Off the west coast of Scotland lay the Outer Hebrides, a chain of islands that look almost like a shield being held up by the mainland to protect itself from the rugged North Atlantic. Beyond that, a full 40 miles further west, are the lonely islands of St. Kilda, a tiny archipelago forged by volcanos and sculpted by violent winds and waves. It’s not exactly a convenient place to live, and yet these islands were occupied for nearly four thousand years, an incredible testament to subsistence living and human perseverance. The story of life there, and the eventual decision to evacuate, is the unlikely subject of an illustrated children’s book called Child of St. Kilda by the British author, illustrator, and printmaker Beth Waters.
There’s something wonderful about putting a name on a letter and knowing it will find its way to a remote destination, passing hand-to-hand until that person can open it. Of course today we send messages around the world in micro-seconds, but for me that only heightens my wonder of the physical post. It’s not just a technical feat, but a complex set of systems and people overcoming geography, weather, and Murphy’s law; there are many steps and many people holding that letter along the way. I want to share more about my love for the post, including how I started collecting Faroese stamps. But today I want to point you elsewhere, to a beautiful story the BBC published in 2018 called “Tales from the far-flung Faroes (The people who live on remote rocks in the North Atlantic) by Christian Petersen”
The concept behind Lawrence Millman’s book Last Places: A Journey to the North is such a perfect fit to my interests, and this blog, that I knew I had to read it. Millman endeavors to follow the trail of the Vikings, traveling from Norway to Newfoundland via Shetland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, mostly via sea and foot, camping along the way. It’s a personal travelog, from an opinionated and seasoned traveler with lots of stories to tell. It’s not his first time in any of these locations, which is perhaps what frees him up to seek the most remote, difficult, or forgotten corners of these already far flung islands.