When Martin Martin visited Hiort in the last decade of the 17th century, he noted hundreds of ‘little stone houses’, called cleitean – iconic St Kilda structures. We don’t know exactly when these storage structures first appeared on St Kilda, only that there was a already a well-established cleit tradition in 1690’s. Cleit building continued well into the 20th century. There are over 1200 cleitean on the Hirta, with a further 200 or so scattered across the stacs and outlying islands. In some areas, like the slopes of Conachair shown in the photograph below, cleitean litter the landscape like spilled gravel.
One of the Archaeologist’s annual tasks is to monitor 311 cleitean which have been selected for conservation as part of the Cleit Conservation Project (CCP). This sample includes every cleit within the village, and many more all over Hirta. Some of these, like the cleit pictured below clinging to Oiseval, are in locations which are somewhat harrowing for an archaeologist who isn’t too keen on heights…
One of the great things about undertaking the CCP has been getting into many nooks and crannies on Hirta that I would otherwise not see, and catching some breathtaking and fleeting views. Checking a cleit high on Conachair, the wind blew a gap in the mist revealing a spectral and moody view of the village just long enough for me to take the picture below.
Keep your eye on the blog for my top five Cleitean once I’ve completed the CCP in a week or two!
Àrsair Hiort/ St Kilda Archaeologist