For the those who don’t know about St. Kilda I’ll start with some information which will explain why this is such a special place. It is not clear when the first settlers came to St Kilda, but evidence suggests that Bronze Age travellers may have visited St Kilda 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. One of the structures on Hirta (the main island) is either an Iron Age burial chamber or house. Records from more recent times indicate that a small community of about 180 people existed in 1697. They rented the island from the owner on mainland Scotland, latterly the Macleods of Dunvegan on Skye. The main produce that the islanders used to trade were seabirds (Fulmars) and a unique breed of sheep from one of the St. Kildan islands called Soay.
St. Kilda has always been a very isolated community as it was out in the Atlantic Ocean, 66km west of the nearest inhabited island Benbecula. In the 19th century contact was more frequent and their primitive way of life started to change. Their culture had been completely oral until then. There had always been a mix of pagan and christian religion, but when missionaries started to arrive and be based on Hirta they became part of the Free Church of Scotland, a very strict sect. More contact with the outside world also brought diseases that the St. Kildans had no resistance to and at times the population dwindled to very low numbers. Finally in 1930 the last 40 or so people asked to be evacuated as they were no longer able to feed themselves. For more detailed information and a good bibliography I would recommend you visit the National Trust of Scotland St. Kilda website: www.kilda.org.uk
I first learned about St. Kilda 30 years ago. I read a book of poetry by the Scottish poet Douglas Dunn which was entitled St. Kilda’s Parliament. I read a book about the history of the place and was intrigued by the way of life and its remoteness. Ever since then I have wanted to visit this beautiful place. When I got to know Simon it appeared we shared a love of Scotland and a fascination with St. Kilda. And now, finally, we made it there in the Integrity from GoToStKilda!
After overcoming the shock of arriving in this magical place and getting used to being on ‘dry’ land we pitched our tents. Campsite would be a bit of a misnomer for this patch of reasonably flat grass surrounded by stone walls. I pitched my tent leeward of one of the walls, as gale force winds were predicted for the following day. An absolute bonus and lifesaver were the hot showers that we could use: they provided unlimited powerful jets of really hot water!
The weather in the afternoon was showery and windy. The hill tops were in the cloud, but this did not deter Simon from racing up the hills. I was slightly less keen, but went for a short walk around the village and up the road.
One of the outstanding features of the landscape are the cleits. They are stone built storage huts and are unique to St. Kilda. There are 1,430 of them on Hirta and the other islands and stacs. The St. Kildans used them to store peat, salted bird carcasses, fish, grains, hay, manure, tools, feathers and others items of daily life.
The Soay sheep roam across the whole of Hirta and therefore they die all over the place as well. All in all I must have seen more than a dozen dead sheep. A lot of them perish after taking shelter in one of the numerous cleits, so sometimes when taking a look in one of them you get an unpleasant surprise. The lambs are vulnerable to attacks by Skuas if they wander off too far from their mother. Sometimes, when walking on the hills, you would get a whiff of dead sheep, but these two no longer gave off any bad smell.
Dùn is separated from the main island by a very narrow gap and at extreme low tide you can wade across. Bioda Mòr is its highest cliff at 176 meters (about 580 feet) and it was usually hidden by cloud.