Until you visit a place like St Kilda, you may think the Isle of Lewis is remote, and that Ness is at the very edge of the world. Today's post is a guest post, written by the illustrious C.A. Here are some of his thoughts, following a day trip to St Kilda.
Having been invited by a friend to go and see St Kilda I thought it best to jump at the opportunity. The Island is 40 miles west of Lewis and Harris and the last landfall before reaching the other side of the Atlantic. Being an Islander myself I’ve always been fascinated by ‘remote’ places but I’m more aware now that our three hour ferry journey to mainland Scotland from Lewis is made less significant by the distance that St Kilda is from mainland Scotland.
St Kilda is seen here at the far left of the photo.
My first thought on arrival here - whether it be right or wrong - but just because of the sheer remoteness of the place was: ‘No one should have lived here!’
St Kilda lies outside the British territorial sea limit! Anyone who knows the climate of Lewis and Harris knows what it is to be battered by gales, to have a short growing season and to be under the constant effects of rain and dampness especially through the autumn and winter. This sort of weather is easily multiplied out here due to it being in a nautical climate. The grass and heather is short not just because it is kept down by the indigenous species of Soay Sheep but also because of such a harsh climate.
St Kilda and its surrounding outcrops is roughly 3 miles long and had a population which once peaked to 180. The first government census took place only in 1851, and has the population at 110. St Kilda has been uninhabited since 1930 now only hosts the Ministry of Defence which leases St Kilda from the National Trust for Scotland. Due to the history of forced abandonment for health and welfare reasons the Island comes across as quite a sad place, rather like a graveyard.
So far I’ve painted quite a bleak picture of St Kilda but having spent the day there and observing its beauty from the highest point and in the midst of a Highland heatwave I am in awe of this ‘other world’ scenery. There must have been happy days here also, families with children running about playing and exploring the islands sea caves and nooks and crannies. The St Kildans would not just have been a community but also just like one large close knit family bringing with it all these social benefits. In our modern communities of Lewis and Harris we have largely lost a sense of that community and now sadly we are even beginning to lose the idea of ‘family’. It is easy for us to look on with pity on a community which lived such a hard life without the benefits of appropriate healthcare, but what would the St Kildans say of us today and our so called ‘developed’ society.
I found myself in awe of the sight of the giant sea stacs next to St. Kilda which are some of the highest in Europe and a hive of activity to the largest Northern Gannet population, Stac Lee is the highest of the Stacs and rises vertically to 191m and plunges into the depths of the sea. As we sailed under the overhang of stac Lee I was reminded of a personally precious text, “Lead me to the rock that higher is than I” Psalm 61 v2.
This is not an ‘old’ earth, even though some scientists tell us how islands were formed millions of years ago under volcanic activity. Out here, I see part of the creation which, under God’s wrath on man’s sin, underwent the purging of the great flood of Genesis resulting in the seismic volcanic activity making the volcanic archipelago of St. Kilda. Romans chapter 8 v22 says, ‘For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now’.
Here are some more photos from my trip:
Leaving Uig, Lewis. If you think this looks remote, you aint seen nothin' yet.
Inside the boat
and outside the boat!
Before we reach St Kilda, we pass Stac Lee which, along with Stac an Armin are the highest sea stacks in the UK.
'Lead me to the Rock which is higher than I' (Psalm 61).
On St Kilda, there are indingenous sheep to be found. Their population fluctuates: at times, their numbers fall because of illness or lack of food. The subsequent lower number allows for better feeding conditions, and so their numbers increase until the next similar cycle begins.
The island is so stony, and the St Kildans built these stone cleiteanan in great number. In fact, there are around 1400 of them on St Kilda. They were used for the storage of food and fuel.
Stone fanks, built in odd shapes. Nobody seems to know why they were built in these shapes.
From higher up the hill, showing a fank and the harbour.
In the next St Kilda post, we'll look specifically at some of the wildlife I saw.