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Conachair, the hill at the edge of the world
by Ian Johnston » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:11 pm
Route description: Conachair and Village Bay, St Kilda
Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Conachair (Hirta)
Date walked: 13/06/2011
Time taken: 5 hours
Distance: 9 km
Ascent: 540m8 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
We were based on MV Cuma, skippered by Murdani MacDonald of http://www.island-cruising.com/. Murdani knows these waters intimately, and Cuma (unlike most of the boats which visit St Kilda) is designed to be used as a base.
There is so much more to St Kilda than Conachair, so this report will be more a tour than a route description.
Approaching St kilda from the north east. From left to right: Hirta (?Stags), Soay (Sheep island), Boreray (Fortress island) and Stac an Armin (Warrior's Stack). the name of the group is interesting, there was no saint named Kilda! It's believed that the most likely origin of the name is the old norse word "Skildir" meaning Shields; which is very appropriate.
Our first view of Village Bay. It has to be said that the military buildings and antennae do intrude on the scene a bit.
Buildings and Cleitean below Mullach Sgar.
Dismbarking from Cuma for a paddle. this is an unusual method of starting a hillwalk!
This inscription is on a rock at the jetty. St Kilda is a place of superlatives; the UK's only UNESCO dual World Heritage Site, the highest sea cliffs in the UK, the largst seabird colony in northern Europe, home to one quarter of the world's Gannets and so it goes on. The NTS warden will normally meet visitors to give a briefing; we were incredibly lucky to have been granted access to all the islands and stacks (if we could land.....)
We spent a good couple of hours exploring the village with it's one street, Kirk, school and burial ground. the island was evacuated in 1930 after thousands of years of occupation. Exposure to the Victorian tourist trade, the adoption of a particularly strict form of religion, disease and plain hardship all contributed to a general decline in population. Once the population of young men fell below that required to sustain the fowling, the community was doomed.
The route to Conachair goes first up to the head dyke, a wall enclosing the lower ground around the village. There are Cleitean everywhere on the islands and even on the outlying stacks. the Cleitean are drystone vaulted stores used to store birds, feathers, eggs, potatoes, barley and wool. There are several different types, each adapted to the item it was intended to store. They are pretty much unique to St Kilda.
A stiff climb goes past some walled enclosures and then climbs to a bealach on the edge of the northern cliffs. the view to Boreray and the stacks is stunning.
As is the view back down to Village Bay. Dun is on the right, with the outlying stack of Levenish (the only stack we didn't get to visit) in the distance. Cuma is at anchor in the bay below.
The route now turns east along the highest cliffs in the UK. Fulmars nest right up to the top of these cliffs.
Just below the summit of Conachair there is part of the wreckage of a Bristol Beaufighter which crashed here, killing the crew. There's a memorial to them in the village kirk.
We were in intermittent cloud on the summit, but the views were well worth hanging around for; this is the island of Dun
Any walk on Conachair in the early summer will be enlivbened by the Great Skuas (Bonxies). Although we were careful not to go anywhere near the nests, our presence was met with the usual reaction....
Coordinated attacks! They are large and fearless birds and hugely aerobatic. You can either duck....
Or not! This one gave me a resounding slap on the forehead - time to move on...
After crossing to Mullach Mor with it's aerials and generators, we descended south on the access track, getting a good view into Glen Bay to the north west. This glen contains the oldest archaeological sites on Hirta, amazing since there is no suitable landing in the bay, the edge is a sheer cliff.
To the north, Mullach Bi rises to 358 metres, again on the edge of huge cliffs.
Our route continued south to Ruabhal and the Lover's Stone.
The stunning views just kept on coming, here looking south east to Dun
We continued to the edge of the Dun Gap which separates Dun from Hirta. The gap looks calm and easy in this picture, very different conditions to the wind and turbulence we'd experienced when kayaking through it in a northeast F5 the previous evening! The St Kildans grew potatoes and some barley on the slope of Dun and also visited to catch Puffins.
We finished our walk by contouring above Village Bay back to the jetty and our kayaks.
It had been an amazing walk, and when combined with kayaking around the base of the cliffs was an unforgettable trip.
Underneath the cliffs in the south west coast of Hirta
Heading along the south coast of Dun
In several places you can paddle through the islands as here, the Great Arch on Dun
Stac an Armin from the base of Stac Lee. A group of st Kildan men and boys were stranded on Stac an Armin when the crew which landed them succumbed to smallpox on their return to Hirta. They survived on the stack for nine months before being rescued....
Stacks in the sound of Soay
There are seabirds simply everywhere. The two metre wingspan gannets look like specks above the stacks
In-flight entertainment, St Kilda style!
Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray.
St Kilda is a magical place to walk, explore and kayak. All too soon we had to leave before our weather window slammed shut. Conachair is the highest, but we didn't get to tick these three - maybe next time?!
by Hantswalker » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:19 pm
Is the "channel" up to the lovers stone a volcanic dyke?
by Bod » Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:19 pm
by chickadee » Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:39 pm
by Ian Johnston » Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:43 pm
We were repeating wow every two or three minutes - it's that sort of place! I've deliberately left out perhaps the most spectacular stuff because it was kayaking around Soay, boreray and the stacks rather than walking, so isn't really appropriate for the site, but there are some posts on my blog at http://mountainandseascotland.blogspot.com/ and on Douglas Wilcox blog at http://seakayakphoto.blogspot.com/
Hi Hants, yes, there was one of the few basalt dykes we saw running right up the hill and emerging at the Lovers Stone. Apparently the St Kildans used to balace on the edge of the stone with just their toes like a board diver and grab one heel with the opposite hand as a test of balance. blimey!
by andrewdoggett » Fri Jul 01, 2011 10:02 pm
Might take an air rifle for those birds though - joking - maybe a spud gun then...
by frickletonh » Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:08 pm
by dooterbang » Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:18 pm
Thanks for posting.
by Astrid » Sat Jul 02, 2011 10:36 am
Thanks a lot for sharing!!
by mband » Sat Jul 02, 2011 9:47 pm
by rvrscum » Sat Jul 02, 2011 10:43 pm
by Ian Johnston » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:07 pm
Apologies for not replying sooner to the comments - I'm working in the Middle East at present and rarely get internet access.
Thanks for the kind words - St Kilda is a stunning, superlative place - go there if you can, I guarantee it's worth the effort!
rvrscum - your wait for the DVD is nearly over.... Pre-orders are being taken from Sunart Media, and the preview is available to view at http://www.seakayakwithgordonbrown.com/Main.html. Even for those not into kayaking, it's a good watch (though I'm a bit biased!)
by Klaasloopt » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:50 pm
by ChrisW » Sat Oct 01, 2011 8:00 pm
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