Raasay is a fascinating island for many reasons. One of its less well known attractions is a Pictish symbol stone standing just to the east or inland side of the single track coast road a short distance north of Raasay House. Its location is, unusually, not marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map, but it is easy enough to spot as you pass, and it is possible to park nearby without causing an obstruction.
It is said that the Raasay Pictish Stone was found by James MacLeod of Raasay in about 1800. It was unearthed not far from the harbour at Clachan on the course of an access road he was building to his Raasay House. About 100 yards from where it was found is a rock with traces of similar carving. The Pictish stone was later moved to its current location where it is displayed on top of a small mound. An alternative story, that the stone served as a sanctuary marker at the nearby St Maol-luag's Chapel until moved to its current location some time after 1935 is also plausible, but both stories cannot be correct.
The stone stands a little over 1.5 metres high, by nearly 60cm wide, and 14cm thick. It is carved only on its front face, and carries three distinct symbols. Uppermost is a Chi Rho cross, one of the earliest Christian symbols. Below it is a tuning fork, laying on its side. Its design, especially of the handle, is very like that on a symbol stone standing at the base of Abernethy Round Tower. The bottom design is of a "crescent and V-rod". It is believed to have been carved between 650 and 700. (Continues below image...)
The Raasay Pictish Stone is unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is one of only nine Pictish symbol stones to have been found in western Scotland, out of a total of some 242 unearthed across the country so far. The vast majority of these stones have turned up in eastern Scotland in an area from Fife in the south to Orkney in the north, so it is unclear how or why the Raasay stone (or the three on Skye, including Clach Ard) ended up here.
Secondly, the design carved on the stone makes it an unusual one. Pictish stones tend to be divided into two types. Early "Class I" stones are natural slabs which carry incised symbols, while later "Class II" stones are shaped slabs which carry relief carving of a cross on one face and other figures or symbols on the reverse. It is unusual for an early "Class I" stone to be inscribed with a cross, as has happened here.
Many aspects of the story of the Picts and their symbol stones are shrouded in mystery and subject to controversy. As yet, no-one has come up with a satisfactory explanation of what the symbols they used actually mean. Perhaps the most persuasive suggestion is that they were used as the symbols of powerful dynasties. This would make them a little like a Royal Coat of Arms in more recent history and might help explain why one symbol, the "crescent and V-rod", is common to six of the nine stones found in western Scotland, including all three on Skye and the Raasay stone: though in fairness, it is also found on many stones in eastern Scotland.