“It’ll be like an Autobahn” 1
Emma Nicolson, Director of ATLAS Arts, joined the Spiral. Her input on the shaping of the project, her choice of Raasay as location and suggestion of Skye artists Caroline Dear and Jessica Ramm, has proved invaluable. Emma invited local author Roger Hutchinson to meet the group and talk about ‘Calum’s Road’, which tells the true story of a road built over ten years by one man on his time off, Calum MacLeod, to link up to his declining community of Airnish at the north of Raasay.
MacLeod wanted a ‘motor road’, using a 1901 book about building roads for motor vehicles to act has his guide. Using a pick, wheelbarrow, spade and hammer to make the road from stones, his friends also got him dynamite, which he used to blow up a local landmark, a stack that was in the way of the road. He completed the road in 1979, at a point when it was only he and his wife remained in Airnish.
Roger Hutchinson covered the ‘practical sphere and metaphorical sphere’ of this true story. He said that MacLeod was aware he was ‘building a metaphor’ as he fully realised that the migration from his home community was terminal. As the local council, Inverness County Council, had always refused to build the road, latterly citing their decision in view of unsustainable costs for such an enterprise, for such a low population, MacLeod also knew he was building something subversive. Hutchinson said that the Raasay islanders he interviewed said, “Just how he did it was beyond belief to all of us”.
Hutchinson proved to be a great storyteller. He concluded that Calum Macleod died in 1988, found by his wife in his wheelbarrow, presumed to have had a heart attack. Calum MacLeod was posthumously awarded a British Empire Medal, not for the feat of building singlehanded this two mile stretch of road, but for his work as an assistant lighthouse keeper.
1 Vision of Calum MacLeod, Oct 1982, ‘Calum’s Road’, Roger Hutchinson, 2008, Birlinn Limited