At 5 a.m., under leaden skies and a lazy, rolling sea, our vessel, the Island Sky, made its way into Village Bay at Hirta, the largest of the seven islets that make up the archipelago of St. Kilda—Britain’s most remote group of islands. No amount of reading could have prepared us for this dramatic scene; sheer mountains that explode from the sea, launched from the ocean depths by wild volcanic explosions, its peaks draped in a soft, gray fog.
As primordial and striking as the landscape was, it was the birds that drew the most gasps of disbelief and awe. Home to the largest seabird colonies in Britain, the surrounding waters teemed with thousands upon thousands of puffins whilst overhead fulmars and gannets careened in great arcs against the stark grandeur of St. Kilda’s sea cliffs.
In Zodiacs and by foot we explored this surreal, far-flung outpost, learning not only of its importance as a protected wildlife sanctuary, but also the saga of this island’s intense human history. The struggle for survival of the St. Kildans and their ultimate evacuation to mainland Britain in 1930 is both epic and tragic. It is a place of superlatives—the loneliest, the stormiest, the highest, the most dramatic, and the most difficult place to access in all of Britain’s outlying islands. As a Brit I can testify that 99.9999% of my fellow countrymen have never visited St. Kilda. To think that we are among the few who have not only seen it but explored its mysteries by foot is a most amazing feat. This is truly “wild” Britain at its best.