The Shiants is a group of rocky islands in the Minch, lying four miles to the east of Lewis with a large seabird population including a colony of tens of thousands of puffins. It is owned by the islands’ only (part-time) inhabitant Adam Nicolson, who inherited these islands from his father, who had bought them in 1937 after answering a newspaper ad—”Uninhabited islands for sale. Outer Hebrides, 600 acres. . . . Puffins and seals. Apply.”
Nicolson (son) has written about growing up here and his relationship with the Shiants and the history of their clearances in Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides. He also runs shiantisles.net, a useful resource on all aspects of the islands.
The Last Seabird Summer? is a great two-part BBC documentary based on the Shiants and presented by Nicolson. But the documentary also looks in detail at the history of seabirds in Britain in general and their relationship with humans here and in Iceland. Watch online here.
Robert Macfarlane on the Shiants
Robert Macfarlane visited the Shiants in The Old Ways and visited Nicolson’s bothy which he leaves open for travellers when he’s not there:
Around midnight, Ian rowed me to land in a dinghy. The black water gleamed with a green-gold phosphorescence; each dip of the oars set loose a storm of light. I stepped on shore, globes of dolerite knocking together with the hollow clicks of billiard balls. I felt my way up the cliffs until I found a patch of grass upon which to pitch my tent. The stars stood sharp above. Lying there, I could feel the day at sea, a roll and sway in the skull. My mind beat back north, thinking of the puffins’ flight, the lines we leave behind us, the spacious weave, our wake, then sleep.
Macfarlane sails across the Minch to reach the Shiants, reminding us under its waters is believed to be the crater site of the biggest meteorite ever to hit the British Isles, some 1.2 billion years ago, The massive impact would have melted rocks and thrown up an enormous cloud, scattering material across the area.
Black rats in the Shiant Isles
The Shiant Isles have the dubious distinction (as of 2015) of being home to what is probably the last viable colony of black rats in Britain, which has almost become extinct in the UK. Read
Photo of “Shiant Isles” by Tony Kinghorn. Wikimedia Commons