St Kilda

The west coast of Harris and Lewis ( one island really , but geographically divided by deep lochs and high uninhabited hills ) is rather more adventurous to explore than the East coast . In the latter the water is usually fairly flat , but the West coast is subject to the full Atlantic swell even in calm weather. We were faced with another few days of strong winds , so rather than stay in an area we were already familiar with , we headed North to East Loch Roag on the Atlantic coast , and specifically for the wonderful little natural harbour of Kirkibost where we carefully set two anchors and settled down to ride it out.

From On the West Coast of Lewis

This place had obviously once been fairly busy , with a substantial pier and plenty of newish buildings – nearly all standing empty! One boat still pots for lobsters out of here , but all other boats have been driven away. Apparently the price of lobster has stayed the same for ten years , whilst costs have of course increased. I have seldom seen such a thinly fished coast , but my guess is that it is a brutal place in the winter with boats on the East coast of the islands able to get out many more days a year.
Once the wind had released us we found it to be a spectacular cruising ground with the same wonderful combination of machair, mountains and wildlife that had so impressed us in Berneray, but on an altogether more rugged scale. One day on walking in the hills we came face to face with a Golden Eagle sitting on a rock cairn (I’m not sure who was most surprised , but whilst we gawped speechlessly he glided off to cruise effortlessly above an adjacent range of hills.) Similarly we were treated to the spectacle of a medium sized whale joining in a feeding frenzy with 30 gannets – it breeched showing a startlingly white underbelly, and we like to think it was our first Orca.
Another reason for being out here was to be in striking distance of St Kilda , sitting out there 50 miles to the west . Even now, with modern boats and forecasts, getting out there is quite a big deal. Ideally you need three days of settled weather, one to sail out there, one to explore and one to come back. You don’t want a westerly on the way out, or an Easterly on the way back , and as the anchorage is always subject to swell and getting ashore can be nigh on impossible if the swell is up , this has also to be taken into account.

From St Kilda

Our chance came on Midsummers day, bright and sunny but still very cold. The wind was light westerly but forecast to veer to the North and increase to 25 knots , and the swell was huge, although gentle enough out of soundings. Apparently the radar contractors on St Kilda had decided that it was the first possible day of the year to get a landing craft to deliver vital supplies to repair the facility , but she was unable to get ashore and had to head back the 50 miles to Harris with everything still on board.

From St Kilda

We got there after 12 hours of beating and dropped anchor in the iconic bay wondering what sort of night we were in for. Extremely rolly as it turned out and we were very dubious about landing, but towards midmorning the wind reduced and we had a good few hours wandering the settlement and the surrounding cliffs , marvelling at the stupendous scenery and even more at the tenacity of spirit that allowed men and women to exist here for hundreds of years in such isolation.

From St Kilda

One Comments

  1. Well there’s one for the bucket list. Congratulations, quite an achievement.

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