An Cuan Siar

The St Kilda Centre in Uig will be an outward-looking centre of world-wide significance, offering something completely unique – much more than a seasonal attraction for passing visitors. It will be of a different magnitude, housed in an iconic building in a spectacular landscape, and with state-of-the-art technology it will bring the experience of St Kilda closer.

Proposal

Background
The success of the St Kilda Opera in 2007 raised international awareness of St Kilda, drew £1m into the Hebridean economy, and won a Scottish Event of the Year Award. A key legacy element of the opera project was the concept of a St Kilda Centre, and Proiseact Nan Ealan (The Gaelic Arts Agency) circulated a Discussion Paper among potential stakeholders to stimulate debate. In 2008 Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) established a St Kilda Centre Working Group with representation from CNES, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Visit Scotland and PNE. The remit of the Working Group was ‘to progress proposals for a Visitor/ Interpretation Centre to celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of St Kilda.’ The Centre was conceived of as a remote-access facility because problems of physical access as well as environmental concerns make it practical and undesirable to base such a centre on the island itself.

A competition was held among several island communities, and a’ Gheodha Sgoilt, Mangurstadh, was chosen as the preferred location for the Centre. The Ionad Hiort Development Group was established to make the Centre a reality.

Proposed site for Ionad Hiort. &© Proposed site for Ionad Hiort, A Gheodha Sgoilt.
...with state-of-the-art technology it will bring the experience of St Kilda closer. ...with state-of-the-art technology it will bring the experience of St Kilda closer.

Our proposal

The community of Uig believes that a St Kilda Centre in Uig will optimise the visitor experience. Nowhere else in the Outer Hebrides offers the same combination of ‘accessible remoteness’ along with a natural and social environment that has so much in common with St Kilda.

Mangurstadh lies within an hour’s drive of Stornoway, the Outer Hebrides’ main town and transport hub, but offers a strong sense of isolation. The journey to Uig takes you down the longest cul-de-sac in Scotland, perhaps in Europe. You are conscious of driving away from centres of population to a notably more remote and dramatically beautiful place – past lochs and moorland, through the dramatic Valtos Glen, above the stunning white sands of Traigh Uig and to breathtaking views of sea cliffs and stacks, and of St Kilda and the Flannan Isles on the horizon. Arriving at the St Kilda Centre in Uig will feel like reaching the edge of the world, raw and unspoiled.

The site at Geodha Sgoilt is directly above the spectacular sea cliffs and stacks of the Mangurstadh headland. Visitors will get a sense of what it feels like to be on St Kilda, in the landscape and natural environment that are, of all parts of the Outer Hebrides, most like it. From the headland, the spring passage of Pomarine and other skuas can be observed. Fulmars nest here and soar around the cliffs. Gannets, razorbills, guillemots and other sea-birds can all be viewed diving into the sea. Such bird populations characterise St Kilda and played a pivotal role in its economy. St Kilda without seabirds is unthinkable, so it is essential that the St Kilda Centre should be in a setting that evokes their presence. Echoing St Kilda, the sea cliffs in Mangurstadh host plant communities dominated by extreme forms of Atlantic maritime vegetation – roseroot, scot’s lovage, sea campion – and arctic-alpine plants such as purple saxifrage and moss campion.

Although in an area of wild natural beauty, the site bears the derelict remains of concrete plinths and buildings left by the MOD. A sensitive new build on this site will cause minimal disturbance to the natural environment and could rectify the damage left by the military. The Mangurstadh to Breinis road runs through the area, offering views of the spectacular coastline, including its extraordinary dramatic rock stacks.

Because of the deep water which lies off the Uig cliffs, the same rich and varied species of sea life which is to be found around St Kilda can be observed here. Whales, porpoises, basking sharks and dolphins are all frequently to be seen relatively close to shore, and the diving is comparable to that off St Kilda. These similarities are significant, as St Kilda’s World Heritage status was granted in part for its marine environment. Two long-standing operators of trips from Uig to St Kilda – Seatrek and Island Cruising – also take visitors out to sea and to other uninhabited islands, notably the gannet-inhabited Flannans.

The landscape surrounding the centre is therefore as significant as anything that may be contained within it. Visitors to the Centre will be able to see the cliffs and their bird life and other natural features; feel the power of the sea crashing against the land and understand some of the challenges that faced St Kildans. Within the centre, the life of St Kilda will be interpreted through archives, artefacts and film. A large-scale audio visual installation will bring the St Kildan experience home to visitors, and technology will be used to observe birds and marine life, and to make accessible the riches of our pristine natural environment, including the sky at night. The Centre will provide educational and research facilities across the educational spectrum. The building itself will be iconic and sustainable, attracting attention in the world of environmental design and architecture. Extending the purpose of the centre through cultural and educational activities to become a year-round facility is a strong element of our proposal.

We believe it is essential that the Gaelic identity of the St Kildans is reflected and respected in the Centre. The unique remoteness and isolation of St Kilda compounded the adversities that were part of everyday life for all islanders, and the people of Uig also have known about life in a remote community, dominated by the sea. As on St Kilda, small-scale cropping and the raising of stock to graze on smaller islands were supplemented in Uig by fishing, and homespun tweed was a central element of the crofting economies, used for rent and barter. Crofting is still a major part of the Uig way of life. The fowling that was such an important part of St Kildan life was practised to a lesser degree in Uig, but cliffs of Uig replicate the conditions and demonstrate the hazards that faced the men who ventured out after puffins and gannets.

The St Kilda Centre in Uig will be an outward-looking centre of world-wide significance, offering something completely unique – much more than a seasonal attraction for passing visitors. It will be of a different magnitude, housed in an iconic building in a spectacular landscape, and with state-of-the-art technology it will bring the experience of St Kilda closer.

Our focus is on what Uig can reflect of island life, and the seas and skies around it. Therefore we see an emphasis on education, a cultural and environmental programme, year-round facilities to reach large segments of the resident population, and partnerships with other WHS institutions – creating a real cultural destination and a world-class facility appropriate to St Kilda – which, as a World Heritage Site, belongs now not to any one location but to the world.

© 2017 Ionad Hiort  | Site by CENTRAL. |