Wednesday 11 October 2006--We arrived in Thurso at 3:30 or so. At the tourist office, we checked on the ferry
out of Gills Bay, knowing that a strong south wind was trouble for them. We were assured that the ferry was running, so we had a
pint at Top Joe's before driving out. On arrival, we found that the ferry had been canceled after all. I made some phone calls
from the side of the road, canceling our room in St Margarets Hope and booking us onto the Northlink ferry out of Scrabster.
Tried to call the Orca Hotel in Stromness, but couldn't raise anyone. We will arrive in Orkney at 9:30 without a room. I suppose,
worse comes to worst, we can sleep in the car....
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Saturday 11 October 2014--We're off to Raasay today, crossing the bridge to Skye and catching the ferry at Sconser. We visited the island in 2011, walking up Dun Caan, and have been wanting to see more of it.
Drive the narrow road north, crossing over from the west side of the island to the east, and stop for a look at the meager ruin of Brochel Castle. This was the seat of the Raasay Macleans before they moved to a manor house in the southwest, where the island's population of fewer than 200 is now concentrated. Before the Clearances, crofting townships were spread across the island, although there were never more than about 900 persons living here. The crumbled remnants of one such township, Screapadal, lie a mile or so south of Brochel, and that is our primary goal today.
A track leads south along the coast to the ruins, which stand on either side of An Leth-allt. The burn cuts deeply into the steeply-sloped patch of fertile ground, wedged in between cliffs to the south and rocky land to the north. I've seen a few of these Clearance villages now, and it's still difficult for me to picture people making a living in such a place. The site faces northeast, the hills behind rising sharply; the sun must disappear early in the afternoon, even in summer. Winter light must be brief and dim. The grazing sheep seem to like it well enough.
The road north from Brochel to Arnish is known as Calum's Road. Calum MacLeod was a crofter at Arnish, part-time postman, and assistant keeper of the light on Rona, the island just north of Raasay. (As Gordon said in Local Hero, "We tend to double up on jobs around here.") Along with the other residents of the northern end of Raasay, he petitioned unsuccessfully for years for a road to replace the narrow track that led to the remote crofts. Eventually he decided to build it himself. He bought an old road-building manual, and, using nothing but hand tools, did a proper job of one and three-quarters miles of road. It took him ten years, from 1964 to 1974. The road was eventually adopted and surfaced by the government. (The government also did some preliminary blasting, a fact that is not mentioned in most accounts.)
Calum's Road has long since passed into Scottish legend. It's held up as an example of one man's self-reliance, and struggle with government. Or something. To tell the truth, I have a hard time getting much out of the story, except for the utterly quixotic nature of it. By the time Calum finished his project, he and his wife were the only residents of Arnish. Even today, there is but a small handful of people living north of Brochel. Calum's is a road to nowhere.
Nonetheless, we enjoy the scenery along the winding, twisting route. I have it in mind to park at Arnish and walk along the track to the northern end of the island, perhaps onto the tidal island of Fladday. But we don't have time, and anyway, the weather is getting dreary. We return to the southern end of Raasay and poke around a bit before catching the 3:30 ferry back to Sconser.
Dinner is at the Plockton Inn. We stay too late, which is normal on your last night in a place you really like.