St. Kilda, A Brief Overview

Hirta Stac Lee Soay

St. Kilda Islands (Stac Lee in foreground, Dun, Hirta, and Soay)

St. Kilda is a group of islands which are the most westerly part of Scotland; they are 41 miles from Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides and 110 miles from the Scottish mainland.

This archipelago consists of four small islands and some large rocky outcrops which are all that remains of a long extinct volcano. The islands are remote and spectacular with the highest cliffs in the UK and are the home to large colonies of seabirds.

There is evidence that the main island Hirta has been inhabited for thousands of years but the habitation might not have been continuous. There is also evidence of human activity on the other three islands of Dun, Soay and the more remote Boreray.

The island of Soay has been the home of the most primitive form of domestic sheep in the UK for thousands of years which have remained as a relic of early domestication due to isolation and inaccessibility.

The islanders, known as the St. Kildans were the tenants of various owners of St. Kilda, they had limited resources other than the vast seabird colonies. They caught thousands of these birds and used their feathers and extracted  their oil as a currency to pay their rent and to buy meagre provisions.

The most remote island of the archipelago is Boreray which was used by the St. Kildans to harvest sea birds and their eggs and also keep a reserve flock of their unique domestic sheep, now known as Boreray Sheep.

As more communications with the mainland improved the life of the islanders changed, they were subject to diseases brought by contact with outsiders which caused heavy mortality. There was movement to the mainland and immigration to other parts of the world until in 1930 the population became so low with so few able bodied men they could no longer sustain themselves and they chose to leave.

In 1957, the entire archipelago was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland and has been in their ownership and protection ever since.

saoy grazing village

Soay grazing among ruins of village on Hirta