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8 Mar 2018

A very special place

St Kilda village and bay
Often referred to as ‘the islands on the edge of the world’, the remote archipelago pf St Kilda creates a powerful desire among intrepid travellers to set foot on its windswept shores.

Whether it’s to try to understand what life was like for the St Kildans, to see the remains of the houses the last 36 residents left behind in 1930 when they chose to evacuate, or to marvel at the thriving population of seabirds, everyone has their own reason for making the pilgrimage.

But it is not an easy place to get to. Perhaps this adds to its charm and the sense of adventure, not to mention the feeling of achievement if you do manage to reach this holy grail of islands. St Kilda lies 41 miles west of the Outer Hebridean island of Benbecula and is at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean, where large waves and building swells can turn the hardiest of sailors green. Even if you make it out to the archipelago, landing on Hirta is far from certain and all depends on the ever-changing wind direction, sea conditions and tides.

Surely the most comfortable way of getting out to St Kilda is on a luxurious cruise liner equipped with stabilisers. Each year St Kilda is included on the National Trust for Scotland’s cruise itinerary and proves one of the highlights and main draws. From those who have been lucky enough to land on St Kilda numerous times to those who have tried for years without success and those hoping for ‘beginner’s luck’, the anticipation builds as we set our course for the islands.

In the early hours of 16 September 2017 we made our way across a bumpy Atlantic Ocean in the comfort of Pearl II, arriving at the south-eastern corner of Hirta at 8am. It was too windy to allow a landing straight away so we began our visit with some scenic cruising, keeping our fingers crossed that the improving weather forecast would materialise.

Our circumnavigation took us clockwise around Dun, Hirta and Soay then out to Boreray and its stacs. We enjoyed deck commentary from our lecturers, learning the legends of the Mistress and Lover’s Stones, wildlife spotting with our rangers, and the captain even ‘threaded the needle’, taking the 18,000 tonne vessel through the narrow passage between Borearay and Stac an Armin with gannets swooping overhead.

Returning to Hirta we found the wind had subsided enough to let us edge into Village Bay and drop anchor. Getting the ship’s tenders and zodiacs into the water, it was clear that the remaining swell would make for a lively journey, but conditions were safe and we began getting everyone ashore. There were tears of joy as lifelong ambitions were filled. The 300 passengers soon dispersed to explore the village and wider island, allowing everyone to find their own place to enjoy this tranquil isle with its spiritual aura.

For Ali MacLeod, the Trust’s new Head of Fundraising, it was her first visit to the islands she had learnt about at Strath of Appin Primary School where hearing of the plight of its islanders shaped her career.

‘Having heard Trust experts tell of how people had lived and then have the opportunity to visit the environment they had survived and walk in their footsteps was fascinating. It was also very special to talk to our cruise passengers about their personal connections to St Kilda, family members who had been evacuated, descendants of past islanders, friends of island families, or just a remote fascination like my own. Sitting in the sun and walking through the village listening to these tales was very moving.’

Join our Celtic Homelands cruise this September to create your own memories. This is the Trust’s last exclusive charter and your last opportunity to visit these islands on a ship of this size accompanied by National Trust for Scotland experts. 

Cultural Cruising

Cruise to much-loved islands and celebrated coastlines of Western Britain