Soay, St Kilda

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Gaelic nameSoaigh
Norse nameso-øy
Meaning of name(Old Norse) "Sheep island"
Soay is located in Outer Hebrides
Soay shown within the Outer Hebrides
OS grid referenceNA064014
Coordinates57°50′N 8°38′W / 57.83°N 8.63°W / 57.83; -8.63
Physical geography
Island groupSt Kilda
Area99 ha (245 acres)
Area rank150= [1]
Highest elevationCnoc Glas 378 m (1,240 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaOuter Hebrides

Soay (Scottish Gaelic: Soaigh) is an uninhabited islet in the St Kilda archipelago, Scotland. The name is from Old Norse Seyðoy, meaning "Island of Sheep". The island is part of the St Kilda World Heritage Site and home to a primitive breed of sheep. It is the westernmost point in the United Kingdom, excluding Rockall.


Soay lies some 40 miles (64 km) west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic It is about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north-west of Hirta, from which it is separated by the narrow Sound of Soay, which is only about 500 metres wide. Two sea stacks, Stac Shoaigh (Soay Stac), 61 metres (200 ft), and Stac Biorach, 73 metres (240 ft), lie between. The island covers about 96.8 hectares (239 acres) and reaches a height of 378 metres (1,240 ft), the cliffs rising sheer from the sea.

The island is formed of a breccia of gabbro and dolerites and is a single mountain peak rising from the sea-bed, without Ice-Age erosion.[3]

The St Kilda archipelago

Along with the rest of the archipelago, Soay is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage as a nature reserve and is included it the St Kilda World Heritage Site.[5] It is unlikely that this island ever had permanent habitation. Men from Hirta would stay for a few days while gathering wool.[6]


Feral Soay sheep are a relict population of the first sheep brought to northern Europe around 5000BC. They were kept for their wool, which was plucked, not shorn, and made into tweed.[7] Only occasionally were the sheep killed for meat.[3] When the neighbouring island of Hirta became uninhabited, Soay sheep were introduced there too, and more recently they have become widely kept elsewhere as a livestock animal. Another somewhat less primitive breed, the Boreray, lives on another island in the group.

The island's cliffs hold breeding colonies of many seabirds, including gannet, fulmar, storm petrel, Manx shearwater, razorbill, great skua, Leach's petrel and puffin.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
  3. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey
  5. ^ "World Heritage Sites Protected Areas Programme - St Kilda". Archived from the original on 2007-07-05. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
  6. ^ "Soay Overview". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
  7. ^ Haswell-Smith, Hamish (1996). The Scottish Islands. Canongate. p. 267. ISBN 0-86241-579-9.

Coordinates: 57°49′44″N 8°38′0″W / 57.82889°N 8.63333°W / 57.82889; -8.63333