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Whisky Whispers

Raasay’s imposing sights

A rugged vista and skyline shaped by tumultuous history are certainly not unique amongst the Hebirdean Isles, yet Raasay sets itself apart as uncommon even in these contexts.

Bracketing the island towards its North-Eastern tip stand the remnants of a 15th century stronghold of surprising stature; to the South-East, a landmark of far more recent historical importance looms up from the rocky landscape.

According to some sources, the aforementioned strong-hold of Brochel Castle was commissioned by the island’s first MacLeod chief MacGilleChaluim (Calum Garbh), who took command from Raasay’s native MacSween clan in 1518. Other legend dictates that the MacSweens gifted the property to Calum Garbh when he was bestowed charge of the island by his father, the Chief of Lewis.

Brochel Castle ruins sign

Mighty Brochel Castle

Stretching so far back into the misty depths of Hebridean history, it’s impossible to tell whether Brochel Castle fell into or was bourne of MacLeod hands. Their activity once in charge of the fortress, however, is strongly imprinted in local folklore!

Used as a headquarters to control the waters between their mainland and island bases, and also as the holding place of their pirated artefacts, the MacLeod’s use of Brochel was often less-than-noble. That said, the sense of seafaring adventure, uncommon activity and headstrong Raasay spirit instilled there by the clan is undeniably enthralling.

This is, undoubtedly, aided by the sense that Brochel has sprung from the land itself. From an entranceway that incorporates a natural ravine into constructed passageways, to the crumbling remains of three towers that blend into the cliff itself, there is a mystical connection between the evolved and manmade here.

Brochel Castle

At Raasay’s opposite end, another equally commanding structure stands as testament to less romantic history, that is nonetheless integral to the island as it stands today.

Iron-Rich

The Raasay Iron Mine was built by William Baird & Co. of Coatbridge after they discovered iron ore and purchased the entire island, along with neighbouring Rona, in 1911. Construction of their vast mine was complete by 1914 – just as The Great War began.

While Raasay’s legacy of illicit distilling reflects a widespread national movement in the face of high distillation tax, the enigma of the island’s industrial heritage is far more singular.

Swiftly short-staffed due to enlistment, yet vital to the creation of munitions shells during WWI, the Raasay Iron Mine was handed to the control of the Ministry of Munitions in 1915. By shipping German prisoners of war to the isle, the government were able to make up the shortfall of labour mining Raasay’s newest and most vital resource.

It’s at this point that records of the Raasay’s history become patchy. All official documentation of the mine’s history was burned in 1920, with German records subsequently bombed by allied forces during World War 2, effectively wiping all details of the incident.

Thankfully, the legacy of Raasay’s Iron Mine isn’t an entirely dark one – the establishment of cutting edge industry brought the very newest technology to this small Hebridean community.

Furthermore, Baird & CO.’s industrial contribution stretched to solid miners housing, and the construction of a pier, which was only replaced in 2010 by the current ferry terminal. It is this that will soon play a vital role in delivering materials for our Raasay distillery build, and dispatching whiskies of deliciously uncommon provenance…

The original pier at Raasay, affront the old iron mine.

The original pier at Raasay, affront the old iron mine.