The end of Calum’s Road

Calum’s Road is a classic case of the old maxim if you want something done then do it yourself. Malcolm Macleod, a crofter who lived on the remote northern tip of the island of Raasay took up that challenge and his story of the road that he built has intrigued me for years and yesterday I rode the road that he built and I now have to admire his determination and tenacity and his skills as a road builder.

Here is his bio, taken from Wikiapedia

Malcolm Macleod (Scottish Gaelic: Calum Macleòid), British Empire Medal (15 November 1911 – 26 January 1988) was a crofter who famously built Calum’s Road on the Island of Raasay, Scotland. He was Local Assistant Keeper of Rona Lighthouse and the part-time postman for the north end of Raasay.

Calum and his brother, Charles, constructed the track from Torran to Fladda (Eilean Fladday), over three winters from 1949-1952. For this, they were each paid £35 a year by the local council.

After decades of unsuccessful campaigning by the inhabitants of the north end of Raasay for a road, and several failed grant applications, Calum decided to build the road himself. Purchasing Thomas Aitken’s manual Road Making & Maintenance: A Practical Treatise for Engineers, Surveyors and Others (London, 1900), for half a crown, he started work, replacing the old narrow footpath. Over a period of about ten years (1964-1974), he constructed one and three quarter miles of road between Brochel Castle and Arnish, using little more than a shovel, a pick and a wheelbarrow. Initial blasting work was carried out and funded, to the sum of £1,900, by the Department of Agriculture’s Engineering Department, who supplied a compressor, explosives, driller, blaster, and men.

Several years after its completion, the road was finally adopted and surfaced by the local council. By then, Calum and his wife, Lexie, were the last inhabitants of Arnish.”

All right, so it was not quite a solo effort, as I did wonder how he managed to cut into the rock faces in a couple of precipitous places but it was his effort that made the road and never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

He started building the road from his home at Arnish on the north end of the island working south. Calum’s croft is behind and to the right of the picture.

The beginning, which is really the end

The beginning, which is really the end


Now what I should have done was taken lots of pictures of the road as I went but honestly it took me all my time to ride the bike along the track. Some of the climbs are quite steep and the corners sharp and the blind summits many. Not to mention the condition if the road itself. It has been tarred and patched in places and there are spots where the holes have been filled with extra gravel toppings, so being a wuss with an almost new Beemer made me a very careful boy.

Beware flying pigs

Beware flying pigs

I don’t fully understand this sign, it may have related to the condition if the road before it was resurfaced, it’s counterpart at the end of the black stretch has been weathered and unrecognisible.

Near the end of Calum’s Road is a memorial to the man

Memorial Cairn

Memorial Cairn

The cairn bears the inscription in the Gaelic and in English, “This former footpath to Arnish – a distance of 1¾ miles – was widened to a single track road with passing places and prepared for surfacing by Malcolm MacLeod BEM. (1911-1988) South Arnish. He accomplished this work single-handedly over a period of ten years.”

Just down is the final point of interest. This is the point where Calum stopped ten years after he started.

The beginning, which is really the end

The end which is really the beginning

The Wheel barrow (remember never let the truth get in the way of a good story) may not be one of Calum’s but it serves as a reminder of what he built it with.

Raasay Roads

The roads on Raasay fall into four broad categories. The best are the black tarred sections. They are level and smooth with no loose gravel. The majority are the grey ones with a high camber and have been patched in a number of places, even the patches have patches. The latest utilising a method of blowing tar and stones into the pothole and sealing it with a topping of loose gravel. The other type of road is also grey with a camber, which is topped either by grass or pine needles, leaving a narrow track either side to ride upon. This was number one on the list of things to scare me to death as turning on this would have been a sure fire invitation for a crash.

The best speed was where I reached something like 40 or 50mph. I can’t say for sure as I was too busy concentrating on the road but I was making good progress. The worst section of road would be the section along the North Bay, with a rough surface and grassy camber. This was the section that I first rode when landing on the island and I was seriously concerned that it was going to be like that all the way.
The views here are great but so is the drop on the left hand side!

The Raasay ferry

You reach the island from Sconser on Skye using CalMac’s new diesel-electric ferry the MV Hallaig. It’s a 20 minute or so crossing, I was too busy taking photos to time the crossing.

MV Hallaig

MV Hallaig

While researching this, I came across a reference to the construction of the ro-ro (roll on, roll off) terminal,

“Successful Completion of Supplies to Balfour Beatty at Raasay Roll On Roll Off Ferry.
Early in 2008, Leith’s (Scotland) Ltd began the quarrying of Torridonian Sandstone at Kishorn… An order was received from Balfour Beatty for the Raasay Ro Ro Terminal which involved the production of over 50,000 tonnes of various Quarry Products and the production of 7,000 m³ of Concrete for the fabrication of precast units which formed the main part of the terminal structure.”

The old slipway was located on the other side of Inverarnish and a little to the left of the old iron-ore pier, you can just see it in my picture. Just behind my bike, on the grass is a large rusting anchor, on closer inspection you will see a swastika. An explanation was found on this web site, which I will quote.

Iron Ore terminal

Iron Ore terminal

“Alongside of the harbour, there also lies a huge anchor. On inspecting this it raised a few questions as there is what would appear to be a Swastika on the left palm (fluke WS), however, as the Swastika as a German symbol is post WW1 it obviously did not relate to the German prisoners working at the mine…. The anchor was made in Sunderland and was laid just off the pier around 1900 to keep the iron ore boats off the pier whilst loading. As the hopper on the pier did not move the boats were moved under it using the anchors. The “swastika”, or in geometric terms an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon, has been around as a symbol for thousands of years, particularly as a Hindu symbol in the holy texts, to mean luck, Brahma or samsara (rebirth). W L Byers of Sunderland, the manufactures of the anchor often used the swastika as a symbol on their anchors…” So once again never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Iron Ore was mined here during World War One, using British labour and controversially German prisoners of war, which was against the Geneva Convention, or other. There is a source to a reference story at the bottom of the page that’s worth reading.

The ore was mined in one of two mines and brought to be loaded onto ships by a narrow gauge railway, the supports are all that is left.

Railway supports

Railway supports

The ore seemed to have been treated in a number of Calcinating kilns for enriching the ore, just what they were fired with or how isn’t quite clear. The kilns were lined with fire bricks bearing the name FASLANE, many of which lie inside the ore hopper.

Iron ore enrichment kiln

Iron ore enrichment kiln

Ore hopper

Ore hopper

Other things of interest on the Island

Very close to the end of Calum’s Road are the ruins of Brochel Castle, which as one commentator once described as emerging out of the living rock, or words to that effect. It certainly seems that way.

The ruins of Brochel castle

The ruins of Brochel castle


Before I left the island, I stopped off at the wee shop on the island, which is owned by the community for something to eat and drink, when I came across this sign. Generally the signs just indicate NORTH but one can’t help smiling at this wag’s efforts.

To the North Pole

To the North Pole


So there we have it but before I go, I also came across three fascinating sources which are worth following; an audio file on Raasay ore mining during the First World War, a reference to the German prisoners of war on Raasay and the last is from the North West Exploration, with a lovely set of photos of the iron mine.

All the photos were taken using the new Fuji X-Pro1 camera, I got much better colour accuracy with a manual white balance and a custom colour profile, seeing that I remembered to bring the Color Checker Passport with me this trip.

With that, I now had the prospect of a five hour trip back home at the end of journey that I have always wanted to make and a place that I have always wanted to visit…

but there’s one thing for sure…

Mair tae come


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