Reaching Raasay is about as elaborate a journey as you’ll be able to undertake in Britain earlier than you begin to surprise why you have not merely gone to Mexico as an alternative. It lies within the Inner Hebrides, simply off the east coast of Skye, six miles or so from the mainland throughout the Applecross sound. I had woken up in Finsbury Park, north London. After a taxi, a flight, a beguiling prepare trip from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and one other taxi to Sconser, on Skye, I lastly met the ferry to Raasay, 11 or so hours after my alarm went off.
The most well-known account of Raasay was by Samuel Johnson, who stopped by on his Western Isles tour with Boswell in 1773
Any reservations slunk off as soon as I used to be sat within the Isle of Raasay Distillery’s bar, clutching a glass of whisky and searching again to Skye throughout the sound. The lodge, which opened earlier this 12 months, is designed to supply this view as typically as doable, with good cause. It’s unassailable, and unavailable wherever else. On the close to aspect of the water, garden and small pastures give approach to pebble seashores and the ocean, an expansion of gray and inexperienced beneath the looming Cuillin mountains on the opposite aspect of the channel. The decrease reaches are swathed in conifers and heather, which surrender the struggle because the slopes will get steeper, exposing raggedy volcanic peaks. Some of those rocks are among the many oldest on earth.
This view is slowly changing into higher recognized, though it was by no means precisely a secret. The most well-known account of Raasay was written by Samuel Johnson, who stopped by on his tour of the Western Isles of Scotland with Boswell in 1773. Comfortingly, the journey was even worse for them, throughout a panorama unmarked by roads or indicators, however as soon as they arrived they settled in as friends at Raasay House, the seat of the ruling MacLeod clan, the place Johnson was shocked by the native breakfasting habits. “A man of the Hebrides… as soon as he appears in the morning, swallows a glass of whisky,” he wrote, “yet they are not a drunken race, at least I never was present at much intemperance; but no man is so abstemious as to refuse the morning dram, which they call a shalk.”
State-of-the-art … the brand new Raasay distillery.
Despite this lengthy historical past of consuming whisky, nonetheless, to say nothing of a proud custom of moonshiners, till just lately Raasay by no means had a correct distillery of its personal. Then in 2013, entrepreneur Bill Dobbie and his outdated schoolfriend Iain Hector Ross, a author and publicist, had been having just a few drams on the finish of a day’s snowboarding. Dobbie was on the lookout for a brand new venture, “something physical and in Scotland, a product that would have a legacy”, Ross defined to me on a Land Rover tour of the island the subsequent morning. The two males first mentioned tweed earlier than turning to the stuff of their palms. “Whisky had been around forever,” Ross mentioned, “and we were mildly aware that people were paying decent sums for it. But we also realised we didn’t know anything about it.”
Nevertheless, the seed of an thought was sown. Ross went off to be taught in regards to the historical past of whisky and ended up writing an entertaining ebook, The Whisky Dictionary. Dobbie seemed for somebody who would possibly truly have the ability to make it. He got here throughout Alasdair Day, a meals trade veteran who had already been seeking to begin a whisky operation. Their preliminary plan was to base it within the Borders, however Ross, whose spouse’s household are from Raasay, heard about an outdated lodge on the market.
Morning commute … a CalMac ferry from Raasay comes into Sconser. Photograph: Alamy
Raasay had loads going for it. There had been no different distilleries, and there was a supply of recent water – a properly that had been in use since Celtic occasions. Also, like most of the Hebrides, Raasay crams into just a few sq. miles lots of bloody historical past, of clearances and raiders and a normal abundance of courageous Scots and dastardly Englishmen. (More just lately, it was off Raasay that the nuclear submarine HMS Astute ran aground whereas the captain was having a bathe.) Recruiting native architect Olli Blair, Dobbie and Day set about overhauling the outdated buildings and putting in a state-of-the-art distillery.
They might hardly have timed it higher. Boosted by a mix of the weak pound, Instagram posts, a Harry Styles video shot final 12 months and minibus excursions from Edinburgh and Glasgow, Skye is quickly gaining in reputation, with customer numbers mentioned to be up 15% this 12 months alone. While the Raasay ferry now runs hourly within the daytime in the course of the week, the island is unlikely to show into Venice any time quickly. There is one city, Inverarish, with a single store, and no pub. All the motion revolves round Raasay home and, now, the brand new distillery. The lodge and distillery are a part of the identical constructing; the lodge is straightforward however surpassingly comfy, with a eating room dominated by a spectacular characteristic wall, designed to imitate the geology of the island.
Our fellow friends included a pair from Atlanta, Georgia, and a pair of German Outward Bound instructors. We additionally handed a bunch of males who referred to as themselves the Dram Busters, outdated associates from England who meet a number of occasions a 12 months to climb a hill and drink a good Scotch.
Waiting game … contained in the distillery. The first whisky shall be prepared in 2020.
While the lodge is up and working, the Raasay staff are within the conventional limbo of recent distillers, as they won’t have something to drink till 2020. Until then they have a holding whisky, While We Wait, designed to offer a way of how the completed product would possibly style: much less peaty than among the heavier Islay-style whiskies, with a fruitiness that comes from a longer-than-average fermentation interval. The final census, in 2011, found that Raasay had a inhabitants of 192, which suggests the brand new distillery employs a big share of the island’s working inhabitants. “If you’re from Raasay, the chances are your family is either involved in crofting or on the sea,” defined Callum, who was engaged on native ferries earlier than beginning his new job giving wonderful distillery excursions. If doubtful, everybody on Raasay known as Callum. The perennial drawback for younger folks, he mentioned, is housing, which is tightly managed by the council.
On the final morning I meant to go for a stroll, however I used to be distracted once more by the view. Clouds rumbled into sight from the south, bullying their manner into the sound. Under a heavy sky, the slopes on Skye deepened to plum and chestnut. The solely brilliant level was the ferry that shone like an outdated crooner underneath a crack within the clouds. Even with such an interesting new vacation spot, a go to to Raasay is barely tangentially about whisky, simply as whisky is barely tangentially about whisky.
Way to go
Rooms on the Isle of Raasay distillery begin from £126 (raasaydistillery.com). Flights from Gatwick to Inverness begin from £29 (easyjet.com). Trains from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh begin from £10