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The Puff Inn

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Puff Inn sign, St Kilda, 2003
Puff Inn sign, St Kilda
© Paul Evans

The Puff Inn, on the island of Hirta in the St Kilda archipelago, was known as one of the most remote pubs in Britain until 2005,[1] when it was ruled strictly off limits to visitors without prior MoD approval. The result being that its patrons only number around a dozen, staff based on St Kilda to operate tracking facilities linked to the Army missile testing range on Benbecula.

Visitors to the island had previously been permitted access to the facilities, but increasing concerns over security led to an announcement by defence company QinetiQ that the canteen, originally opened as a NAAFI catering facility, and never a pub or licensed premises, to give soldiers posted to the island somewhere to relax, would no longer be available to members of the public.

In its early days, the Puff Inn has its own currency, Kilda pounds, described as old washers with numbers stamped on them.

The following statement was issued by QinetiQ, approved by the MoD (DTEG):

The MOD leases areas of St Kilda from the National Trust for Scotland and QinetiQ, in turn, operates and manages these areas on behalf of the MOD under a Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA). These areas create an extension to the QinetiQ operated MOD owned Air Range on the Hebrides and are essential for the delivery of vital test, evaluation and training to the UK armed forces.

The ‘Puff Inn’ is a canteen facility for use by QinetiQ and MOD staff and their contractors, and NTS sponsored staff only. It is not open to members of the public. The name ‘Puff Inn’ is a colloquial term for this facility which has been used, misleadingly, for a number of years. It never was, or will be, a licensed public house or ‘Inn’.

When QinetiQ took over the management of areas of St Kilda from the MOD, it was evident that, historically, members of the public had been allowed to use the canteen and toilet facilities. Members of the public are not allowed to use facilities at other QinetiQ operated MOD owned sites (or indeed any military establishment) and it was vital that procedures were tightened up to ensure the St Kilda site is managed in accordance with standard MOD practice. Therefore the public – day trippers, divers, yacht crews etc are not entitled to use QinetiQ managed facilities on St Kilda.

Naturally, in the case of an emergency, QinetiQ, the MOD and the NTS will work together to ensure that assistance is given to member(s) of the public. Medical facilities have been and still are available for treatment should a member of the public, for whatever reason, require vital medical attention.

- QinetiQ statement

Licence application

Although it was clearly not followed through, we have been passed a news item which suggests there was an intention to formally licence the facility in 2001:

St Kilda pub To Be Licensed

by Iain Maciver, news reporter, Stornoway.

THE remotest pub in Europe is to apply for a drinks licence for the very first time next month (June, 2001).

Neighbourhood objections to the bid for a hotel licence by the Puff Inn on St Kilda, 41 miles out in the Atlantic from the Western Isles of Scotand, are not expected.

How they will enforce closing time, however, could be an interesting challenge for the authorities.

Apart from the handful of work parties from island owner The National Trust for Scotland, and visiting yachtsmen and divers, the island is mainly occupied by puffins, fulmars, gannets and flocks of rare sheep.

Until two years ago, the Army ran St Kilda, where the Royal Artillery has a missile tracking station, before it handed management over to the quango Defence Establishment Research Agency (DERA).

Under Crown exemptions, DERA did not need a standard alcohol licence for the famous wee bar in the former Army base which it operates.

- Anon


1 Puff Inn closes to visitors, BBC News, August 9, 2005.

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Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-



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