Tony's St Kilda Diary
A diary from the edge of the world ...
Tony, at number 4
Tuesday - 28th of August 2012
Today was spent killing time in Harris filming anything that moved, doing an interview on Leverburgh pier in the howling wind and filming me, looking longingly at the Atlantic Ocean on Luskintyre beach willing it to calm down.
Wednesday - 29th of August 2012 - Tony’s Boat Log
I was awake at 3.30am with adrenaline and excitement pumping through my veins. We made our way to the pier and Angus met us and helped us load the boat up with all the camera equipment etc. Our initial intention was to camp just above the army base at the bay - a very daunting prospect as the heavens had opened and the rain was literally blowing off the pier.
The boat left the pier and immediately we were bouncing on the crest of the waves. This was real Atlantic rollers, like I have never seen them! Walls of water to the left of us, the right of us, ahead and behind - the North Atlantic was boiling up! How did the St Kildans row to the mainland?
It was rough, a deep ferocious Atlantic swell. Angus the boatman was acting as if we were rowing a little boat on a clear city park pond. Meanwhile his passengers’ knuckles and faces grew whiter and whiter with fear and nausea.
However terror was replaced with awe and excitement as the famous cliffs of St Kilda loomed closer into view. There it was - Village Bay. The street of houses, the church, the school and the manse. I had seen this image in countless photographs since I was a young boy, but nothing can prepare you for seeing it, for real, for the first time ever. A wave of emotion hit me - I was about to step on to Hiort - St Kildan soil. Granny, I’ve made it!
It was the 29th of August 2012 - the last 36 inhabitants abandoned St Kilda on the 29th August 1930, exactly 82 years to the day. We emerged from the boat like three, pale, drowned rats, but it was worth it!
Wednesday - 29th of August 2012 - The Island
The local ranger whose job I was going to be attempting to do, took great pity on us and let us stay in House number 4, which has been done up like a bunkhouse. House number 4 was owned by 3 generations of Fergusons. Neil Ferguson Jr. was the islands postmaster. He was one of the 36 Islanders who left at the time of the 1930 evacuation. I wanted to get a feel for the place before I reported for my ranger duties the next day. It was wet and windy, devoid of tourists, so I practically had the place to myself and it was incredible. I visited the church where the God fearing St Kildans worshipped. A superstitious people, they had been galvanised in the 1800s by an overzealous Free Church minister, who outlawed dancing, singing, poetry, storytelling and made children carry bibles as they walked around at all times! Is this the reason hardly any St Kildan poetry has survived? I’m of Barra, Highland and Irish stalk and here I was standing in the pulpit of the St Kildan Free church - a bizarre moment!
I fired up my cooking stove that first night in Niall Ferguson’s house. It was good to have heat coming from the fireplace as it should be. 82 years ago that night the embers would still be warm as each household lit a fire as they left so as they could see smoke rising from their chimneys as they left the bay for the last time ever. The image of the smoke mixing with the autumn mist of that dull day in 1930 is a very powerful one.
I had my tea and some strong whisky. The St Kildans’ souls are all around this wee street and neighbouring graveyard. It’s like they might come back one day, but of course they won’t. I’m over-whelmed - it’s magical, sad, peaceful and powerful all at the same time. Tomorrow I begin my ranger’s duties and greet the first boat load of tourists. The forecast is good.
Thursday - 30th of August 2012
I wake up with the sun streaming through the window. I look out, my eyes like saucers. St Kilda had become a Caribbean island over night with aqua blue seas and canary yellow sands. Am I dreaming? I’m certainly not in Kansas anymore! I’m in a Celtic island paradise and I’m rapidly falling in love with it.