View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 29 August 2011

Monday 29 August

Although the day started fairly bright, we were plagued by showers through the afternoon. And we have lost our "summer warmth": only 13C today. The ferry had to cancel its return crossing from Ullapool yesterday, and did not return until lunchtime today. There was a large amount of traffic to catch up on, and this evening it was an hour late coming back to Stornoway.

I have recorded all 26 episodes of The World at War, but I can only watch one episode at a time - too depressing. However, it is the best documentary on the Second World War, a topic I take an active interest in. Today, I transcribed more of the tributes from the Stornoway Gazette from 1941 to islanders who fell in that conflict.

St Kilda

It is 81 years ago today that the last inhabitants of St Kilda were evacuated from their isle, situated 40 miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Life had become untenable, when supplies could only be landed during the summer months. The islanders were also susceptible to illnesses, brought ashore by visitors. Until the late 19th century, there was a very high infant mortality rate, attributed to poor hygiene practices around newborns.

On 29 August 1930, the islanders of Hiort were taken to Lochaline, in the Morvern peninsula, and then on to Glasgow. Some stayed on at Lochaline, to work in forestry - an irony, coming as they did from a treeless island. The island has remained without permanent habitation. Some of the houses were left with a pile of grain on the table and the family Bible open at the book of Exodus.

I have only seen St Kilda from North Uist, on a clear day in summer. It is supposed to be visible from Mangersta, but the distance is 60 miles. The culture of the island was taken away by its people in 1930, and has been recorded assiduously. This may now be congregated at the St Kilda Centre, pencilled for a location between Mangersta and Islivig. It has been argued that a more sympathetic approach from central government in the early 20th century could have saved St Kilda for habitation. Maybe so. But it would have destroyed the unique culture, which came about through its sheer isolation.

Today, my thoughts lie 90 miles to the westsouthwest of Stornoway. The Hiorteachs have gone - their island remains.

Image courtesy Flickr-user iancowe