Everyone has heard of ghost towns - but ghost islands? Scotland has a number of ghost islands and one of the most famous of these is St Kilda. They are owned by the National Trust for Scotland and are UNESCO Listed - it is unusual in being dual-listed for both nature and culture. They are truly dramatic islands rich in history, seabirds, and towering cliffs.

Another ghost Scottish island is the island of Mousa - famous for its best-preserved Iron-Age Broch (the 'skyscrapers' of ancient Scotland). Other dramatic islands to visit are the Neolithic Orkney Islands with their Skara Brae Prehistoric Village.

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Why The Ghost Islands St. Kilda Are Unique

"There is no place like St Kilda. Towering out of the storm-tossed waters of the Atlantic Ocean, its cliffs and sea stacks clamour with the cries of hundreds of thousands of seabirds."

National Trust For Scotland

St. Kilda is an isolated archipelago around 64 kilometers of 40 miles of the major Scottish island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The archipelago is known as "Hiort" in Scottish Gaelic. It is the westernmost most of the island of Scotland's Outer Hebrides. The largest island of the small archipelago is Hirta and the three smaller islands are Dùn, Soay, and Boreray.

  • Located: 40 Miles West-Northwest of The Outer Hebrides of Scotland
  • Designated: World Heritage Site Since 1986

In the past, the smaller islands were used for grazing and seabird hunting.

Today one can see many of the unique stone storage huts called "cleitan" still on the islands. There are around 1,260 cleitan on the main island of Hirta with another 170 on the other smaller islands.

Related: You Can’t Leave Scotland Without Visiting These Dreamy Locations

History And Evacuation of St Kilda

The small population had major troubles during the 19th century and the upheavals of World War One added to the island being evacuated in 1930. The St. Kildan's voted to leave their island as their old way of life had become untenable.

That ended the permanent habitation of the islands that had likely been populated for around 2,000 years. Or according to the National Trust for Scotland, a community existed here for at least 4,000 years. They made their existence exploiting the dense colonies of gannets, fulmars, and puffins for food, feathers, and oil.

It is likely that the population peaked in the late 1600s at around 180 and went into decline thereafter.

Population:

  • The late 1600s: Perhaps Up To 180 Inhabitants
  • 1851: 112 Inhabitants
  • 1861: 71 Inhabitants
  • May 1930: 36 Inhabitants
  • Latter 1930: Remained Inhabitants Evacuated

The only people living on the islands today are conservation workers, volunteers, scientists, and military personnel. Volunteers labor in the summer months to restore the cleitan.

Seabirds and Unique Sheep Of St. Kilda

Even after the evacuation of the population, two types of early sheep have persisted on the islands - a Neolithic type called Soay and an Iron Age type called Boreray.

Importantly these ghost islands are important breeding grounds for various seabirds like northern gannets, Atlantic puffins, and northern fulmars. They have Britain's largest colony of Atlantic puffins. The total population of sea birds is thought to number some 1 million seabirds. The islands even have their very own unique species of wren as well as a sub-species of mouse that grows to be twice the size of its British fieldmice compatriots.

Related: Guide To The Scottish Highlands & Why You Should Visit

Visiting St. Kilda Islands

Today visitors can make their own way to the island or come by tour. While the islands are very remote, some adventurous folk brave the weather to sail to the ‘islands at the edge of the world’ for the experience of a lifetime.

  • Entry Fee: None

There are a few companies offering day trips to the St. Kilda islands. On these cruises, visitors can admire the masses of seabirds, the dramatic coastline with its towering sea stacks, and disembark to wander the islands.

Kilda Cruises:

Kilda Cruises offers day cruises to the islands that stop off at Hirta where visitors are equipped with a map detailing historical points of interest and suggested routes for touring the island on foot.

This cruise leaves at 8.00 am and arrives at St. Kilda around 10.45 am. After being treated by the National Trust for Scotland warden passengers explore the points of historical interest on Hirta (there are a church, schoolroom, and museum to be seen). Return to the boat at 3.30 pm for tea, coffee, and fresh home baking before heading back at 4.00 pm.

  • Type: Day Cruise
  • Price: £245 ($325)
  • Departure Point: Leverburgh Pier in South Harris
  • Season: Usually Start Mid-April And Run Through to Mid September
  • Frequency: Three Trips A Week (every day If the Weather Allows)

Another company offering trips to St. Kilda is Go To St. Kilda also offers a selection of day tours, private trips, and camping trips to the remote dramatic islands.

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