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St.Kilda Western Isles Stock Photo Library Pictures of Scotland Royalty Free Images, Licenced Stock Photos


St.KILDA - diary - please go to images also

In 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.

St.Kilda 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.

St.Kilda 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.

Planning 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".

The 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.

I 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.

The 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.

At 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.

The 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.

As 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.

The 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.

I 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.

In 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.

Although 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.

Many 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.

In 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.

Stac 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.

Stac 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.

I 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.

The 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.

The 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.

In 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 of effort.

Hirta 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.

In 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,

In 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!

Apart 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.

The 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.

The 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 food.

Many 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.

In 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.

Having 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.

The 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.

I 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 managed!!

Because 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.

We 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….

The 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!

Tuesday 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.

Wednesday 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.

There 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.

Hirta 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.

Making 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.

High 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.

The 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"!!

Arriving 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 Cambir.

Opposite 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.

Soay 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.

Walking 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".

St 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.

Euan 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 home.

This was a fitting end to my visit to St.Kilda.

We 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 also

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