Rockall – Rockall, Scotland - Atlas Obscura


Rockall, Scotland

British Empire's last territorial expansion, claimed by four countries. 


Located 300 kilometers from St Kilda, Scotland, the tiny uninhabited islet of Rockall is 29 meters high and measures just 31 by 25 meters. But despite its remoteness and inaccessibility, it is officially claimed by four European nations. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark (on behalf of the Faroe Islands), and Iceland all claim the rock because of the large amounts of oil and natural gas believed to be buried in the continental shelf, which could be worth as much as $160 billion U.S. dollars.

Rockall was first noted in written records at the end of the 15th century, but it was not landed on until September 8, 1811, when Basil Hall of HMS Endymion led a small landing party to the summit. There were fatal accidents on nearby rocks in 1824 and over 600 people lost their lives in 1904 when the steamer SS Norge ran aground on a neighboring reef.

The rock was then largely forgotten until September 18, 1955, when it became the last territorial expansion of the British Empire. A Royal Navy helicopter lowered three men onto the islet, where the Union Flag was raised and a plaque attached to the rock. At the time, the British government was performing weapons testing and was worried that the Soviet Union would use the unclaimed rock to place surveillance equipment. On February 10, 1972, Rockall officially became administratively part of the Scottish Isle of Harris.

Survival expert Tom McClean lived on the island from May 16, 1985, to July 4, 1985 in order to bolster the United Kingdom’s claim to the rock. In 1997, Greenpeace activists seized the rock to protest against oil exploration. They renamed it Waveland and over 15,000 passports were issued by the fledgling nation. However, by 1999, lack of funds forced them to leave. Since then, negotiations between Denmark, Iceland, Ireland. and the United Kingdom have continued and a deal is expected in the next few years. For a tiny rock once known as the “loneliest islet in all the world’s seas,” it has seen more than its fair share of activity.

Know Before You Go

Rockall lies 301 kilometres (187 miles), or 162 nautical miles west of the uninhabited Scottish island of Soay. There are no scheduled services to Rockall and visitors must arrive by private boat or helicopter.

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February 2, 2011

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