First evening at St Kilda

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 18 , 16th July.

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Later that evening we landed on St Kilda.  This is the “Feather Store”, where the locals used to store the produce that they submitted annually to the Factor to send to the Laird.  For centuries before 1779, the McLeod Lairds from Dunvegan Castle on Skye owned St Kilda along with Lewis and Harris.  Decades of wild spending and gambling forced the sale of St Kilda (along with Harris).  The new Laird was a retired sea captain also called McLeod, who built the Feather Store in the 1780s.

Behind the store is what must be an ammunition store for the gun that we see in the next image.

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In 1915, a German U-Boat shelled a radio station in the village but was careful to try to avoid shelling the villagers’ houses.  A few were still damaged and their owners received no compensation from the British Government.  The gun was installed later to deter a recurrence of this event.

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This is the “coffin cleit”, not far from the jetty.  We will see as lot of cleits in the next few posts.  They are storage sheds and drying rooms.  This one is unusual because it is quite long and has two entrances, one at each end.  It was used for storing wood.  There are no trees on Hirta, the St Kildans made use of whatever driftwood came their way.

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This image and the next one are also the “coffin cleit”.

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These are Soay Sheep, an ancient breed of sheep that used to live only on the island of Soay.  The islanders on Hirta had the black faced sheep more common in the Highlands (and that we have seen earlier in this trip).  When the islanders finally left in 1930, they took their black-faced sheep with them.  Soay sheep were then introduced to Hirta, where they had not previously lived.  The breed is said to be six million years old and to be similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep.  It is self-shearing, so that wool comes off by itself, as we shall see in some images in the next posts.  There is another ancient breed of sheep on the island of Boreray, which is I think not usually open to visitors.

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Obviously, the one with the horns is somewhat younger.

The Soay sheep belonged to the Laird and were probably always feral.  Conversely. the Boreray sheep were farmed by the residents and were also on Hirta in the eighteenth century.

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This is one of the “modern” houses, dating to 1861 or 1862.  I don’t think it has an original zinc roof, but I could be wrong on that.

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Looking along the “street”, the more modern houses alternate with older houses from the 1830s, dry stone constructions perpendicular to the more recent ones.

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Looking through beyond one of the newer houses.  The small rounded structures are cleits.  There must be hundreds of them on the island.

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Further along the street….

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Inside a ruined drystone house.

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Walls and cleits at the far end of the road with Dun in the background.

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It’s not a place where stones are scarce.

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13 comments on “First evening at St Kilda

  1. Wow. Does anyone live there? It looks so abandoned.

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    • Murray Foote says:

      That’s because it is. The residents left in 1930. I will explain all that in the next post.

      Nowadays, there’s a radar station there and a small naval base, as well as some archaeologists and volunteers living in some of the old buildings.

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  2. Vicki says:

    Utterly fascinating. I’ve never seen stone houses built in a row like that except in large villages or towns. And with no trees on the island, it must have been hard to keep warm in winter (unless driftwood was very plentiful).

    Looks like a place I’ve love to visit and explore. What sort of accommodation is on the island (or do you have to do day from the mainland ?).

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    • Murray Foote says:

      I’ll explain much more in the next post. Prior to the 1830s their houses were in a group and they had communal land ownership. From the 1830s they were persuaded to go to individual land ownership with long strips and the houses on their own strips.

      Driftwood would probably have been to valuable to burn. First call would have been furniture, looms and construction. There wouldn’t have been enough of it to rely on for firewood anyway. They used peat or turf for fuel. The old houses had no chimneys, the smoke just escaped through the thatch, so they would have been dark and smoky inside.

      There’s no accommodation on the island, though I think you may be able to stay in a tent (bringing your own food). Otherwise the only way to stay overnight is on a yacht or if you are accepted as a volunteer. Most visits to the island are day trips and you can only stay a couple of hours.

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  3. leecleland says:

    I am fascinated by these old abandoned places. The hardships the people must have endured is unimaginable to us today. It is sad too that less than a 100 years ago a community lived and died here and now only the stone walls remain. Looking forward to the rest of the posts about your trip to the wilds off Scotland.

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  4. enmanscamera says:

    As always, I have come to expect a great historical commentary and talented photography. Well done sir.

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  5. What a really interesting and beautiful place. Time has gone by.

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