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Look out for St Kilda mailboat

St Kilda's latest mailboat

People visiting Scotland’s beaches are being urged by the National Trust for Scotland to look out for a tiny wooden mailboat which was launched from St Kilda yesterday (Sunday 29 August) to mark the 80th anniversary of the evacuation of the islands.

Staff from the conservation charity say the vessel, which is similar to those used by St Kildans in the past to communicate with the outside world, could wash up anywhere almost anywhere on the coastlines of Scotland or Scandinavia.

“We suspect the boat is likely to turn up somewhere in the Western Isles,” said Susan Bain, who manages St Kilda for the National Trust for Scotland, “however, it’s not unusual for them to turn up in Orkney or further afield. I launched one recently and it was found in Northern Norway.”

The mail boat, which has small sail and has been painted green and red, bears the words: “ST KILDA MAIL PLEASE OPEN”.

“Anyone finding the mail boat will be in for a nice surprise, as it contains a year’s free membership of the National Trust for Scotland,” added Susan.

“It also contains postcards which we hope the finder will send on to our Patron, HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, and Norman John Gillies [85], one of the last surviving former residents of St Kilda.

“Mailboats are a poignant symbol of the isolation faced by St Kildans, a major factor in the evacuation of the islands, so we felt it was appropriate to commemorate the anniversary in this way.”

St Kildans fashioned mailboats out of a wide variety of waterproof containers, including bottles and cocoa tins. They were traditionally kept afloat by an inflated sheep’s bladder. The first mailboat was sent out as a distress signal in a time of famine by John Sands, a journalist, who was stranded on St Kilda during winter of 1876.

Mailboats are now sent by conservation work parties as part of the ritual of visiting St Kilda. They are carried by the Gulf Stream and usually reach land in Scotland or Scandinavia. Around 2/3rd of all mailboats are found. A recent mailboat sent with greetings to the new Scottish Parliament arrived within a few weeks.

Anyone finding the 80th Anniversary mail boat is urged to follow the instructions inside.

The last 36 remaining residents of St Kilda requested to be evacuated to the mainland. They left the islands on 29 August 1930, ending around 4,000 years of habitation on the island.

“In addition to its duel World Heritage status, St Kilda has been designated a National Nature Reserve, a National Scenic Area, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Community Special Protected Area,” added Susan. “The Trust is immensely proud of the work it does to preserve and enhance such a unique and important environment.”

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