St Kilda: the UK's most remote island

Britain’s most remote islands are the goal of many travellers. James Fair spent a week trying but failing to reach St Kilda, and would do it all again at the drop of an anchor.

Explore the Hebrides article spread


Great skua

  • Arrives back at breeding grounds on St Kilda in April.

  • Nests on rocky islands and moorlands close to the sea. Female lays two eggs in a simple hollow in the grass – both adults will defend the nest ferociously if necessary.

  • For breeding birds, St Kilda is best. For aerial action, the Minches.


  • Breeds between April and July along rocky shores where there is suitable protective cover.

  • Will frequently choose to live in gull and tern colonies that offer a greater measure of protection from predators.

  • Eggs are incubated by the female, the male preferring the safety of the water.

  • Largest flocks in the bay on Canna.


  • Arrives back at breeding colony (normally the same one year after year) in March and April.

  • Breeds colonially on offshore islands or high sea cliffs, with nests in burrows or under boulders where predators cannot reach them.

  • Huge numbers on the Shiant Isles. For tame, accessible birds, try Lunga.



The Shiant Isles

  • About 7km off the east coast of Lewis, the Shiant Isles – “the enchanted isles” – are home to an estimated 240,000 breeding puffins – 2 per cent of all the world’s population – along with about 10,000 razorbills, 5,000 fulmars and 26 (and rising) great skuas. There’s also a small population of black rats, which are now protected.

  • Adam Nicolson, who owns the Shiants, wrote Sea Room, an excellent book about the islands he inherited from his father. 


  • With bluebells growing in its woodlands, Canna provides relief from the sometimes spartan bleakness of the Hebrides. A pair of sea eagles breeds here. 


  • Red deer were reintroduced to Rona, which is sandwiched between Skye and the mainland, in 2003 as part of a deciduous woodland restoration project. 


  • The smallest of the Small Isles, Muck nevertheless supports a population of more than 30 people. Birdlife includes wheatears and skylarks on the moorland. Someone in our group also heard a corncrake. 


  • A hidden jewel at the mouth of Loch Sunart, this tiny, 3km island supports heather, birch, dwarf oak trees and clouds of fluffy cottongrass. I also saw my first ever tree pipit here. It was while we were anchored off Oronsay that we finally saw our otters.

Ardtornish Bay

  • From the beach, I climbed steeply up Aoineadh Beag until the ground levelled out. Here we saw a profusion of early purple orchids by the side of a waterfall. One of the group found a devil’s toenail fossil on the beach. The area is better known as a dive site.




  • I travelled on the MV Chalice, which is owned and skippered by Chris Jackson. Regular guides include wildlife photographer Chris Gomersall and wildlife artist Bruce Pearson. 

  • Northern Light Charters also books cruises on the Chalice and three other similar charter boats.  

When to go

  • Trips run from mid-April to late September. Go in the early part of the season to see breeding seabirds and later on for a better chance of whales.

  • Around June and July, basking sharks can gather in large numbers off islands such as Coll, but this is unpredictable.



To meet James and the rest of the team, click here

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