February already. I’m still getting used to writing ‘2016’ and already we’re a month into the year. This morning, as Scotland was being battered by yet another winter storm, it was a delight to flip over the page on my copy of the St Kilda Club calendar to reveal my image ‘Boreray and the Stacks’, captured during a spell of glorious island sunshine in the summer of 2010. It’s quite a contrast to the weather today and I can only imagine what the conditions are like on St Kilda just now.
St Kilda is an archipelago located 41 miles west of Harris, near the edge of the continental shelf. Hirta, the main island of the group, was one of the remotest places in the British Isles to be permanently inhabited until the remaining 36 islanders were relocated to the mainland, at their request, in 1930. Their way of life had become untenable for a number of reasons, including increased contact with the outside world and depopulation due to emigration and disease. The islands, Scotland’s only dual World Heritage Site, are now owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and also form part of the Hebrides Missile Test Range which is operated by the MoD’s contractor, QinetiQ.
During the summer months, a small number of NTS staff and volunteers live on Hirta, undertaking ornithological, ecological and archaeological conservation and research and managing the large numbers of visitors coming ashore. During the winter months, only core QinetiQ staff remain and the islands are quiet, long after the wardens, tourists and seabirds have gone. At the AGM and annual reunion of the St Kilda Club in November, I learned that QinetiQ staff had been evacuated during a ‘weather bomb’ last winter. We were shown photographs of large metal containers that had been tossed around by the wind; a threat not only to the islands’ built heritage but also to human life. The St Kildans inhabited the islands for generations and must have endured countless atrocious weather events during that time. I can recall reading that one storm left all of the islanders in a temporary state of deafness, such was the noise.
I would love to write about these islands all day but, as I’ve previously hinted, I have another exciting blog post on St Kilda waiting in the wings and so I’ll wrap up for now. In the meantime, you might like to check out my recent posts, ‘The A-Z of the Scottish Islands‘ and ‘Reflections of a Scottish Landscape Photographer‘, for more of my thoughts on the islands and to find out why I’m so inspired by Scotland’s great outdoors. February is the shortest month but it’s a leap year and so I have 29 days to enjoy looking up from my desk and casting my mind back to one of my most memorable island adventures.
You might be wondering how you can get yourself a copy of a calendar celebrating this iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in future years. At the moment, it’s not so easy as you would need to either pay a visit to the islands or the annual St Kilda Club AGM and reunion in Edinburgh. However, my understanding is that an online shop will be added to the Club’s website in due course, in which case these lovely calendars may only be a few clicks away.