Photo: Birds flying near a sea stack cliff

Photograph by Jim Richardson

Photo: Photographer Jim Richardson

Photograph courtesy Jim Richardson

Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.

Heading out into the Atlantic for the distant island of Boreray, I was hoping to see something wonderful. But I never expected to be met by thousands of gannets swooping off the island's towering cliffs, down through the encircling clouds and out toward the boat.

The evening light, the birds in their multitudes, and the hulking cliffs gave me frame 9,300 for the "Edge of the World" story. It was a gift.

Boreray, an uninhabited crag 40 miles [64 kilometers] northwest of North Uist, had lured me back. Anyone who sees this island is enchanted. It is incredible to consider that islanders from nearby Hirta, near the big island of St. Kilda, came here with ropes and scaled the cliffs hunting for birds to eat. But the human residents of Hirta have been gone since 1930, and no one even tries to get onto Boreray any more. It is a wild place once again.

Local seaman Seumas Morrison had brought me here on his boat named Enchanted Isle, a fitting name for a craft making its way through the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. When light broke through the clouds as we approached the island, I knew instantly just how lucky I was. I was determined not to waste the opportunity.

Seumas' crew member held onto me as I slid back and forth across the back deck in the wildly pitching seas. I kept my motor-drive Nikon going relentlessly as the magical light played on the face of the cliff. I shot wide and then tight. We caught a swell, and water sprayed across the deck and my camera. The birds were everywhere.

In the middle of it I couldn't help myself and stuck my head into the cabin where Seumas was braced against the wheel. I yelled over the roar of the engine, "This is worth the price of admission! You done good!"

Then I went back to shooting and drinking in the wonder of it all.

The light lasted another seven or eight minutes. We circled the island a couple of times hoping for more, and I got another frame on the southwest side as the last flash of light turned the clouds red. (I told of this moment in an earlier posting.) Then the show was over. The light did not return. We put into Village Bay at Hirta for the night with the hope of seeing a great sunrise. We didn't.

The camera survived, though parts have the look of saltwater corrosion. I hope to get back to St. Kilda again to see Seumas and catch up on news on the Isle of Harris, where he lives. But I doubt to ever have an evening like that again.

I should be thankful. And I am.

P.S. Traveling to St. Kilda is great, and I can heartily recommend the two boat operators who got me there. Seumas Morrison goes to several of the islands in the Outer Hebrides, and Angus Campbell operates Kilda Cruises and concentrates on the St. Kilda trip.

They're both great guys. And I wish you luck on the weather.

See the Hebrides story and photographs here »

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