Review: Calum’s Road by Roger Hutchinson

An account of the life of Calum MacLeod, and the construction of the road from Brochel Castle to South Arnish, which he built almost single-handedly with only a wheelbarrow and a few hand tools, in hopes of bringing settlers back to the north of Raasay, and connecting his two-person community with the rest of the world.

Calum MacLeod seems to have been a truly remarkable man; his persistence and ingenuity – demonstrated not only by the building of this incredible road, but by numerous enterprises throughout his life, which Hutchinson also describes in this book – are inspiring, and Calum’s Road is both a thorough and impassioned account of his life and work, and his dedication to the land and community that raised him. As someone who does not generally read biographies, I’m probably not the best judge, but it seems clear even to me that Hutchinson has taken great care with his research, and has investigated this tale from many different angles.

Which is not to say that the book is perfect. The problems I noticed were quite small, but cropped up a lot: Firstly, Hutchinson uses a lot of quotations, and as the book went on, they became both more frequent, and much longer, sometimes taking up whole pages… Perhaps this is not uncommon in biographical/historical writing, but I would’ve preferred to have read much of it in Hutchinson’s own words, especially since it’s clear that he’s an excellent writer. Secondly, a lot is said about the beauty of Calum’s Road, and of the island as a whole, so it’s a shame that this book doesn’t include any photos or illustrations beyond a couple of maps at the very beginning (and a single photo on the inside of the cover) – and also something of a surprise, since there are a few places in the book where Hutchinson describes photographs in great detail, where surely it would have been much simpler to show the photos themselves…

I do think that my overall impression of this book must have been improved by the fact that I read it while visiting Skye (which is just a short distance from Raasay, and which is mentioned in several places in the book), but even despite that, this was a really interesting and engaging story. (It’s certainly sparked an unexpected interest in Raasay in me, even though I’ve only ever seen the island from a distance, and have never given it much thought…) Undoubtedly, this is a book that will be of most interest to people who already have some attachment or attraction to the Hebrides, or to similar island communities… but if you are one of those people, then Calum’s Road is definitely for you.

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