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30 Aug 2019

From the edge of the world: part 10

Written by Sue Loughran
Part of a painted mural found on the ceiling in a pub on St Kilda, featuring two puffins facing each other on a grassy meadow.
Hello! I’m Sue, the ranger on St Kilda. I’m writing a blog to share what it’s like to work on these incredible islands. This week, I talk about times of change.

As the puffins left a couple of weeks ago from the Isle of Dun, we all felt sad at the imminent change of season. Summer seemed like it would last forever, and here on Hirta, the migration feels like it’s being mirrored by our neighbours in the MOD base. 

Two puffins sit on a rock on St Kilda. One stands and faces the camera, showing off large orange webbed feet. The second lies behind.
Puffins on a ledge

Anyone who has visited St Kilda in the last couple of years will be very aware that the 20th-century buildings are being replaced. We currently have ‘Bessie’, the faithful but noisy and rather ugly generator, and a maze of green accommodation buildings; these will soon be replaced, and everything and everybody will be re-housed in the new ultra-modern base building. The new generators will run silently. All the windows have electric blinds, specifically to try to reduce the risk of attracting pufflings (newly fledged puffins) to the lights at night. The roof is turfed and the whole building should run much more economically, thus reducing the amount of fuel being delivered to the island.

A view of Village Bay from the hill behind on a grey day, with cloud covering the cliff tops. The MOD buildings and containers can be seen close to the shore. Soay sheep graze in the foreground.
Village Bay, with demolition work going on

It has been a long process and has required close collaboration between the National Trust for Scotland, the MOD, QinetiQ, Galliford Try (and allied contractors), Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland. On an archipelago that has no fewer than nine special designations, work may have sometimes seemed slow, especially with the additional difficulties of transportation through variable weather. It seems incredible that things are now finally at the point of changeover.

Village Bay seen from the bay on a cloudy day. A group of buildings nestle on the shoreline, as the waves wash the beach.
The changing appearance of the MOD settlement in Village Bay

Last Friday was the final night of the famous Puff Inn. Everybody gathered for a great night of celebration, tinged with a real sadness. This space has housed so many fabled nights and has earned a very special place in so many people’s hearts from all around the world. It was a really poignant moment when the bell was rung for the last time and the shutters finally came down. In true Puff Inn style, there was plenty of music, dancing and ceiling signing until last orders!

A large group of people gather around a pool table in the Puff Inn on St Kilda
Last orders in the Puff Inn

Everybody has subsequently moved into the new accommodation, the bar has been relocated, the old buildings have been gutted and the demolition team have moved in. We’re delighted that the contractors managed to safely remove the puffin mural that adorned the ceiling above the bar, and we have temporarily stored it in the Manse for safekeeping. 

All the puffins may have flown, but they will return next year!

From the edge of the world

St Kilda blog

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