St Kilda – Island On The Edge Of The World
Posted on May 19, 2016 by Russell Murray
“A dark extravagant shape slowly detached itself from the grey overall of sea and sky…” (Charles Maclean)
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!
Discover the Hebrides
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.
Exploring St Kilda
Following our guided walk through the village we were left to our own devices and with 3hrs to spare before departing for Skye this presented the perfect opportunity to enjoy the hike up Conachair, Hirta’s highest point, which offers uninterrupted panoramic views of the whole archipelago.
The hike is gradual to begin with and follows a series of large stone sheep pens before rising steeply onto a natural saddle, The Gap, that sits between the hills of Conachair and Oiseval and overlooks the highest sea cliff in the British Isles!
Once here you are surrounded by what can only be described as a seabird city being home to numerous species including gannets, puffins, fulmars and great skuas which can all be seen (and heard) riding the thermal air streams that rise from a dizzying 300 metres below!
The ascent then steepens as you follow in the cliff top tracks of the resident wild Soay sheep. Further evidence of human existence can then be seen as you approach the hill’s summit including iron stakes that once quite literally held the lives of the St Kildan cragsmen who scaled the cliffs for seabirds during the annual harvests; and beyond this, closer to the hill top, the wreckage of a World War II fighter plane that crashed during a patrol flight in 1943.
Reaching the summit finally, the 360 views of the St Kildan archipelago are impressive and offer the perfect panorama photo opportunity that includes not only Village Bay and its surroundings but also Borerary to the North East with its giant, volcanic, white washed sea stacks rising ominously from the deep both of which are recognised as the tallest in Britain.
Returning to the village harbour we rejoin Derek and the team for afternoon tea and cake (and a chance to share our impressions with the rest of the group) before “setting sail” once again for the Scottish mainland. As an unexpected bonus the route back offers an entirely new perspective of St Kilda as Derek and his team lead us on a marine adventure taking in: the island of Dun with its curious connections to the Spanish armada; Hirta’s cliffs as seen now from the sea and finally, the cherry on the cake (!), the island of Boreray with its gigantic sea stacks and seabird filled skies now seen up close and personal! We reach Uig by 8.30pm and after a very welcome pub meal at The Uig Hotel its back to the bunkhouse for a celebratory dram as we watch the sun go down over Skye, the Hebrides and somewhere far beyond….St Kilda.
How to Get There
To book your St Kilda adventure contact Derek directly as follows:
- Phone: 077899 14144 from overseas +4477899 14144
- Email: [email protected]
- Web: www.gotostkilda.co.uk
If you are interested in visiting St Kilda as part of a wider adventure holiday experience then have a look at our Wildlife Adventure – Outer Hebrides & St Kilda trip. Please contact the team at Wilderness Scotland for more information:
Want to visit St Kilda as part of a wider adventure? Go to our tailor made holiday builder and tell us about your ideal Scottish adventure getaway!
- Explore by boat and on foot, some of the most pristine, wild and spectacular seabird locations in Europe (including, weather permitting, St Kilda - a double UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Look for otters, red deer and golden eagles on the Isle of Harris
- Discover the Uists, stronghold of the rare Corncrake and world famous for their wildflowers and windswept beauty
Price: from £1,695View Trip Details
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