A First Timer’s Visit To St Kilda and Orca Spotting Aboard the Hjalmar Bjorge by Craig
How best to describe my first ever trip to St Kilda? Maybe the seven days and six nights aboard the Hjalmar Bjorge, which is a fantastic boat. Perhaps the laughs and good times aplenty with the twelve amazing guests and the incredible skipper Tim and the awesome chef and my best mate and love Molly. Or can I possibly try to summarise and describe the pure feast of visions my eyes have observed with countless views of land and seascapes and splendid wildlife. This is indeed a differcult task I have been set.
Well I lay here in my bunk having found a quiet hour in which to get these feelings across to you. We’ve just seen ORCA which were gorgeous, and we’re sitting in the bay at St Kilda so I am positively giddy with excitement. But the longest journey starts with a single step, so here we go….
Day one – Saturday 6th June
The beginning of the journey starts at Oban, the morning comes with cleaning, bed making, shopping and all the last minute preparations for myself and Molly and Tim. Unfortunately the weather is not playing ball, and driving rain and wind greet us and the guests as they arrive later on, but the forecast is set to improve and by all accounts we are going to St Kilda! The passengers get aboard and settle in. We then have the safety brief and some introductions and get on our way. Everyone is very excited and keen to get going which is great.
We head out past Lismore lighthouse and along the Sound of Mull, a White Tailed Sea Eagle is spotted early on, surely a good omen for a great trip. By 7.30pm we pick up the mooring at the beautiful Tobermory and Molly produces a fine dinner of Gammon with vegetables in a sauce with clafoutis for dessert, delicious. The guests are all chatting and getting on fabulously, they seem a very relaxed bunch, with an excellent mixture of backgrounds, experience and interests that always helps on these trips.
Day Two – Sunday 7th June
The morning dawns fine and after a quick breakfast we drop our mooring and head out towards Ardnamurchan point. This place is a geologists dream, a huge base of an ancient volcano that spread far across this area over 60 million years ago. The cliffs and lighthouse are impressive. Across the Sea of the Hebrides we go, bouncy, bouncy for a fair while, which a few of the guests dislike but it’s all forgotten when we spot a few common dolphins off to starboard showing off with a flip or two.
Lunch on the go and we wander on for nine hours straight into the Outer Hebrides, Loch Maddy on North Uist, a beautiful spot. Once again Molly produces an amazing dinner of Chicken wrapped in Bacon, with a blue cheese sauce and a outrageous chocolate mousse. I have no idea how she produces such amazing food in the bouncy seas, but she does it and all the guests appreciate the fantastic food. The diet is most definitely on hold again this week!
Day Three – Monday 8th June
It’s 4:50am and the generator starts up, so it’s an early start, but no one is disappointed as today we head out to St Kilda. Up anchor and we are off through the Sound of Harris. It’s a magical morning, dead calm in the sheltered sound, but when we come around the headland it starts to get bouncy again. The Skipper says it’s going to be lumpy and he ain’t joking as we start banging into the swells, but it’s managable for most of us, just. The forecast is north west, four to five and breakfast is sausage sandwiches in hand which personally I can’t stomach. But things soon improve and good progress is made.
Half way across the distance a huge oil rig is being towed southwards in front of us, three large tugs assist and it’s an impressive sight. Tim remarks what an amazing feat of human engineering it is. But only 10 nautical miles further on the first views of Boreray and the stacs and St Kilda come into view, now that is a truly amazing feat of nature’s engineering. The Islands just look phenomenal.
Minke fins are spotted going in towards Village Bay and we circle while the whale allows us all the odd glimpse. We then travel in further past the incredible cliffs that drop off the side of Hirta, in front of the Dun and its amazing arches and sea caverns and we drop anchor 100m off the beach of village bay. We have arrived at Kilda!
Lunch aboard then we lower the tender, the guests are in their life jackets, backpacks ready and ashore in the blink of an eye. Eager to explore and absorb some of the island’s amazing landscape and history. The place is just stunning, the bay looks incredible. Walking through the village past the army buildings it all feels a bit unreal to be finally here. The place deserves a good explore and the guests are off in all directions, to the museum, the shop, or up the hills across to the gap. The hill of Conachair is the goal for a few of us and it’s an awe inspiring view from the summit, the cliffs drop off 350m almost straight down. The bird life is ridiculous Gannets, Fulmars and bonxies are everywhere soaring across the cliff tops without a care, I look over and the height and drop makes me dizzy, best step back!
Molly warned me about the swooping Bonxies and she wasn’t wrong – the western side of Connachair is littered with them, as I half ran for cover with my helmet on, laughing, trying to take photos etc, the whole scene must have looked crazy. The walk ashore was far too short but the view from the boat was also amazing so there was little disappointment in returning to the boat, but needless to say the cleaning and other duties were sped through.
The guests returned to the boat later with various stories of cliffs, bonxies, views and the joke of the day has to be “what was your favourite cleit?” as Hirta is covered in cleits, amazing little stone built store/ drying buildings. Dinner was sublime as usual, tasty venison steaks with veggies and trifle for afters.
Day Four – Tuesday 9th June
A gorgeous morning at St Kilda, breakfast and then guests all ashore for more exploring, and I am jealous as I’m cleaning toilets but then we get a shout from the Skipper, “grab your life jackets there’s ORCA spotted around the corner”!! Almost thirty seconds later Molly, Tim and I are in the tender flying around the corner on the east side of the Village bay. Sure enough ORCA!! Well its just ridiculous this trip the wildlife is astonishing. A pod of about five orca including at least one calf are exploring the deep waters just off the cliffs below the gap, we are honoured to be there and the sight of their huge fins dipping in and out about the headland is incredible.
Back onboard along with the guests, and a quick but fine luncheon and we had to leave. The anchor was raised and we went out spotting hundreds of puffins as we went around the Dun, then the sea woke up and some three metre swells greeted us rolling in across the Atlantic. We continued carefully around the Island, passing Soay which was also covered in the most incredible cliffs and bird life I feel like my eyes are tired from all the gaping, straining and pure smiling that they are doing, its a visual feast all round. The geology and landscapes of these islands are absolutely astonishing. Leaving Kilda is sad but the Stac Lee and Stac an Armin await. The Stac an Armin is the highest in Britain at 191metres. They are very impressive, we are all treated to a close up view of the huge Stacs, the incredible gannet colonies and the views across the back of Boreray are wow! Wow is the word used when my adjectives have truly run out, and Kilda in general was just Wow!
An hour after leaving Boreray, a “rather large” Orca pops up ten metres off our stern and Fred and the other guests are stood there gob smacked, as is Molly as she went by, heard the chatter and went to investigate, though at the time she though someone had perhaps been ill or something. Well ORCA again and for the guests the first time, we are indeed blessed it seems on this trip. There was a pod of maybe eight including at least two calves who were staying very close to their mothers. It was incredible and we were all on lookout, spotting them port, then starboard as Tim manoeuvred and Molly snapped photos. It was an amazing moment and several guests were very moved by the whole experience, as were the crew.
A bit later two white nosed dolphins were also spotted, and later still we were back in the Hebrides, anchored just off Taransay, a beautiful Island just West of Harris. Dinner was a delicious fish pie, followed with decadent chocolate cake, indeed my diet has truly flopped.
Day Five – Wednesday 10th June
Another fine morning and after breakfast everyone is keen to go ashore and explore the beautiful beach in front of us. The Beach and Tarasay are stunning, its a paradise for wildlife, walkers and without another soul in sight all the guests seem very happy. The golden sands of the beach contrast with the gently sloping rock outcrops across the hills and the guests once again vanish in all directions, exploring, bird watching, photo snapping and searching for whale bones amongst other things. Fiona decided a quick swim was in order, a very brave girl indeed.
Back on board the anchor is once again up and we are off through the sound of Harris, on the approach to the northern edge of Skye. A delicious lunch on the go in the finally calm waters of the Little Minch. We hit land at Neist Point and some more impressive cliffs, we pass the three MacLoeds Maidens beautiful pinnacles near the entrance to Loch Harport, which we travel down to find a nice spot for the evening. The grand Cuillin range in the background catching the evening sun, its yet another truly magnificent sight.
The evening runs pleasantly enough for everyone, apart from Fiona who had another quick dip, though the details of exactly happened are wrapped in secrecy, and couldn’t possibly be revealed on here. Well for my sake at least, so sorry by the way.
Day Six – Thursday 11th June
Another fabulous morning and we are treated to a lovely cooked breakfast, Molly and Tim pop ashore for emergency supplies, then we are up anchor and on our way. A quick spot of another White Tailed Sea Eagle just off the cliffs along the headland, then porpoises across the sea as we head into and drop anchor in front of the island of Rum. The weather is clearing nicely and the guests embark to explore the island for a few hours with a packed lunch. A otter is spotted from the Kinloch otter hide along with various birds. The views are splendid as we are sitting in front of the Rum Cuillin a gorgeous set of ridges and peaks, and behind us the Skye Cuillin range. A quick survey of the guests and crew reveal at least five of us have climbed the Inaccessible pinnacle and the Skye ridge. A very adventurous bunch of souls here indeed.
Unfortunately after lunch the return to Oban continues as the guests are collected and we set off back to Tobermory for the night. The sea is so smooth and the lookout of more dolphins or Minkes continues, but for once we have no luck, that certainly makes a change. Past the impressive cliffs of Ardnamurchan and back into the Sound of Mull we go. We see two more Sea Eagles near the entrance to Tobermory which is excellent.
Tonight we go alongside so the passengers have the chance to explore the town at their pleasure, and it is always a pleasure Tobermory is a gorgeous little town. The evening is calm and even the sun has joined the party, we enjoy another fabulous dinner and toast to a brilliant trip. A couple of toasts and more than a few laughs. Eventually all is done and once again we retire exhausted from another brilliant long day.
Day Seven – Friday 12th June
Early start again as we set off at six, it’s a beautiful morning as we cruise down the sound. The passengers are all happy and seem satisfied at a truly excellent trip. It’s been a lot of fun, for my first time at Kilda, the Orcas, the wildlife, the food, the landscapes and the great company have made the days go all too quickly. I will miss the guests, it seems we start the week as strangers, and finish it as friends in many ways. I hope everyone has taken some special memories from the week, for me its certainly been a special one.
Back to Oban and a huge breakfast more than most can eat is put out. The guests begin to leave and sad farewells a plenty all round. The crazy crew: Tim, Molly, myself. The wonderful guests- Tina, Janet, Chris, Fred, Ruth, Angus, Doug, Judy, Gordon, Fiona, Carrie and Mavis.
It’s not goodbye anyway, it’s see you soon, by Craig Robinson.
DID YOU KNOW?
Approximately 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, St Kilda was once home to Britain's most isolated community.