Behind the Lens: St Kilda’s rugged spirit tells the tale of intrepid islanders

Island life on St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides was not for the faint of heart. This isolated archipelago is as remote as it gets, with craggy cliff tops, green slopes and historic stone structures which showcase how difficult existence must have been for the community that lived here until 1930.

Located off the northwest coast of Scotland and with some of the highest cliffs in Europe, the storm-swept group of islands of St Kilda is one of few UNESCO World Heritage Sites awarded dual status for its natural and cultural heritage. For at least 4,000 years a human settlement existed here until the 36 remaining islanders asked to be evacuated to the mainland due to life no longer being sustainable.

Exploring ancient history

Wildlife photographer, Silversea expedition guide and filmmaker, Denis Elterman, explored the historic landscape and thriving wildlife which has its own extraordinary history.

St Kilda is one of the most remote places in Great Britain and only accessible by boat, but what makes it so interesting is that it is no longer inhabited and now serves as a radar tracking station by the military,” says Denis, who traveled to the location from the Isle of Skye.

“We began roaming around the island, looking at the different structures and birds. It was visited during the Bronze Age and there is a flock of feral sheep that cannot be found anywhere else in the world and are the wild ancestors of modern sheep.”

St Kilda’s feral sheep /Denis Elterman

St Kilda is also renowned for its burgeoning birdlife, with nearly one million seabirds found here at the peak of the breeding season. Yet for most visitors like Denis, it is learning about the spirit of the St Kildan people that leaves a lasting impression.

The footprints of a brave, hardy community

“It’s a very desolate place as there’s no one there, but it can be very tranquil and peaceful at the same time,” he adds. “When you understand how extreme the environment was for people to live there while being cut off from civilization, you realize that they had to get really ingenious. It was really tough living.”

The spirit of the St Kildan people lives on in the remote archipelago/Denis Elterman