The Uig area of Lewis is “the vantage point from which the story of St Kilda can best be appreciated, understood and made accessible to the greatest number of people”, according to a report presented to consultants advising on the location for the proposed St Kilda Centre.
The document, prepared by the group formed within Uig to pursue the bid, stresses that the area’s natural environment comes closer than any other to replicating conditions on St Kilda. It also points out that in order to be economically sustainable, the centre must maximize available visitor numbers and that Uig’s location, less than an hour from Stornoway, offers a unique combination of “accessible remoteness”.
The document states: “The landscape and natural environment are the most reminiscent of St Kilda in the mainland Outer Hebrides”. These similarities were acknowledged when the cliff dancing and beach scenes for the St Kilda Opera were filmed in the Mangurstadh area of Uig. It continues: “The sea cliffs of Uig come far closer than any other location to replicating the bird populations that characterize St Kilda and which played such a pivotal role in its whole evolution. Just as St Kilda without such seabirds is unthinkable, so too it is essential that the St Kilda Centre/An t-Ionad Hiortach should be located in a setting that evokes their presence”. Detailing the historical, spiritual and cultural links between the area and St Kilda, the Uig document insists: “We believe it is essential that the Gaelic identity of the St Kildans is reflected and respected in the proposed Centre”.
According to the Uig submission: “Visitors to the Centre must be offered an inspirational opportunity to shares in the culture, environment and mystique of St Kilda and to emerge from the experience with a sense of having participated in something truly exceptional. The Uig community is itself inspired by the stated commitment of the project to creating a world-class building which will enhance, rather than impinge upon, the magnificent environment in which we live. We will settle for nothing less”.
As well as the cliffs, landscape and birdlife, the document points out that – because of the deep water which lies off the Uig cliffs – the marine environment is very similar to the one which led to St Kilda being declared a double UNESCO World Heritage site, at sea as well as on land. “Whales, porpoises, basking sharks and dolphins are all frequently to be seen relatively close to shore off Uig and form an exhilarating part of the visitor experience that is not available in the shallower waters which surround most of the Western Isles”.
The document points out that there are two long-established businesses in Uig offering excursions to St Kilda. As well as regular trips to St Kilda itself, Uig can offer visitors shorter trips to similar deserted islands, such as the Flannan Isles, that are available in most weathers and have their own sea-bird colonies.