Monday, 30 July 2012


St Kilda is an archipelago of superlatives. Not only is it the remotest part of the British Isles, but it is the only World Heritage Site in Britain having a dual status, being of natural and cultural significance. Natural significance for its huge cliffs and sea stacks - the highest in Britain - which are home to the most important sea-bird breeding ground in north-west Europe, including the world's largest gannet colony and Britain's largest colony of fulmars. For its superb diving opportunities, with submerged caves, arches and tunnels. For the sheep of Soay island, a primitive breed dating back to the Bronze Age. Cultural significance for the ancient remains left behind by the island's earliest inhabitants. For the archaeological finds from the period of Norse occupation. For the remains of the village dating back to the time when the main island, Hirta, was inhabited, the occupants living in traditional Hebridean black houses and thatched stone houses.

Life must have been incredibly challenging for the people living in this remote outpost. The seabirds for which the archipelago is so prized once formed a major part of their diet. The population was once nearly wiped out by smallpox brought back by someone who had visited Harris in 1726. Only 1 adult and 18 children survived on Hirta. Over the years, famine, emigration to Australia and other factors contributed to a serious decline in the population. The 36 remaining inhabitants were finally evacuated in 1930 and nowadays the only people to spend any length of time there are conservation workers, scientists and so forth. St Kilda, which is run by the National Trust for Scotland, is not the easiest place to get to, but people do visit, some of them arriving by cruise ship, some by charters or yachts.

Map of the area.

© 1969 Ian Mitchell, via Wikimedia Commons

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