
Raasay, or ‘Deer Island’ as the Norse name translates into, lies in the Sound of Raasay, flanked by the north east coast of Skye to it’s west and the north west coast of mainland Scotland to it’s east. A bijou 24.1 square miles small, population 161, no public transport and no petrol station.
The gangplank was lowered onto the slip way with a grind of metal on concrete, cars off first on their merry ways, followed by foot and paw passengers. Upon arrival, the first building to greet us was the wonderfully welcoming looking Raasay House.
Steeped in history, today Raasay House provides cosy accommodation, ranging from budget friendly dormitory style to four star deluxe rooms. A snug lounge with wood burning stove and unbeatable views of the mighty Cuillins of Skye, a formidable, jagged backed range of mountains, would certainly make me hope for inclement weather if I was a guest there, so that I would have a good excuse to coorie in. It’s on my list of places to stay.
However, on this fine sunny day, we hotfoot it just a five minute walk to the Isle of Raasay Distillery. The islands first ever legal distillery began distilling in 2017. I imagine that there are some exciting tales of the islands illicit distilling days, which took place as recently as 1850, something I’d love to delve into. But back to today and very much above board , sharing the same stunning views as Raasay House, the face of this fine restoration, is in my humble opinion, a sympathetic blend of old and new. The ‘old’ being Borodale House, a pretty Victorian villa which has been tastefully restored and now provides luxury accommodation, an executive lounge and visitor centre.
The ‘new’ being the state of the art distillery itself. With two gleaming copper stills visible through a large picture window and pale copper clad roof and frame housing the entrance.
We were very warmly welcomed by several members of staff, whom it was refreshing to note, were probably all in their early twenties, and local to boot, adding to the vibrancy and fresh contemporary feel of the whole business.
We tied Loki and Olly outside and left them very content to be fussed by the young lad who had been cutting the grass and was probably glad for a rest. By the time I came back out side, he had also provided them with a bowl of clean fresh water. It’s small acts like this that resonate with me.
You may or may not have noticed the ‘I’ in the ‘I came out’ of the distillery. It was soon decided that Donald would enjoy a distillery tour, very good value at £10 per person, which left me on doggy duty.
One might have considered mine the short straw, but on the contrary, I would benefit from fine views, cake and a clear head.
Upon the recommendation of the delightfully helpful young lady behind the welcome desk, the boys and I followed the path behind the distillery, noting en route, as luck would have it, what promised to be a fine stop for coffee and cake post hike.
The Forestry Commission path led us into Inverarish Forest. With four colour coded paths to choose from, I decided to follow the one which would lead us up Temptation Hill. The name alone intrigued me and the promise of breath taking views at the top.
A boozy, yeasty, malty aroma followed us half way up the hill, mingled with pine forest, earth and salty sea air.
So why Temptation? The story goes, of a mythical kelpie, who had devoured the local blacksmiths daughter. Hell bent on revenge, the berieved father tempted the beast onto the hill by means of a roasting sow, where he slew the beast. I never realised that kelpies were so vicious!
We were indeed rewarded with fine views across the Sound of Raasay to Skye and of North Bay and Churchton Bay. We didn’t see any kelpies, but maybe the highlight of the day, or certainly one of them was seeing a golden eagle, soaring in all it’s majesty above our heads. Incredible. The dogs were more interested in tearing around, noses to the ground, little heads exploding with exciting scents to follow helter scelter, willy nilly fizzing about like bubbles on a freshly poured glass of irn bru.
Well sated in terms of both views and wildlife, we headed back down the hill, lured not by the smell of roasting sow, but of coffee and cake, a weakness of mine no doubt.
What is now a welcome pit stop for visitors and I’m sure locals alike, used to be a portacabin. It was used during the construction phase of the distillery, and then lay redundant. Now, a fine example of recycling and clever creativity, the humble empty container is fitted out with kitchen equipment and a coffee machine that probably cost more than the cabin itself. Clad on the outside with larch, presumably the inspiration behind the name, this little gem is now a wonderful place for passers by like me to enjoy the most delightful home bakes, toasties, homemade soup and quite possibly the best coffee I have tasted since living in Italy for three years and having been thoroughly spoilt for good coffee ever since. We enjoyed a wee ‘blether’ whilst I waited for my flat white, and the dogs happily dozed under a table in the shade. A huge thank you too to The Larch Box’s owner for letting me use her beautiful photos. The flowers are beautiful, such a pretty extra touch.
His tour complete, Donald came to join us, looking very happy, not least of all because one of the wives didn’t like whisky and as her husband was driving, someone had to drink it!
The tour guide was a local, a university student at home for the summer. He was apparently extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable and good fun. The group was made up of seven people hailing from the USA, Belgium, Switzerland and our very own Scotsman.So a nice intimate and diverse little group. They were given an insight into the history of the building and how the business began, saw the production process from start to finish. Then the tastings.
So new is the Raasay Distillery, their first malt will not be ready to bottle until 2020, not too long to wait now. So one of the tastings was of the aptly named ‘While We Wait ‘, made and bottled by R&B Distillers to Raasays recipe and designed to represent this years first expression. This was achieved by blending two expressions from one distillery, one peated and one unpeated, then finished in French oak Tuscan wine casks. Smoky, fruity, zesty and with an oaky, buttery finish. A tantalising taste of what’s to come. I highly recommend you check out the link to their website for further information.
So, as we sat on a bench beside the Larch Box and reflected over our few hours on this beautiful little island, steeped in history and tradition, and a sense of community, but also forward thinking and ready to embrace an exciting future full of promise, we realised that we had barely scratched the surface and that there was so much more we would like to return to discover.
As we ambled back to the ferry to hop on the 4pm crossing back to Skye, we decided that we couldn’t wait to come back, indulge in a night or two at Raasay House or Borodale House or both and see what the rest of the island has to offer. Much more I think.
Have you ever been to Raasay? Please share your experiences below.
If you havn’t visited this wonderful Island, is it some where you would like to add to your Scotland itinerary?