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1 Jun 2022

From the edge of the world 2022 – part 5

Written by Julie Hunt
A woman wearing a yellow waterproof coat and green wellies scrubs a stone jetty with a brush. She also wears a red life jacket, as the sea is lapping the edges of the jetty.
Cleaning the jetty at Village Bay
To mark Volunteers’ Week 2022 (1–7 June), this blog post is written by Julie Hunt, one of our volunteers on St Kilda.

I arrived on St Kilda on 7 May, three days earlier than originally anticipated because of the weather (when they say it’s hard to get here, it’s true), to start my three-week-long stint of volunteering on St Kilda. I first came out to St Kilda in 2002 as part of a work party, and to be here 20 years later is an amazing feeling.

As I arrived, the weather turned and we had no visitors out to the island in my first week, but there was still plenty to do: cleaning cottages, checking stock for the shop, and cleaning the museum, church and schoolroom. I spent an enjoyable couple of days collecting the slates that are outside each of the 1860s cottages along the Main Street. My job was to re-paint them to show if the cottage was occupied in 1930 and by whom; if not occupied in 1930, the slate gives the name of the last family who lived there and when they left.

The ruins of an old stone cottage, now missing its roof, in Village Bay on Hirta. There is a wide doorway and window. A hand-painted small slate rests against the wall next to the doorway. It says, in white paint: No. 7 Finlay Gillies 1930 | Catherine Gillies + 2 sons
One of the 1860s cottages with its newly painted slate sign beside the doorway

The next weekend, we had two cruise ships visit and the day boats were back. One of Sue’s [the St Kilda ranger] important jobs is to greet visitors as they come onto the island and give a welcome talk with all the information that they need. On Sunday I welcomed my first group of guests, as well as the arrival of three campers.

After everyone has left, it’s time to clean the toilets and sweep or mop the church, schoolroom and museum. We also collect the takings from the honesty shop for the day, pack away any items that will spoil in the damp, and re-stock items ready for our next visitors.

A group of people stand on a paved area beside the beach at Village Bay, St Kilda. Behind them are the new, low-lying MOD buildings, and beyond them rise steep grassy hills.
Welcoming visitors to St Kilda

Sue explained the additional biosecurity measures for St Kilda this year, and I did my shift watching the landing craft unload one evening. I also helped make new wax blocks, used for checking for any unwelcome guests.

Read more about the biosecurity measures taken to protect St Kilda

My second weekend included the arrival of a big cruise ship with 400 passengers. The ship was in the bay from 8am to 8pm, with the passengers coming ashore in small groups. All needed to be welcomed, along with the day boat passengers that were arriving. It was a busy day, and I re-stocked the shop as each group left, before the next group came on. As the ship left Village Bay, we got straight on to cleaning, ready for the next day.

I was lucky enough to meet some of the descendants from the St Kilda families – Marion Petschi (the St Kilda Club shop convenor) and John MacDonald are the children of Calum MacDonald who lived in Cottage 3. This weekend we’re looking forward to welcoming Alex Gillies, grandson of Norman John Gillies who lived in Cottage 15 in 1930.

A woman wearing a bright orange National Trust for Scotland high-vis vest holds a thermos flask. She is wearing a white hard hat. Beyond her is a small excavator and flat-bed truck.
Julie enjoying a well-earned hot drink

During my time off, I have been out and about exploring the island. In the evenings I have watched the puffins and fulmars. I have loved being part of the team, joining in with the communal meals, and spending time with everyone. Sue is fantastic to work with, and I can’t wait to come back again!

From the edge of the world

St Kilda blog

Find out more about what it’s like to work on these incredible islands.

A group of people standing on the jetty on Hirta, St Kilda >