Rockall is a small island, or islet, in the North Atlantic, located approximately 300 miles (480 km) off the west coast of mainland Scotland, about 200 miles (320 km) west of Soay, a small, uninhabited island which forms part of the St Kilda archipelago. The islet measures just over 80 feet (24 m) wide at its base, a little over 70 feet (21 m) in height, and is the rocky peak of an extinct volcano.
The earliest recorded landing on Rockall took place in 1810, and was made by Basil Hall, an officer stationed on HMS Endymion, is reported to have made the first recorded landing on Rockall, in 1810, but its exact position does not appear to have been recorded until 1831, when it was charted by a Royal Navy surveyor, Captain ATE Vidal.
The World’s largest recorded oceanic waves were recorded there in 2000. At 29 metres, the waves were six metres higher than Rockall itself, and a result of the Atlantic swell.
Rockall in detail
Cold War connection
Rockall first became a significant feature not because its annexation could mean the establishments of territorial rights to explore and exploit the surrounding sea, but because its position could have provided Soviet Russia with a platform which would have allowed remote surveillance equipment to be installed to monitor operations at a new rocket range which would be established on St Kilda and South Uist . The range would be carrying out test firing of the United Kingdom's first guided nuclear weapon, the American-made Corporal missile, which would be launched from the range headquarters on South Uist, and monitored by the tracking station on St Kilda, as it flew over the North Atlantic.
In April 1955, a request was sent to the Admiralty to seize the island, and declare UK sovereignty to ensure it it would not become an outpost for foreign observers.
Queen Elizabeth authorised the annexation on September 14, 1955. Her orders stated: "On arrival at Rockall you will effect a landing and hoist the Union flag on whatever spot appears most suitable or practicable and you will then take possession of the island on our behalf."
HMS Vidal, a survey vessel which had been named after the man who first charted Rockall, reached the islet on September 15, 1955, carrying a helicopter to ferry the men to the island, but high winds prevented them from landing for a further three days.
At 10:16 on the morning of September 18, 1955, Rockall was officially annexed by the UK when Lieutenant-Commander Desmond Scott RN, Sergeant Brian Peel RM, Corporal AA Fraser RM, and James Fisher (a civilian naturalist and former Royal Marine), were successfully landed on the islet by helicopter. The team cemented in a brass plaque on Hall's Ledge and hoisted the Union Flag to stake the UK's claim, in what was also the final act of territorial expansion of the British Empire.
The inscription on the plaque reads:
|By authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and in accordance with Her Majesty's instructions dated the 14th day of September, 1955, a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from HMS Vidal. The Union flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty.|
R H Connell, Captain, HMS Vidal, 18 September 1955.
The formal annexation of Rockall was announced by the Admiralty on September 21, 1955.
HMS Tartar expedition 1974
It seems that the British Government sent another expedition to Rockall in 1974, aboard HMS Tartar.
A sentry-box was constructed on Hall's Ledge, with two marines in full ceremonial uniform posted alongside, and the Union Flag was hoisted above. Everything was photographed, but the photo was not published for a further ten years, until May 31, 1985, as a reminder that Rockall is British.
The same photograph shows the beacon mounted on the summit of Rockall, mounted on a flat ledge formed when engineers blew the peak off the islet.
After the summit of Rockall was blown off (by engineers using explosives) in 1972, a conical beacon 1 metre in height was attached. This did not survive and was replaced in 1974, and again in 1997. The tall light was unable to resist the waves, and was replace by a low-profile beacon in 1998. This was also destroyed by the waves, and had reportedly failed by 2005. Later reports, from 2010, indicated that this (failed) beacon was still in place. It can just be seen on the summit, in the photograph to the right, on the left side of the summit. Also visible, on the rock face just below the beacon and to the right, appears to be the remains of a frame, which is said to have supported the solar panels which would have powered the light
Pictures of all four beacons and much historical detail can be found in Christopher Nicholson's Rock Lighthouses of Britain (Dunbeath, 2006), pp 190-200.
The photograph to the right is one of a set shared by campaigner and explorer Andy Strangeway.
Subsequent claims and disputes
In 1997, the UK acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
Also in 1997, Greenpeace attempted to gain publicity and protest against oil exploration (strangely, this was specifically only if authorised by the British, apparently they were happy for the rest of the world to exploit the spot) by occupying Rockall and declaring it to be a New Global State, offering citizenship to anyone who would pledge allegiance. The Government response was effectively to ignore them, give permission for them to be there, and point out that since Rockall was part of the UK, they were perfectly free and entitled to be there if they wished. The occupation ended in 1999, with the collapse of the company that had been sponsoring it. They did, however, succeed in achieving the longest continuous occupation there, 42 days.
In 1985, a former member of the SAS, survival expert Tom McLean, resided on Rockall from May 26 until July 4 to affirm the UK's claim to the island, registering only 40 days in residence.
The UK remains in dispute with the Republic of Ireland, Denmark (Faroe Islands), and Iceland over the issue of continental shelf rights relating to the ocean floor surrounding the islet, these rights refer to the exploitation any resources on or under the ocean floor, such as oil or natural gas. Despite an apparent agreement with Ireland around 1990, the issue of rights over the extent of the continental shelf are still ongoing, with Ireland and Denmark underway in 2006, with preparations for a submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
2010 plaque proposal
In 2010, it was reported that the original 1955 Queen's plaque had gone missing. A plan to attach a plaque to Rockall was approved by Western Isles Council in May 2010, this being the nearest UK local authority to the islet. The plan was proposed by Andy Strangeway, an adventurer from Full Sutton, East Yorkshire. Western Isles council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, noted there were no objections to the proposal and wished him well.
The plaque would again claim the site as part of the UK.
Unfortunately, the plan was cancelled in March 2010, due to regulations imposed by the authorities, which rendered the yacht intended for the venture unsuitable.
The approval to visit and install the plaque was confirmed after this cancellation was announced, although the adventurer still intends to complete this mission at a later date if a suitable vessel can be made available. As an aside, sadly, it seems that Uri Geller was once again unable to prove his abilities and mysteriously overcome this inconvenience, as the adventurer had just helped him spend a night on Lamb, an island he owns on the Firth of Forth.
2011 Amateur radio expedition
A team of radio amateurs landed on Rockall in 2011, to operate from the location
The related web site includes a number of photographs of Rockall, and the members operating their equipment on the islet.
2013 failed occupation attempt
In 2013, a number of news articles publicised a proposed attempt by Nick Hancock to stay on Rockall for 60 days, 20 days longer that survival expert Tom McLean's 40 day record described above.
Hancock completed several marathons for the charity Help for Heroes, and was reported to be aiming to raise £10,000 for the charity through donations.
To an outside observer, the former chartered accountant's attempt appeared to be under-resourced, and on the day he attempted to land on Rockall and haul his survival pod onto the rock, the weather was unfavourable and he could not land himself on the islet, let alone his equipment. Notably, he was only able to make the one attempt, and did not have sufficient craft on hand to make another attempt. Sadly, things such as the Atlantic swell cannot be controlled, and this was just too great on the day.
Following the aborted attempt, the lack of craft and deteriorating weather conditions led to the announcement that there would be no further attempts until summer 2014.
2014 Oil exploration grant
In 2014, Aberdeen University was given £250,000 to search for oil in the North Atlantic. Scientists planned to use the Oil and Gas Authority grant to explore the seabed around Rockall, which was awarded as part of a £20 million package to boost exploration in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) announced by the Prime Minister in January of 2014.University gets £250,000 to search North Atlantic for oil Retrieved May 03, 2016.
Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh was also given £250,000 to explore opportunities in the Central North Sea.
The UK Government claims the right to extract oil and gas from the seabed within the UKCS but the right to exploit the area around Rockall has been the subject of a long-running dispute between Denmark, Iceland, Ireland and the UK.
Clicking on the Geochache link below shows that Rockall is the site of a type of geocache known as an earthcache.
Being an earthcache means there is no box to find on Rockall, which means there is no need to visit the the rock itself and attempt the hazardous landing.
While there is no requirement to do so, the cache creator asks that those logging the cache try to include a photograph or photographs taken at the location as part of their log if you can. Also, to include a description of the swell (height of the waves), the weather conditions (particularly an estimation of the wind speed and direction) and if possible (NOT a logging requirement), a photograph with Rockall behind the geocacher - GPS in shot would be a bonus. Also requested is the name of the departure point for the trip, giving its distance and bearing from from Rockall.
5 ⇑ MC0316 :: Browse 15 Images :: Geograph Britain and Ireland Retrieved August 01, 2013.
6 ⇑ Who owns Rockall? A history of legal and diplomatic wrangles | UK news | The Guardian Retrieved July 30, 2013.
7 ⇑ Letterkenny Post » Rockall bid – to erect Queen’s plaque Retrieved August 14, 2010.
10 ⇑ Welcome to the website of the Rockall expedition 2011 Retrieved August 01, 2013.
11 ⇑ Nick Hancock: 60 days on Rockall | UK news | The Guardian Retrieved July 30, 2013.
13 ⇑ Rockall adventurer Nick Hancock unable to get on rock Retrieved July 30, 2013.
14 ⇑ Rockall occupation bid postponed until 2014 after weather prevents landing | UK news | The Guardian Retrieved July 30, 2013.
15 ⇑ GC22Q8A Remote Rockall (Earthcache) in Northern Scotland, United Kingdom created by Simply Paul Retrieved August 01, 2013.
Please note that any links below, dependent on British National Grid references, are not valid for this area.
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