Today's Raasay House is the focal point of just about any visit to the island of Raasay, both geographically and in terms of practical considerations. As far as the geography is concerned, the ferry from Sconser on Skye lands you at the fine new terminus at Churchton Bay which, give or take an expanse of parkland and a herd of cattle, is virtually on the front doorstep of the community-owned Raasay House. It's certainly only a couple of minutes' drive away.
In practical terms, it is difficult to see how anyone visiting the island could avoid spending some of their time at Raasay House: and more difficult to see why anyone would want to avoid it. A range of different types of accommodation are on offer here, from hotel-style to hostel-style, and we even noticed some wigwams near the outdoor activity centre to the north west of the main house. And speaking of the activity centre, many people will find themselves visiting Raasay specifically because of the very wide range of activities on offer here.
Raasay House is also an ideal stopping-off place for anyone looking for something to eat or drink on the island. There's an excellent cafe open during the day (their steak ciabattas can be very highly recommended), plus a bar, and a restaurant for evening dining. On an island with few facilities for visitors we found ourselves stopping off for lunch and later returning for afternoon tea. (Continues below image...)
For us it was a real pleasure to find Raasay House such a thriving and attractive place on our most recent visit to the island. Our previous trip to Raasay had been in April 2009. At that time Raasay House was a roofless, burned out shell. In the early hours of 18 January that year, and just a few weeks before the completion of a £4m restoration project, the house was severely damaged by fire. Our photo on this page shows the aftermath.
But that's what insurance is for, and by the end of 2009 the Raasay House Community Company had arranged for work to begin on restoring the house for a second time. This process did not go smoothly, and in November 2010 the contractor employed to do the work went into liquidation. Work resumed using another contractor in September 2011 and the restored Raasay House finally reopened its doors at the beginning of April 2013.
As you look at what has been achieved today, it becomes clear that all the effort over such a long period of time was worth it. The feeling of care and quality in the public areas is palpable, and it is particularly nice to see the way the library, at the west end of the house and the only significant part not destroyed in the fire, has retained its wonderful character.
Raasay House's origins date back to a house built here for the MacLeod Chief of Raasay in the early 1500s. His descendent backed the losing side in the 1745 Jacobite uprising, and the first Raasay House was burned down by Government troops in 1746 during a vicious campaign of retribution that swept across the Highlands and Islands. Building of the current Raasay House began the following year, 1747, and in 1773 James Boswell and Samuel Johnson had an especially enjoyable time here as guests of the Chief of Clan MacLeod during their well documented tour of the Hebrides.
The last MacLeod laird of Raasay emigrated to Australia in 1843 and the house (and island) changed hands on a number of occasions over the following eighty years, during which time it acquired extensions and a new facade. Raasay House served as a sporting hotel between 1937 and 1960, and was purchased by the Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1979, along with other properties on the island. The house spent much of the next quarter century serving as an outdoor activities centre, and was purchased by the Raasay House Community Company in December 2007. They began a major refurbishment project the following year and... well that's where we began this story.
Suffice it to say that Raasay House has not always been the most fortunate of buildings, and it really is good to see that its fortunes finally appear to have changed for the better: and perhaps with them those of an island whose population actually decreased, from 194 to 161, between 2001 and 2011.