Tuesday, 2 August 2011


I seem to be getting to more and more remote British islands, but my ultimate goal is St Kilda. This is a small collection of islands (how many does it need to be to count as an archipelago?) way off the west coast of Scotland. It was abandoned by its remaining inhabitants back in the 1930s as they could no longer sustain their way of life there. It's now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is extremely tricky and expensive to get to.

The nearest I've managed to get so far is Foula, another remote island off the west coast of Scotland. This has come close to being abandoned in the past, but currently has a population of about 30 and seems to be surviving quite well. Foula is the island used to represent St Kilda in old film about the last days on the island.

The journey to Foula is either by a small mailboat or a tiny plane. The island is known for its fog and so the plane is often cancelled. The boat can also be cancelled due to bad weather and so although I was only intending going to Foula for 2 nights, it could have turned out to be longer. The man in the shop in Walls, where I departed from, warned me about this and so I packed a few extra days' food supplies.

I left my car and walked round to the ferry terminal in plenty of time for the 1.30pm departure. However, we didn't leave until about an hour later as the captain had got stuck in fog on his way from Brae. The journey was expected to take about 2.5 hrs which was fairly accurate. There were a few other passengers on the boat as well as a crew of four. The other passengers consisted of a family of four who were on their way to visit the man's sister who'd moved to Foula a year or two before. They'd been booked to fly, but the plane had been cancelled because of the fog.

Foula appearing in the mist
The journey was good, the sea was so calm, no waves at all, though there was quite a big swell. I stood out on deck the whole time hoping to see whales but wasn't lucky. As we got nearer to Foula it started to rain a bit and the weather really closed in. When we first came in sight of Foula it was as a vague shadow in the mist and it was only when we were almost there that I was sure that it was land I was seeing and not just a trick of the light.

We docked and had to climb up a ladder on the side of the pier. Luggage, post and shopping deliveries were piled into a crate and lifted out with a crane. Whilst waiting I watched a couple of seals playing about in the harbour. Then I walked about a mile along the road to the airport where I'd decided to camp. The fog was so dense that although it wasn't far and the airport is in plain sight of the road I still had to get my map and compass out and navigate my way to it. I couldn't see it until I was actually there.

My tent is to the left. Abandoned cars to the right.
There was one fire station building and a tiny waiting room with a toilet and wash basin with cold water. A few abandoned cars were parked in the car park alongside the runway. I wandered around for a while over the boggy ground trying to find a slightly less boggy bit on which to pitch my tent. There only seemed to be one bit and that was quite close to the runway. I was no closer than the cars though, and it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if I had to move my tent next morning before the first plane arrived.

Lots of curious sheep watched me pitching my tent. They were all over the runway - I don't know what happens when a plane is due? - does someone have to chase them away? Once my tent was pitched I sat on stone seat and finished my flask of coffee. It was a mild evening and was lovely to be sitting there so alone in the mist, staring at the sheep who were staring right back at me. Apart from the odd 'baa' it was completely silent.  

After a while the mist seemed to be lifting a little so I walked to the far end of the road and back. It was really eerie walking along and seeing shapes looming in the mist. Not knowing if they were houses, sheep or abandoned cars until I was quite close. I could hear a few sounds of life, but saw no-one. On the way back to my tent the mist lifted even more and it started to rain. I gave up my walk as it was getting a bit late anyway, and hibernated in my tent for the rest of the evening.

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