For centuries, residents of the tiny archipelago scratched out a living for themselves amid its forbidding cliffs. Then, all at once, they left.
In 1877, George Seton, a visitor to the tiny Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda, observed that the men living there had an unusual physiological characteristic. “The great toes of the cragsmen are widely separated from the others, from the circumstance of their frequently resting their entire weight on that part of the foot in climbing,” Seton wrote. These men with prehensile feet were residents of the most remote settlement in the British Isles, forty miles out in the North Atlantic, where seabirds, garnered from the towering cliffs, formed the major part of their diet. A hundred years after Seton, another visitor wrote that “even today a boat setting out for St. Kilda is by no means assured of reaching its destination.”