Diary from St Kilda: Part 1 – Getting there

For me the best part of working at ScotClans is it justifies a lot of travelling around Scotland gathering stories, taking photos and generally exploring really fantastic, beautiful places all to gather information to build up our site.

For a good while now I have become more and more interested in St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles, which lies 41 miles (66 kilometres) west of Benbecula in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the people evacuating the island.

To me St Kilda became the epitome of what I wanted to visit: the history lies untouched. An island very few people are lucky enough to visit. It also became a solo adventure, a place I would be going by myself, without my husband and two children. Just me, my tent, and my trangia. I had never camped by myself before so it was going to be quite an adventure.

When I started my research it looked like you could only visit St Kilda as part of a cruise. All of these were extremely expensive and only landed on St Kilda for a few hours, but I wanted to stay for a few days and have a truer experience of the island. I then came across Sea Harris who offered day trips from Harris. I emailed them and asked if it was possible for them to leave me on the island, and to pick me up after a few days. To my delight they emailed back and said it was.

To camp on St Kilda you have to get permission from The National Trust as they manage the island. St Kilda is a world heritage site and has extremely strict guidelines in place to safeguard it. It did take a few phone calls to be put through to the correct person, but I eventually spoke to an extremely helpful woman who explained what happens and warned me about the mischievous St Kilda mice. They also informed me that I was the only person camping as the volunteers on the island had just left, the only other people there were going to be two people monitoring the Soay sheep. There will also be a handful of people working at the satellite station.

My ‘welcome pack’ arrived by email, a list of stuff to take, a map and a list of rules. To my surprise I found that I was to be met by a ranger who would show me to the camping area and the amenities. I was gob smacked to find there were not only toilets but showers as well as a washer/dryer.

Sea Harris explained that travelling to St Kilda is completely weather dependent and they don’t know till the day before when they are travelling. I was given the date August 2nd/3rd that I would depart (weather depending of course). I would be departing from Levebrough Pier at 8am. The plan was we’d all travel to Harris in the campervan and I’d get dropped off, catch the boat, my family would await my return at a nearby campsite. Problems happened when we discovered we had absolutely no mobile signal. We stayed at Hogerbost campsite, which is around a 15min drive from Levebrough. On Sunday the first, I managed to get a signal after going for a long walk and found out we would depart the next day. The weather looked ideal, but it was then to take a turn for the worst and it might be Friday or Saturday before I get picked up. This did catch me out because Sunday on Harris means everything is shut, so no last minute food shopping. Oh well, I had a ton of stew. My ruck sac was packed, could barely lift it, but no matter – I was going!

The boat to St Kilda

The boat to St Kilda

Bright and early Monday morning we got to Levebrough pier to find the Sea Harris Boat as well as The St Kilda Cruises boat in the dock ready for passengers. They tend to travel to St Kilda together.

I was passenger number 13 so had to stay outside, which was absolutely no problem as I didn’t want to miss a thing.

The journey was around 3.5 hours. I dread to think what it would have been like going on an ‘unfavourable’ day. It was like riding a bucking bronco, great fun. And I saw my first whale – a minky whale, how great is that?! I also caught glimpses of dolphins, seals and porpoise. It surprised me how short the journey was; as soon as the mainland of Scotland disappeared you saw St Kilda away in the distance. Slowly getting nearer we were then entering the bay . Boats cannot land on St Kilda, I think this may be due to the fear that rats and mice get onto the island. So you have to climb aboard small dinghies which then take you onto land.

Approaching St Kilda

Approaching St Kilda

Looking up into the village I was shocked by how compact it appeared. The army base was the first thing you see and it is a bit of an eye sore. After speaking with the ranger I found out how important it was for the upkeep of the island having the base there as it was supplied the power and the ability to connect with the main land all year round.

Stepping onto the island, you cannot help but be mesmerized by the amount of historical stuff everywhere; cleits and dry stone walls every few feet. This was unlike anything I’d seen before. In Scotland you are used to seeing shells of houses, remnants of the clearances, bits of crumbled walls, a hint that people once lived there, but you can’t imagine what it would have been like, the land has gone back, erasing the history. But then you also get these pristine, sanitized reconstructions. Here on St Kilda, however, it was all there – you could see people really worked the land, lived as a massive community, built practical structures to live in. People really lived here.

Another thing to hit you is the wildlife that run this island – sea birds, soay sheep… . The St Kilda wren never seemed to be more than a few feet away and I was welcomed to the island by a huge Snowy Owl.

View from the boat

View from the boat

I went to St Kilda ready for hardship, to feel sorry for the people that lived there. I was expecting viscous weather and inhospitable land where I would be truly alone – I was very wrong…

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About Amanda Moffet

I run www.scotclans.com with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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2 thoughts on “Diary from St Kilda: Part 1 – Getting there

  1. Robert MacGowan

    I am so Jealous… Jacie and I are traveling to Scotland for the first time next year and plan to visit the Orkney Islands to see the Neolithic tombs along with Stone Henge and a few other places including Inverness where my Great great grandfather is from (dad’s side) and Stirling where my Grandfater is from (Mother’s side). I really enjoy reading your adventures. Keep safe.

    Bright Blessings!

    Rob MacGowan

    Reply

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