Serious adventure beckons for marine biologist and professional diver Monty Halls when he gets to go on a boat trip to the islands known as the 'edge of the world', St Kilda.
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Imagine a picture-perfect thatched cottage near its own white sand bay.
That beach has got to be one of the most beautiful beaches I think I've ever seen.
Imagine a string of islands, packed with some of the most remarkable wildlife in the British Isles.
Imagine having the run of those islands on land...
This is what the Outer Hebrides are all about.
'..and at sea.'
Oh, that's nice.
Well, that's exactly what I'm going to be doing for the next six months.
I'm working as a voluntary wildlife ranger
for this stunning chain of islands.
My new job will bring me into contact
not just with an amazing range of flora and fauna...
Ah, look at that. Fantastic.
..but also with the people who live and work
in some of the most remote islands in Britain.
Welcome to my Great Escape.
Come on, Rubes! Come on!
I've travelled the 600 miles from my Bristol home to my new base in North Uist...
..and I've been busy getting my croft ready to keep some pigs and turkeys.
That sort of low, contented grunting. That's coming from me, not the pigs.
I've also been exploring the islands with Jimmy MacLetchie,
the man who used to be the wildlife ranger here.
-Have we got any fenders?
-And who I've singularly failed to impress.
It's now late summer and things can only get better.
I'm making plans to visit St Kilda...
I try a little cross-dressing...
I normally wear stuff like this in the cottage, alone.
..and finally get out diving.
My job is to pick up from where Jimmy left off six years ago,
when funding for the ranger's job dried up.
And he's a hard act to follow.
But this has to be one of the best jobs in the world.
Part of the duties of the ranger
is just generally patrolling the shore,
and just keeping an eye on what comes in,
cos you've got the open Atlantic out there.
It's also an extremely popular part of the ranger duties
with at least one mammal in this car -
Rubes, who takes his beach patrolling duties extremely seriously.
Look all around me.
At the moment, if you look all around me, every environment you can see is very special.
You've got the machair here, which is a globally significant environment.
That's the dunes, there, and the grass on it.
Then you come down to the beach - these white beaches - and then, of course, the shallows.
And the rocky shore, as well. Er, and just to wander along here
every now and then, and just do a nice little beach walk, just keeping an eye on things.
Nice way to spend an afternoon but it's quite important as well.
Come on, Rubes!
There's a bunch of oystercatchers here.
There's about 45,000 breeding pairs of oystercatchers kicking around now.
And one of the reasons they've exploded is they've learned how to move inland,
which is a great trick to crack if you're a seabird -
opens up loads of different environments to you.
It's been really stormy for the last few days, hence all this stuff.
This is kelp.
And this was the basis of a huge industry on the islands.
Crofters used to burn it to make soda ash, that was used to make glass and soap.
They also used to extract agar from the kelp, which thickens food like jelly and ice cream.
Unfortunately, both industries collapsed pretty much overnight
when scientists invented cheaper production methods, leaving the islanders high and dry.
Come on Rubes. Come on!
The economy of the Outer Hebrides has always been precarious,
but they do have fantastic natural assets -
glorious beaches and amazing wildlife.
If anything's going to turn things around, it's tourism, which is why the islanders are so keen
on having a wildlife ranger to make the most of the obvious attractions.
It's very rare for me to have a photo of Rubes without a pebble in his mouth.
I'm just going to explain the anatomy of Rubes to you.
At the back of the head here is a tiny little vestigial brain
for eating and chasing pebbles.
The whole of the head here is tongue.
It's like a fire hose rolled up.
And all of this is designed to just produce drool and shed hair.
Part of my routine,
when I get up, is to go and feed the pigs and the turkeys.
Rubes! Where's the pigs? Where's the pigs?
And Rubes has fallen in love with the pigs.
He goes and stands at the entrance to the sty here, waiting to come out.
All right, Rubes. All right, Rubes. In you come.
I think he's a bit fascinated by them, actually.
They do keep trying to suckle from him,
which he finds a bit alarming.
As you would. Look at that.
Obviously not making the mistake of getting attached to these pigs at all.
Hello, Streaky. How are you?
You all right, young lady?
But, nonetheless, I still think they should have a good life, and a fun life.
They should enjoy themselves. It's up to me not to get too attached.
I don't know. You know, it's all part of the big picture, isn't it?
Making sure that their short stay...
with us is a very enjoyable and a high-quality stay.
I'm only here for six months and every time I look out to sea,
there's a reminder of just how hard island life can be.
St Kilda lies 41 miles off North Uist,
and it's one of only 25 places on Earth
to have been awarded dual world-heritage status
for its natural and cultural importance.
Life was always precarious
on the five islands that make up St Kilda,
with the population surviving on a diet of seabirds and eggs,
which they collected by scaling the massive sea cliffs.
But the appalling winter of 1929 proved too much for the remaining 36 residents,
who asked to be evacuated to the mainland, ending 2,000 years of habitation.
2010 marks the 80th anniversary of the evacuation of St Kilda.
North Uist has been building a commemorative viewing point,
complete with a telescope and slate maps.
'As ranger, I've been roped in to lend a little bit of muscle.'
So this is it.
Yeah, well, what we've got here is we've got the base for the telescope.
-We've got, we hope, the rest of the telescope.
-And then, these are the panels here.
-Oh, the plinths.
-There's four of those - extremely heavy.
Alison Cropper moved to the islands 15 years ago,
and she's taken on the role of coordinator.
This is going to go on top of the stone wall,
so you can have a really good look and identify everything there.
And the opening ceremony's going to be the 29th?
29th, which is the new initiative for St Kilda day.
That's the anniversary of when they evacuated in 1930.
Right. Er, OK.
-So... It's all extremely heavy.
And, obviously, you know, very nervous about the slab panels.
Yeah, just remember when you pick it up, just bend your knees. We'll keep an eye on it, yeah.
Are they heavy?
We can make them look heavy.
There are also plans to build a major visitors' centre in the Outer Hebrides,
where tourists can learn more about the islands without having to do the long and dangerous sea journey.
North Uist are desperate to get the St Kilda Centre.
And the St Kilda Centre is a fully functional,
interactive visitors' centre about St Kilda.
And this stuff arriving now is really significant
as a part of their bid, so they're really keen to get it all set up.
Four other communities are bidding for the St Kilda Centre
and the Western Isles Council has appointed a team of consultants
to assess the merits of each and draw up a shortlist.
They must be praying for a good day when the consultants come,
so they can get them to this high point on the island and say, "THERE is St Kilda.
"THERE is a rock-solid reason
"why WE should have the St Kilda Centre on North Uist,
"staring you in the face."
-St Kilda is there.
-I know. I know.
-In all its splendour.
-You might squint a bit, though.
-What a day. So those are the Monachs, aren't they?
Those are the Monachs with the lighthouse.
-Barra is down there.
And then, of course, there's Hirta right in the distance, and Boreray.
It looks like some sort of forgotten kingdom or something.
You know, out there in the Atlantic with the low cloud over it.
-You know, the lost world of St Kilda.
-The cliffs on it are absolutely immense, aren't they?
Apparently, they're taller than the Empire State Building.
And if you get the chance to go there, Monty, you'll...
I'm definitely going, without a doubt.
-You won't get a better view...
-..in the outer Hebrides than the one we've got in front of us right now.
So it's going to be a really proud moment for you when this,
-you know, when you come to show the consultants here.
I think this will have a huge impact on them as well,
because I don't know if there's any other things like this round the Outer Hebrides.
-There's various viewpoints and things but not quite as special as this.
I was chatting to Jimmy about it and he said this is one of
the great adventures you can have in the British Isles, in Europe.
-Go to St Kilda.
-And it's all the things you spot on the way, you know,
like pilot whales - you know, if you're lucky enough to get them -
-and the little puffins and...
-Dolphins and all sorts.
Very few people are ever lucky enough to visit St Kilda.
But while I'm here, I'm determined to make the trip
to these spell-binding islands that are right on my doorstep.
But in the meantime, I've got plenty of work to do sorting out the island's nature trails.
I'm just heading to Berneray, across the causeway,
to do the unguided trail here and just check it all out,
make sure it's in good nick. And if it isn't, what work I need to do.
I've already done the Eriskay trail,
and I intend to work on the trails
in North and South Uist,
Barra and Benbecula.
But for now, it's Berneray,
where in a few days' time
I'm doing a nature walk with
a former ranger, Jimmy MacLetchie.
I'm coming in as a marine biologist,
so I'll talk a little bit about the sea and things
and it's all part of me learning the job, really, and learning the ropes.
That interface with visitors coming into the island's absolutely crucial.
That's my big debut, in front of real people.
Should be interesting. Come on, Rubes. Let's go.
The name Berneray, by the way,
is from the Norse.
"Bjorn" - bear, and island - "ay".
Berneray. And it was a very sacred place to the Vikings,
that used it as a burial ground.
You can see why people have eulogised about this island.
It is absolutely beautiful and almost completely deserted.
Wait a minute.
Right, follow the way markers up to the summit of the hill.
I haven't seen a single way marker so far.
Again, this is one of the things
that the ranger position needs to do, is mark these out clearly.
Maybe it's me sweat-streaming, to be honest, but I haven't seen a single way marker.
The next thing takes me up to the top of that mountain there.
We'll come down off the hill and I've come to the beach.
And that beach stretches for three miles.
Feels like I'm running on a beach in Bali or Tonga.
Mind you, if I jumped in the water I'd probably change my mind very quickly about that.
It's so beautiful.
That beach has got to be
one of the most beautiful beaches I think I've ever seen,
in all my travels around the world.
Just lovely - white sand, pretty much deserted,
beautiful shallow water, crystal clear.
And that touch of wildness about it.
Touch of wilderness.
Balm to the soul.
Inland, inland. Last bit.
Come on, Rubes!
This is typical of the way the walks...
Just through time - it's the fact that the funding ran out.
Things like these big posts have just come out of the ground.
Someone's just propped that up. It needs to be put back in the ground.
And, in fact, this whole walk needs to be well sign-posted.
I've been lost a couple of times.
So it just generally needs a lot more of these, I think.
So, no shortage of things to do here, then.
Come on, Rubes.
The final selection for the proposed St Kilda Centre has just been announced,
and the North Uist bid has made it through to the final three.
Today, the consultants have arrived to assess our bid.
You can't see the beaches, cos it's just over the horizon.
That may be a golden eagle.
-Just coming in. Can you see it?
There's going to be a lot of very nervous people making this journey at the moment.
Gradually driving towards the Kirkibost Centre
and the St Kilda presentation.
And potential economic prosperity for these islands
for...the next few decades.
The biggest tourist attraction this island has ever seen.
This is like getting the Olympics.
This is like getting the Olympics, basically, for North Uist.
So, as you can see, this central location is just an ideal place.
And, also, if you look here, St Kilda is just on the horizon from the Uist.
With all his knowledge as the ex-ranger,
Jimmy MacLetchie kicks off the North Uist pitch.
Due to the sensitive nature of the meeting, our cameras aren't allowed in.
They seem fairly impressed, but they also mentioned that
several of the other bids are very strong bids as well.
But if you saw the argument that was presented in there
and the enthusiasm and the passion and all that,
this is such an overwhelmingly strong argument
as to why it should be in the one place where you can actually see St Kilda.
You've probably noticed a distinct lack of trees in the landscape,
which is why peat has always been such a vital resource for the islanders.
In the old days, it was their only source of heat
and it's still pretty much the only thing that people burn in their fires.
I cut my peat with Jimmy a few weeks ago.
Now it's time to turn it.
This has been...
the wettest August...
I'm here todry my peat out - to turn it -
which is a fairly amusing concept on a day like today.
And just to add to the tale of woe,
it's midgey as well.
But it's just hit that perfect kind of level
between gentle mizzle and drizzle that gets everywhere,
and not quite being too wet for the midges not to fly.
The idea of the process here...
Out the way! Out the way, fool.
..is to get the peat up with the wet side...
It's all wet at the moment. But the wet side that's been
on the ground facing out and a bit of air going through.
So you build these little sort of towers of cards
by leaning them up against each other, like this.
And then the air can get through 'em. I leave 'em like this for a few weeks and then I've got peat.
You want to try doing this at home.
Make yourself a very moist chocolate cake
and then cut it into uneven segments
and try and balance it.
Oh, and all the while,
get a friend to stick a pin in you every half-second,
to replicate the midge.
With this weather,
all of this should be dry by about 2012, probably.
The sea around the islands is beautifully clean and teems with life.
It's the perfect environment for shellfish,
and scallop fishing is a boom industry in the Hebrides.
But there's huge controversy between the boats
that dredge the seabed for scallops and divers who hand-pick them.
I've come to Lochmaddy to find out more from one of the scallop divers
and get in for a dive myself.
Down here amongst the seaweed and the mud and the slime,
I've found Rory. You live here, don't you?
-Yeah, right here.
-You live just here, under that rock.
So I know you're quite passionate about the hand-dived scallops
-as opposed to the dredging form, aren't you?
-You've seen the impact of that.
-What's the kind of difference with a dredged area of seabed?
-Well, it's just, the dredging just decimates the whole seabed.
It's unbelievable when you go down and see it.
Handpicking them's a lot nicer to the environment. Leave everything there.
You're picking the right ones - picking the large, leaving the small.
-Not impacting anything around you.
-Yeah, much more sustainable, yeah.
It's one thing I'd really love to do today, cos you mentioned
just round the corner there, there's some nice scallop beds we can have a look at.
-Yes. Hopefully we'll see something.
-Cook them up. Be grand.
I'm really keen to explore the bay with Rory
because I think there could be potential to set up some, underwater nature trails
which would attract divers from all over the world.
Rory navigates us through a maze of small islands.
Lochmaddy is one of the most scientifically important loch systems in Europe
and it's a natural home for scallops.
There's about half a million divers in Britain.
And this is one of the absolute prime spots, the Outer Hebrides.
So, potentially, it's a huge source of revenue
in terms of bringing people into the islands.
Down here, it's all about disguise -
about staying hidden and hoping none of the passing predators spot you.
That was superb.
Really, really nice little dive.
It's alive down there, you know?
And your ability to spot a scallop
from absurd distances...
I suppose for you, every time you pick one up, it's, like, you know...
-It's your work, isn't it?
-Yes. You really get your eye in after a few.
It's amazing, the stuff you were spotting and I was missing.
There's nothing but the Atlantic Ocean between my beach and America, so huge seas build up -
and when they hit, there's nothing to do but get indoors as fast as possible.
My old mates from Applecross, Andy and Heather, have arrived for a visit with their kids,
which seems a good excuse for a party.
We'll just show this immense pile of seafood we've got.
To start off, this is a huge sea trout. Scallops.
And - there we are - one or two lobsters.
Now, the reason these aren't being sold commercially
or put back is the claws have come off.
If they were put back, they probably wouldn't survive. They're no use for commercial sale.
And sitting at the top of the food chain is this array of...
This array of carnivores we have here. So here we go.
Let's get cooking.
Let's get cooking. Er...
Rory's the expert, so Rory, mate,
if you want to do like a perfect scallop and then we'll all try and do one each.
I've got this beast.
That looks dangerous.
There's a real art to shucking a scallop, which is obviously getting most of the meat out,
and not, sort of, amputating your own thumb.
It's a little bit messy so...
Right. Rubes, mind your nose, otherwise you'll lose your nose.
And then, once that moves...
-THE OTHERS EXCLAIM And there it goes.
-That was perfect.
Right, I'll have a go.
I'm under pressure now. I'm shaking.
< Oh, wow!
The idea is to leave as little meat as possible here, isn't it? So that's not a very good one.
Alison, from the St Kilda committee, is the resident expert on how to cook scallops.
And, actually, really, what you need to do now is season them.
-Salt and pepper.
-Right. There we go.
Superb. And you do the seasoned side down.
-In a dry pan.
-These are hand-dived, Hebridean scallops.
Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. Dredged scallops may be cheaper to buy,
but the process of raking them off the seabed carries a hidden cost.
For every scallop you're holding in your hand,
maybe 50, 60, 100 other animals have died so you can hold that scallop.
When you hand-dive them, you pick them up, put them in a bag - it's really selective.
It's incredibly efficient and kind to the environment.
And Ads, whose family run a local shellfish business, is the expert on lobsters.
There's all sorts of conjecture about how you kill a lobster -
it's one of those great culinary debates, isn't it?
Chuck it in boiling water? Put it in the freezer, then chuck it in boiling water?
And the way I've found works best is you actually make a cut in the top of the shell with a knife -
just push down and out.
And essentially, you're chopping through all its nervous system.
So you very quickly have a very dead lobster like this one.
And I think, personally, it's so much better than just chucking them in hot water.
So, that's my opinion.
-You need to salt the water.
-OK. Why do you salt the water?
Well, ideally you want to use saltwater like sea water.
It just makes... The meat kind of gets a bit fluffy and doesn't taste so nice
if you just do it in completely fresh water.
I'd say you could maybe do three of the small ones in there,
-once you've topped it up a bit.
-And small ones...ten minutes.
And you can tell. You can tell by the colour they've gone.
Yeah. They go brick red, don't they? They go this lovely sort of..
-And we need to have the sink ready with cold water in it.
-Because they'll keep cooking once you've taken them out.
-Ah, I see.
Their shell's the perfect thing for holding heat, isn't it? Which it's naturally supposed to do.
-Those look very well done.
Food of the gods.
Part of the ranger position - one of the responsibilities -
is taking groups of people around some of the interesting eco-systems around here.
Today, I'm heading off to Berneray, where I'm meeting a group of tourists.
And in conjunction with Jimmy, who's going to do the terrestrial side,
I'm going to do the tide line and below -
high tide and below - which is kind of my area, really.
So I'm expecting a group of stout-thighed, ruddy-cheeked tourists,
all keen as mustard, and hopefully I can not disgrace myself describing what's in the sea.
What a day. We haven't had a day without wind for a long, long, long time.
Ladies and gents, what we're going to do is just bimble to the end here.
Bimbling will feature very strongly today.
I think there's a really sort of healthy interest
amongst people generally, actually, in the environment around them.
Er, up here in north-west Europe, in the UK,
we've got an unbelievably rich set of eco-systems here.
So a good chance to, sort of, chat about it.
OK. I've got a fantastic view here,
just out into the open sea,
and you can almost see the transition in the environments.
So, we're going from the dunes here
out onto the beach - this amazing sugar-white sand beach.
OK, just before we all strip down to our undies and obviously jump in,
which is part of the walk,
just a quick chat about two things. One is the temperature and clarity of the water.
Jimmy just said, as we were walking down, "You must mention the clarity of the water."
One of the reasons this water looks so tropical and so beautiful is it's so clean.
Very few pollutants.
There is nowhere in the oceans anywhere on earth at the moment that hasn't got a trace of mankind in it.
So, the deepest water of the Marianas Trench, seven miles down,
has got a trace of mankind - there's chemicals in there.
So, all water's got tiny traces but up here,
it's pretty much the cleanest you're going to get in Europe.
What a great experience, to actually pass on various odds and bobs
and people are always very enthusiastic, who come on these walks. So, a lot of fun.
If someone can find a crab, I can tell you some great things about a crab.
Do you think you can find a crab? Wow. That's fantastic.
This is... That's a great one -
carcinus maenas, which is the green crab.
Crabs have two claws, as you know.
That's the one he uses for his fighting and crushing things.
And this is the one that he uses for the more delicate things -
you know, cutting up his dinner and feeding himself.
What a lovely day!
You know, a great way of showcasing what these islands are all about,
tourists and visitors coming in.
You've got this amazing jewel in the crown of British wildlife,
and it's so important that someone is there to translate it for people
and someone is there to show people around, and also someone's there to keep an eye on it -
to make sure people are treating it with the respect it deserves.
So yeah, today has really highlighted for me the importance of a ranger position.
It's August 29th, and the official opening of the North Uist view point.
It's 79 years to the day since the evacuation of St Kilda.
A fantastic turnout. Brilliant turnout,
but approaching us is this great mass of rain,
thundering up the hill towards us.
So, everyone's looking slightly nervous.
So hopefully, we can get this done nice and quickly and get back to the warmth of the community hall.
And I'd like to invite my colleague, who's much better at ribbon cutting than I am,
Alison Robertson, who is going to cut the ribbon and officially open.
WOMAN SINGS IN GAELIC
It's very significant, this turn-out,
because it means, you know, the community's right behind the St Kilda thing.
So this St Kilda bid is very important.
That singing earlier on was spine tingling stuff, you know.
Gaelic's very much a living language and everyone quietly joining in.
There's quite a lot of emotion involved in the whole St Kilda thing,
because it's so interlinked to everyone's past in the Uists.
Tweed manufacture has always been important in these islands, and now it's part of the culture.
The raw cloth is repeatedly beaten by hand to fix the natural dyes
and make it more resistant to wind and weather.
Unfortunately, this involves soaking the cloth in human urine.
This is quite hard work, so we would like some help,
so we would like Monty Hall to join us. Where is he?
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I normally wear stuff like this in the cottage, on my own.
-We'll just put it this way.
-Hope my mates at the rugby club don't see this!
Mind you, they dress like this all the time.
Are you all right for urine? Right.
-Just grab the tweed and give it a good bang.
-And we're going to sing a song.
-Are you OK?
-I'm good. I'm good.
A surreal Saturday night. OK, OK.
Right, let's give it a good bang first to get it going, Monty.
That's it. You've got the movement well.
THEY SING IN GAELIC
# Welcome to Halster Hall
# Give a big cheer for Monty Hall. #
THEY CONTINUE TO SING IN GAELIC
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. I'm going to do all my boxer shorts like that now.
On my own, down the cottage.
It's been a really great evening. Been really, really nice.
It's quite interesting, cos it's a celebration of St Kilda -
it's keeping the memory of St Kilda alive - but it's a lament as well.
When you listen to the songs, and you see the faces.
This was a part of a community that died.
And it's being kept alive in the memories.
So, yeah, quite a poignant evening, but great fun.
Really, really great fun. I've had a ball.
-Good night, Monty.
-Good night. >
It's going to be some weeks until we know if North Uist
has won the competition to get the St Kilda visitors' centre.
But if nothing else, it's revived a real interest in the history and traditions of the place.
Just got in from the St Kilda evening,
which was a great evening.
And for the first time,
I sort of felt a bit more part of the community.
I met lots of lovely people,
ended up wearing women's clothes,
hammering a piece of tweed soaked in urine,
as you do, basically, on a Saturday night.
But it was really nice and you could feel the passion in the room for St Kilda
and a connection, and I felt a little bit of that as well.
Since I've been here, Jimmy and my landlord, Fergus,
have both bent over backwards to get a salmon or a sea trout on the end of my line.
All I've caught so far is a few miniscule brown trout.
Go and get me a sea trout.
But I'm always up for more fishing.
It rained last night and it rained really heavily.
Fergus, just going past.
And sheets of rain sweeping across the land.
I walked out of the cottage and it was just torrents, absolute torrents.
And I've had about three or four calls already today
from local people saying, "Go and catch your salmon today, my boy."
We had so much rain last night that all the systems came totally up.
-Today, it's fallen slightly. It's warmer.
-The fish will be really excited. They should have moved.
-So they're more likely to take. We just have to find them.
Cos it's a big old loch, isn't it?
This is the biggest salmon loch in Uist, so to catch one in here will be a real splendid thing.
A real achievement, believe me, to catch one at all.
-You've got to face where you're fishing.
You're letting - it's quite difficult. You're letting go of the line.
My gift for catching small trout
is earning me an island-wide reputation.
Beautiful little brown trout.
I've got the big wind.
What's the biggest salmon ever caught in the Uists?
About 36 pounds, I think it was.
There was another one, 29 pounds.
Don't snap it. You have a trout twitch there.
A trout twitch, which I have a bad case of.
Clamp your finger over the line and just let it...
Hold, keep the line tight and just let it pull it slowly.
The boat should do most of the work, if I see it.
You've got a hell of a fly on here, Jimmy. It certainly seems to be, er,
-doing the trick.
-If there's anything here, they'll just have moved in.
Yeah. So when they just move in, it's a good time?
They, you know - they're new to the water...
Yeah, they're just settling down before they head in to look for where they really want to go.
We're just taking a bit of a short cut.
Due to Jimmy's freakish upper body strength,
we've snapped both oars.
Just another little test the fishing gods have thrown at us.
Got this lovely golden light at the moment. The wind's dropped a little bit.
-Monty, can you just bring in a dropper, please?
-So, what's your rationale there? Just thinking...
It's getting darker, so we're putting a much bigger fly for them to see.
It's a very old fly that's going on here, but he's had a few battles.
-A scarred old warhorse.
-Yes, look at him.
You always keep those flies.
-You think every year, "I'll throw it away." But they always stay in your box.
It's like a scarred old prize fighter, you know?
Go on, then. Work your magic.
-Come on, big fella.
How many foils can one man have?
And then it happens.
Hey, Monty's biggest trout.
-Keep the line tight.
-And now onto the reel.
-We're on the reel.
-Keep it tight.
See how slack it's going.
Keep it round to the right - to the left, Monty - of the rod, because there's a rope there.
He'll head into the wind. Don't worry.
Don't take it through any more line than that. Lift the rod up.
-There we go.
-That's why you keep old flies.
-Keep him on the surface. On the surface. He doesn't like this. On the surface, to me.
Bring him in. Bring him in.
..debut sea trout.
There we go. Look at that.
Absolutely beautiful, beautiful animal.
Fresh from the Atlantic, caught on an old bruiser of a fly
that Jimmy keeps in the murky depths of his fly box for occasions just like this.
But absolutely beautiful. Wonderful eating,
wild Atlantic sea trout.
Beautiful. Give me a hand shake, mate. Thank you so much.
-It's been a journey, hasn't it?
-You did well.
But you know, a fish that size and that type
is worth its weight in gold to many people.
Oh, God, yeah. It's a creature of myth and legend.
MONTY SIGHS HAPPILY
Well done, mate. Well done.
The first thing I'm going to do is phone my dad,
cos he's wanted me to catch a sea trout ever since I was a tiny little kid.
That's quite interesting, isn't it?
I've only just realised as I laid it out on the slab
that that, of course, is the way the brown trout look
when they are in the lochs and in the rivers.
And should they decide to move into the sea,
that's what they become as sea trout.
So they go much more silver and, er,
essentially, they become sea fish
like terribly well-dressed, rather aristocratic, sea fish, I think.
Which is going to be my breakfast.
Catching a ferry today.
The reason is that I'm off to Harris and then Lewis, going to Stornoway.
It's too far away for a causeway so I'm doing it old-style, on a ferry, which is rather nice.
You always feel you've travelled somewhere, don't you, when you take a boat trip.
One of the main reasons for going to Stornoway is some serious shopping.
The locals have taken one look at my rib and said that is not an Atlantic rib.
I'm planning this St Kilda trip,
which is a serious old foray into the wild waters of the Atlantic,
and to do that, I need to equip the boat.
And the only place I can do that is Stornoway.
There's things like heavy anchors, emergency kit.
It's turning it from a little inshore pootling vessel
into a proper rugsy-tugsy Atlantic expedition boat.
MUSIC: "Look Into The Light" by Graham Coxon
# Look into the light
# Fills you completely
# Look into the night
# Reflects you so briefly
# Large as your eyes
# The deepness of the night
# Aah-ah. #
See you later.
It is interesting coming off the ferry, the...
You can see, it does...
Bizarre thing to say, looking at five houses,
but it looks slightly more urban, er,
than Uist and Berneray,
with these small little crofters' houses.
These look more substantial. It's like a settlement.
One of the things you do get here - Harris and Lewis -
is you're getting more mountainous and it mountains hitting the sea.
And all the beautiful, beautiful places around the world are where the mountains hit the sea.
I've been told that this is very much the place. An Aladdin's cave.
The kit we're after is the stuff that will make that conversion,
to turn it into a vessel that can deal with the open sea
and what's more, can secure itself in the open sea, so things like anchors.
Big old anchors, you know. Stronger ropes.
Every time I do that, it's three quid.
Every time I open my arms, it's three quid.
The cleats to stick on the deck...
You wonder when you're out at St Kilda and you're dragging -
"Should I have spent that extra £6.50 on another metre?", you know?
The problem with all this is it all takes up room on the boat.
But it's all aimed at this one big trip.
This one big punch of 41 miles
out into the Atlantic to try and get to St Kilda.
So, yeah, you know, there won't be space for anything, basically,
except fuel and safety gear, and me and Jimmy on the boat - that's it.
A fishermen's co-operative.
Go in a boy, come out a man.
I'm ready for anything now.
We've had the call that a small weather window has appeared and before we know it,
we're making the final preparations for our epic two-day trip to St Kilda.
This is the transformation of my rib
from an inshore vessel to an offshore vessel.
Something I can take out into the wilderness of the Atlantic.
It really is a very different place out there.
Cos that's the thing with St Kilda, isn't it?
That it just comes from nowhere.
There's always an unpredictable element with St Kilda
-and that's what makes the adventure.
As long as we've done everything we've done, which we have here, to make it 100% safe.
-I'm just looking forward to going out, even though I've been out.
-Me too, mate. Really am.
Just heading out of the harbour and out into the open sea.
And over these big oily swells.
And these swells speak of something massive going on out in the Atlantic.
There's a huge amount of power being generated out there
and the result is these fellas coming in and just rolling in.
And I can actually see St Kilda and Boreray on the horizon.
And it's a nice sight.
You know, it looks so close but it's not - it's 41 miles away.
So, off we go, to the edge of the world.
One of the things about St Kilda
is it just never seems to get any closer when you're heading towards it.
Just stays on the horizon, stays on the horizon, the same size.
And then suddenly, it just looms up.
It's almost like it's rising out of the sea,
re-living its volcanic birth.
It's suddenly, whoop! It's on top of you.
This is it!
This is St Kilda.
At 196 metres, the sea stacks in St Kilda are the highest in UK.
Dwarfed by these giants in our tiny boat, Stack Lee is our first port of call.
It's a wild scene, isn't it?
A truly wild scene.
Its imposing cliffs are home to the largest colony of northern gannets on the planet.
-Wow, look at them all.
-Look at that.
They're just all the way round us.
Amazing. You wouldn't want to be a small fish.
-So you have a keen sense of your own mortality here, don't you?
-Yeah, one mistake here and it's...
-And you're toast.
Oh, that's nice.
-What do you think of St Kilda now you're here?
Er, mystical, untamed, eerie.
And you can see why it's a World Heritage site, you know.
There's certain very special places around the world
and you can see why this is one of them, quite frankly.
That is absolutely amazing.
-I know you've been many places, but I've not seen anywhere...
..in comparison to this.
And doing it in a small boat's nice, isn't it?
Because you do get the feel of the grandeur of the place and the scale.
I'm like a toddler at Christmas. You know, tonight I'll just go.
I'll just be out because I've had so much excitement today.
And we want to go near it.
And there we are.
Feels, yeah, quite odd to be here. You know, it feels...
I don't know. Something you never expected to see, made real, really.
-It's very peaceful.
-It's lovely, isn't it?
You can see why you'd want to live here.
Yeah. I mean, obviously the hardships were intense.
Very few people get to visit St Kilda. And I can see why.
The trip here has been exhausting and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Well done, mate. Well done.
It's now owed by the National Trust for Scotland.
And the only residents work for the Trust
or the small military base here.
I can only begin to imagine
what it was like to actually live in such a place 80 years ago.
That's Boreray and that's where I was today, looking at the gannets.
60,000 gannets over there.
And it looks peaceful and tranquil from here.
That's four miles away.
But you've actually got all sorts of waves and swell
and wind and currents meeting there.
And it's a real cauldron. It was quite exhilarating,
and pretty frightening sometimes, out there today.
And the two big pillars, they're the Dragon's Teeth,
and that's where the gannets nest
and creates part of the reason why this is a World Heritage site.
In 1947, a naturalist visited St Kilda for the first time.
And as he left, he said that one of the problems anyone who came here would have
for the rest of their lives would be trying to describe the place to anyone who hadn't seen it.
And I completely sympathise with that sentiment.
And it's the scale of the place,
The abundance of the wildlife,
the gannet colonies.
The actual size of the cliffs,
and the power of the heritage of St Kilda.
And I'm so, so pleased I made the journey.
I think it's something that I'll never, ever forget.
It's seven in the morning.
And, er, today we go home.
Just a breath of wind, I can just feel it.
And it's due to get up a bit later - force five or six.
Which could be quite entertaining. I've got my tiny little boat in the harbour there,
looking very insignificant.
This is the campsite. There we go.
My tent - very well organised.
Nice and taught.
Jimmy's tent looks like a bin liner.
But, er, it was a bit rainy last night, didn't sleep that well.
As you can see, a bit tired.
Have a look at the village today
and enjoy my last few hours on St Kilda.
This amazing, amazing place.
-What do you think of that?
That great ridge going along there, like a sort of dragon's back, isn't it? Rising out of the sea.
I'm not a big heights man.
-Are you not?
-No, don't really like heights very much.
I think I would have been ostracized in St Kilda's society.
It's said that before a man could marry, he had to prove he had
the agility to climb the cliffs and catch birds for his family to eat.
They had to balance on their left foot on top of a protruding rock called the Mistress Stone.
And the Mistress Stone, of course.
That was a test of nerve which I would have failed.
I would have been single and hungry.
-And as you look across there, you see the rocks sticking out?
-That's one of the rocks it would've been.
One of the ones they would have been standing on.
But more than that, just going over the edges with the ropes,
and working their way down and then catching all the fulmars and the gannets and things,
then carrying them all the way back up again.
"Afraid of heights" is a highly emotive term.
I'd say I have a rational fear of standing on one leg
on top of a 1,000ft cliff to pull a bird, as it were.
-In every sense of the word.
Laid out beneath me, there,
is the whole of man's history in St Kilda.
This is Village Bay. And you can see this is the more ancient row of cottages there.
You've got the old black houses, which are like that to the sea.
Then you've got slightly more modern houses they built, with the doors and windows facing the sea.
And then, at the far end, you've got the military occupation.
But that's the real history there. That is the archaeology.
We've got a great view of the archaeology of man's struggle
to try and tame St Kilda.
The population itself was leaving.
Younger people began to emigrate, looking for different, new lives. They weren't coming back.
So the community that was actually left here wasn't able to survive.
And the final straw for them was that
that winter of 1929 was one of the hardest winters they'd ever known.
They had no supplies.
They couldn't get anything in here for six months and they finally...
Whatever it is in the human mind that suddenly cracks
and gives up the ghost, they suddenly just...
They wrote to the British government demanding that they be removed from here.
I'd love to stay much longer
but the weather's turning and we've got a difficult trip back.
-A lift, please.
-There's a man dressed for action.
Are you going to Uist?
All right, mate?
Ah, look at Boreray.
-The sky's looking menacing.
-Look at the swell lifting up here.
Going through, see? Look at this.
-Look at that.
-That is impressive.
Well, let's head around the corner.
Off we jolly well pop.
Now the fun begins.
Right, let's go for it.
This is proper sea stuff, this.
This is more like it. This is a five now.
It's the enormity when you're going into them,
cos you're up, like that, as well. You're about 15 feet off the deck.
Bye-bye, St Kilda.
And thank you.
Having seen St Kilda now, I can see why they came here.
And having seen this - hard way to earn... To live, isn't it?
Hard and frightening and unrelenting. I can see why they left.
After my visit, I can now see that St Kilda is a tricky place to get to,
which makes the visitors' centre on the Uists even more important.
I really do hope we win the bid.
What a great adventure.
I've spent the last two days feeling utterly insignificant -
dwarfed by mother nature.
Whether that's the cliffs of St Kilda,
or whether it's the mountainous swells,
you know, it was amazing out there.
Your boat feels really, really small out there.
But it really was worth it. It was worth every turn of the prop.
It was worth, you know, every moment of fear
and excitement as St Kilda came into view.
It was just fantastic.
And I can't tell you - I've been obsessing
about this cup of tea.
I only walked in the door a little while back.
Now I'm going to sleep for a week.
I'm here to find a sea monster.
'..my ranger duties turn serious as a whale is washed ashore...'
Beaked whales, particularly, hunt in very deep water.
A kilometre down, hunting for squid.
'..I climb to the top of my world...'
This is what the Uists and the Outer Hebrides are all about.
'..and is this the start of things to come?'
The ferocity of the wind and the waves
coming together with the land. Just beggars belief.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Marine biologist and professional diver Monty Halls is back in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, living the good life and working as a volunteer wildlife ranger in the Outer Hebrides. He's busy leading nature treks along stunning white sand beaches, exploring tourist trails into the hills, and setting up nature trails. But serious adventure also beckons, with a two-day boat trip to the islands known as the 'edge of the world', St Kilda.