The Hebrides, where our whisky story is expanding into from our 19th century Borders heritage to new frontiers of distilling on the Isle of Raasay, are named for the Norse word ‘Harbredey’. This roughly translates to “isles at the edge of the sea.”
It’s little surprise then, that an area so reliant on the surrounding ocean should host a number of myths and legends of the sea-monster variety! Various sightings have been reported over time off Lewis, and Mysterious Britain detail many a mythical tale here.
Inspiration for the Arts
The Hebridean islands are the most westerly from Scotland’s mainland, and are categorised into the Outer and Inner Hebrides. Much more vast in area than you might realise, the Inner Hebrides alone comprise 79 islands, only 35 of which are inhabited. It’s in this group that you’ll find Raasay, sitting just off Skye – part of the Northern Inner Hebrides. The Southern Inner Hebrides include Mull, Islay, and Jura, while the Outer Hebrides span Lewis, Harris, St Kilda, and Uist to name but a few.
Whisky distilling along with crofting, fishing, and tourism is named as one of the main commercial industries and beyond this, Hebridean history is also steeped in romantic visions of castles, powerful clans, and artists.
Our own Raasay is the birthplace of poet Sorely MacLean, on Jura George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 was largely written, and the film adaptation of Peter Pan in 1924 by J.M. Barrie was written while on Eilean Shona. For something more recent, the author of How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell, reportedly spent her childhood summer holidays on the Inner Hebridean islands, and it seems this served as inspiration as she is quoted saying it is “one of the most beautiful places on Earth (…) the kind of place where you expect to see dragons overhead.”
One of the most famous true legends of the Hebrides happens to be a whisky tale as well. That of the SS Politician and its liquid gold cargo.
If you’ve seen the film Whisky Galore (currently being remade), you’ll know the story of how this 8000-ton ship bound for Jamaica and New Orleans ran aground off the coast of Outer Hebridean Eriskay in 1941.
The crew were unharmed and made it to the shore where they were looked after by local residents. When the islanders learned that the ship had 264,000 bottles of whisky on board they set about enacting illegal salvage operations to top-up their wartime-diminished supplies.
The island rules of salvage meant that to them that they were within their rights to take what had fallen into the sea, but the local customs officer certainly didn’t see it that way and launched his own campaign against them!
Once about 24,000 bottles had made their way back to Eriskay, the customs officer, McColl, exploded the ship’s hull to prevent further salvage, or as he saw it – theft. Onlooker Angus John Campbell famously said “Dynamiting whisky. You wouldn’t think there’d be men in the world so crazy as that!” We agree!
As we grow ever closer to our vision of the first legal distillery on Raasay, we hope to one day to become a fixture in the ongoing narrative of this uncommon provenance. There’s surely some room for our resident bats, and Olli the otter to become legends of their own, and of course, our Raasay Whisky – in our opinion – is bound to be legendary.