Last night there had been bets between our two leaders as to whether or not I would make it to today's best views with Marcus saying I couldn't do it and James asserting that he'd bloody well make sure that I did.
As it turned out, no one felt the urge to chase the sunrise this morning, which was another non-event, but we were still eating breakfast at 6:00 ready for a 6:30 start. There is no easy walking on Hirta with no flat ground anywhere and, apart from in The Village, the hills are steep and the ground very soft. Had there not been a few months of drought before we arrived, the grass would have been very boggy. So it was that it took as 90 minutes to walk a mile and a half and climb 700 feet to reach the wreckage of the Sunderland flying boat. There were three air crashes during the last war: a Bristol Beaufighter with a two man crew on Conachair on the 3rd of June 1943, a Wellington with six men on Soay on the 28th of September 1943 and this Sunderland with ten men here on Gleann Mor on the 7th of June 1944. The wreckage of the flying boat is scattered over a wide area and there were apparently no survivors from any of these crashes; had there been any, they would have quickly succumbed to exposure and starvation.
On to happier topics; after a heavy downpour as we crossed Gleann Mor we reached a windy cliff top with a precipice a mere 240 ft high and a slightly different view of Boreray (first extra). Having lugged a heavy tripod up hill and down dale for a few hours, I was grateful to be able to use it to anchor myself to the ground. A bit further up, there was a view of Min Stac (second extra) that was the first part of last night's wager (James 1, Marcus 0). The stac at 215 ft height was, at one time, joined to Hirta by a land bridge; legend has it that a Spanish galleon from the armada, being harried by the English navy, tried to escape under the bridge; unfortunately, her mast fouled to roof bringing it crashing down which, in turn, sank the galleon drowning all hands. Looking at it, you can quite see why a Spanish captain, having navigated from Plymouth via the length of the North Sea and the Pentland Firth to St Kilda, would chose to go through the tunnel rather than around the stac. Another version of the same story, and attributed to the same author, places the event at the bridge between Dun and Hirta. Neither version seems likely, particularly since no trace of the ship has been found.
A short distance away there was a climb down to The Tunnel. I say climb, but it was more a case of picking your way over the rocks. James attentively led me down with no great problem (James 2, Marcus 0; final result). The first thing that struck me was the wonderful patterns in the cliff face (third extra) and then the rocks that had fallen from the tunnel roof over the winter (fourth extra); the big one stands about 15 foot tall which impressed on me a sensation of my own mortality. Of course, such a fall was triggered but the action of ice in fissures in the rock repeatedly expanding and contracting, so we were quite safe here during the summer. I can't see any flaw in my logic, but can't guarantee that there isn't one. A walk through the tunnel was worth it for another perspective on Boreray (fifth extra).
After lunch, going back across Gleann Mor, we met the bonksies, aka great skuas; they're big buggers who seemed to enjoy the sport. Ostensibly, they were protecting a chick and attacked in co-ordinated pairs. Our stooge (sixth extra), from his vantage point, managed a fantastic picture of such an attack. The birds' territories overlap, so as we were about to leave this pair's domain, which was only a few hundred yards across, we were attacked by the owners of the next. With four of them zooming about life became a little more exciting until there were only two again then, a bit further on there were four -and so on. The Arctic skuas, on a different part of Hirta, are smaller, faster and more agile – and have been known to draw blood. It is virtually impossible to find the chick, unless it is unfortunate enough for you to step on it; but, if you do get close, the birds employ the “I'm injured – come and eat me” strategy. You know they aren't hurt as you have just been marvelling at their aerobatics; but, you do know that if you do follow them you are walking away from the chick; go far enough and the adults return to attack mode and then eventually lose interest .
The final viewpoint was Claigeann Mor where we saw the Lovers' Rock (seventh extra). Its significance was that any young man, before he was allowed to marry, had to stand on the edge of the rock, on his left heel, his left sole projecting over the edge, then place his right heel against his left toe and, finally, touch his right toe with both hands. The purpose being, presumably, to prove that he would make a good cragsman and be able to provide for his family by gathering eggs and birds from the nesting colonies on the cliffs. There is a video of the ceremony here, to prove that it was performed at least once. At this stage I should point out that the rock is much bigger than it looks in the picture but, on the other hand, the drop onto the rocks below is a little over nine hundred feet.
In the opposite direction is another view of Dun (eighth extra).
The round trip ended up at six and a quarter miles and had taken us nine and a half hours. I slept well that night and didn't attempt either a sunset trip that evening or the sunrise the next morning.
- Olympus E-PL7