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Whisky Whispers

Calum's Road, Isle of Raasay

Calum’s Road

For an island of such small area, Raasay is awash with folklore and tales of strong characters. Perhaps it’s the unique terrain and northerly location that inspires its citizens. Or, perhaps those born there are part Raasay, instilled with the same defiant and rugged character as the island itself?

One particular legend of note is the indomitable Calum MacLeod, who spent 10 years of his life building Raasay’s most famous stretch of road.

Until 1982, Raasay’s one and only single-track road extended no further than the landmark of Brochel Castle. Until 1912, a significant proportion of the island population resided beyond what was undeniably the end of the road.

Fast-forward to the 1960s and North Raasay’s last remaining northern resident Calum MacLeod – tired of his unavoidable two-mile walk from Arnish to reach the road itself – quite literally decided to take matters into his own hands.

Over the next decade the 56 year old cleared, mapped and laid almost two miles of solid road through heath and over hill using nothing but his hand tools.

Calums Road barrow

Undiscovered Scotland succinctly identify Calum MacLeod’s story as “the classic example of the intelligent and well-read crofter taking on officialdom and, after decades of persistent effort, winning”.

As his last neighbour recalled, “What he decided to do was to build a road out of Arnish in his months off. With a road he hoped new generations of people would return to Arnish and all the north end of Raasay”.

Anybody who has visited Raasay will know the terrain is as audacious as those who reside there, rising, falling, curving and growing in the most uncommon of fashions.

And for those who perhaps need reminding that Raasay is an island of many intriguing twists and turns? A sign has been placed about half way up Calum’s Road itself showing a pig apparently leaping between two unexpected hollows in the road…

It’s pertinent to acknowledge Calum MacLeod’s unshakable dedication to Raasay life. He acted not only as a visionary in building a new causeway in harmony with the undulating landscapes, but also as a self-sufficient crofter and sole lighthouse keeper at Rona.

It’s only then that you can appreciate Calum’s Road as the “truly epic piece of engineering” it is (again, in the fantastic words of Undiscovered Scotland).

Despite being taken over by Raasay council in 1982 and resurfaced as an extension of the existing road, this stretch of island heritage is forever attributed to its eternal owner with a plaque reading:

“This former footpath to Arnish – a distance of 1¾ miles – was widened to a single track road with passing places and prepared for surfacing by Malcolm MacLeod BEM… He accomplished this work single-handedly over a period of ten years.”*

It isn’t only beneath our feet and tyres that Calum MacLeod’s legacy persists. Scottish folk band Capercaillie paid tribute to his spirit on their 1988 album ‘The Blood is Strong’, soon after his passing at the age of 77.

More recently in 2006, Roger Hutchinson immortalised the story in prose; we highly recommend finding yourself a copy of his bestseller ‘Calum’s Road’ as the ideal literary pairing to a dram of our Raasay While We Wait Single Malt.

 

With thanks to Undiscovered Scotland and Amazon.co.uk for their contributions quoted in this piece. *Calum is from the Gaelic ‘Chaluim’, which is ‘Malcolm’ in English. 

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