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Introduction

St Kilda, one of the Outer Hebrides, is the most isolated part of the United Kingdom, now having no permanent population. It had a population until 1930. Until the 20th century life was very hard but the population was able to sustain itself at a near subsistence level. Then it became dependent on tourism and imports. During the First World War supplies were maintained by the Royal Navy and when this stopped the feeling of isolation was heightened. After some major epidemics they applied to be repatriated to the mainland.

There has been an army base here since 1957, running the radar station that tracks the missile range off Benbecula. Much of the station is now run remotely and it had been intended for those personnel to leave (they're nowadays employed by the privatised defence firm Qinetiq.) A change of plan means that they're staying, and the station facilities are being noisily rebuilt, but this is in the hands of the switchback politics of the UK defence industry.

The island now belongs to the National Trust for Scotland and is a major wildlife reserve. It can be reached by helicopter from Benbecula in 20 minutes or by boat from Harris in a few hours - a difficult crossing over the open Atlantic. Most visitors come on day trips by boat whenever summer conditions allow. St Kilda isn't the most remote spot in the British Isles - a handful of other islands vie for that title - but has become a romanticised metaphor for isolation. That's mainly because its evacuation is still within living memory, with original film footage, boosted by the fictionalised version of the 1937 Michael Powell film "The Edge of the World".

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Sights and Activities

St Kilda is placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and has plenty of sights:

Main Street. A row of stone "white houses" built in the 1860s, to replace the village's squalid turf-roofed "black houses". Several have been restored and are used as facilities for NTS work parties. One houses the Museum. Others lie derelict.
Lady Grange's House. A cleit is a stone shed or bothy; there are several dotted around the island. This one, on Main Street, was the "house" of Lady Grange (Rachel Chiesley) between 1734 and 1740. She had fallen out with her husband, a high-ranking Edinburgh lawyer, and took to screaming abuse at him in the street and in church. Her accusations of Jacobite treason had enough truth in them to be dangerous, so Lord Grange had her abducted. Then aged 52, she was held captive in several places across the Highlands, then for two years on the Monach Isles and in 1734 was brought to St Kilda. She spent six years in filthy conditions marooned on this rain-lashed Alcatraz, and no-one looked for her or much missed her violent temper. (Dr Johnson was later to comment that if the land-owner "let it be known that he had such a place for naughty ladies, he might make it a very profitable island.") Eventually a smuggled letter reached her own lawyer, who organised a rescue - but Lord Grange heard of it and bundled her off elsewhere. Her last years were spent in captivity on Skye, where she died in 1745.
The cliffs, both above and below water, are the highest in the United Kingdom.
There is plenty of wildlife including Puffins, St Kilda Wren, St Kilda Field Mouse, Fulmars etc. The firm track leads up from the village onto the ridge. Watch for puffins, the unique St Kilda Wren and St Kilda Fieldmouse, fulmars and bonxies, and the semi-wild brown Soay sheep. In 2019 there's a resident Snowy Owl, "Snedge", feasting on the fieldmice. The path leads to the summit of 2 Mullach Mor.

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Weather

A typical maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. Spring is the driest time, but rain is common throughout the year. It rarely freezes in winter, but summer sees highs of below 20 °C almost every day.

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Getting There

By Boat

Daytrips leave from Skye and the Western Isles. They only go when the weather permits, so you have to make yourself available for a two-day slot, and they'll sail on the first suitable day of that slot. It's a 3-4 hour crossing with perhaps 4 hours ashore on Hirta, then a sail around the other islands and on homeward. The boats have toilets but no catering, bring your own packed lunch.

Sea Harris has daily boat trips to St Kilda. Kilda Cruises is another option, starting from Leverburgh.
Or go to St Kilda sailing from Stein on Skye.

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Getting Around

Walk. The island is only four miles long, with a mile of track, so the usual four-hour landing of a day trip is enough to reach anywhere that's safe to approach.

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Eat

There are no eating facilities open to the public. The army base is off-limits to visitors.

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Drink

There are no facilities open to the public. The Puff Inn inside the army base is nowadays off-limits.

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Sleep

If you have your own boat, you're better sleeping aboard.

National Trust for Scotland campsite, c/o Balnain House, 40 Huntly Street, Inverness IV3 5HR. The campsite can only take six, and is usually booked out to NTS groups. You may be able to use the campsite independently, but must make a reservation with NTS months in advance. The NTS work parties sleep in dorms in restored houses in the village, but these aren't available to other visitors. £20 ppn.

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Contributors

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This is version 9. Last edited at 12:57 on Jul 14, 20 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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