Tag Archives: Wildlife

Hebridean Way: Day 5 – St Kilda boat trip

Distance cycled 0 miles / 0 km
Cumulative distance cycled 117.1 miles / 188.5 km
Islands visited (daily total) Hirta (St Kilda)
Total islands visited 9+1 of 10
Average speed n/a mph / n/a kmph
Weather conditions Overcast

We’d heard of St Kilda before we started researching the Hebrides. The remote archipelago seems to have an almost mythical status as an isolated community which lived apart from the world for hundreds of years before the final residents departed for the mainland in 1930. St Kilda is 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. As we left Leverburgh at 8am, there was no wind at all but it was still a chilly and bumpy 3 hour ride in the motor cruiser to get there for our group of 12 plus 2 crew. We were on constant lookout for dolphins and whales but had seen nothing more exciting than a passing container boat and a few seabirds until we were almost in the bay where we got a tantalising glimpse of a Minke Whale’s fin.

A quick transfer by dinghy landed us on the main island, Hirta, where we were greeted by Sue, the warden for the National Trust for Scotland who own the islands. She and her two scientist colleagues live there during the summer alongside a year-round defence contractor’s crew who run the comms station up on the hill. She gave us a brief overview of the place and its history before setting us free to roam for 4 hours.

Main street on Hirta

The main street of the village consists of 16 cottages (6 of which have been re-roofed and are in use by The National Trust for Scotland) as well as older blackhouses which were latterly used as byres and stores

St Kilda is the only place in the UK to hold dual UNESCO World Heritage status for both its cultural and natural characteristics. The islands are so remote that unique sub-species of both wren and field mouse have evolved there, Andrew thinks he spotted a mouse but we didn’t make a confirmed sighting of either!

St Kildan sheep

A flock of primitive sheep survived after the evacuation of the human population and now they run wild on Hirta. They are not managed at all but scientists do round them up once a year to take measurements as they are a totally unique breed not found anywhere else

Exploring the ruined cottages on Main Street and reading the information in the small museum started to give us a sense for how hard the lives of the people who’d lived there must have been. They had small crofts and kept sheep and cows but much of their food and their rental payments came from the huge seabird colonies which populate the islands’ cliffs during the summer. Eggs and meat for themselves, feathers and oil for the rent payments.

Cleits on the hills of Hirta

The hillsides of Hirta are covered in these small stone structures roofed with turf called cleits. The Kildans used them for storage of food and peat for the winter months

There’s a good climb up and over the main hill on Hirta and back around the other side but it would have taken almost all of our time there and we wanted to have a full exploration of the village so we contented ourselves with a hike up to the Gap, the pass between the 2 hills from where we could look down the steep cliffs on the far side and see towards the sea stacks and uninhabited islands while the fulmars circled overhead.

View from the Gap back down towards village bay

View from the Gap back down towards village bay

Once we were back on board the boat and fortified with a cuppa and cake, we set off for a tour around Boreray and the sea stacks which we’d seen from the Gap. We’d both expected this part of the trip to be a bit of an add-on, especially as early September is not the best time for seabird viewing as all of the puffins and many of the other birds have already fledged and gone back out to sea. However, there were still quite a lot of gannets in residence, and as we got closer Darren, our guide, pointed out the paths the Kildans had carved into the cliff face so that they could climb up and harvest the young birds. The thought of even climbing up the narrow ledges was enough to make us feel a bit queasy, never mind trying to do it while carrying a sack of dead birds and being dive-bombed by others, oh and with no safety harnesses either…

Sea stack with whirling gannets, St Kilda

The sea stacks and islands’ cliffs are home to the most important seabird station in NW Europe, including large colonies of gannets, fulmars and puffins. The diagonal lines up the side of the stack are the Kildans ledge trails

A fantastic day which gave us a renewed sense of awe for the natural world and humans’ ability to survive in even the harshest conditions.

Hebridean Way: Day 3 – Grimsay, North Uist

Distance cycled 15.5 miles / 25 km
Cumulative distance cycled 90.2 miles / 145.2 km
Islands visited (daily total) Grimsay, North Uist
Total islands visited 7 of 10
Average speed 10.2 mph / 16.4 kmph
Weather conditions Cloudy with sunny spells, no wind

After a rude awakening just before 5am when the truck started up his engines we dozed for a while. The wind had dropped overnight and a glance through the mesh windows of the tent showed an alarming number of midges gathering in our porches… We packed as much as we could inside but eventually we had to run the gauntlet and unzip the tent. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad once we were outside and there was enough breeze that we felt safe to boil the kettle and have a spot of breakfast without being eaten alive.

Cycling the gentle roads on North Uist

Cycling the gentle roads on North Uist

The road barely touches the corner of Grimsay and we were soon across the next causeway onto North Uist, where we found a lot more water than the earlier islands with the gently rolling road across the moorland passing many small lochs. Entering the village of Carinish, I saw an information board in front of a small church. Tourist information boards had been few and far between so far, so I pulled across to see what it said. It referred to the ruins of Trinity Temple (Teampull in gaelic) which was along the track behind the chapel and across a field of grazing sheep. A medieval ecclesiastical college and monastery, we had a quick look around but it was built above swampy ground and was swarming with midges.

The remains of Trinity Temple in Carinish

The remains of Trinity Temple in Carinish

We didn’t want to take the ferry to Harris until tomorrow which meant we either had a short day and a stay at the campsite at Balranald in the island’s north-west corner or carry on a bit further and look for another wild camping spot. Tired from yesterday’s ride and fancying a shower we opted for the former. An early finish to the day’s cycling meant that we had time to wander the circular path around the neighbouring RSPB reserve. Mainly consisting of machair, a wildflower filled coastal grassy plain, it is an important habitat for ground nesting wading birds as well as the endangered corncrake. The charity also works with local crofters to preserve traditional farming techniques which protect the nests.

 The path through the machair at Balranald Nature reserve

The path through the machair at Balranald Nature reserve

On the way to the campsite we had stopped in the very tempting factory shop of the Hebridean Smokehouse so our dinner of pasta pesto was made much more luxurious with a side of smoked scallops, afterwards we retired to the tent to sample a couple of miniatures of the local Downpour gin.

Stolby Nature Reserve, Krasnoyarsk

After our first failure at public transport in Krasnoyarsk, trying to get to the hydroelectric dam at Divnogorsk, we tried again the next day with a trip to Stolby Nature Reserve. We did all of our research the night before, cross referencing our guidebook, the nature reserve’s website (through google translate), and a website which plotted trips on Krasnoyarsk’s public transport. All of these told us that we needed to take either bus 19, 50, or 78, from the bus stop outside the Opera and Ballet Theatre. We made our way there by 10.30 and waited for 45 minutes with no sign of any of the bus numbers that we wanted… It was a very busy stop with buses arriving every couple of minutes but unlike most of the other bus stops in the city it didn’t have a sign listing the bus numbers which stopped there so it felt like there was nothing else that we could check.

We knew that the bus needed to cross the Communal Bridge to the other side of the River Yenisey to get to the nature reserve. The Opera and Ballet Theatre stop was just before the bridge so we’d seen all of the buses which crossed the river from there – what had we done wrong? At this point, I was almost ready to give up, but Andrew persuaded me that we should walk across the 2km long bridge and see if we could spot a bus going in the right direction from there. At the other end was a large roundabout, we crossed a couple of side streets and made our way to the main road which had a bus stop very close to the roundabout. Almost as soon as we got there a #19 bus arrived – hurrah at last! We got on, paid for our tickets and checked with the conductor that the bus went to Stolby receiving a nod in response.

20130610-082516.jpgOn the bus at last

After about half an hour on the bus, we checked again with the conductor, yes, she told us, four more stops. As we got off, she indicated to cross the road and told us 7km to the nature reserve. Great, that tallied exactly with the information about the reserve that we’d read. As we walked up the road opposite the bus stop, we were a bit surprised to see no signs pointing the way, but this is Russia and things are not always as clearly signposted as we’d like… After about 10 minutes of walking the road forked, again with no sign as to which way to go. After some debate, we took the rightmost, clearer track which passed behind some houses. Again, after a short walk, the clear track turned to the right with a footpath leading to the left. We knew that we needed to be heading uphill which meant taking the footpath. Hmm, it didn’t feel quite right that there wasn’t road access to the entrance of the reserve… We headed up the footpath anyway and after a short walk came to a clearing in the trees with a stunning view up the valley. Down below we could see a road leading through the trees heading in the direction we wanted – that’ll be the road we should be on then!

20130610-082549.jpgGreat view up the valley with the path that we need down below

We headed back down to the main road and a short distance along found the access road with ‘Stolby Nature Reserve’ sign at the entrance. By this point we’d wasted another hour, and with a 7km walk ahead of us before reaching the park we knew that we wouldn’t have long there before we had to come back. But it’s OK, the story has a happy ending and the day quickly began to improve. Within a few minutes walk up the path we started to see wildlife – a woodpecker, Siberian chipmunks (very cute!), butterflies, lots of different birds on a path side feeding table and even a small bat!

20130610-083247.jpgWildlife at Stolby Nature Reserve (clockwise from top left): Siberian chipmunk, butterfly, bullfinch on feeding table, Siberian nuthatch

20130610-083256.jpgA small bat flying overhead in the bright sunshine

Stolby is the Russian word for ‘pillar’ and the nature reserve takes its name from the giant boulder formations which litter the hill. They are similar to the ‘Kamennie Palatki’ in Yekaterinburg, and also reminiscent of Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire. The path to the nature reserve is described in our guidebook as ‘a gentle uphill walk’ and it does start that way, but the last couple of kilometres are pretty steep. That, coupled with a long flight of stairs up to the first pillar, meant we could definitely feel our calf muscles the next day! Locally, the pillars are popular with rock climbers, and many of Russia’s best rock climbers have come from Krasnoyarsk region having grown up with the Stolby. We tried a bit of rock scrambling ourselves and were rewarded with an incredible view.

20130610-084624.jpgAmazing view from the ‘Ded’, or ‘Grandfather’, rock

20130610-085051.jpgRock formations and a friendly squirrel

On the way back down to the road, we had another treat in store. We were approaching one of the feeding tables and saw what we thought was another squirrel munching through the sunflower seeds, but as we got closer we saw that it was a sable! Once highly prized for their fur, these animals are usually very shy.


After a frustrating start, the day turned out really well.