Friday, October 16, 2015

At Sea - The Island of Hirta

16th October 2015

For an author, the process of being drawn into a story can be creeping and creepy. Ever since I heard of the island of Saint Kilda, or Hirta as it was known to the natives, I have had a growing pull towards the place.

To sail out to Hirta, first you have to get out to the island of Harris, which is already forty miles from the mainland of north western Scotland. And then you have to sort of hang about the port of Leverburgh, hoping that in your two-day window for sailing, the weather is going to behave enough that you can board the small ferry to cross another sixty miles of sea and disembark into a dinghy with the swell around these far-flung islands threatening to add you to its list of casualties.
From pre-history until 1930 Hirta was occupied by a hardy bunch of Gaelic speakers. The island was  cut off for nine months of the year, and the islanders spent the only fair months hunting seabirds on the treacherous cliffs. Hirta was owned by the MacLeod toffs, who would show up once a year and demand reels of tweed, feathers, fulmar oil for the privilege of living on MacLeod land.  No wonder that the population declined until the community couldn't support itself (besides, the Royal Navy had its eye on the place.)

In 1930 Hirta was evacuated.

These people in 1930 look like they hail from centuries earlier. They had never seen a tree and they kept pieces of drift wood as treasure. This story of Hirta is treasure itself for any author, and I want to go there in the worst way.  I did get the island into my first published novel Veil Of Time by positing my protagonist's childhood care-giver as the last bride to be married there.
But I want to set foot on the island with its shells of houses along the one semi-circle of a street by the shore. I want to stand still and listen, and then perhaps they will talk to me, those voices that somehow get caught in moments, the voices of a sea people who lived out their solitary lives in concert with the waves and the cry of sea birds.


  1. I've just finished "Veil of Time". I'm sure you have heard this many times, but, I couldn't put it down. Looking forward to your sequel. I also did a little research on Hirta.....goodness, that will be a hard trip. I think I read it is four hours from Skye. I'll be traveling to Scotland, again, in 2016.

  2. Thanks, Meggie. Always nice to hear! I'm glad you pointed out that the boats go to Hirta from Skye - that would be easier to get to for me. I hear you can do a six-week stint as part of a team rebuilding the old village - in my dreams I see myself doing that, too. Bur first the day trip! Best, Claire