Departing from Oban, the Northern Light Cruising Company is one of the longest operating small cruise lines sailing around the Inner and Outer Hebrides, with a loyal following of regular guests as well as new adventurers each season.
The historic and rugged islands of the St Kilda archipelago, the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage site, remain a strong draw for visitors both from the UK and around the world. Now managed by the National Trust for Scotland, you can set foot on these remote shores and tick-off a true bucket list destination, where a fascinating island society with their own high-street ‘Parliament’ thrived independently for so long before succumbing eventually to the harshness of their environment. The last remaining islanders were evacuated to the mainland on August 29th 1930, leaving behind their dwellings in the dramatic natural ampitheatre of Village Bay on the main island of Hirta, along with their story as evidenced by their fields for the local Soay sheep and storage areas where they dried and preserved the seabirds they would pluck off the cliffs to eat, and for the down they provided to pay their rent to the laird on the mainland.
The MV Hjalmar Bjørge is a very capable small ship well suited to the 40 mile Atlantic crossing beyond the Outer Hebrides necessary to reach this ancient outpost. It was formerly a Norwegian ice-class rescue vessel, with a sturdy build and fitted with stabilisers to help calm the seas along the way. In the Spring and Summer when the St Kilda cruises are scheduled, seas are generally mild and the itineraries have built-in flexibility to allow the skipper discretion about when best to time the crossing for maximum comfort and enjoyment. Arriving at these small specks of land in the middle of the open ocean is an amazing experience, especially as their jagged masses rise up out of the sea creating the highest sea stacks in the UK, home to thousands of gannets, puffins and other seabirds which are all part of this widlife extravaganza. On the main island of Hirta where you will land to explore, be sure to look out in particular for the tiny St Kilda wren found only on these islands. Luckily they are fairly easy to find, flitting around looking for food in the stone walls of the village buildings.
But while St Kilda may be the jewel of the four cruise itineraries, they all offer so much more to the traveller looking to explore and experience the Hebrides with ever-changing sea and landscapes to enjoy, plus of course, spotting the numerous species of whales and dolphins that call these waters home, along with white-tailed and golden eagles, otters, basking sharks, seals, and so many seabird species too. Be sure to bring your camera!
With a dinghy stored on the top observation deck, you will get the chance to take a walk every day in a new location, often on a remote beach only accessible from the water (or at least without a walk of several miles over the peat bogs and mountains from the nearest road!) Here you will find more wildlife to enjoy such as red deer, hen harriers, merlin and in the Spring, maybe even hear and then spot a cuckoo out in the open due to the lack of trees on many islands.
The Hjalmar Bjørge has spaces left on the following four itineraries visiting St Kilda in 2023.
- St Kilda & the Outer Isles – 1st to 10th May 2023
- Abandoned Islands of the West – 12th to 21st May 2023
- Focus on St Kilda – 23rd to 29th May 2023
- Focus on St Kilda – 26th July to 1st August 2023
For full details of the Hjalmar Bjørge and all their other cruises in 2023, please see the website at www.northernlight-uk.com