Mingulay – ‘The near St Kilda’

The island of Mingulay, towards the southern tip of the Western Isles, is sometimes referred to as page 'the near St Kilda', and in several ways this comparison is justified. Like St Kilda, Mingulay was evacuated in the first part of the 20th century (1911) when the few remaining islanders were resettled. The island remains deserted apart from occasional visitors – including members of the British Royal family, for whom this is a favourite stopping-off point during their holidays. The comparison with St Kilda is in part due to the relative remoteness of Mingulay – not in terms of distances from other places, but because of the unreliability of the landing place; even today, like St Kilda, no matter what transport is being used, travellers will only be sure of getting there when their feet touch dry land.

Township of MingulayThe village on Mingulay survives extremely well, in part because many of the huddle of blackhouse shells have been inundated with sand – often to wall-head height. While being buried in sand is generally excellent in terms of the long-term conservation of the remains, it does make it more difficult for visitors to imagine themselves standing in the middle of the village when it was in use – one of the most moving experiences of St Kilda.

Recent archaeological survey has revealed a number of significant remains of prehistoric and later date. Also owned by The National Trust for Scotland, Mingulay and the adjacent islands are currently the subject of more detailed. Like St Kilda, fowling was a significant activity in the lives and economy of the Mingulay islanders, and the cliffs continue to be home to large populations of seabirds. However, fishing formed a larger part of the Mingulay economy, as, although still dangerous, the waters around Mingulay are less treacherous than those further into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mingulay Village is nucleated, and was never restructured like Village Bay on Hirta. Nor does the island benefit from anything approaching the wealth of documentary information that has been written about St Kilda. Nevertheless, Mingulay is a place where it is possible to step into the past, and to enjoy the idyllic peace and tranquillity of the Hebrides.

Similar in area to Hirta, Mingulay’s (640ha) cliffs are only about half the height of St Kilda’s. They hold large colonies of seabirds – more than 8,000 pairs of northern fulmar, 3,000 black-legged kittiwakes, thousands of guillemots and razorbills, about 400 shags and two-dozen great skuas. Mingulay has 13 species of breeding seabirds (compared with 17 species on St Kilda), lacking small petrels, shearwaters, Arctic skua and northern gannet (but it does have nesting Arctic terns), but supports 18 species of landbird compared with only nine on St Kilda. It also has its own distinctive form of fieldmouse. Grey seals have recently come to gather to moult on Mingulay’s deserted beaches, and a few have pupped around its shores since its inhabitants abandoned the island.