A Viking longship sails past the island of St Kilda. The Vikings were Scandinavian seafarers who raided and traded across vast areas of the then known world during the 8th –11th centuries. This period of Norse expansion is commonly known as the Viking Age.
The Vikings’ travels led them across northern and central Europe, central Russia, the
Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Following extended phases of exploration, expansion and settlement, Viking communities sprang up in areas of north-western Europe, Russia, the North Atlantic islands and as far afield as the north-eastern coast of North America. The Viking Age witnessed the spread of Norse culture which, in turn, resulted in the introduction of strong foreign cultural influences into Scandinavia itself.
The Vikings were a complex people and to label them merely as violent, piratical heathens or intrepid adventurers is to completely underestimate their incredibly advanced shipbuilding and seafaring skills and their trading and settling capabilities.
St Kilda is an isolated archipelago 40 miles northwest of North Uist containing the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides. No one knows how the name St Kilda came into being. The largest island is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the UK. There is archaeological evidence of human habitation on St Kilda from prehistoric periods, although the earliest written records of island life date from the Late Middle Ages. The origin of the name Hirta, which long pre-dates St Kilda, is open to interpretation. Some say that "Hirta is taken from the Irish, word for “west". There are others who believe the word is based on a Celtic word meaning "gloom" or "death", or the Scots Gaelic, h-Iar-Tìr, meaning "westland". An Icelandic saga describing an early 13th-century voyage to Ireland mentions a visit to the islands of "Hirtir". The author speculates that the shape of Hirta resembles a stag, Hirtir meaning "stags" in Norse. Others say, that the name is derived from the Gaelic, Ì Àrd, or "high island”. The first written record of St Kilda may date from 1202 when an Icelandic cleric wrote of taking shelter on "the islands that are called Hirtir". Archaeological reports mention finds of brooches, an iron sword and Danish coins. The enduring Norse place names indicate a sustained Viking presence on Hirta, but the visible evidence has been lost.