Time-lapse video of Bill Bailey trip to St.Kilda
In 2010 we had the privilege of taking Bill Bailey to UNESCO world heritage site of St. Kilda. Bill is famous Comedian, Naturalist and avid Bird Watcher who used the opportunity of his Qualmpeddler tour dates in Stornoway to plan another visit St. Kilda; so in May 2012 we again had the privilege of taking Bill Bailey and friends on a private charter to St. Kilda. He generously wrote the following review for us:
Since my first trip there two years ago, I have had a longing to return to St. Kilda. On that occasion, I went out on the excellent vessel, the Enchanted Isle with Seumas at the wheel, and was entranced by the place. It has an atmosphere that is unique, an intense and breathtaking beauty that is unlike anywhere I’ve been on Earth. It’s inaccessibility only adds to the mystique. This little archipelago on the edge of the Atlantic has seen the most extraordinary human endurance and resourcefulness. It’s profoundly humbling to imagine the St.Kildans living on these isles, raising families, telling tales, working tirelessly on this isolated and often storm-lashed outpost of humanity. So when I began planning my 2012 tour of the Highlands and islands the first place I put on the list was An Lanntair in Stornoway .. I’d had a blast playing there two years ago, the audience were terrific, and once inhibitions were lost, unstoppable! And this time I was there for two nights.. So when I knew the gigs were confirmed, I was determined to try and make the St. Kilda trip again.
I found my first trip there unsettling – the four hours out to St. Kilda were a bit choppy, and a French couple also on board were regretting the Full Scottish Breakfast they had eaten before boarding, which regrettably they had now lost. The island first came into view as a forbidding dark shape emerging through the mist. Swathed in cloud and sheets of rain it seemed alien and unwelcoming. there were none of the usual attending features of such a beautiful and fascinating place. No gift shops, no interactive displays, no audio-visual aids, no tea-rooms, cafes, ice-cream parlours ... nothing. The fact that the missile-tracking station based on the island has given rise to functional green portakabins, a generator and helipad only heightens this sense of the surreal. Yet when you alight on the jetty, and walk up into the town, the history reveals itself. Here is the main street, where the men of St Kilda would meet every morning to decide what needed to be done that day – an eminently sensible community ritual. And here are the houses, some restored, and some in ruins whose weathered stone blends so perfectly with the landscape.
This time I was going to bring my father Christopher, along, as well as the crew, Al and Trev, my tour manager Neil and Victor, an old friend from Indonesia. I had one day free on the tour, one opportunity. To assemble this lot took many emails, phone calls..and there was still no guarantee we would actually make it to the islands. The weather is capricious at the best of times, and we knew we were taking a big gamble by planning all this around one day. May 27th, 2012. Mid May and the signs were not good. The first shows went well, but the skies were grey and forbidding. Rain was always hanging in the air, and it was perishingly cold. On Orkney, the biting wind and chill meant that a stop for a scenic photo was curtailed as freezing hands could barely operate the camera .But by the time we reached Dunoon, the temperature had risen, the sun was out.. Maybe.
We were in regular contact with Seumas, who remained optimistic about the trip. By now the weather was glorious … but we were all nervous, would it hold? We needn’t have worried.
The morning of May 27th, there was not a cloud in the sky. Not a breath of wind. On the drive to Leverburgh from Stornoway, I stopped several times to take photos of the sights, many of which were surreal in their stillness and beauty. Mountains, inlets, perfectly reflected in a mirror of blue water. Seumas greeted us and we got aboard the Enchanted Isle, and with a mug of tea and bacon roll in hand, we set off, marvelling at the perfect conditions.
The journey took less time than before due to the calm seas, and along the way we spotted dolphin and minke whale. The day was already unfolding into a rare moment I will never forget..We were met and taken up to the top of the island, then continued up to the peak..a new experience as before it had been obscured by cloud. Trev and Victor were dive-bombed by great skuas – ‘unsavoury characters’ as Vic called them . The views were magnificent.. The sea and sky were impossibly blue. The stillness of the place, the serenity reduced us all to silence and reverie. We ate our packed lunch down in the town, and the time seemed to fly past. I really didn’t want to leave ... As we headed out on the Enchanted Isle, I knew what was coming, so this time I was prepared. I fitted my long telephoto lens to my camera and set about capturing a gannet in flight. My father, a keen birder all his life, had the binoculars at the ready..as did Victor, another lifelong bird enthusiast.. But very soon they were smiling, laughing at the absurdity of binoculars.. when thousands, hundreds of thousands perhaps even a million seabirds wheeled, and glided effortlessly above us and around us. Guided expertly by Seumas, we swung round the stacks, and across to Boreray. And here the sight of the sky filled with the shapes of thousands of gannets, as the sunlight reflected off the millpond sea was just amazing. I was moved by the words of my father, who said that he’d never expected in his wildest dreams to have had this opportunity, and to see the sights he had.
Seumas is a highly experienced boatman, and as a former fisherman had been out to St Kilda over many years, but he couldn’t remember the conditions ever being that good.
The place is extraordinary, dramatic and stunningly beautiful. To stand on the perilous Gap at the cliff’s edge, and imagine St Kildan men rappelling down this thousand foot sheer drop with just a length of rope tied around their waist to harvest seabirds, is dizzying in the extreme. The monumental cliffs which rise out of the water leave you grasping for words, and the finale of this sensory symphony are the seabirds themselves. I was rendered speechless. I could only mouth helplessly as one staggering vista unfolded into another. Huge flocks of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmar. The occasional great skua trying to mug an unsuspecting gannet of its catch.
I am immensely grateful to Seumas, the crew of the Enchanted Isle for giving up their Sunday for our trip. Vic declared it one of the greatest days of his life. And Vic has had quite a life. Miraculous, he called it ... and maybe it was. I’m not especially religious, but as experiences go, this was approaching the divine. And I got a cracking shot of a gannet.