St Kilda isn’t the easiest archipelago to get to – you can read some of the items we’ve come across here: Secret Scotland – St Kilda
The distance (about 40 miles) means the journey takes some four hours, assuming the weather doesn’t delay you, and even if you set out in good weather, there’s a chance that things won’t be so good when you get there, and you might have to turn back with your goal in sight. Cancellation is a real possibility.
So, the arrival of a second regular service sailing there has to be good news.
Sailing from Uig on the Isle of Skye, the new service will compete with existing services operating from Harris.
Although described as a “new” service, it seems that the route is a historic one that operated many years ago.
The service allows for day trips:
At the time of writing, these are on offer during May, June, July, August, and September, and other dates by arrangement. The cost is given as £230.
Departure at 7:30am, and return time 8-9pm, allowing approximately 4 hours on Hirta, main Island of the St Kilda archipelago.
World Heritage Site
St Kilda is a World Heritage Site (dual, both natural and cultural), managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), and the potential increase in visitor numbers may be a cause for concern.
Paul Sharman, a ranger with NTS, said: “I think it is a good thing that people are coming to experience this unique world heritage site.
“But most people stay in the village area, which does cause some wear and tear.”
Further details of the service and other trips can be found here:
The Good Old Days
I had a look for some recent pics of trips to Hirta, but I chose the pic below (from 1965) as a better example of ‘Compare and Contrast’ between then and now.
The owner’s original caption probably sums things up far better than anything I might add:
We had had an uncomfortable 17 hour journey from Mallaig in the fishing boat with only a National Trust for Scotland tea-towel displaying a map of Scotland and the NTS Properties for finding the route. It was good to be on the land although it seemed to be rocking and rolling for half a day.
While it may not be a full-time job such as the post recently offered on Inchcolm – and the successful candidates also have to be artists – I wonder if we will see a follow-up to this story, and find out how many applied for the places?
In this case, the National Trust for Scotland and Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre on North Uist have launched a search to fill two residency spots on St Kilda, in a project funded by the Year of Natural Scotland. The residencies are open to visual artists from all over the world, working in a variety of mediums.
St Kilda Property Manager Susan Bain said: “The beauty, mythology and atmosphere of St Kilda have inspired many artists over the years.
“We hope that this opportunity attracts artists who can present a fresh take on the wild coastlines, fascinating history and unique heritage of this special place.”
The resulting works will be exhibited at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre as part of their The Fragility of Flight project in 2014.
I wonder if anyone will point out to STV that St Kilda is actually an archipelago, made up of a number of island in a group, and that there is no Isle of St Kilda?
Below, you wil find an aerial view of Hirta, the main island which makes up the archipelago, and probably the one is mistakenly referred to as St Kilda, or even the Isle of St Kilda, by those who haven’t done their homework.
(I’m not proud, and freely admit I was one of them until I had to write a detailed article about the place – and then couldn’t make the bits fit together until I got it right.)
You can read some lesser known tales of the archipelago here Secret Scotland – St Kilda
Visit the following NTS item for downloadable document giving an application form, and notes for residency:
While the largely inaccessible archipelago of St Kilda could probably benefit from the presence of a nearby visitor centre, apart from the publicity value of raising its profile in the media, it doesn’t seem to be gaining much from the sad saga of the war that broke out over the proposals made for siting such a centre.
The location of the islands, and their unique environment, rules them out as the setting for any visitor centre, so any such facility necessarily has to be located nearby, and three potential sites in the Western Isles competed for the honour.
I’m not going into the individual details – for one, the winner of the competition was selected by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) years ago (back in 2009), and for two, when I commented on the result… I was put in my place and told I was not a position to judge (strangely, by the losers).
Reminds me of the attitude of the winner who didn’t actually get to implement their mad and unwanted plan to rebuild George Square.
However, that’s another story altogether.
The St Kilda Visitor Centre is back in the news.
Four years (and more if you wind the clock back to the initial proposal) have passed, and not a thing has really happened.
Instead of getting on with the job, all that has been done is to waste time and money over a fight that was lost before it started, since the decision was made.
The chances of change – to an outsider “not in a position to judge” – were low to nil. And if you read the list of gripes offered by the losers, those chances frankly moved even closer to nil.
New company to lead St Kilda project
Described in the BBC’s news article about the project, Ionad Hiort Ltd has been launched to develop the centre.
The new company has been registered as a charity, and takes over from Buidheann Leasachaidh Ionad Hiort, a local voluntary group which was looking after the project, and which has now been wound up.
Presumably they wish to leave behind the sad history of this project to date, and get on with the job of progressing the Visitor Centre on Mangersta, which was selected as the best option way back in 2009. However, as noted above, supporters of sites at Cleitreval in North Uist and Leverburgh in Harris claimed the criteria used to gauge the bids for the centre was changed, but a multi-agency body set up to oversee the selection process – the St Kilda Centre Working Group – said the criteria followed by those responsible for the decision – Jura Consultants – were “fair”. After considering complaints from the Cleitreval and Leverburgh groups, the working group said it believed the feasibility study process was “fair and transparent” and that there was no justification to halt the process or re-score the submissions, and went on to praise the quality of each of the bids.
For current news on the project, see:
(While the opening part of this post is actually – in light of the news that the project is now apparently progressing – written with a lightly “Tongue-in-cheek” attitude in mind, I did do it deliberately to illustrate how easy it is to waste time and effort where some sort of war or dispute breaks out, and the focus moves from the project to the war. I hope the focus has indeed now moved to the project, and that the war is history.)
Last time I mentioned the St Kilda visitor centre was almost two years ago – War declared over St Kilda – I was given a row for basing my comments on the media reports at the time, rather than the biased online presentation of one of the interested parties.
It looks as if there’s still no proper resolution, and the war I referred to is still underway, with all three contenders still beavering away on their plans, and presumably all thinking they are right.
Perhaps if I refrain from commenting about any one in particular, no-one will shout at me this time, and tell me I’m wrong.
On the other hand, maybe I should upset them all, and suggest that the lure of an imaginary pot of gold for whoever manages to land the centre is affecting their thinking, and they’d be better resolving their differences and getting a visitor centre in place post-haste, and not waste yet more time arguing (and poking other people in the eye) – time when they could be collection tourist gold, which (if it exists) they are all letting slip through their fingers every day the visitor centre is not in place to empty the tourists’ wallets.
Hopefully the visitors will not end up lost and confused, as it looks as if the reality is set to be one official and two unofficial visitor centres, and just ignore them all if they feel let down.
Plans to build a major St Kilda Centre in the Western Isles are being outlined at an open day.
The programme include visits to the proposed site in Uig on Lewis as well as showings of rare archive film dating back as far as 1908.
…Towering cliffs at Manergsta, Uig are similar to the scenery on St Kilda and were a pivotal factor in the site being formally selected for the official visitor centre.
The base needs to be built on one of the main islands of the Hebrides due to the difficulties in crossing the 60 miles sea gap to St Kilda and limitations on visitor numbers.
But hopes of a tourist bonanza has two other Hebridean communities – Leverburgh and North Uist – drawing up their own plans to host rival visitor interpretation centres about St Kilda.
While I was hunting for some unrelated material regarding the Coastguard, I chanced upon some footage they had placed online regarding the removal of the Spinningdale wreck from the shoreline of St Kilda.
The incident was almost amusing, had the reality not been so sad, and brought the usual crop of ‘Doomsday Nuts’ out of the woodwork, with tales of ecological disaster and ruination of St Kilda as a result of this accident, as if the unfortunate occurrence of wrecks on the shores of St Kilda was not itself a natural (though no less undesirable) event, and something that has been happening – and no doubt will continue to happen – for decades to come.
The footage is not solely confined to coverage of the wreck, and there are some shots of the remains of the village and the bay. And for helicopter fans, the departure and arrival of the Coastguard’s helicopter for the crew.
I never cease to be impressed by how easily and quickly what seems to be a fairly simple and straightforward decision can descend into a declaration of war – and I’m sorely tempted to add especially when councils and other self-interested groups are involved (but I won’t). Even appointing outside consultants doesn’t seem to help.
A couple of months ago, back at the start of September, it was announced that three possible sites for a visitor centre dedicated to St Kilda had been selected. It looked as if this was going to proceed sensibly, as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) had declared that Hirta, the main island of the St Kilda archipelago, was not a possibility, because it is often inaccessible. Even though it is only about 40 miles west of the nearest islands, conditions are so severe that travellers can set out for St Kilda in fine weather, only to find that it is impossible to land on Hirta by the time they have sailed to the island.
Three potential locations were identified, all on the Western Isles, about 40 miles over the sea to the east of St Kilda: Cleitreval in North Uist, Leverburgh in Harris and Mangersta in Uig.
A few weeks later, by the End of October, a preferred site had been selected, and the consultants’ recommendation was Mangersta in Uig. The recommendation is far from final, and the plan still has to make its way through the local council’s decision making process, be considered by the sustainable development committee, and be considered by other public bodies before the visitor centre proposal is finalised.
But is looked as if the initial phases was over.
A war now looks likely as the groups representing the Harris and North Uist bids are claiming that the rules were changed part way through the selection process, and the criteria were changed – Harris is seeking to resubmit it plans, and South Uist is considering similar action.
The media reports so far are short of detail, and those not involved in the process are not privy to the details and criteria the consultants worked to, so it’s not possible or fair to judge. However, this story seems to follow many similar complaints, where the parties involved are happy to conform to the criteria – until the decision fails to favour them, whereby they suddenly reveal to the world that the “rules changed and were cheated”.
Even if the claims are substantiated, this procedure still significantly weakens the complainant’s case, since it implies they would have kept quiet about the changes, and happily accepted the ruling had been in their favour.
If there is a problem, the time to speak up about it is before any final decision is made, not to wait for the outcome, and then jump up and down if it doesn’t suit you.
It may be rare and small, and it may have seen off its domesticated house mouse variant after the human population left St Kilda in 1930, but the St Kilda field mouse is to star in its own three year study of its habits and lifestyle.
The research into this unique animal, which is heavier and has different hair colouring on its belly compared to its mainland variant, is to be undertaken by a team from the University of Edinburgh.
Although the original population of the island left in 1930, taking with them the opportunity of dropped food scraps and crumbs which would have attracted the mouse from the field into their homes, the island has had a more recent and constant human presence since 1957, when the military arrived to set up a base and radar station during Operation Hardrock. However, it seems the new visitors have been more careful with their scraps, as the domestic variant has not staged a comeback.
See more: St Kilda (Scotland) – a set on Flickr by jonesor.
Back in June, we noted that the wreck of the Spinningdale, a Spanish trawler which was forced onto St Kilda and was wrecked on the island of Hirta back in February 2008, was to be removed. It has been left alone initially, however concerns that it would break up in the severe weather of the area mean that the decision to remove it was made sooner rather than later, to prevent further damage by any parts torn loose.
A Spanish team was landed to cut up the remains, and palletise them ready for transport off the island, and that process has now been completed.
The work was expected to be completed by October, but has already been finished, apparently leaving little more than a rusty mark where the craft once lay, and the weather will soon remove that.
Provided the weather holds, the recovered material is due to be shipped to Queensferry, where it will sent for recycling.
The work was carried out for the National Trust for Scotland, which looks after the archipelago.
Back in February of 2008, a trawler (the Spinningdale) was forced on to the rocks of Hirta, the main island of the St Kilda archipelago, and wrecked, forcing the crew to abandon the vessel and be winched off to safety. Since then, the majority of the removable nasties have been removed to avert the pollution danger, and there was even a scare story about rats on board infesting the island, to keep the tabloids happy, but there were none (on the island that is, we can’t speak for any of the tabloids though).
At the time, the decision was taken to leave the wreck in place. The waters where it lay were shallow and hazardous, making access difficult, and possibly causing more damage than the presence of the wreck. The plan was to monitor, and review the decision in the light of any developments, and we wondered if it would still be newsworthy if there were any later changes to the plan.
It seems that changes have taken place, and they remained newsworthy.
The wreck of the Spinningdale had been securely lodged where it settled, however, after lying exposed to the St Kilda weather, the wreckage is reported to have worked its way free, and was considered to have become a threat to the island’s coastline and pier, and to passing boats.
A Spanish salvage crew (the trawler was Spanish) has arrived to cut up and remove the 170 tonne wreck, and will be accommodated on the island for the duration of the work. They were transported there, together with a lorry, on the MV Elektron, which transports supplies to the island and can land vehicles on to the beach using its bow ramp. Salvaged material will be winched from the wreck to the beach, and then transported by lorry for storage. The work is planned for completion by October, when all the material recovered from the wreck will be transported off the island.
National Trust for Scotland (NTS) property manager Susan Bain said, “The wreck will be safely and systematically dismantled, restoring the St Kilda seascape to its picturesque best.”
A few weeks ago, we noted the demise of a trawler, the Spinningdale, on one of the islands in the St Kilda archipelago, and that the decision had been made by the NTS to leave the wreck there until at least 2009 – having cleared it of potential contaminants – to avoid causing further damage in a recovery attempt.
The decicion to leave the wreck, rather then clear it immediately, attracted possible adverse comment, but made sense as it reflected the fact that wrecks are natural hazards and happen over the course of time. Like it or not.
There’s another potential source of controversy on the horizon now, as North Uist councillor Archie Campbell has called for the construction of a lighthouse on the archipelago. Mr Campbell said that with the recent reinstatement of lights on the Monach Islands, west of North Uist, the next step was for one on St Kilda. However, he also noted that the Northern Lighthouse Board had considered the idea, but that there were objections from conservationists.
We can’t find any references to a light being established anywhere on St Kilda in the past, so there’s no precedent for installing one, and with today’s navigation systems, it seems a bit late to think about installing one there now. While we do have the current grounding to consider, under circumstances we’ve not been made aware of, St Kilda does not appear to have a trail of wrecks around its shores, so is not really a location one would immediately think of as justifying the cost and environmental disruption that would be added by its installation.
I’m afraid this smacks of something that looks more of an attempt to make some opportunistic political milage, rather than deal with an actual hazard.
When we first started to look at St Kilda a few months ago, we discovered a rich sources of intriguing information, ranging all the way from the roots of its name somewhere back in the 16th century, maybe, all the way to the present day and its Cold War connections. And then there’s all the more well-known stories that the BBC tried to make mysterious in its recent three-part series which featured the archipelago.
As we’ve learned, the island group is largely unaltered from its early days of habitation, and was abandoned during the 1930s, only seeing the return of people when a tracking station was established there in the late 1950s. Since then, the group has become subject to a number of protections intended to ensure it remains untarnished by human hands, and survives as an important natural habitat.
Back in February of 2008, a trawler (the Spinningdale) was forced on to the rocks of the main island, Hirta, and wrecked, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel when they were winched off to safety. Since then, the majority of the removable nasties have been removed to avert the pollution danger, and there’s even been a scare story about rats infesting the island to keep the tabloids happy.
What is interesting is the approach to the wreck and its potential removal, which those responsible for the care and maintenance of the islands now have to consider. While there will be those that simply see the knee-jerk reaction of having the wreck removed as soon as possible, regardless of any other thoughts, now that the vessel itself doesn’t present an immediate hazard, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has announced that it will remain there until 2009 while they consider the correct course of action
Gut reaction says remove it, but a moment’s reflection suggests wrecks have been occurring since the first boat hit the water, so are natural occurrences, and the removal, or threat of removal, has created similar controversy. However, in this case, it seems the problem is not the loss of any historic value, but the position of the vessel, in shallow waters, which complicated the operation, and the potential damage that could be done to the environment during the removal. The location also makes the operation extremely hazardous. As we saw during the BBC documentary, there’s never any guarantee of what local weather will be like at any given time, and it can change from safe to treacherous in a matter of a few hours, with little warning.
Hopefully, the matter will still be considered newsworthy next year, and we’ll learn the outcome without having to remember to go and search for the outcome of the NTS’ review.