On the island of St Kilda, separated from the Scottish mainland by 80 miles of sea, a small community of people lived almost completely un-contacted for over 1,000 years. The islanders kept some sheep and grew a few crops, but mostly they lived and died by seabirds: the 750,000 puffins, fulmars, gannets and skua that came to the islands every spring. The birds provided food, medicine, lighting, shoes and most of the islanders' way of life. They sold puffin feathers to stuff mattresses, and ate dried fulmar, puffins or gannets at almost every meal - breakfast consisted of milk, eggs, porridge and sometimes a boiled puffin.
The islanders squeezed the oil out of fulmars and used it as medicine, or sold it as flammable oil for heating and lighting. They paid their rent in bird oil and feathers – money was only introduced in the second half of the 19th century. In 1696 it is recorded that the people ate 22,600 gannets – 113 birds for every man, woman and child on the island. The islanders even turned gannets into slippers.
The only condiment the St Kildans had was made of seabird. It was called 'giben' and made from the oily fat of young gannets. The islanders had to climb cliffs to catch all the birds, and could easily be killed in the process. The birds disappeared over winter and then reappeared in February, much to the islanders' relief. They would spend the winter eating cured seabird.
There has never been a saint called Kilda. The name is probably a mistake.
Visiting St Kilda is not for the faint-hearted.
Life on St Kilda was incredibly hard - for the last 1,500 years there have been no trees there, and sometimes it rains for two or three weeks without stopping. The wind occasionally got so strong that the islanders' sheep would be blown over the cliffs. Once, a particularly fierce storm left everyone on the island deaf for a week.
The islanders were evacuated in 1930, and the British government arranged for the men to be given jobs in the Forestry Commission. Unfortunately, because there were no trees on St Kilda, none of them had ever seen a tree before.
On St Kilda, midwives used to sever umbilical cords with the oil of the fulmar bird.
The 430m cliffs of the Conachair on Hirta, St Kilda, are the highest sea-cliffs in Britain.
St Kilda had a rather inefficient system of government: the island’s men decided what was to be done by gathering on the village street and talking. However, if there wasn't much to be done they would talk until midday, when they had to decide whether it was worth doing any work in the afternoon now they'd spent the whole morning talking.
St. Kilda was almost completely isolated from the rest of the world for more than a thousand years. The population used to communicate with the mainland by putting letters into a boat, and letting them drift towards Scotland. The currents were so reliable that two boats out of three were picked up in Scotland. Even some of those which overshot and landed in Norway were passed on to the appropriate authorities.
The first apple was introduced to St Kilda in the second half of the 19th century and ‘caused a great deal of astonishment.’
St. Kilda is the Tenerife of the British islands.