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Solitude on St Kilda

AlistairHorneAlistairHorne Member, VisitScotland Ambassador ✭✭

At the end of June I was fortunate enough to travel to St Kilda, a set of isolated islands 40 miles off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides for a commission. The islands are not only a dual UNESCO world heritage site, there are also home to over 1 million birds, making it one of the most important bird colonies in western Europe. 

With over 50% of boat journeys from Skye and the Outer Hebrides cancelled each summer due to the weather, I was incredibly lucky to not just get onto the island, but to get off when the weather was good, making the journey as calm as I could have hope for. After a 4 hour boat journey, I arrived and met the National Trust rangers who call the islands home for 6 months of the year. Owned by NTS, the islands also have an MoD facility, meaning there are workers all year round on Hirta, the main island. 

After setting up my tent (I camped on the island for four nights, a night longer than intended due to the weather) I started planning my hikes. The islands have the highest sea cliffs in the whole of the UK at over 400 metres and are also one of the windiest places I have ever been, so you need to be careful when you walk around. Before each hike, I met the rangers and told them of my plans for the day and expected time of return, so they knew my whereabouts. 

There is no service and internet access so you really are off grid for your duration on the island, which is a great way to refresh your own batteries and really embrace the wild landscape around you. The islands were evacuated in 1930 as the 36 people left on Hirta were struggling to keep their lives ongoing, due to the harsh weather and their extreme way of life. Their main source of food on the islands were the birds such as fulmars, puffins and gannets. 

Stac an Armin, the highest sea stack in the UK at nearly 200 metres found just off Boreray, one of the islands, was climbed by locals via ropes to collect eggs, feathers and birds for their daily food source. After seeing not just the sheer cliffs on the main island but also the sea stacks up close, it's incredible to comprehend what they had to do to get food for their survival. Lots of males had left for the war and the mainland and the elderly and children were left behind and struggled to continue life, as a result voting to leave.

Thankfully during my stay I was able to climb the majority of the hills on Hirta. It is the only island you can stay on and get permission to visit in St Kilda, as the rest are off limits due to protection of the wildlife. One of my main reasons for my visit was to capture photos of puffins, which are my favourite sea bird. St Kilda has the largest puffin colony in the UK, at nearly 300,000 puffins, but the majority call the island of Dun their home. On Hirta, I was able to find around 100 or so that were living on a scree slope (they usually live in burrows so are difficult to photograph) and I spent the whole afternoon just enjoying their interactions and watching what they get up to on a daily basis. 

Being the only camper on the islands during my visit just emphasised how lucky I was to be on St Kilda, as it is one of the most beautiful places I have been in Scotland and it was so refreshing, enjoying it as it is meant to be enjoyed, as one with nature and with no distractions from social media or outside factors. 

If you ever get the chance to visit, please take it! Even it is only for a day, it's well worth the visit and travel time. If you can, camping for a few days really does give you the opportunity to see as much as you can on Hirta and I would encourage this instead of the day trip. 

A big thank you to Cotswold Outdoor for providing my camping equipment for my stay on the islands. If you have any questions on my trip to St Kilda, or want more information on specific photos, please do get in touch below. Visit my Instagram page to see more photos from the trip!


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