St Kilda: Once in a Lifetime

St Kilda lies on the edge of the world. It has a mystical quality, romantic even. An island (actually a group of islands) often shrouded in mist, where they say the men went barefoot over the cliffs to collect gannets eggs. Even the fact that the dwindling population had to be evacuated in the 1930s adds to the romance.

St Kilda lies approx 40 miles west of Harris. I once climbed Ceapabhal on Harris and noted two things: I saw a golden eagle and I saw St Kilda, floating on the horizon. Eagles are impressive but St Kilda is legendary.

So when my wee wifie got me a ticket to visit St Kilda I was like “haud me back!” I booked with Kilda Cruises for Monday 10 June 2019 and set off from Dunblane on the Saturday before, a three hour drive to Mallaig then a three hour ferry to Lochboisdale, getting in at 8pm. A man on the roof of the hotel agreed I could pitch my tent nearby.

Tent pitched, I hit the public bar where six locals were watching Scotland v Cyprus on TV. As ever, the football united us as Scotland lost a late goal before scoring in the last minute to win 2-1. The man from the roof appeared behind the bar later on and it was good craic. I headed back to my tent at midnight in broad daylight.

On Sunday I headed north towards Harris, through South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist. Past beautiful beaches, peaty lochans, bus shelters in the middle of nowhere, signposts with otters on them and ‘crossroads lined with telegraph poles’. Welcome to the western isles!

At Berneray, there were dozens of cars for the ferry on the slipway. The cars in front crawled onto the wee ferry, wedged in like sardines. I overheard the ticket collector tell the driver of the volvo estate in front there was no room left. Disaster. Just then his walkie talkie crackled… “the wee white car might fit though”. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was such a tight fit on the ferry, I had to climb out the passenger side window.

The Berneray to Harris ferry is amazing. Firstly, the waters are crystal clear and the views to Skye are sensational. Secondly, it the wee ferry literally zigzags in and out between islands and skerries, seabirds perched on rocks eyeing you up. The skipper must know this water like the back of his hand.

In Leverburgh I pitched my tent beside The Anchorage, the local bar/restaurant then took the dog a walk at Northton beach. In the evening I visited some old friends before back to the tent for an early night. Next morning and I’m wide awake at 5am, partly due to daylight but mostly due to excitement.

After another beach walk , I drop the dog off at a friends then get a square sausage roll and a coffee on the Butty Bus, a local phenomenon. We get on board the boat for St Kilda, 12 of us in total plus the skipper and his mate. The weather is calm but overcast. I have taken my seasickness pills and am wearing a seasickness wristband.

We head out past the wee islands in the Sound of Harris , past Pabbay and soon we are out in the Atlantic, St. Kilda on the horizon, slowly growing. It takes three hours before we arrive in Village Bay and we jump into an open tender to be taken to the wee pier where we jump ashore. Its not for the faint hearted.

The ranger gives us a talk on the pier before we are allowed to wander off exploring. It was quite funny. Keep your eyes down as theres ground nesting birds (no natural predators), keep your eyes up as the bonxies will dive bomb you to protect their young and oh yes, try not to fall off a cliff (esp when taking selfies).

And then, we are free to wander (to be continued…)

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