In our busy, hectic lives, so many of us strive for simplicity. Simplicity in our homes, meals, and schedules; but it’s often so challenging to find. No matter how hard we try to simplify our lives, somehow the unwelcome business manages to barge in again.
Striving for simplicity and adventure a few summers ago, we left our complicated and demanding lives behind and ventured north, very far north, to the Isle of Raasay. Raasay is a small Scottish island (only 14 miles long) and is part of the Inner Hebrides. It’s nestled between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland, home to 170 people, is breath-taking in beauty…and is not at all easy to get to.
From London, we flew to Inverness, picking up a car and driving for a further 4 hours through breath-taking scenery; stopping briefly for a ginger beer, a packet of crisps and some stone skimming in a loch on mainland Scotland. Then over the Skye bridge, to the edge of Skye, and onto the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Raasay.
Fans of the timeless “are we there yet” will be pleased to hear that this journey offers many opportunities of an encore. No, we were not there yet. Not quite.
Once on the Ferry, we caught our first glimpses of the island. Crossing on a perfectly still day, the sun sparkled off the surface of the water, the wind whipped past us, as we gasped in awe at the beautiful island seemingly floating on the water. Disembarking, we began our journey up the island. Raasay has lots of roads near the ferry port, but as you keep driving, the island the roads fall away and you are left with just one. Callum’s Road. So called because it was built by Raasay resident, Callum MacLeod who was so disgruntled by the lack of decent road on the island he set to building one. So, he did, single handed, every day for ten years, with only a shovel, pick and wheelbarrow. His efforts are commemorated with a signpost and beneath it an element battered, rusty wheelbarrow.
As Callum’s road twists and turns further north up the island, it offers everyone but the driver spectacular views. The drive is not for the feint hearted or the easily distracted, as passengers gasp and point in awe at the diverse beauty of the Island.
Finally, our cars could go no further and we parked up, (no house in sight! You guessed it, we still weren’t there yet!) and loaded our luggage into a quad bike trailer and walked a further 500 meters to our cottage.
No, Raasay isn’t easy to get to, it’s a real ‘trains, planes and automobiles’ trip but my word is it worth it! Our house for the week – which used to be the school house – was perched in the most beautiful location. Nothing in sight in front of us but Loch Arnish, nothing behind but steep hills and mossy woodland. Arriving we ran from room to room marvelling at the views each boasted. The original school room is the main living space and has a fire at each end. Even though we visited in August those were kept blazing the entire week we were there, and would prove perfect for steaming socks after a day’s adventuring!
Dumping our stuff we ran down to the water’s edge, the fractured black rock rising up out of the water to meet us, as we picked our way over the slippy seaweed, and dipped our toes in the cold water. From there all we could see was the Isle of Skye across the water and enormous sky above us. After making a pact that we would swim in that water before we left we headed back up to the house passing a well-placed hammock with the best view around.
So, to the business of island living; although the cottage was on the grid, water that came out of the tap was stained orange by draining through the peat before reaching the house. Drinking water had to come from a nearby spring. Donning our walking boots and picking up the bucket, we squelched through mossy woodland to find the spring. Covered by tarpaulin and stones, we revealed our water source and brushing off floating insects and leaves we lowered our bucket into the spring and filled it full, staggering back to the house with a fresh supply. Filling the bucket became such a favourite job that soon stealth trips were taken and playfights ensued to ensure that the winner got another chance to fill the bucket.
Simplicity is easy to find here. Without mobile reception, we were uncontactable (hurrah!) and spent our days in happy isolation – making bread from scratch on the old worn butchers block, chopping wood to feed those two hungry fires, reading about local history and wildlife and watching the stars.
So clear is the sky on Raasay that the milky way is clearly visible and shooting stars are a common occurrence. We often took to the outdoors after sundown, wrapping ourselves in scratchy tartan blankets and lying on the garden table staring heavenward. With only the sound of the sea, our breathing, the occasional owl and gasps of “I saw a shooting star”, punctuating the silence.
When we weren’t huddled up in our school house we were exploring. Walking boots essential, we packed supplies and set out for a day’s adventure. We found abandoned shepherd’s huts, seals bobbing in the water, and watched in awe as bright white gannets folded their wings and dove down into the water without a splash, only to bob above the surface proudly with a fish in their beak.
Leaving the island at the end of the week with a heavy heart I reflected on our journey; Raasay is a very special island, with its forests, beaches, a single shop, open fires, shooting stars and a week of wonderful memories; simplicity in isolation. Some people will always have Paris. We’ll always have Raasay.
– C XxX