St Kilda

Guideliner Hebridean Wildlife Cruises

St Kilda

Please note that there are a lot of photographs on this page and it may take some time to download – if you are interested in St Kilda then it should be worth the wait!!

Trips to St Kilda are run throughout the season, as part of some of our 12 day cruises.

Our Western Isles & St Kilda trips are aimed at the wildlife enthusiast, as are all our cruises.  If you simply wish to visit St Kilda and have no interest in the wildlife to be found there, please contact another cruise company (see links)

As we look back from St Kilda, we can see the main island Hirta in the distance.  Dun is the rocky ridge to the left, with village bay in the middle, overshadowed by the cliffs of Oiseval (293 meters high).

The sad history, the isolation and the unique wildlife make St Kilda one of the most sought after places to visit in the world, indeed it is now a World Heritage Site. During the first world war, the villagers had access to a radio, and one evening a German submarine entered Village Bay (the main and really only safe anchorage) and shelled the houses. Everyone took to the hills and only minor damage was done, although the radio was destroyed. Later a gun was fitted to overlook and guard the bay. Needless to say, the Germans never came back and the gun has never fired a shot in anger! Here you can see a Russian owned cruise ship on anchor with the cliffs of Dun behind.

After the inhabitants voted in the 1930’s to leave, the island was deserted until the army took it over as part of a weapons testing range. Missiles are still fired from the base on Benbecula and their progress is monitored by radar from St Kilda, although now by civilian contractors.

For many years fishing boats have entered village bay to take advantage of the shelter.

However once in village bay, among the most obvious things you notice are the military installations both around the village and on the hilltops. The base is now run by a civilian company, who provide a lot of welcome help to visitors and National Trust for Scotland staff.

However even this intrusion cannot radically alter the magnificence of the bay. In this image you can see the full extent of the anchorage, with the village itself in the foreground and the island of Dun in the distance, sheltering the bay from the southerly swells.

To our great surprise on one of our visits to Kilda, the “Discovery” an enormous cruise ship arrived in the bay intent on landing 600 passengers!! Low water at the pier prevented them landing and they settled for tours around village bay, for which we were very thankful.

The landing itself can be something of a trial if the swell is anything other than slight and many of the visiting cruise ships fail to make a landing. 

With Guideliner Hebridean Wildlife cruises, not just a landing must be made in order for the trip to be called a success. In fact, our normal routine is to arrive in time to spend an evening looking around the village; then a full day spent exploring Hirta on the following day. Lastly we try to cruise around the whole archipelago, including the stacs and Boreray, before we leave. On the last fourteen consecutive trips we have been successful on twelve of them, due I am sure to the fact that we have twelve days in which to get the right weather!!!!

The National Trust for Scotland looked after the island for many years but it is now in the hands of Scottish Natural Heritage who keep a warden there during the summer months. Volunteers are able to stay on the island for two weeks when they help to repair and reconstruct some of the village.

Once ashore, the warden will come along and give a briefing on the various safety rules and of course a few instructions in how to behave while on the island. The cliffs can be dangerous and there is no mountain rescue team on the island so care is needed when exploring! Visitors are requested not to go outside the village perimeter alone.

One of the many tasks facing the warden is to continue with the research being done on the indigenous sheep. Not only are the Soay sheep which run wild on Hirta and Soay of interest, but also the Black faced sheep which are totally feral on Boreray. They are counted with the help of a spotting scope from the “Gap”.

After the introductory talk we are able to take a walk through the village, past the reconstructed houses and perhaps into the museum.

The ruined houses can have a profound effect on visitors and there is a great feeling of sadness about the village which seems to permeate every stone

The cemetery has graves dating right up to recent times, containing those who departed these shores but wished to return here to be laid to rest.

Opposite the village, on the flanks of Ruaival, at what was thought to be the site of St Brianan’s (St Brendan- a contemporary of St Columba) chapel, archaeological excavations are under way. It now appears likely that the site, formally thought to be religious, is more likely to be an agricultural dwelling!

After looking around the village area, a walk over the bealach (pass) to Glenn Mhor is next. The path is steep, and looking back it is possible to see just how intrusive the modern buildings are. 

From the top, the view down into the big glen makes all the puffing and panting worthwhile. This was where the original village was before the inhabitants moved over the hill to village bay. Glenn Mhor has several very ancient remains well worth a visit.

At this point, the famous lovers stone can be seen on the western slopes. In earlier years when the island was inhabited by the true St Kildans’, young men, who wished to marry, were required to walk to the very edge of the stone and stand there holding one foot at waist level. Perhaps the drop of some 700ft might have made one or two contemplate a life of celibacy.