Boats, gannets and an abandoned village. August 2014.

Date: Tuesday 26th August 2014
Distance: About 200km by boat. 7.8km on foot.
Ascent: 700m

St Kilda – somewhere that we’d wanted to look at for a long while. We’d rolled the weather dice 3 months earlier when booking our dates…..time to see if they’d come up as snake eyes or boxcars.

Despite fabulous looking weather on Monday we’d not gone out due to a modest easterly wind (the bad direction for Kilda landings). Got the confirmation that the trip was on for Tuesday and pitched up at Leverburgh for 0745 to set off on a cloudless, windless day.

Leaving Leverburgh:

Sat outside for the trip – a bit of Atlantic swell but no challenge to our landlubbers’ sea legs.

Watched as N Uist and Harris drifted away into the distance and under the horizon. Beinn Mhor/Coradail/Hecla seems to become 3 islands before being lost to the hazy distance.

Wildlife was restricted to sea birds – gannets, fulmars and shearwaters. Eventually Hirta and Boreray begin to grow on the horizon.

Gannet:

Boreray and the stacks:

….and on to St Kilda. Ferried onto the island by small boats due to NTS rules for rat prevention (while a large garbage scow for the MoD beached itself and put down a ramp).

Arriving at St Kilda

A quick orientation lecture by the NTS warden and we were off. Some uncertainty – Hazel’s back injury was still seriously restricting her mobility so we set off up the road to Mullach Mor to see if she could get up the hill.

Village:

The road gives easy climbing up to 200m and a nice view back to the village.

Village from road:

Gingerly left the road across the moorland for the last 600m + 100m climb of Conachair. At the bealach the view opens over to Boreray.

Boreray from Conachair ascent:

Slow but steady – Island of Soay in the background:

Made it to the summit OK – a lot of blue sea on display. The highest spot in about a 10000 square mile circle (and despite that a Bristol Beaufighter crash site 100m from the summit).

Sat and had some lunch at the summit – nice to be enjoying the view together again.

Boreray from Conachair summit:

Split up – Hazel wanted to edge slowly back down by the route of ascent and see the village and museum, I fancied walking round the edge to Oisebhal.

First headed down to the trig point overlooking the village.

Village from trig point:

Then headed back to the cliff-top of Conachair to enjoy the view of Boreray.

3 ticks for the baggers:

Down at “the gap” there were a few folks from the 3 toutist boats enjoying the sun and the view.

Village from the gap:

Carried on up Oisebhal – fulmars perching on the cliffs watched with interest and a selection of bonxies took more direct action as I passed by.

Cocachair from Oisebhal:

The whole hillside is covered in small stone structures for drying food, even off the back of Oisebhal.

Summit of Oisebhal – off into the big blue:

Village from Oisebhal:

Headed back along the cliff line to the gap. Spotted a wren – the ones here are said to be bigger than the mainland ones. I couldn’t tell.

St Kilda wren – a subspecies:

Dropped quickly down to the village.

Livestock pens above village:

Village:

Sat on a rock till I spotted Hazel moving around the houses and then headed in to catch up with her. Had a look around the village.

In the graveyard most of the headstones have eroded back so far that they are scarcely recognisable as grave markers. Puts the phrase “gone but not forgotten” into longer-term perspective.

Graveyard:

The village is ranged by a flock of Soay sheep – a lot closer to the sheep-goat bifurcation than your average hooved locust.

Soay sheep:

The only fly in the ointment was the industrial beeping from the MoD tractor/fork-lift loading the garbage scow all day.

….and so back to the boat and off round the sea stacks.

Receding St Kilda:

This bit of the trip was truly awesome. Boreray and the stacks (Stac Lee and Stac an Armine) simply loom out of the Atlantic and are home to a huge gannet colony. A lot of neck craning and jaw dropping involved.

Stac Lee:

Boreray:

The boats have a look at the landing spots for the stack and some of the lines of ascent used by the St Kildans on gannet gathering trips. Passed under the Stac Lee overhang where they lowered them off.

Under Stac Lee:

Stac Lee:

Slowly edged between Boreray and the stacks.
Stac an Armine:

Looming Boreray:

Stac an Armine:

Stac Lee:

Boreray:

A bit mind-boggling that a group of St Kildans spent 9 months marooned on Stac an Armine during a smallpox epidemic.
Stac an Armine:

For me the gannets passing close by were a delight.

Gannets:

A full circle of Boreray and then, unfortunately, time to turn for home.

Boreray:

Stac Lee:

A lot of gannets heading towards the mainland meant a few more photos.

Gannet and fulmar:

Gannet:

St Kilda:

Gannet:

Kilda Cruises:

Gannets:

Quite a warm afternoon and a near millpond-like sea made for a nice way to spend the evening. Watched as the Hebrides rose back over the horizon.

South to North Uist:

For us a short drive north to Tarbert and an end to a very memorable day.

North to the Harris hills:

Pretty pleased to have nailed a splendid day’s weather for this trip – the weather dice certainly came up boxcars after all.

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