Voyage to St Kilda
The archipelago of St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles, lies 41 miles (66 kilometres) west of Benbecula in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.
A superb summer arrived in mid-May, and it has now been non-stop, wall to wall sunshine for several glorious weeks.
The attraction of good weather and a favourable long-range forecast gave a clear window for an old salt to take his boat out and have a look at the Outer Hebrides and further westward to the Isles of St Kilda – famed for 1000ft cliffs and half a million seabirds.
The entire archipelago is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It became one of Scotland's six World Heritage Sites in 1986 and is one of the few in the world to hold joint status for its natural and cultural qualities.
A good sailing friend of many years arranged to join us, and we set sail from Oban at 7am on the 28th May in brilliant sunshine on a glassy sea. We made good progress out to the Isle of Iona and then onto the puffin colony at Treshnish. Ladies in Raptures!! With no time to waste we proceeded out between the Isles of Coll and Tiree and then due west to the Island of Barra. After a quick row ashore for a cup of coffee, we headed north to Leverburgh on the sound of Harris, arriving at 7pm. The next morning we were off at dawn and into the wide open spaces of the North Atlantic Ocean, again heading due west for St Kilda. My old seafaring skills did not desert me, and by noon we were cruising round one of the loveliest and loneliest archipelagos in the world surrounded by thousands of seabirds and 1000ft cliffs. Minke whales added to the scene!!
The islands are composed of Tertiary igneous formations of granites and gabbro, heavily weathered by the elements. The archipelago represents the remnants of a long-extinct ring volcano rising from a seabed plateau approximately 40 metres (130 ft) below sea level.
St Kilda was evacuated in 1930 and now has three wardens, a few military personnel and some volunteers who re-build the old cottages in the summer. The islanders lived on sheep, seabirds, fish and whatever they could grow on the barren landscape. It was a brutally hard place to exist.
The remains of the remarkable community which survived here until 1930, when the last residents were evacuated at their own request.
We were back on Harris late in the evening and then off to Oban and the mainland at the crack of dawn, crossing the Minch and visiting Portree on the Isle of Skye, before coming down the sound of Mull via the sea eagles’ nest and mooring up again in Oban bay. My friends only just caught the plane in Glasgow thanks to the driving skills of our courier, John, who navigated his way expertly through bank holiday traffic! That night everyone slept for 12 hours solid – exhausted, sunburned and happy!!!
The St Kilda museum, school and Church provide a fascinating insight into the way of life of the St Kildans prior to their evacuation in 1930. The remains of the village, the graves and 2nd World War gun are all open to view.
Two different early sheep types have survived on these remote islands, the Soay, a Neolithic type, and the Boreray, an Iron Age type.
The islands are a breeding ground for many important seabird species including northern gannets, Atlantic puffins, and northern fulmars.
The archipelago is the site of many of the most spectacular sea cliffs in the British Isles.
The tidal range is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft), and ocean swells of 5 metres (16 ft) frequently occur, which can make landings difficult or impossible at any time of year.