Kevin and I had planned to do a section of the Cape Wrath Trail over the Easter break. But the weather forecasters were predicting Beast from the East III and as each day passed the forecast changed. With the uncertainty we opted to change our plans and thankfully I had an idea up my sleeve. Ever since my first visit to Raasay with my partner I wanted to go back but explore the island on foot starting in the south working my way north. I had researched the path visible on the 1:50K OS map heading along the east coast, but this path didn’t feature in the 1:25K map which I found a bit odd. There wasn’t a lot of information to be found on the web either, I was quite intrigued to see what was in store for us.
The Isle of Raasay is roughly 14 miles long and lies off the east coast of Skye and overlooks the Applecross peninsula on the mainland, a 25 minute ferry trip from Sconser on Skye gets you on the island.
We travelled up to Skye on Wednesday and checked into the Skye Backpackers hostel in Kyleakin, we then nipped out for a couple pints in the King Heakon and Saucy Mary’s pubs. In the morning we set for Sconser to catch the 0925 ferry to Raasay. From here we shuttled our mountain bikes to the Brochel further up the island. We discretely hide the bikes with some fire logs and beer. We travelled back down and parked the car up at the old pier at East Suisnish where we would begin the walk. We walked east along the road for 2km to Eyre where the public road ends. The views back over to Skye are cracking, Blaven making an appearance and of course Glamaig looming large over Sconser.
We reached the end of the public road and spotted a public footpath sign directing us between two fields down towards the beach, rather than walk up the private track we decided to follow this path. A faint grassy path runs along by the fenced off field passing Eyre Point saving you walking across the pebbled beach. Once away from the farm the path continues on between the beach and trees eventually ascending to the small hamlet of South Fearns. We found a warm sunny spot out of the cold easterly wind, we’d be having our usual signature lunch of mackerel and Primula cheese wraps. Delicious!
From South Fearns we picked up the road and walked to North Fearns leaving the last of civilisation behind us.
The old cleared village of Hallaig is 3km further north from North Fearns, the coastal scenery begins to improve as the cliffs below begin to get steeper and more craggy. We met dog walkers who were coming back from Hallaig, we wouldn’t see another human that day!
Just as we turned the corner toward’s Sorley MacLean’s memorial cairn the vista improved yet again, Dun Caan came into view for the first time during the walk and we could see several kilometres of coastline we’d be walking laid out in front of us. We stopped by the memorial cairn where Sorley MacLean’s famous poem about Hallaig can be read in either Gaelic of English.
From the memorial cairn we entered the shady part of the island, it was cold out of the sun. The first of the old settlements is passed as you enter the birch wood. We crossed the stream and ascended uphill to Hallaig. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of Outlander but I could imagine a bustling little crofting community.
The area is littered with several buildings and to add further interest the landscape was full of interesting features of fissures, rock formations and small caves, an area you could spend a bit of time exploring. We chatted about heading up to the summit of Dun Caan, but it was 2pm and we still had quite a few kilometres of coastline to cover to the next settlement and our proposed campsite at South Screapadal. We walked above Loch a Chada-charnaich on a little ridge that descended down to the coastline. Here we picked up the visible path that appeared to be frequented more by sheep than humans.
The sea was calm and we were well protected from the wind, there was even some warmth in the sun. With cliffs guarding any route up we were now committed. It was either continue or retreat. The tide did not look like it was coming in, we continued north without giving it much thought.
A group of sheep in front of us kept moving north as we unintentionally chased them up the coast. The sheep took it in their stride but the going was hard on our feet and ankles, it felt as though we were contouring around a hill, technically I suppose we were. The path remained above sea level until we encountered a small landslide, it was pretty steep above the slip so we opted to rock hop passed this short section and before we knew we were back on the path. This may prove a bit more difficult at high tide!
It’s only 6km between Hallaig and South Screapadal but the going was slow on this terrain, our decision to miss out Dun Caan was the correct choice.
Sea birds and the odd fishing boat passed us by otherwise it felt a very lonely place. We stopped for a second helping of mackerel and Primula cheese wraps.
We followed what we thought was the path, but discovered we were getting higher up. The ground was steeping above the sea and we were scrambling through earthy soil and trees, I slide in the loose soil, this didn’t feel right. We opted to head back down, here we had another section of rock hopping. This section longer than the first, plenty grippy gabbro rock, we just had to watch out for the slippy seaweed. Eventually the land opened up and we arrived at the old settlements of Screapadal. The area was more exposed to the wind and sheep droppings carpeted every decent looking pitch, we looked at each other, shook our heads and agreed to continue on a bit further despite being a bit tired. We opted to chance our luck to pitch at the Brochel.
The remains of Raasay Forest was a bit depressing, most of the trees had been felled. We reached the Brochel, but it was just as windy here. Just beyond the Brochel we descended down to the beach which offered a bit more protection but wasn’t ideal. We spoke about the realistic chances of reaching the bothy but we were both tired, so we pitched up there and then on flattish grass just before the beach.
The easterly wind was still biting, after dinner and some downtime in our shelters we collected drift wood from the tideline and got a fire going for some warmth. It wasn’t a late night as we were both knackered. The fire went out with a whimper and we turned in for the night.
Next again day we were both up for around 8am, by the time we had breakfast and broke camp it was just after 9pm. We were not in too much of a rush as we didn’t want to reach the bothy too early. We went back up to where we hid the bikes and collected our 4 cans of beer and 2 fire logs each. We left the bikes hidden.
Today was more cloudy and the chilly easterly wind was still with us. We continued on the road north on Calum’s Road that stretches nearly 2 miles from the Brochel to Arnish. Calum MacLeod was the lighthouse assistant and part time post man. The inhabitants in the north of the island campaigned unsuccessfully to have the road made beyond the Brochel. Calum took it upon himself to build the road. It took him 10 years from 1964 to 1974 to finish the road. The council later took on responsibility of the maintenance and upkeep of Calum’s Road. A memorial cairn for Calum MacLeod can be seen further up the road.
After 2.5km of road walking we reached Arnish where the public road ends, from here we picked up the path to Torran. We reached Torran where the path forks. Continuing on the left fork gives you the option to visit the tidal Island of Eilean Fladday. We took the right fork which ascends higher into the rugged heart of northern Raasay.
Further on we were presented with another path which branched off towards Eilean Fladday, we headed directly east and at the top of the pass we hid our rucksacks with the carry-out and fire logs. Circa 60 metres of ascent had us a top of the highest point of North Raasay, Beinn an h-Iolaire (254m). The views were extensive; the whole of the impressive Trotternish ridge to our west and Applecross to our east. Dun Caan and the Cuillin to the south.
We retraced our footsteps back to our packs and got back on the path to the bothy. Further on we met a chap, the first human since we’d seen since the dog walkers from yesterday. He had just left the bothy himself and informed us that another chap, Marcus was staying for another night, he also seemed to have delight in telling us that the fire place was useless, blowing smoke into the bothy. Were we carrying 2 kilos of fire logs each for nothing? We said our goodbyes and continued on.
We reached Lochan gun Ghrunnd. According to the Mountain Bothy Association website this lochan is last chance saloon for water. I wasn’t taking any chances and didn’t mind the extra weight penalty to go along with the logs and beer I was carrying in my Tesco bag for life.
We went through a gate and from here it was a boggy section that could rival some of the most notorious boggy sections in Scotland. Thankfully it’s short-lived! The path swung around to a ruined building that looked like it would have made the perfect bothy. From the ruined building the landscape is complex; lots of rocky hillocks and old ruined settlements. The bothy could be difficult to find at night or in misty conditions. With quite a few settlements marked on the map, even GPS was a bit useless, we spied a small cairn and decided to head in that direction. Up and over a small hill revealed the bothy in front of us.
We entered the bothy and noticed one sleeping bag and gear already on the sleeping platform, a gentleman appeared from the north and entered the bothy. Kevin stuck out his hand and said ‘Hello Marcus’. He looked a bit puzzled and replied ‘have we met?’ Kevin joked, nah we just spoke to Peter who was in the bothy with you last night.
The bothy is a single roomed building with a fire place and tables to the left hand side and a large sleeping platform to the right hand side. The floor slopes down towards the fireplace. Marcus confirmed our worst fears about the fireplace when he seen our logs, however he also mentioned that he had seen the grate dumped not far from the bothy. He left to retrieve it. The grate was rusted and had seen better days. Using an oven shelf covered in chicken wire with the original grate we managed to build a makeshift grate that worked well and the fire was rare later that evening!
After a rest and a chat with Marcus, Kevin and I headed off to complete our walk to the north of the island. We had some time to visit the tidal island of Eilean Tigh. Conscious of the tide creeping in we baled of the small island and back onto Raasay collecting some mussels on the way. When we got back to the bothy I boiled the mussels with a wee drop whisky for taste.
The sun was to disappear behind The Storr on the Trotternish Ridge at 7:32pm, we braved the wind to watch the sunset but the cloud prevented any great displays.
Like true Scotsmen Kevin and I managed to twist Marcus’s arm to take a drink. We offered him a can each and he accepted after a bit of encouragement. The 3 of sat by the fire swapping tales of bothies, mountains and travel. The last of the embers died and we retreated to the cold end of the bothy and into our sleeping bags.
Buoyed with our information that the east coast path is doable Marcus set off in the morning, he had done a high level walk two days previous over Dun Caan and reached the bothy in one day, although he admitted it was a tough walk and ended up staying at the bothy for two nights.
We left after Marcus following the path back to Arnish. Kevin lost his Sawyers mini filter the day before between where we dumped our packs and the lochan. We both scanned the path all the way back but didn’t find his filter.
We got back to the bikes near the Brochel and cycled south towards the ferry pier. My knee was a bit sore from the day before. Kevin decided to head up Dun Caan from on his own, after all it was only a short 3km hike to the summit. We agreed to meet back down at the ferry pier. After some lunch we departed company and I cycled down to the car, then drove around to the pier and used the toilet facilities to have a wash. Kevin made it back down for the 5pm ferry back to Sconser.
Neither of us fancied the long drive back home to Edinburgh so we picked up some supplies in Broadford then drove to Glenelg to stay in Suardalan bothy for the night before heading home in the morning. We met a young couple in the bothy and 4 Germans walking to Inverie were camping outside the bothy.
It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, it was -3°c and not a cloud in the sky, it was a bit of wrench to leave the West Highlands in such good weather. We couldn’t complain though we had just explored the stunning Isle of Raasay over 3 days in decent dry weather, we were both content with our backpacking trip as we travelled back to Edinburgh.
Day 1: 19.3km – 7hrs 10mins
Day 2: 10.3km – 3hrs 40mins
Day 3: 9.1km – 2hrs 35mins (only as far as the Brochel).
14.1km from the Brochel to the ferry (cycle)
The Raasay Trail vlog: