Where is Bob?
I can’t precisely recall the first time that I heard mention of the island archipelago of St Kilda but ever since then I have become fascinated about the history of the islands, their people, their way of life, and the struggle to survive in such an isolated part of the world. I simply had to visit St Kilda.
St Kilda was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1986 in recognition of its Natural Heritage; for its exceptional natural beauty and for the significant natural habitats that it supports. In July 2004, this was extended to include the surrounding marine environment. In July 2005 further recognition for the islands cultural heritage was awarded making it one of only a few places in the world with Dual World Heritage Status for both its natural and cultural significance.
St Kilda lies about 40 miles to the west of the Western Isles of Scotland. Nowadays, it is becoming relatively straight-forward to get there when the weather and sea conditions are suitable.
St Kilda appeals from a mountaineering perspective as the island archipelago has six Marilyns. To date nobody has completed all 1554 Marilyns. There are currently three people who have two left to do and both of these are out at St Kilda. These are the Marilyns of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin (the two highest sea stacks in the British Isles). I hope to climb these one day.
I first managed to get out to St Kilda on a day trip from the Western Isles on 12th September 2006. There was low cloud when I arrived at St Kilda but I nipped up the highest point on the main island of Hirta to do my first Marilyn in the archipelago. The boat then travelled to Boreray, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin so that I could have a look at the challenges lying ahead of me if I am to ever complete the Marilyns.
An opportunity presented itself from 13th to 15th September 2009 for a return visit to St Kilda with some Marilyn baggers who had organised a boat and secured permission to land on some of the other islands in the St Kilda archipelago. The weather and swell forecasts were favourable and if there were no nesting birds with young on the nests of the two sea stacks then we might get a chance to climb the stacks. This time we would be camping on the main island of Hirta for 2 nights.
We travelled out to St Kilda after a brief discussion with the warden, we headed over to the island of Dùn and made a quick ascent of it’s highest point being careful not to damage puffin burrows or disturb any birds.
Immediately afterwards, we headed over to the island of Boreray. We had hoped to get landed at the south end of Boreray for a relatively straight forward ascent however the swell conditions did not allow it. We therefore headed round to the east side of the island and made a landing at another point that we thought that we could get up to the top of the steep island. We managed to safely land, following a little bit of guano-covered rock climbing, we were able to proceed up exceptionally steep grass slopes to the summit of Boreray. This provided excellent views down over the St Kildan sea stacks.
On 14th September 2009, we landed on to the island of Soay and successfully climbed / scrambled / ascended to the summit. Only about 1 in 20 landings attempts to get onto Soay are successful so I was very pleased that we had suitable conditions to manage it in.
We had also hoped to get a shot at the sea stacks but there were still nesting birds with young on them so we were not permitted to land on the stacks. We have permission to attempt to climb the sea stacks in winter when the birds are no longer nesting with young that can’t fly.
With both of these trips to St Kilda I had always thought of St Kilda being a long way off of the Scottish Western Isle’s coast. This perception has now changed following an adventure out to Rockall with Nick Hancock. On the way back from Rockall, our boat sheltered in Village Bay of Hirta and St Kilda felt like civilisation. I landed on Hirta again on the 2nd June 2012 and re-ascended the highest point of the island to gain superb views over to Boreray and the sea stacks. On the way back to the Western Isles, we sailed around the sea stacks and Boreray which gave me a further opportunity to study the potential routes up the stacks and to marvel at the fact that somehow I had got to the summit of Boreray.