The Shiant islands are situated 10 miles east of Harris and are often referred to as a mini St Kilda. The Shiants provide one of the most dramatic examples of basalt rock pillars in Britain; similar to the rock formations found at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Fingal’s Cave on Staffa but even bigger! A private charter to the Shiants will show you 350-foot columns nestled among the northern cliffs.
The dramatic black cliffs rising from the sea contrast with the island’s lush green vegetation, providing an incredible backdrop for an array of wildlife. During the summer months the grassy slopes play host to a huge colony of puffins as well as providing a home for other seabirds such as razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, shags, gulls and great skuas.
The waters surrounding the Shiants are famed for the legend of "The Blue Men of the Minch", who are said to have inhabited the underwater caves beneath the Sound of Shiant. Sailors were fearful of passing through this stretch of water as they believed that these mythical merman-type creatures would lure them to their deaths.
The last record of human habitation on the Shiants can be found in the 1901 census, which details a total eight people living on the island. The eight residents left the island that same year, electing to move to Harris in favour of a less remote existence.
In the 1920s, the Shiants were owned by the author Sir Compton Mackenzie, who looked upon them as his retreat from the world. In more recent times these islands were owned by Adam Nicholson, whose book, 'Sea Room' provides a comprehensive and fascinating record of everything that is 'The Shiants'.
More recently the Shiants have been in the headlines due to a two year project led by the RSPB, SNH & the Nicholson family, to eradicate the Islands of it's non native population of black rats. The rats were thought to have arrived on the Islands from a shipwreck and quickly made themselves at home gorging themselves on the abundant supply of eggs and chicks that arrives every summer. Early signs are that the project has been very successful and the first summer after a winter of baiting saw a very healthy puffin colony, the eradication of the invasive rats on the Shiant Isles will ensure safe breeding sites for struggling seabirds and allow the recovery and restoration of the island’s existing colonies, as well as encourage Manx shearwaters and storm petrels to breed there.