Lying 41 miles off the west coast of Benbecula, the archipelago of St Kilda is an extreme Atlantic outpost, and one of the few World Heritage Sites in existence awarded 'Dual' status for meeting both the natural and cultural criteria for the classification.
With its clear waters and craggy sea cliffs (including one that ranks as Europe’s highest) it is not surprising that St Kilda is home to the continent’s largest colony of seabirds including gannets and puffins. The islands also support a number of unique species including sheep, fieldmice and wrens; making it a fascination natural island environment unmatched anywhere on earth.
Originally settled by humans between four and five thousand years ago, St Kilda’s distance from the rest of the Outer Hebrides allowed for the development of a unique style of self-sufficient island life, that remained much preserved until the archipelago’s eventual abandonment in 1930.
Investigation of the history of St Kilda helps us to understand a little more about the evolution of island communities and the challenges they face from both society and the elements.
Now owned by the National Trust and classified as a National Nature Reserve by Scottish National Heritage, St Kilda is managed in partnership with the Ministry of Defence who lease land here for an important radar tracking station.
Currently home to only a few members of the defence and conservation communities, St Kilda welcomes many visitors throughout the year who are drawn to the islands by their wonderful wildlife and fascinating history – much of which can be viewed during a day trip, although there is a small short-stay campsite on the largest island of Hirta that can accommodate up to six people for those who want to extend their explorations.
Island explorers can choose from a selection of walks offering ample opportunities for wildlife watching, while the more intrepid may venture into the island’s crystal clear waters - recognised as one of Europe’s most spectacular dive sites, as well as being home to whales and basking shark, which can sometimes be spotted from the shore.
Tour the old village, where St Kilda’s indigenous Soay sheep wander and graze among the blackhouse ruins of a bygone island age, or visit the museum house on the main village street, where artefacts from that era are exhibited.
Find the faerie house – an underground store that could date from as early as 500BC, or climb to the top of Mullach Mor to gain a greater understanding of the settlements positioning against the Atlantic elements.
After visiting St Kilda in the decades after its abandonment, naturalist James Fisher wrote that the islands would “haunt” those who saw them for “the rest of their lives” - adding that it was “impossible to accurately describe” these awe inspiring islands – meaning you will just have to visit and see this stunning seabound spectacle for yourself!
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