by Kevin John Tolmie
“I’m going to St Kilda – who wants to come with me?” That was the clarion call from Dorna Caskie. As it turned out Dorna was only joined by Mary Clark (NZ) and me.
We assembled early Saturday morning at Stein with our fellow ten passengers and two crew – Willie, the Skipper and Harvey the Everything Else from Go To St Kilda. We were touched that Roy and Jennette Gervais (Canada) turned out to wave us off. A technical issue delayed departure but we were then cleared to don our gear and receive our safety brief. The worst aspect of the voyage was the deafening roar from the two V6 engines that thrash at seemingly full throttle. Note – should have brought ear defenders! After clearing the coast of Skye passing the noteworthy island of Isay (more later), we headed across the Minch, past Rodel, and through the lovely sound of Harris dotted with its many islands.
After that it was out into the open Atlantic and not long before St Kilda became visible on the horizon. Yet it was to be another couple of hours before we reached the archipelago. All the time looking to see the islands become ever larger in our sight. First we circled the large outlying island of Boreray. We marvelled at its impressive cliffs and myriad seabirds. We also passed close to Stac an Armin (the largest sea stack in the British Isles) and were suitably impressed by its mass.
It was then a twenty minute blast over to the main island of Hirta, coming in close beneath the tallest cliff in the British Isles. St Kilda is a place of superlatives. The calm seas allowed a rare treat as we were taken through the narrow channel between Hirta and Stac Mina. Something the sea state rarely allows.
Coming into Village Bay, we had to transfer in two groups into a tiny open boat to reach the jetty. Don’t rock the boat! For we MacLeods it was a special moment as we came ashore on our island. Dorna had prepared and issued special gloves to represent the severed MacLeod hand that first touched the island to claim it before the MacDonalds as the legend goes. We were then guided by a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) ranger around the village abandoned in 1930. This included church, school and cemetery. We saw the busy construction site, creating new ecologically sound buildings for the UK Ministry of Defence. MoD have had a presence on the islands for many years. Tea and cake was provided by our boat crew in the vicinity of the rare preserved WW1 gun. After posing for photos it was realised that unless we felt really fit a further exploration of the higher points of the island was not possible in the time available. So we contented ourselves with a browse of the small but well stocked NTS shop.
There were more treats on the return journey. Wildlife was to the fore as we drifted among a flotilla of puffins. Later in the open Atlantic again, dolphins and a whale were spotted.
I had told the skipper about the island of Isay being significant to Tolmies due to the massacre said to have been perpetrated there by ancestor Ruari Nimhneach (Roderick the Venomous) – although the latest research casts doubt on this. He was intrigued and allowed a circuit of the island with views of the ruined house. Could this be the very building where the gruesome event took place? Perhaps not, but still a great way to finish the cruise.
We were again delighted to see Roy and Jennette on the jetty to welcome us. The day was completed by a delicious dinner in the famous Stein Inn with our fellow passengers and excited chat about the day’s sights.