After a reasonable night’s sleep I got woken up by my feet getting wet and cold. A puddle of water had formed in my cheapo tent and had penetrated the bottom end of my sleeping bag. Day two on St. Kilda was forecast to be very windy and wet. Unfortunately, the forecast proved to be fairly accurate on this occasion, except that it was a bit wetter and windier. It gave us a good insight on how tough living conditions must have been for the St. Kildans and they did not have any electricity or hot water from a tap!
They lived in so called blackhouses that they shared with the livestock. One visiting clergyman described how he had to climb over a pile of manure to get to the section used by the human inhabitants of the blackhouse. There was an open fire in the middle of that space, but there was no hole in the roof to let the smoke out. The soot turned the inside walls, and most likely the people to some extent as well, black.
David, the National Trust ranger on St. Kilda, gave us a guided tour of the village area and shared his knowledge of the place. During the First World War a signal station was built on Hirta which attracted the attention of a German U-Boat. According to legend, one of the St. Kildans was very fond of tobacco and used every opportunity to trade for it. When he spotted the U-Boat he got in his rowing boat, looking forward to trading for a fresh supply of tobacco. The U-Boat captain was unaware of the totally peaceful and mercantile intentions of the approaching rowing boat and fired a few rifle salvos over the head of the rower. This quickly put an end to any prospect of trading and the U-Boat then proceeded to shell and destroy the naval signal station, carefully avoiding damaging the houses on main street. There were no human casualties and only one lamb was killed. A few months after the incident, a gun emplacement was installed to protect the village. It was completed in October 1918, but never used in anger. After the war ended the St. Kildans maintained it until the War Office stopped sending them payment for this work.
One of the oldest structures on the island is from the Iron Age. The purpose of the ‘building’ is not certain. There is one big central chamber with smaller spaces off it. It could have been a dwelling or a burial chamber. Whereas the openings of the cleits all point away from the prevailing wind, the ‘door’ of this structure points towards it and in fact may have lined up with the rising sun at one of the solstices, inviting comparisons with the much larger burial chamber at Maes Howe on Mainland, Orkney.
After the guided tour, at about 12:00, the weather deteriorated further. Derek had taken the precaution of moving the boat to Glen Bay at the other side of the island, leeward of some big hills. Landing there was not possible, so he spent the day and night on his own with only some curious and noisy seals for company. The rocky sea bottom meant that the anchor could not get a lot of purchase and Derek had to keep anchor watch during the night. It was just as well that he did move the boat though, as conditions in the bay would have been decidedly risky! There were gusts of force 7 winds.
I was not going to stay in my tent, or The Museum all day, so I ventured out for a short hike up the road towards the MoD radar station. At some points the wind nearly knocked me off my feet, so I did not go near any cliff edges.
David very kindly allowed us to use The Museum as our refuge and we had a good evening enjoying a few drams, some glasses of wine, cheese, nuts, laughter and good conversation. We felt like we were a little community, honouring the St. Kildan tradition of sharing resources. A few of us brought our sleeping gear inside (I had dried out my sleeping bag on a radiator in the ‘Ablutions Block’) and spent the night in relative comfort on the stone floor of The Museum.
To be continued…