‘THE good news is I can get you ashore,” announced the captain as we waited nervously. “Sadly I wouldn’t be able to get everyone back off safely,” he continued, shattering another shipful of souls dreaming of landing on Scotland’s Holy Grail.

St Kilda for me is personal – my late sailor dad never made it out to a wildscape I rate among the most remarkable places I’ve ever been to in my travels to more than 100 countries. If you can get out here, you must.

So why all the fuss about St Kilda? This deeply dramatic archipelago – set adrift more than 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides – is quite simply like nowhere else on Earth.

Don’t just take my word for it: St Kilda was the first place Unesco awarded dual World Heritage status, for both its remarkable human story and its natural wealth.

Over the years I’ve made five assaults on St Kilda. And it is an assault, as often you battle epic seas. Any sort of easterly and you cannot land in the only semi-decent anchorage of Village Bay.

Countless St Kilda devotees have been cruelly denied within sight of the shore as I was on my only failed attempt, a breaching minke not even enough to quell the heart-wrenching disappointment.

St Kilda is, though, worth the effort. Many people already have it in their hearts before they even set sail but I challenge anyone not to fall in love on first sighting this Tolkien-esque wonderland of jagged isles that rise like brooding leviathans from the cobalt Atlantic.

No-one forgets their first sight of St Kilda. It looks like nowhere else in Scotland. The Faroes are the only place I’ve been to that I could say is remotely reminiscent.

The National: Hirta_main_street_St_Kilda.

Making it ashore the “Island on the Edge of the World”, as St Kilda was immortalised in a book, and the “Edge of the World” in a film, always feels like a triumph. And a challenge.

You’re on your own out here with no hotels or restaurants. There are no roads beyond the trail the MoD uses to service its top-secret machinations.

It’s just you, the baleful Atlantic and the bonxies. Lots of bonxies.

The first time I ascended Conachair I was knocked off my feet by these hulking birds. On St Kilda, man demonstrably plays second fiddle to nature.

The hike up Conachair – a 430m peak that falls sharply away to Britain’s highest sea cliffs – is soul-stirring. It feels a long way back east to Lewis and Harris but if you’re really lucky on a braw day you might even spot Skye’s Cuillin.

There is an awful lot of ocean in the other direction to the Americas.

That human story of St Kilda hangs in the air, giving the isles a poignancy that touches on sadness.

It’s tempting to romanticise the lives of the locals who had to have a wrought-iron sense of community to survive, who entered the 20th century untroubled by money. But life was hard, devilishly so – I’ve read tales of many of the men being stranded away from the main island of Hirta for weeks by tempestuous seas. Walking along the only street in the only village brings alive the people who stood firm with little help from the outside world until their final capitulation in 1930.

One of the old stone houses now functions as a museum fashioned by National Trust for Scotland volunteers, with photos and stories.

Even more moving are the inscribed stones written by the few St Kildans to ever return to visit. I found a solitary stone left by Cathie Gillies. Cathie had never before left St Kilda when she was dragged off in 1930. The stone marks her emotional solitary return in 1980.

My own returns have brought joy every time. St Kilda is never the same from hour to hour, never mind year to year, constantly buffeted and sculpted by the weather.

It was a totally different proposition on the blissfully sunny two-day trip where I hiked every inch of Hirta, compared to the time the sea mists descended just as I summited Conachair, turning a hike into a fight for survival.

The local seabirds do more than survive; indeed St Kilda spoils birdwatching anywhere else afterwards. The UK’s largest colony sports more than 140,000 puffins and Boreray vies with Bass Rock as the world’s largest gannetry.

I’ve kayaked here, a thrilling experience as gannets and puffins splash all around you – it feels like being right in the heart of a nature documentary.

There are hulking sea eagles in the air too and all manner of whales patrol these waters; and St Kilda is home to its own unique species of field mouse and wren. Even the hardy Soay sheep are startling.

Well they would be –this is utterly unique, always totally compelling, St Kilda.

lDay trips from Skye (www.kildacruises.co.uk) and Harris (www.gotostkilda.co.uk) lLive aboard cruises with Hebrides Cruises (www.hebridescruises.co.uk) and the Hebridean Princess (www.hebridean.co.uk)