If you were to create a bucket list of places to visit then St Kilda should be on that list.
Sometimes described as ‘the islands at the edge of the world’, the archipelago of St Kilda is located 50 miles west of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Formed from the rim of an ancient volcano, it is the remotest part of the British Isles.
Our day on St Kilda was amazing. We set off from Leverburgh on Harris for a two and a half hours high-speed boat ride along with 10 other eager visitors plus two crew. For at least half the time there was no land in view in any direction. Then in the distance we could see a series of indistinct smudges on the horizon and finally we arrived at Hirta the main island.
Comprising four islands – Hirta, Soay, Boreray and Dun – as well as several sea stacks, St Kilda is truly spectacular. It is one of only 29 global locations to be awarded ‘mixed’ World Heritage Status in recognition of both its natural and cultural significance.
St Kilda was home to a community who survived the inhospitable conditions here for thousands of years before the final 36 people were evacuated in 1930. They had survived near famine as well as disease that was brought to the island by passing ships. It is said they had perfect teeth as there was no sugar in their diet.
We walked through the main street of the deserted township with its small crofts all looking out over the bay. Dotted all around the island are hundreds of cleits – small huts made of stones that were used for storage.
The people of St Kilda were not really fishermen, as one might expect, as the seas were too treacherous. Instead they survived on seabirds – mainly gannets and fulmars which they caught and used for food. Nothing went to waste. The meat was dried, stored, and finally in the cold winter months it was eaten. The seabird oil provided fuel for lamps, and their feathers were used for bedding.
We had a few hours to explore and walk in the sunshine till a sea haar came down, and then we set off back via the other islands including Boreray and Stack Lee which were 200 foot cliffs coming sheer out of the water with thousands of puffin, gannet, kittewake, arctic tern and others covering every ledge and wheeling around in the sky. There are even 300 wild sheep on the vertical cliffs of Boreray but no one has farmed the island for 90 years.
Today, St Kilda is the most important seabird breeding centre in north-west Europe and also is home to an early warning military radar station. We were lucky to go on a calm day as often the cruise cannot take place because of the wild Altantic weather. Try and go one day – you won’t be disappointed. Keith Rose