Raasay House is a high quality 18th-century designed landscape exploiting its picturesque location and incorporating later 19th-century walks set with antiquarian incidents.
Type of Site
An 18th-19th century country house, with adjoining walled garden and associated formal designed landscape set within a 19th century park with extensive pleasure grounds.Location and Setting
Raasay Estate lies at the south-west end of the Island of Raasay. Raasay House stands above two natural bays, which together comprise Churchton Bay and faces south with spectacular views towards Sconser on Skye and the Cuillin Hills beyond. The site overlooks the Narrows of Raasay where 1km separates the islands of Skye and Raasay.
Raasay House is sheltered to its north by Cnoc an Ràtha (116m) and to its east by Borodale (90m) the valley between them being cut by Allt Nigheidh which issues from Loch a' Mhuilinn.
The essential landscape character of Raasay House designed landscape rests on the contrast of its relative grandeur compared to the smaller scale natural elements and fishing cottages around Churchton Bay.
The designed landscape reached 225ha (556 acres) at its greatest extent (1877, OS 6"). The general configuration of the layout remains today, although the estate is now in divided ownership.
Raasay House has an early-mid 18th century core with a frontage of c 1800, remodelled 1848. Later additions of 1877 by Alexander Ross were built of Raasay freestone ashlar with polished dressings. The Gardener's Cottage is an early 19th century single-storey and attic three bayed house, with centre pedimented door piece, all built of coursed rubble with tooled dressings. Raasay House Mains is a farm square built in several phases, but mainly 19th century. Buildings in the complex are harled rubble with tooled dressings and margins. The south front has a centre pend topped by a square clock tower, added by Alexander Ross, c 1877. Top Barn, a long hay-threshing barn of dressed, coursed rubble lies north of the square. Other features in the policies include a factor's house, kennels and boathouses.
Some early Christian sanctuary markers, the ruins of St. Maol-luag's Chapel, a Pictish cross-slab and a standing stone were incorporated into picturesque walks.
The Battery, or Look Out, at Churchton Bay is encircled by a low crenellated wall topped with spearhead, cast-iron railings. Two statuesque reclining mermaids, originally intended to adorn the portico to the house, are set outside the crenellated wall facing seawards towards Skye.
Drives and Approaches
The circular coastal road passes through the estate running immediately to the north of the walled garden. This road links the house to the pier at Suisnish and to Inverarish. To the north-west of the house the drive leaves the coastal road and, passing by the south front of Raasay House, leads through to the Mains and Top Barn. From thence it leads southwards, turning westwards along the coast to reach the pier and Battery at Churchton Bay.
Immediately on the south front a lawn, sheltered by the East and West Plantations, descends to three grass terraces ending in a fence. This divides the lawns from the parkland, which extends southwards, to meet the seashore beyond. The parkland also sweeps round to the north-west, forming the foreground in views to and from the house. North-west of the house is a tennis court (1901, OS 6").
The relatively open, parkland character has survived, although modern fencing disrupts its appearance. By the late 19th century two roundels had been planted (1877, OS 6"). These were badly damaged in storms during 1990 but that to the south-west of the house has been replanted.
Woodland to the north, east and west of the house provides shelter and a backdrop for the house in views from the south. Areas of woodland have been extended since 1877, principally the Oskaig Plantation north of the road and kitchen garden, and Battery Wood (1877, OS 6").
The 18th century, East and West Plantations flanking the house are important design features framing the view, the surviving planting indicates that a regular planting pattern was adopted. The species mix is lime, sycamore, beech, horse chestnut and noble fir with a yew understorey and some holly. Rhododendron and cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) line the drives.
South east of the house lies a woodland garden which incorporates a 19th century, fern-planted dell set with an iron fountain, attributed to MacFarlane's Saracen foundry, in the form of an upturned flower; its petals form the fountain bowl with herons dancing within and an elongated stamen forms the jet. Raasay Primary School restored it to working order in 1998. A lime walk leads from the dell north-westwards to the house.
The pleasure ground walks led through the woodlands to the north of the house, with a circuit reaching down to the shore and the Battery. Many of the paths in the former are now overgrown or disused. The main path leads up though Kennel Wood to Loch a'Mhulinn and northwards to a second walled garden and Orchard Cottage. This circuit led back to Raasay House via the southern slopes of Cnoc an Ràtha, where rocky outcrops are now covered by conifer plantation and the route was set with various sculptured/standing stones, the Symbol Stone still stands to the north-west of the house.
Situated immediately on the north side of the house is the walled garden, laid out on land which rises steeply northwards. Steps lead up from the house entering the garden through gates set within iron railings. The north garden wall, lined with brick, is set with a range of derelict glasshouses and cold frames. An ornamental glass-house appears to have been positioned centrally along the north wall, forming the central axis to the walled garden. Currently the walled garden is an organic kitchen garden.
- Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts
The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:
Reason for Inclusion
A high quality 18th century designed landscape exploiting its picturesque location and incorporating later 19th century walks set with antiquarian incidents.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Mid 18th century, 1846, 1877.Site History
The Isle of Raasay was long-held by Macgille-Chaluim, the MacLeods of Raasay. By the late 17th century they had abandoned their ancient seat at Brochel Castle situated in the north of the island and built a three storey tower, Kilmoluag Castle, reputedly at or near the site of Raasay House. A new house was built c 1720 ' the shell of which is encased in the present house. In 1745 Malcolm MacLeod, 10th Chief, joined the Jacobite cause and this new house fell victim to government reprisals following the defeat at Culloden in 1746. Little is known of that building, apart from the fact that Cumberland's troops 'brunt Rasay's good house to ashes, as also the whole houses upon the island excepting two small villages that escaped their sight' They likewise found all Rasay's furniture and silver-plate hid in a cave''
Nevertheless, the stone walls remained so in c 1747 and, in c 1762, John MacLeod commenced remodelling it with a new south-facing front of five bays, flanked by lower wings. The dramatic landscape comprising the main view from the house was amplified, by means of its being deliberately framed. This was formed by flanking plantations, splayed slightly outwards to accentuate the perspective, extending to the sea on either side of the front green and framed by Glamaig and Ben Lee on the west and Garbh-bheinn and Bla Bheinn to the east. In 1773 John MacLeod entertained Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and his future biographer, James Boswell (1740-95), at Raasay House. Johnson described the house as 'a neat, modern fabric of eleven rooms' while Boswell commented on its picturesque qualities, situated with 'a fine verdure about it, - with a considerable number of trees; - and beyond it hills, and mountains in gradations of wildness.' He described the 'good garden well stocked with kitchen stuff, gooseberries, raspberries, currants, strawberries, apple-trees. There is a tolerable southern wall on which fruit trees have been tried, but have been neglected. ' A drawing of 1815 (Daniell, 1815) shows the house from the north with this walled garden in the foreground and Skye in the background.
James MacLeod, the 11th chief who succeeded in 1787, established further plantations, which formed the nucleus of the 19th century park. A two-storey seven-bay classical southern frontage, taller and longer than the pre-existing house, was added c 1790-1805. A landscape painting of c 1823 depicts the facade against a landscape backdrop of towering hills (Roberts, 1980, p.230), although the artist rotated the house to show its southern façade against its southern setting. It was referred to in 1841 as a 'very splendid modern house' built between 1787 and 1815 (New Statistical Account, 1845). The promontory jutting centrally southwards into Churchton Bay was set out with a Battery during the Napoleonic Wars. As at Islay House (q.v. Inventory Supplementary Volume, Strathclyde, forthcoming) this was also treated as an ornamental landscape feature.
The MacLeod family sold the estate for £37,000 c 1843 to the Rainys of Edinburgh, the first of several mainly absentee landlords who owned the house until the late 1970s. From 1846, the first Rainy laird cleared 14 townships, created sheep farms and extended Raasay House in 1848, probably commissioning Charles Wilson (1810-63) as architect. Thereafter Rainy's son, who was resident at Raasay, undertook some more imaginative agricultural reform.
In 1875 the Wood family bought Raasay estate and developed the island as a sporting estate. This may explain the need to add a further wing, designed by Alexander Ross, to the house in 1876-7. Herbert Wood built a deer fence to protect the parks and policies of Raasay House, including the Home Farm. It enclosed an area from the coast south of Oskaig up to Creachan Lodge, south-eastwards along the hill to Glen Lodge and then south to a point near the pier. Ornamental trees and shrubs were planted along walks, chiefly from Raasay House to Dun Borodale, the old Manse and the Free Church and along to Loch a' Mhuilinn, reached by way of the ruins of St Mao-luag's Chapel.
By the early 20th century the estate was in the ownership of Wallace Thorneycroft who collaborated with William Baird & Co, ironmasters, in locating and analysing the potential of Raasay ironstone. Bairds purchased the island estate in May 1911, setting up a mine, railway, kilns, new pier and workers housing at Suisnish. Production ceased in 1918. Raasay House then became a hotel, temporarily, and was eventually bought by the Highland and Islands Development Board in 1978. By this time the house had suffered from a lack of investment and maintenance and a new use was needed.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise now own Raasay House and parts of the estate (2001). Other areas of the estate remain in private ownership. Raasay Outdoor Centre, in the East Wing of the house, offers accommodation and courses in water-sports and rock climbing, while the West Wing is used as a Community Hall.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Country House (featured building)
- Description: Raasay House has an early-mid 18th century core with a frontage of c 1800, remodelled 1848. Later additions of 1877 by Alexander Ross were built of Raasay freestone ashlar with polished dressings.
- Key Information
Open to the public