ST KILDA – the remotest outpost of the British Isles – has won a major international accolade recognising the restoration of historic buildings on the tourist attraction.
The famous Hebridean island, lying 41 miles west of the Isle of Benbecula, has been named the best destination for conserving architectural heritage in the Responsible Tourism Awards.
The National Trust for Scotland, to which it was bequeathed in 1957, has been rewarded for its work in preserving the environment and buildings of the archipelago.
The St Kilda islands were famously abandoned in 1930 at the request of the remaining 36 islanders when life on the edge of Britain in the Atlantic became unsustainable.
They now get 4,000 tourists a year, double the number from five years ago.
The buildings rapidly fell into disrepair but, since 2008, the NTS has carried out a sympathetic restoration – particularly on a manse built in the 1820s by Robert Stevenson, one of the famous “lighthouse” Stevenson family.
The judges decided St Kilda beat hundreds of other nominations as the work was a good example of the maintenance of built cultural heritage in remote areas.
NTS’ Western Isles manager Susan Bain said: “We are absolutely delighted to win such an internationally-recognised accolade.”
She added: “It is a reward for the work we do on conserving the architectural heritage. We focused on the refurbishment of the manse built in the 1820s.
“We researched the whole history and found that Robert Stevenson, of the lighthouse Stevenson family, had designed the church and manse.
“We found the original plans and sketches done in the 1830s by a visitor, so we were able to carry out a detailed restoration.”
Mrs Bain said: “It had been a real focus to the people of St Kilda up to 1930. It is a place of history.
“We have to get the balance right, as this is an abandoned landscape. It is a matter of conserving and not over-restoring.”
In 1957, the Ministry of Defence, who operated a radar station in the Hebrides, established a base at the manse.
But the building fell into disrepair over the years, until NTS carried out its restoration work, which included new stonework and replica windows.
The organisation has also been carrying out other works on the island, repairing dry stane dykes and turf roofs.
Justin Francis, founder of the Responsible Tourism Awards, said: “Once again we reveal the responsible tourism agenda setters. We’ve cast the net far and wide and received over 1,000 nominations for organisations of all sizes and types globally. It gives me great confidence that responsible tourism is flourishing, and provides further inspiration for our industry.”
Amanda Wills, managing director of sponsors Virgin Holidays, said: “The Responsible Tourism Awards serve to remind us of what can be achieved with ingenuity, passion and commitment. They are also an opportunity for us to stop, be inspired, and remember why being ‘responsible’ in business should be – must be – second nature.”
The overall winners were Reality Tours and Travel, who attract tourists to tour a slum in India in a responsible way.