Marhofn 183.10 - May 2008

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Events:

Section 25

The full story of Ken Butcher's trip to St Kilda was published in the February 2008 issue of The Scottish Mountaineer (the magazine of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland). Ken wrote:

'The stern of the dinghy moved towards the rocks. I jumped, landing on all fours to cling to the barnacles and was so slow to move that I had a free shower from the next wave. Next move was over the seaweed to a waiting Reg. With life jackets removed it was a start up dry gabbro slabs followed by a steep scramble against the rock face to reach the cliff top at 150m. The gradient did not lessen over the close grazed glass to the ridge at 270m... A final steep 95m climb brought us to a single grass 'seat' and we could wave down to our fellow sailors. Concentration had to remain and the two-way radio to the boat became useful to select the descent when we reached the cliff top. For assurance and safety, Reg gave me four 30m belays as I scrambled down the gabbro to the life jackets at the landing rock... Heeding mountaineering advice to have three limbs safe before moving the fourth, I went for the unused outboard motor brackets and rolled into the dinghy, intoxicated by the privileged experience of landing on Boreray and bagging an improbable Marilyn with a safe return.'

Boreray (photo: Michael Curtis)

Boreray (photo: Michael Curtis)

The same issue of the magazine carries a long statement on access from NTS that includes the following text:

'There has been a gradual change towards a 'let's work together' approach to visitor management... The result of this participative exercise was a decision to move forwards in the spirit of access change in Scotland and find new ways to balance the needs of conservation and access... The site is a precious inheritance that needs careful management, but [the NTS] does not wish to exclude anyone who wishes to exercise responsible access... If a trip is planned in conjunction with NTS island staff then issues of disturbance to bird colonies and damage to cliff vegetation, for instance, can be mitigated against. The NTS do not propose to give prescriptions about where is suitable to climb... but they can professionally say where access would be irresponsible for reasons of heritage disturbance or damage. The best advice for any planned trip is to start communication early and keep in touch.'

So, there appears to be a long-overdue slight softening of the hostile attitude towards adventurous visitors. There are still plenty of barriers though. This is how Kenneth Williamson and J. Morton-Boyd described a trip to Boreray in 'A Mosaic of Islands' in 1963:

'One of the first exercises in boating at St. Kilda is to go out of the bay and become familiar with the ocean swell. The passage to Boreray entails over four miles of exposed sailing, and one must feel at home in the swell before going... Leaving the shelter of the island one finds oneself in the crazy world of the ocean, with great mounds of water lifting the boat to give a wide view of all the islands between each run into the troughs. From the bottom of these attenuated watery valleys very little can be seen, only the upper shoulders of the hills protruding above the on-rushing seas. This dizzy world takes a bit of getting used to if one goes there but once a year. I find that even experienced boatmen from the Hebrides do not settle easily at St. Kilda... On the first and second approaches the boat was badly aligned and was taken back. It was at once apparent that the wind was blowing us broadside-on to the rocks, and that it was going to be difficult to keep the bow pointing in the right direction. On the third attempt I leaped to the ledge which had become familiar to me through my four previous visits.'

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