Since I was a boy and first heard talk of a daring sea kayak attempt to one of Europe’s most remote and inaccessible Atlantic outcrops, the Hebridean island of St Kilda has remained a source of mystery and intrigue.
So when the opportunity with Wilderness Scotland and GoToStKilda arose to visit the island with my girlfriend in May this year, that childhood sense of excitement and wonder was rekindled at the promise of journeying to this wild and remote island seemingly adrift on the edge of the world!
Our St Kilda journey began the night before with a scenic drive from Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands to the fishing village of Uig on Skye’s north west corner where we were to meet our affable and experienced skipper Derek Gordon- GoToStKilda business founder- and his knowledgable crew early the next morning for a 7am departure from the village pier. A stone’s throw from the pier, our accommodation for the evening was an eco pod in the newly built and very well appointed Cowshed boutique bunk house which boasts stunning sea views overlooking Uig harbour, Outer Hebrides and beyond.
Lying around 110 miles off the coast of Skye (which translates roughly as a 3hr motor at 20 knots from Uig in a comfortable, 11 metre enclosed vessel) and about 50 miles west of Harris, the island of St Kilda truly feels a world apart. And until the 19th century was an isolated civilisation that in many ways had more in common with the tribes of the Amazon than the peoples of Britain.
We arrive late morning to Village Bay on Hirta the largest of the archipelago’s four satellite islands and who’s name, much like the other islands of Soay, Boreray and Dun, can be traced back to both Celtic and Viking origins. After being brought ashore by dinghy we receive a warm welcome from Susan Bain of the National Trust for Scotland who own and manage the island as a National Nature Reserve. As Susan explains, the islands and surrounding waters of St Kilda are home to the most important seabird breeding station in North West Europe with Britain’s biggest colony of Puffins and the worlds largest colony of gannets to name but a few of the incredible wildlife stats to be found on St Kilda!
As the UK’s only UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site, St Kilda’s cultural significance is also incredible and an equally compelling draw for visitors. As we discovered joining the guided village walk with Nicola from Derek’s team, St Kilda was once home to a remote island community that survived for over 2,000 years living off sea birds, fish, crops and sheep.
Indeed you only have to look around at the ruined black houses and numerous stone built stores (known as “cleits” of which the island has 1700!) to get a sense of how this resilient community lived. It wasn’t until 1930 that the last residents of St Kilda had be be evacuated due to a rapidly declining population and an over dependence on the outside world.
Discover the Hebrides