Pictures of St Kilda
almost anywhere was better than St Kilda
picture forms in my mind. It is a fine day, the wind is warm and
Im feeling good. Seamus Heaneys Glanmore Sonnet with
its lovely litany of Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea
has made me yearn for somewhere townless, roadless and remote. Another
reading of Audens "On this Island" and Im
ready for the ultimate challenge - St Kilda. Wild, rocky isle stranded
in the Atlantic, miles from anywhere. I could cope with you - in
and then another one forms, the kind you see at the
pictures. Glowering clouds are hurling spiteful anger on the pitiable
cottages, whilst tumultuous seas unleash their endless force on
the battered shoreline. Letting this impression of St Kilda quickly
fade, I turn up the central heating and picture something else,
glad to live in a place where a three-hour power cut is a hardship.
Even the islands hardy inhabitants opted out, eventually. 2,000
years of clinging to a craggy landmass beyond the Outer Hebrides ended
in 1930. They had come to know not just that there was somewhere better
to live, but that almost anywhere was better than St Kilda. Finally they
did something about it.
There are photographs on the internet of residents braving it early in
the last century. They even had a go, incredible to believe, at promoting
tourism but of course to no avail. So we progressively piece together
a photographic gallery of hardship. Lack of variety in diet and an apparent
uselessness at fishing lead to them living mainly off gannet. Earlier
written records create a picture of a happy, unspoilt people with a love
of music and games, and give clear hints of it being an earthly paradise.
Although it is hard for most of us now to equate St Kilda with the Garden
of Eden, the whole comparison fell anyway once its traditional Christianity
was replaced by adherence to the grim and unsuitably named Free Church.
Images of a black and white hell on earth began to fill the gallery. They
even locked their doors, which is pathetic if you think about it.
And so it came to pass that the islanders quit the shores forever. Nothing
much happened on St Kilda for a while. The sheep were left to it. It was
abandoned as a forsaken lump of stone set in an angry sea. Yet this is
where the story twists two ways. Firstly, its very isolation started to
become attractive, particularly as an antidote to modern living. My friend
Ward is adamant that he could manage there fine, and I believe him. He
could even put up with the glowering clouds hurling their spiteful anger
and would positively encourage the tumultuous seas to unleash their endless
force. A diet consisting entirely of gannet? No problem. Electricity?
A waste of time and energy. He plays the bagpipes and St Kilda would
be swathed in its lone inhabitants piping as the wind raged. His
marching would be a fine sight for circling spy satellites.
The final ironic twist, however, is that the unpeopled St Kilda has now
become popular with scientists, conservationists, environmentalists and,
yes tourists! There is even a pub, dubiously called the Puff Inn. Happy
evenings captured by polaroid for all to smile at on an uninhabited
Ward will have to start looking for somewhere quieter.
© Graeme Garvey November 2002
on his first trip to Canada
Journeys in Hacktreks
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