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magic of raasay

Calum's Road

One spring morning, alone in the empty landscape of the Hebridean island of Raasay, Calum MacLeod began to build a road by hand.

BY RICHENDA MIERS

It was ten o'clock in the morning and rain clouds were already gathering as we boarded the half-empty ferry from Sconser in Skye to the island of Raasay. Until recently, for me, Raasay had just been a lumpy landmass across the water to the east of Skye, and anything I knew about it had been gleaned from the diaries of Dr. Johnson and his sycophantic biographer James Boswell when they visited Mr. and Mrs. MacLeod in Raasay House in 1773. Then I read the excellent book, Calum's Road, by Roger Hutchinson and knew in my bones that I had to go and see it for myself.

I had friends and my husband with me, who had come along for the adventure. We drove up the island until we came to Brochel Castle, a jagged ruin perched on top of a volcanic pillar of rock and knew that we had reached our destination. "Rathad Chaluim" proclaims a sign on the verge, with "Calum's Road" underneath should there be any doubt. And one fifth of a mile further on, at the top of a hill, is a dry-stone cairn as tall as a man, with a plaque on it written in Gaelic and then English:

CALUMS ROAD

THIS FORMER FOOTPATH TO ARNISH - A DISTANCE OF 1 3/4
MILES - WAS WIDENED TO A SINGLE TRACK ROAD WITH
PASSING PLACES AND PREPARED FOR SURFACING BY
MALCOLM MACLEOD, B.E.M.
(1911-1988)
SOUTH ARNISH
HE ACCOMPLISHED THIS WORK SINGLE-HANDEDLY
OVER A PERIOD OF TEN YEARS

So, who was this Calum MacLeod (Calum being the familiar name for Malcolm) who lived at Arnish at the northern end of Raasay? And what sort of man, in his 50s, when told by a miserly, cheeseparing authority that he could not have a public road to his village, would build one himself using a handmade wheelbarrow, a pickaxe, a chopper and a shovel?

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2009 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Tartan Masterpieces by Terry Williams.

Photos above: © Calumís Road by Robert Hutchinson courtesy Birlinn Ltd.