Tag Archives: st kilda

The islands at the end of the world

About ten years ago, I started drafting my “bucket list”. A top item was to visit the Rosa Parks museum in wonderful Montgomery, Alabama, which I did a few years ago. Up there with Rosa was St Kilda. I started to read about these magical islands and their enchanting history of human habitation by the extraordinary St Kildans. The more I read, the more I became determined to pay a visit to that remote archipelago, some 110 miles off the coast of the Scottish mainland.

They were continuously inhabited by self-reliant islanders for about two millennia from the Bronze Age until the evacuation of the remaining 36 in 1930. The sturdy and resourceful islanders were tenants of various Scottish aristocrats in more recent history. They lived in the one village settlement and survived on sea birds, plucked from the cliffs by skill and daring, plus sheep meat and a small variety of vegetables and arable crops.

The sense of community was very strong. They had their own daily “Parliament” where the men allocated work and ensured weaker residents were looked after. They survived many long winters when force ten gales batter the islands for weeks on end. (Indeed there were reports of temporary deafness brought on by the continuous storms).

But in the end the modern world enticed many young St Kildans to seek their fortunes elsewhere, depleting population numbers to unsustainably low levels. After a fallow period following the evacuation, since 1957 the Ministry of Defence has had a (latterly) rocket monitoring base on the main island, Hirta, which was refurbished recently at a cost of a reputed £14 million. Nowadays the rota of MOD staff on Hirta is supplemented by a small number of rangers and scientific researchers.

After about five years of planning and failed attempts to visit St Kilda, I finally made it to the islands last month. Bear in mind that the trip out takes at least three hours in a boat and is highly “weather dependent”. In the event I was extremely lucky – some might say “highly jammy”. I managed to get out (without sea sickness) to St Kilda for my four planned days in, at times, excellent weather and enjoy at least two of those days in reasonable seclusion.

Posted in Op-eds | 4 Comments
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