Return to Essays page

The Trig point at the edge of the world

“This will interest you”, my wife said as she read the free paper that drops through the door. “ They want people to visit Trig points and report on their condition”. I sent off my SAE and duly received my list of trigs for OS map 57 – Stirling & the Trossachs.

I have been walking in England & Wales for years and have always got a thrill from reaching summits especially so if there was a trig point to prove that I was in the right place! We have recently moved to Scotland so this project was a good way of visiting local places and I began to tick off the list. Each one was photographed and entered into a spreadsheet with a brief report on its condition. This took me to some places that I would never have gone otherwise and opened up some little gems. Two of my list I had visited before involvement in the project so they will be left until later this year or next – luckily they are great walks that I would repeat anyway.

It just so happened that we had planned a sailing trip to St Kilda with the Oban Sea School for July and when I got the maps out I was delighted to find that there was a Trig point on the summit of this remote island 60 miles off the coast of the Outer Hebrides. I had read a book about St Kilda called “The island at the edge of the world” and was really looking forward to visiting it. The voyage to St Kilda – Hirta in gaelic – is not always easy and there was no garauntee of landing but a reasonable weather forecast raised our hopes.
Sunset & sail
We set off from Oban in the yacht Aquila and had a good sail up the Sound of Mull, past Ardnamurchan Point and out across the Little Minch to the Outer Hebrides. It was a long day but when we anchored in the Sound of Barra at 10.30pm it was still light and a beautiful sunset. It was an early start the following morning and mirror calm – there was no option but to motor out to St Kilda. The journey started well with a visit from a pod of 3 dolphins who weaved in and out of our bow wave – in the clear blue water they were clearly visible ducking and diving around the boat. It took nine hours of steady but noisy motoring on a bearing of 280° to get there and because of the visibility we didn’t see the islands until we were 20 miles away. We didn’t really need the bearing, we just followed the line taken by the constant flow of gannets going from the feeding grounds back to the island which is home to the world’s largest colony of these beautiful sea rovers.

We arrived in Village bay in early evening having eaten on the journey and motored round the bay to observe the Puffins, Kittiwake, Fulmar & Shearwaters on the Dun and then dropped anchor in the bay with a few other boats. No-one could expect an easier journey to Hirta and the weather looked set fair to allow us the following day on shore. A short visit in the evening after a brief by the Scottish National Trust warden concentrated on the village area and the primitive nature of life on this island really comes over. It was inhabited until 1930 and the main occupation was the collection of birds for their oil & meat with crops grown for subsistence. The products were stored in stone buildings with turf roofs called cleitans which are peppered all over the slopes of the island. It is now home to a missile tracking station with a small workforce to maintain the generators plus the team from the NTS who run projects consistent with its World Heritage Site status.
The Dun from the Village
It never really went dark overnight and the still morning boded well for our visit to the Trig. Three of us were on the trip - myself, my wife – Geraldine & our youngest daughter Heather. We set off up the path from the village (Avoiding the Arctic Skuas nesting site) to a place called ‘The Gap’ which is a col between two tops with a huge 200m cliff dropping straight to the sea. Here Geraldine went off to investigate one area on her own and myself and Heather set off up the steep slope to the summit. The air was full of sea birds – Fulmars in effortless flight, Gannets wheeling over the sea then diving for fish and Kittiwake with their mournful cry. The path went close to the edge in places and we took great care when peeping over the edge to the sea. Evenually we reached the summit which has a cairn and a stupendous view out to Boreray and the Sea Stacs to the East. The cliffs here drop right from the very top point 380m into the sea – they are the highest sea cliffs in Great Britain and it is the first time that I have looked down and seen birds only as white dots, being unable to discern enough detail to identify them.
Boreray from the Gap
The Trig Point is south of the main top on an edge overlooking the village so we set off on the 250m walk to visit it. At this point I should introduce a bird that I had not mentioned previously – The Great Skua. This huge bird is called locally a ‘Bonxie’ and is famous for its bullying of other birds and aggresive response to people. The Trig Point was slap bang in the middle of their territory – having got this far they were the only obstacle between us and the Trig. They attack by sweeping low over your head sometimes making contact with their beak. Our skipper related that a previous visitor had once been hit by one and needed stitches. We edged slowly towards our goal with half a dozen of the birds maintaining a constant presence above us. None made contact but it was very close. I tried making eye contact with them to stare them out as they homed in on me but my resolve was not good enough and the Bonxies won.
The Trig point                                                                    The Village from the Trig Point
Our visit to the trig was brief with a few pictures – mainly taken whilst sheltering in the lee of the stone pillar. The view down to the village and the bay was fantastic but we were keen to get away from the aerial bombardment. Everywhere we went seemed to be theirs at first but eventually they settled and we had a trouble free walk back down the road from the tracking station back to the beach and eventually back to our boat - Aquila. The sail out was fantastic - with a good wind we could explore the other islands – weaving in and out of the largest sea stacks in Great Britain and out across the open sea to the Monach Isles. A quick shore visit allowed me to collect the Trig on these remote Isles – only 19m above sea level - which nicely rounded off this trip to “The Trig on the edge of the world”.
Circling Gannets                                                         Leaving St Kilda
© Keith Ratcliffe – July 06



Return to Essays page