Am Baile/Edinburgh and Scottish Collection, Edinburgh Central Library

Location: Barra, Mingulay and St Kilda
ships and boats

St Kilda - an island of intrigue

This is one of those fantastic things about St Kilda. Almost everything you see gives rise to questions… and rarely do you get answers.'

St Kilda is an archipelago shrouded in intrigue, which lies approximately 40 miles west of the western most Outer Hebrides and 100 miles west of the Scottish mainland. Its geography determined the way of life for the people who once lived there, as in the 1800s, no ships passed it. It was stuck out on the Atlantic not lying on any natural shipping routes, which led to geographical isolation. With no boats calling at the island for commerce and news of happenings in the world, it also led to its cultural isolation. Images from the 1880/1890s show a way of life prior to the clearances - 150 years back in time essentially.

The geomorphology puts constraints on island living and where you can bring in a boat. Being cliff bound meant there was nowhere to expand to. Hirta was the only permanently occupied island – as boats could come ashore there. Periods of food shortage and illness led to a decline in population until, in 1930, the remaining 36 islanders requested evacuation to the mainland.

In 1931 St Kilda was sold to the Marquess of Bute, a keen ornithologist. The islands were then bequeathed by him to The National Trust for Scotland in 1957. In the same year, it was designated a National Nature Reserve by the Nature Conservancy Council (now NatureScot). Also in 1957, a small area of land on Hirta was leased to the Ministry of Defence as a radar tracking station for its missile range on Benbecula.

This base was used for test firing rockets from the Outer Hebrides that could be tracked with accuracy and precision. The base is now run by a private company and the original base has mainly been demolished and replaced with more environmentally friendly materials.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.