- diary - please go to images
the wastes of the North Atlantic, a rock stack or a mountain peak breaks the surface.
These outcrops represent the outermost regions of the British Isles and at times
they are virtually inaccessible. Modern Navigational aids locate them with ease
but the weather can be so atrocious making safe landing impossible. Yet long ago
prehistoric man arrived in his flimsy craft, settled and maintained some sort
of intermittent communication with the mainland.
with a mystique all of it’s own, has cliff’s that rise sheer from the sea for
almost 1400 feet – some 4 or 5 times higher than cliff’s in the South East of
England. This Archipeligo also has the highest sea stac in the British Isles -
Stac an Armin - 643 feet.
used to be inhabited for at least 2000 years but was evacuated in 1930 and is
now only home to birds, sheep and the army who man the missile tracking station
on Mulloch Mor. There are four islands in the group – Hirta, Dun, Boreray and
Soay – they are not open to the public. Permission is needed from the National
Trust of Scotland who organise trips for summer visitors and arrange working parties
currently restoring the village on Hirta. The Group constitute a wild bird santuary
and world heritage site - alongside the Grand Canyon – a million seabirds call
the islands home and fill the air with their constant screams.
for my journey started the previous year following a visit to the Isles of Lewis
and Harris for the first time. I stayed at Cairisiadar with Jessie Buchanan in
an excellent bed & breakfast overlooking Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis.
Here I met a lady who was I believe in her 70’s who had travelled from Aberdeen
and on her way to St.Kilda. Until then I hadn't even heard of this place! She
kindly left me a leaflet " Cruising
with the MV Cuma".
weather had not been too kind of late but the day that she was leaving for St.Kilda
cleared with sunshine late in the day but with a near gale force wind blowing.
I remember seeing the MV Cuma leave and cruise across West Loch Roag heading for
the open sea – I took one photograph. At the time I did not think too much about
actually going to this remote island but as time went on I became fascinated with
the story and struggle of St.Kilda as have so many other people.
read up about the islands, bought books, searched the internet and sought out
articles and especially photographs. I decided that I wanted to go on this "adventure"
and booked with Murdo for a trip in June – 6 days in total staying on the Cuma.
I had never previously travelled in a boat other than a scenic trip for a few
hours let alone across the atlantic.
day finally came and I had travelled up from London and stayed once again with
Jessie. There were problems with the boat and I must say I wondered whether I
would actually get to go at one time. However Murdo and the Engineer worked constantly
to deal with the problem. I went to Stornoway on the Saturday where I met Murdo
and my fellow passengers. Satomi and Hiromi had travelled from Japan, Sabine and
Euan from Scotland and Ian from Bristol.The last leg of their journey was via
ferry from Ullapool. Belongings collected we headed back to the Cuma with a stop
en-route at the Callanais Standing Stone circles on a grey overcast Saturday afternoon.
the MV CUMA we stowed away our belongings and explored our new home to be for
the next 6 days and nights.Leaving Loch Roag on a miserable Saturday afternoon
on the 10th of June, Murdo had decided to make for Scarp initially as the weather
report was not promising at all. As we made open sea at Gallan Head the conditions
deteriorated considerably and I then realised the futility of sea-sickness pills!!
I can only describe being at sea in those conditions as the worst "roller
coaster" that I had ever been on. It was impossible to walk in a straight
line and one staggered from one part of the boat to the next hanging on wherever
one could. Murdo was joined by Tabby and Kathy behind the wheel – the best place
to be apparently as you can see what’s going on and focus on the sea and horizon.
Waves crashed over the bow and on to the deck.The view from the stern was one
of trough’s and peaks sometimes sinking so low that only sea was visibly even
though we were only a short distance from land but always being tossed to and
fro like a cork. We hugged the coast passing Mealasta Island in torrential rain
and made our way south. As we neared Scarp and headed inland the sea became calm
once more and we anchored off Scarp in the sound between Scarp and Kearstay. The
storm abated and the sun shone and the evening was spent in calm conditions. Several
waterfalls were visible on Scarp’s northern shores together with one small and
deserted white sandy beach. I remember thinking that the days event’s had been
a bit of an "eye opener" and I wondered what was in store if we made
the real crossing in open seas to St.Kilda – at that time the forecast was still
uncertain. Even the first night’s sleep was unusual with the gentle continuous
rocking motion of the boat unsettling in my cabin directly underneath the fore-deck.
next day ( Sunday) broke to a sunny start and I listened to the forecast – which
was not too promising - with Murdo – "I think everyone wants to get to St.Kilda
this trip – let’s go for it!" he said. This was it, we were finally on our
way. We raised anchor and headed for open sea. The conditions were already worsening
as we left safe anchorage off Scarp.
we hit open sea the conditions changed rapidly over about 50 yards – gone was
the smooth surface replaced by angry sea’s – Murdo described the crossing conditions
later as " in confused seas"!! The actual crossing I will keep brief
– the previous day was a picnic – I managed 45 minutes up top and then succumbed
to my one and only bout of extreme sea-sickness ever. I spent the rest of the
journey ( despite the sea-sickness pills) in my cabin being thrown sideways and
vertically and a combination of both for the next 4 hours – time seemed to stop
still and the journey took what seemed to be an eternity with every minute passing
one by one. I drifted in and out of some sort of sleep brought on by the fatigue
of the illness.
next I knew was a knock at the door and Tabby told me " we have arrived".
I gathered my camera equipment together and in a very weak and tired state made
my way up on deck.
was greeted by sunshine and a marvelous view upwards of Boreray with the late
afternoon sun silhouetting the sheer cliffs. The sound of the birds – too many
to count was staggering…. I had finally arrived. Murdo guided us between the Stac’s
– An Armin and Lee were a wondrous site rising sheer out of the ocean – the MV
Cuma seemed tiny and insignificant in comparison bobbing about near these treacherous
outcrops. The boat was still pitching in the swell and one could actually feel
the very essence of this most remote place on earth and imagine the St.Kildans
desperately trying to fowl off these outcrops to provide for their families back
on Hirta some 3 miles away, whilst surviving the harsh conditions that prevailed
for most of the year. Even the journey in an open rowing boat would have taken
immense effort in those days.
spite of its remote position and barren, rocky appearance there are at least 130
types of flowering plant on Boreray including some alpines which probably relish
the cool climate and absence of disturbance.
the domestic sheep on Hirta were cleared in 1930 Boreray was fairly inaccessible
and the sheep were abandoned when the islanders were evacuated. They have now
reverted to a wild state. A count in 1959 showed 45,000 pairs of gannets on Boreray
and its two adjoining stacks, nearly half the British population and nearly 40%
of the world population. On the relatively level top of Stac Lee alone there was
a solid concentration of 6000 nests in 1971.
other seabirds also nest on Boreray in great numbers. It is a quite remarkable,
jagged heap of black volcanic rock rearing 1260ft above the sea. It is an unforgettable
sight, particularly when the cloud swirls around its summit and the gannets plunge
from breath-taking heights.
spite of its exposed situation the skewed summit of Boreray is covered in lush
grass. The most dangerous annual visit by the St.Kildans took place in September.
The gannets, had to be killed at night when they were on their nests. Normally,
several men would land, wearing woollen socks at this stage to avoid slipping
on the slimy rock. The boat would then stand off and drift around all night. Gannets
always post a 'sentry' and this bird had to be killed silently first. Then the
sleeping birds were quietly clubbed to death or strangled with fowling rods -
which sounds easy until one remembers that the gannet is a big bird, ferocious
when disturbed, and the rocky ledges are narrow and treacherous in the dark. Several
hundred birds would then be loaded aboard the boat at daybreak. Despite this annual
massacre nature kept an equilibrium. Birds still survive on St Kilda, it is the
human beings who have gone.
Lee (564’) is certainly not in the lee of Boreray regarding the prevailing wind
direction A small ancient bothy or shelter sits on top of Stac Lee dry inside
and able to accommodate two people. When it was climbed by mountaineers in 1969
the south-east corner was considered the best landing point but best is a relative
term - even on a calm day the Atlantic swell will move a boat up or down by five
metres or more. Apparently the St Kildans lassoed an iron peg when landing. As
the boat reached the top of the swell they would jump find slippery hand and footholds
and start to climb. Martin Martin, during his visit in 1697 estimated that 180
St Kildans ate about 22600 birds annually. Stac Lee alone provided about 6000
gannets a year.
an Armin - stack of the warrior or steward at 643ft is the highest monolith in
the British Isles and yet it was regularly climbed by the St Kildans to collect
eggs and birds. Sadly, it was on Stac an Armin that the last great auk seen in
Britain was killed by two St Kildans who beat it to death in July 1840. They thought
it was a witch.
took many photographs in the short time available but found it extremely difficult
to compose the images in the heavy swell that prevailed – they tended to be snaps
rather than my usual time consuming composures to get the shot just right. Pressing
on, the MV CUMA headed for Hirta and we sailed around the dun and headed into
Village Bay. The village came slowly into view as we rounded the sheer black cliffs
of the point of dun, with what appeared to be hundreds of cleits on the hillsides.
These were a stone beehive bothy, water-tight but cross-ventilated - mainly used
as larders for storing the sea-birds which were the St Kildans' staple diet, but
they were also used as general stores for fishing tackle, ropes, etc., scattered
across the hillsides. As we anchored in the bay a gentle, calmer landscape greeted
us sweeping from the Dun, Ruaival, Conachair around to Oiseval. The protection
afforded to shipping during storms by the dun was now clear.
Dun is almost joined to Hirta at Ruaival but there is a narrow separating channel,
Caolas an Duin, which is thickly strewn with rocks and reputed to dry during exceptionally
low tides. This channel does, however, obstruct invasion by the sheep which roam
freely on Hirta with the result that vegetation on Dun is much more lush. The
island is nearly a mile long and looks, with its deeply serrated backbone, like
a dragon hanging on to Hirta. On Dun, the St Kilda wren, puffins, and Leach's
petrels nest in large numbers, and the cliffs and peaty turf of Hirta are home
to eighteen breeding species of seabirds including the oldest and largest colony
of fulmar in Britain.
cameras clicked from all in the party focused on views of the village and the
surrounding hills. The only eyesore as far as I am concerned are the grey army
camp buildings located near to the landing pier – they detract immensely from
the overall appearance of the village environment. How they got "planning
permission" in the first place I don’t know!! Village Bay is however an impressive
example of a stone-age culture.
1830 much of the original village was demolished and new black houses were built
but most of the present cottages which are gradually being restored by the National
Trust were built in the 1860’s to Victorian standards and using mortar joints.
The area is covered with dry-stone structures which are the product of centuries
is the largest of the spectacular St.Kilda group of lonely Atlantic islands, owned
by the National Trust of Scotland. This remote outpost of the British Isles is
one of the dream destinations of any committed collector or explorer of islands.
All the members of the group are of granite and gabbro forming dramatic jagged
stacks and towering cliffs. Conachair, the highest peak on Hirta is 1410ft but
there are four other high peaks and the awesome sea cliffs are over 1000ft high.
The St.kilda Archipeligo is designated as both a National Scenic Area and an Ancient
Monument by the Secretary of State for Scotland and it is, furthermore. recognised
as a Reserve by UNESCO and listed by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature as a World Heritage Site. It deserves all these accolades and one hopes
that no visitor will ever introduce a foreign species, whether a plant or an animal
such as the domestic cat. This would wreak devastation in such a fragile environment.
a recent study of Hirta on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland an ancient
stone building was discovered near the top of a high cliff. The structure, possibly
a place of worship or a tomb is thought to date from the Bronze Age. Archaeologists
have still to make a detailed investigation but this may show that Hirta has been
inhabited for about 3500 years,
the early 18th century there were outbreaks of cholera and smallpox introduced
by visiting ships and after 1750 the population possibly never exceeded 70. The
islanders paid rent to the owners, the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan in Skye,
who had been given the islands by a descendant of the Lord of the Isles. The rent
was paid in the form of produce such as tweed, wool, feathers or oil from the
sea-birds. A 'Parliament' would meet each day to decide what work had to be done.
This was by general agreement, but there were occasions when it could take all
day to reach a decision!
from imported diseases the islanders were healthy except for 'eight-day sickness'.
This killed eight out of every ten babies born but was considered to be God's
will. In the 1890s it was discovered that the source of the disease was because
the island midwife traditionally anointed the umbilicus with fulmar oil mixed
with dung. The minister then had a battle persuading the islanders that God disapproved
of this treatment.
Glen Albyn was the first tourist ship to call at the island in 1834 and it marked
the start of the loss of the islanders' independence and the end of St Kilda.
They were almost completely naive and were cheated out of many of their essential
possessions by the tourists. They came to rely on modern communications and a
post-office was opened on the island in 1899 but this was really to satisfy tourists.
other vital contribution to the eventual collapse of society on the island was
the hell-fire and damnation of crusading Christian ministers. By far the most
notorious was Rev. John Mackay who was resident from 1865 to 1889. By the end
of his evil ministry the islanders had been browbeaten to so much church attendance
every day of the week that there was insufficient time for growing and gathering
of the active young men emigrated leaving the aged and the very young. Eventually
matters became so desperate that the thirty-six remaining St Kildans were more-or-less
compelled to agree to evacuation.The sad event took place on the 29th of August
1930, the St Kildans never really adjusted to life on the mainland.
1957 Hirta was resettled with a military base and missile-tracking radar station
on Mullach Mor which, since 1998, has been manned by civilians. National Trust
volunteers are restoring the village houses and those who have spent twenty-four
hours on the island can join the exclusive St Kilda club. But the native St Kildans
are no more although, sadly, everything that they needed to provide a viable community
is now available on the island.
finally arrived safe and sound now was the time to disembark from CUMA and finally
set foot on Hirta – this task with a sound motor powered dinghy was no doubt far
easier and safer that in the perilous days of by-gone years. Even so one could
appreciate the difficulties as we jumped from the dingy on to slippery concrete
coated with wet seaweed and green slime!! Walking on dry land was rather odd –
having been on the CUMA all day in "confused seas" walking on land once
again was another experience to which to adapt. I had never experienced "land
sickness" before but this time it was purely a "balancing" type
of deficiency which I am pleased to say my body soon adapted to. Murdo introduced
the group to the Warden – Andy who explained the "rules" to be followed
and gave "sound advice" so that we could enjoy our time on Hirta safely.
"Don’t wear waterproof trousers – if you slip on the wet grass at the top
of the hills you will just keep going". There had been a fatality the previous
year where someone had walked from the village past the manse along the village
bay side of Oiseval – as the ground became more steep and more and more slippery…..
well, the rest is history. ( In fact , Ian had a minor slip and ended up in the
expert hands of the "hirta" nurse with a some what swollen ankle later
on the Wednesday - I later found out from Ian that a bone had been broken and
his ankle required plaster back on the mainland - he was on crutches for about
a month!! ) We then wandered up to the village and through the main street. Through
the village ruins wandered primitive Soay sheep untidily shedding their umber-coloured
fleeces leaving large clumps on the decaying stone structures to be found throughout
the village. I wandered up through the village path past the restored buildings
and the lone empty NTS wheelbarrow and the museum until I arrived at the village
graveyard – a lonely desolate place littered with many natural "rock"
gravestones covered in lichen. The weather had deteriorated to a drizzle and a
very overcast mid-evening scene which only added to the feeling of loneliness
– one could almost sense a gathering of st.kildans in the air grieving and burying
their loved ones. Leaving this place I wandered into the ruined houses under original
low wooden door-frames that were still in place. I tried to imagine what life
was like – in today’s modern society I could not even come close to appreciate
the hardship endured by these people. Spending some time in the museum looking
at all of the bye-gone relics – a wooden carved boat which the st.kildans used
to set adrift with their mail to many old black and white photographs of villagers
in the early part of this century sitting backs towards the village house walls
in the spot where I had just walked.
St Kilda mailboat consisted of a piece of wood shaped like a toy boat and hollowed
out in the middle to hold a small bottle or tin, which contained the letter, instructions
for the finder to post it together with a penny for the stamp. The bottle was
waterproofed with grease and battened down under a little wooden hatch, which
bore the inscription ‘Please Open’ burnt in with a hot wire. A float made of an
inflated sheep’s bladder with a small red flag tied to its mast was attached to
the hull of the mailboat which was then ready to sail. It was launched when the
wind was in the north-west and as many as two-thirds of the letters posted in
this way reached their destination eventually turning up on the west coast of
Scotland or sometimes Norway.
headed back to the jetty passing the village gun neatly painted black and pointed
out towards the sea .I joined the others at the jetty then it was back to CUMA
for the second nights sleep.The CUMA had all of home's comforts but I must say
having a shower was an experience with the boat rocking to and fro , trying to
keep one's balance with very little to hang on to in a confined space - but I
the community was near starvation in 1912, a wireless transmitter was installed
by the Government. During the First World War this resulted in a German submarine
shelling the island. The church was damaged and a store destroyed but no one was
hurt and the submarine was later captured by an armed trawler. A gun was installed
south-east of the present army camp to stop a repetition of this incident but
it has never been fired.
all enjoyed a hearty meal cooked by Kathy and expertly delivered to the table
by Tabby - we were all now recovered from our ordeal of the crossing from Lewis
earlier that day….
next day the forecast was not good and dawn broke to a dull and misty view of
the village – the top of Conachair was hidden in low cloud and mist this Monday
morning in June. The forecast indicated that a storm was on it’s way later that
night. Murdo suggested a short trip ashore before the swell increased to prevent
safe return and all of the party except me were dropped off at the village. I
decided to stay aboard as the weather was not conducive to producing good photos.
I was glad I had, as very quickly the weather deteriorated. Murdo recalled the
party from shore after about 2 hours and I watched from the window on CUMA as
they approached. The swell was about 6 – 8 feet but with a bit of nimble footwork
all made it back on-board if somewhat wet!! The rest of that day was spent rocking
from side to side on CUMA – no way could we approach the jetty again safely and
Murdo stowed away the dinghy on the roof – this looked a pretty hazardous operation
to me in the strengthening winds and rain!! Views through the gap between the
dun and hirta were dramatic to say the least with mist and spray reaching high
up the far cliffside. Sheltered in the bay, dusk fell as the storm really took
hold. It was the early hours of Tuesday morning that the storm peaked. I had tried
to sleep but found the constant rocking motion and loud noise from the anchor
chain rattling against the side of CUMA plus the rain on the deck and general
buffeting a few inches from my face as I lay in the bunk rather alarming. Several
times I went up top and looked out across a bleak bay seascape amidst rain and
gusting winds. Every now and then an extreme gust threw CUMA to one side more
than normal – thank goodness I had now got my sea-legs! There was another much
larger vessel anchored on a buoy some 200 yards away – I could see dim lights
in the distance as this vessel too bobbed around like a cork in an eerie twilight
– it never really got completely dark at this time of the year. In the end I sat
in the cabin keeping a watchful eye outside in the bay. The storm actually peaked
at about 4.00 am. It was later confirmed that this was of force 12 hurricane strength
– I was glad of the protection afforded by the "dun". The rocky outcrop
" Levenish" about 2 miles to the south east of Village Bay is just under
200 feet in height. The waves were rising up about 1/3rd of this height.
I later found out in conversation with the Warden that this was an "immense
summer storm" with winds gusting to 100mph on Conachair – however, the maximum
recorded wind speed ever was nearer to 200mph and in fact in the winter it was
not unusual for waves to crash right over levenish!
was spent on the CUMA as the swell was too great to risk a landing at the jetty
– reading books from the St.kilda library to pass the time. I must admit however
, I found it very frustrating being in Village Bay but not being able to go ashore
and explore. We had one more full day on Wednesday with the voyage home on Thursday.
dawned in far more calmer conditions and whilst not "sunny" we made
plans to go ashore. We all landed at the jetty and set out in different directions.
I decided to walk up the army access road to the top of conachair - keen to get
to the highest point on the island - but on reflection I should have gone via
the "gap". En-route a supply helicopter landed briefly by the beach
dropping off supplies and personnel. I took several photographs of the view over
the large beach boulders and the dun beyond. As I walked to the top of Conachair
the weather improved to a mix of blue skies and light cloud. Whilst crossing from
Mullach Mor to Conachair I came across several great skua’s or bonxie’s or rather
they came across me – repeatedly dive bombing me – a rather unsettling experience
for a novice!! With my head in " swivel" mode I made my way over to
the Ordnance Survey Marker at the summit of Conachair. Here the views down towards
village bay were magnificent – just as I had imagined. The rolling hills on one
side and the steep cliff on the other. Still under attack from Great Skua’s, I
could make out Sabine and Euan down below – tiny figures walking up from the gap
amidst the many sea-birds flying overhead. The view towards Boreray and the Stacs
from some 4 miles in relatively clear conditions was stupendous. Having a spot
of lunch at this special and most remote place was something to be remembered.
are no plants which grow above grass level here, but even so there is a wealth
of species. Scurvy grass, scentless mayweed, moss campion, plantago sward, and
common sorrel are widespread. In the wet ground there are common cotton-grass,
St.John's wort, field gentian, bog pimpernel and bog asphodel to name just a few.
On the hillsides there are primrose, roseroot, heath-spotted orchid, butterwort,
heath milkwort, sundew, tiny willow, deer grass and ragged robin. In all, more
than 130 flowering plants have been recorded and 194 varieties of lichen -including
some that are very rare.
is noted for some unique forms of wildlife including the St.Kilda wren and a species
of long-tailed fieldmouse which is twice as heavy as the mainland variety, with
larger ears and a very long tail. There was also a St Kilda housemouse, but this
poor little creature died out when the islanders left.
my way across the bonxie breeding grounds to Mullach Mor the view across Glen
Bay and on to Soay lay before me. Glen Bay is enclosed by a western peninsula
The Cambir, and high cliffs covered with nesting seabirds. On the east side at
Gob na h-Airde the sea tumbles through a large deep tunnel which penetrates the
rock and frames Boreray beyond. At low tide access is possible into this tunnel
by the careful explorer.
above, Mullach Mor broods over the bay with its twin peak Mullach Bi on the other
side of Glen Mor. Parts of a Sunderland flying-boat, are scattered down the glen
where it crashed in June 1944. (The gullies below Conachair conceal another wartime
wreck –a Beaufighter). Both crews were lost.
steep walk down to glen bay seemed to take forever. Here there is a ruin called
the Amazon's House and complexes of small chambers similar to Iron Age settlements.
I crossed the stream and met up with Murdo, Tabby and Euan and we headed up towards
the Cambir past Mullach Bi. Several more visitors were met en-route and it fact
it became almost " busy"!!
at the Cambir revealed a long drop to the sea below , thousands of sea-birds –
puffins, fulmar, gannets etc all soaring and squawking around us with the view
to Soay in front. The soaring cliffs which surround Soay afford nest space for
many thousands of gannet, fulmar, storm petrel, Manx shearwater, razorbill, great
skua, and Leach's petrel although larger numbers of the latter bird nest on the
Soay Stac colonies of puffins inhabit the cliff tops. Soay, formed by a single
precipitous mountain peak rising straight from the seabed. It has escaped any
Ice Age erosion. The Stacs in Soay sound seemed rather small several hundred feet
below. In the Sound at the end of rocky Laimhrigna Sroine stands a l5m-high rock
called Stac Dona. There are two more rock stacks in the Sound, the awesome Stac
Biorach and Soay Stac. Young St Kilda men were tested for their climbing ability
on Stac Biorach which at 236ft is certainly not the highest stack in the St Kilda
group but is regarded as the most difficult and dangerous to climb. It was nicknamed
the 'Thumb Stack' because the only hold on the rock was no bigger than a thumb.
Soay’s inclined grassy and boggy plateau reaches a rounded summit 1240’ high where
it falls away on the west coast in a nearly vertical black cliff, and it forms
a very steep grassy incline to the east coast. The north and south have almost
vertical cliffs but the cliff at the south-east end is less precipitous. To the
north, below the Altar cliff lie the remains of a Wellington bomber.
is the home of the species of horned sheep which were first brought to the British
Isles about 5OOOBC. They are like mountain goats in appearance.Until the 1930s
the sheep were confined to Soay and were not to be found anywhere else. When conditions
permitted the St Kildans would climb the steep slopes of Soay to the lush grazing
plateau and sometimes kill a beast for fresh meat.
back across the Cambir grass, kept short by the soay sheep of which there were
quite a few and running the gauntlet of the bonxies yet again brought me back
to the cliff’s edge where I watched a puffin flying back and forth its winds flapping
furiously in a rather un- gamely manner. We skirted the East escarpment of Mullach
Bi and I watched the fulmar soaring a few feet away as they returned to their
nests. I had been concerned of their oil spitting habits but should not have worried
as they seemed to be very gentle birds.The far side of Mullach Bi facing the sea
is like a cataclysmic land-slip with an abrupt drop from the summit to the sea.
Close to the highest point is the Lover's stone where there is a terrifying drop
on to the rocks in the surf far below. It was at this point that Euan had his
picture taken on the "lovers stone".
Kilda men were agile climbers and would scale the awesome heights with home-made
ropes to collect thousands of sea-birds and their eggs. Fulmars were the most
important catch as the body of each bird provides a quarter litre of oil used
in simple lamps. Gannets and fulmars were eaten and puffins were caught for their
feathers but nothing was wasted and the entrails were used for manure. Before
marriage each suitor had to prove his climbing ability by balancing on one heel
right on the edge of the Lover's Stone while holding the other foot with his hands.
did not follow these instructions to the letter and the words " quick, take
the bloody shot" come to mind!!! Walking wearily onwards in bright warm sunshine
brought us back to the top of the army road leading down to the village. Murdo
suggested that I made the detour over Ruaival pass the gap with the dun which
I did. Taking a few more photos of the dun and village bay, avoiding the attacks
of an angry oyster catcher, I made my way back to the village and the "Puff-Inn"
where refreshments were long overdue - 2 pints and two mars bars were swiftly
consumed to replenish energy levels once more after a long days walk made harder
due to the lack of exercise the preceeding days on the CUMA. Having a few drinks
and signing our names on the ceiling was mandatory - part of the custom of enjoying
the hospitality of the Puff-inn. I had finally managed to see most of the island
in a day, a day blessed with sunshine , making the waiting over the previous couple
of days 100% worthwhile. That evening was spent in the "puff-inn" until
the early hours with a mix of natural twilight and moonlight guiding us back the
short distance across the bay to the CUMA. Next day dawned and the weather was
even better!! - but we had to head back to Lewis – this time under ideal conditions.
Murdo took us right around Hirta in a clockwise direction past Soay – views from
the sea were very different , revealing black jagged cliff’s to the North and
West sides of Hirta in contrast to the rolling landscape on the far side of the
island to which we had all grown accustomed. Leaving Hirta we circled Boreray
and the Stacs for the last time bathed in sunshine with sea-birds filling the
air. A supply vessel nearby was swamped by a flock of mainly gannets scavenging
for food. Turning Eastwards towards the mainland, St.Kilda faded on the horizon
punctuated by flights of gannets travelling to and fro. As the image slowly faded,
I basked in the warm summer sunshine on the deck of the CUMA as we headed for
was a fitting end to my visit to St.Kilda.
made the mainland late afternoon and anchored off Scarp once again. Murdo took
us ashore for a couple of hours spent wandering through the old deserted village
in warm sunshine. This is a lovely place with blankets of flowers on the rough
grass and white sandy beaches. Later that evening I spotted 2 dolphins ( or porpoise)
in the bay. The sun set to colours of purple and orange, all was at peace again.
Next morning we re- traced our route back to West Loch Roag once again back to
overcast conditions - well it is summer in Scotland I thought!!!. That was the
end of a most memorable trip and my thanks go to Murdo, Kathy and Tabby for taking
us there safely and looking after us for the duration.
St.KILDA - diary - please go to images