In May 1911 William Baird & Co Ltd, ironmasters of Coatbridge bought the Isle of Raasay Estate to mine for iron ore. In 1914 the First World War broke out, just as the mine was ready to go into full production.
On the small island of Raasay thirty-six men were called to fight for their country, leaving no one to work the mine. The mine was as good as shut down before it even started.
By 1916 the German submarine campaign was preventing iron ore getting to Britain from abroad. The government desperately needed iron and steel for the war effort. They took over the mine, with Baird & Co still running it as agents, and provided German Prisoners of War (PoWs) as the workforce for the mine.
Between 1911 and 1914 Baird & Co set up the mine on the south end of the island - the remains of which you can still walk around today.
When arriving on Raasay, from Skye, you step onto the pier built in 1912 by Robert McAlpine & Sons. The pier allowed the iron ore to be easily shipped to Skye and then on to the mainland. Traces of a dismantled tramway run north from the pier; once used to transport iron ore from the mines. The railway leads to the abandoned mines, at the edge of Raasay Forest.
Visiting Raasay Mines
The exact location of Raasay Mines is grid reference NG 555 364.
The best place to access the site is Inverarish. From here there is an official trail called the Miners' Trail. This visits some of Raasay's old iron ore buildings and follows the route of an old incline railway to Suisnish pier. The route is graded moderate and is 1 mile long. It takes approximately 45 minutes to walk.
All sites managed by Forestry Commission Scotland are open for you to explore. However, not all sites have paths or signage and some are a considerable distance from car parking. We recommend that visitors consult a detailed map and wear appropriate clothing.
Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and remember that historic sites should be treated with care and respect.
German Prisoners of War
When Baird & Co built the Inverarish Terraces and Cottages for their workforce in 1912 they could not have envisioned that they would be used to house German Prisoners of War (PoW).
Inverarish Terraces were adapted to be a prison by enclosing them in barbed wire fencing. The army officers, led by Captain K. G. MacLeod and charged with guarding the prisoners, stayed at Inverarish Cottages.
Despite the war, relationships between the PoWs and the islanders were good. Dr Sorley MacLean, renowned Gaelic writer, recalls a PoW inviting him, as a young lad, on a trip on the farm cart.
The PoWs were given small rations, so islanders and workers provided them with a little extra. Alex Fisher would sneak in an extra "piece", (a sandwich), each day to give to a PoW. Many PoWs made wooden toys for the local children.
The head mining engineer, David Munro, was highly respected by the islanders. He was given a gift of a beautifully made small table, inlaid with hardwood, by the PoWs, suggesting that they had a similar opinion.
Munro's daughter remembers concerts at their house, where a talented PoW would play the violin.
Stories of escapes are few and none were successful. Sadly just as the war ended several of the PoWs died of illness and are buried on the island.