A breakneck journey from Inverness to the last ferry at Sconser was consuming enough in terms of concentration on the winding roads and lanes. You could have been excused for being distracted by the the stunning scenery, picture postcard land and hillscapes and clean highland air - this part of the country has them in droves.
Whilst we thought this prepared us for the few days ahead on the Island of Raasay, I don’t think any of us had expected the serenity, silence, tranquility and raw and humble nature of such a beautiful place.
There are a few immediate things to understand. With its backdrop of Dun Caan, there is one bar and one shop, everyone is called Ian, Skye Gold isn’t a local TV station and the ferry doesn’t run when its misty. You could see this as an idyllic retreat for an author or musician who needs an escape to pen their next project.
TV is not an option. The views, heritage, landscape and environment are far too engaging for that.
People find comfort in sitting and talking, whether it be on the rugged beach line in front of a camp fire, or neighbour to neighbour.
People know people. There is a real focus in pride and endeavour in everything they do - a sense of community, of place – a sense of interaction and commitment to each other and their island.
Getting to know Raasay and its community uncovers the fact that everyone is friendly, welcoming, exceptional hosts and above all, creative and inventive; they have to be.
21st century society has become far too transfixed with the immediacy and availability of anything and everything…..whenever you want it, you get it. Waiting for a kettle to boil these days is ‘just too long’ in some people’s eyes. Living here is different - you have to be patient, plan well-ahead or just make-do. Raasay is, in simple terms, crystal clear waters, roaming sheep, redundant unused robust structures, long picture postcard views, rugged waters edges, cloud covered peaks, drystone walling. It is, by its very location and nature, insular and escapist and calling out to be explored.
Our journey of exploration was three days only. Not really long enough to take it all in, but enough to engage with a community that wholly resonated with us as architects and people. It also included something which inspired this short piece…..……..
Not the water borne variety, but a sculpture. A collection of horsehoes, pitchforks, sheep shears and saw blades all welded together and perched proudly in a commanding position overlooking the Sound of Raasay towards Skye.
It represents much of what Raasay is - a collection of disparate parts that its community has found and made something from. The people of Raasay don’t dispose of things – they embody the very essence of the words reuse, recycle, upcycle; a real mend-and-make-do culture using what is so unique to the island and bringing everything they can back-to-work ; a living, 21st Century 'new deal'.
Whether it be creating family homes from rotting and eroding stone bothys, the labour of love at the watermill building, arts & crafts from local materials, local produce, to passing on an unwanted caravan for others to use.
The very heart of Raasay is built on being creative and sharing and responding to a vernacular that is rooted in the very ground and hills of the island. If only all communities were like this.
Raasay’s continuing reinvention will shortly extend through the new distillery. Harnessing water locally and re-using and extending a tired, rundown and outdated hotel, a new industry will be borne.
The notion of being involved both locally and from a distance is compelling - as architects delivering Rassays first distillery, we get to be part of the creative side of the island first hand, while being involved in delivering a legacy that will do for the island what all the neighbouring islands’ distillerys have done for theirs.
In truth we have created another 'fish' – a coming together of a number of parts – client, design team, contractor, site and built form old and new, creating something which will continue to shape Raasay’s journey hopefully providing another reason for a wider audience to engage with and enjoy this unique island community.