Louth's Clare Ballantyne updates us on Antarctica postmaster journey

From spotting whales up close to enjoying cosy meals after a long day, a Louth scientist has shared her experiences of working in the UK’s most southerly public post office in Antarctica.
Clare Ballantyne at Port Lockroy.Clare Ballantyne at Port Lockroy.
Clare Ballantyne at Port Lockroy.

Back in October, we brought you the news that Clare Ballantyne, from Louth, is one of four people selected to run the affectionately-named ‘penguin post office’ in Port Lockroy, on Goudier Island, for four months.

Now more than halfway into her great adventure, Clare has provided the Louth Leader with an update on how she has been getting on operating the post office – and her joy of working with penguins, her favourite animals.The average day for Clare and the team, she says, sees them get up at 7am and after breakfast – cooked on a rota basis – the team set up the museum and shop and ensure the landing site steps are ready for guests.

"During the visits I might respond to specific requests for stamps, but generally the four of us swap roles between manning the tills in the shop, talking to visitors and sharing experiences in the museum, and working with the expedition team from the ship to ensure guests minimise their disturbance on the penguins,” Clare explains.

Postmaster Clare at work.Postmaster Clare at work.
Postmaster Clare at work.

"We often empty the post box several times during visits and, if we have time, will hand-cancel the mail behind the till.”

Once the site has closed for the day, the team enjoy dinner together to have a chat about the day’s activities and any exciting wildlife observations.

Clare added: “We also always take the time to debrief and reflect on anything we could do differently as we go forwards to make things easier, better, and safer for ourselves, our visitors, the historic buildings, and the penguins.”

She said that the trip has so far produced some of the best days of her life, from seeing whales rise out of the water very close to us after we boarded a zodiac to return to base from a ship visit, to the Weddell seal appearing directly opposite Bransfield house, rock-pooling during low tide and catching some hot sun for the first time after weeks of snow.

Penguins at Port Lockroy.Penguins at Port Lockroy.
Penguins at Port Lockroy.

"Every day brings an unexpected moment of surprise and excitement - you never quite know what’s going to happen next!” she said, "It’s even more amazing as I imagined, because you can’t imagine this kind of place!”

Operated by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) on behalf of the Post Office, Clare’s job as postmaster not only involves running the post office on the island, processing the upwards of 80,000 postcards sent from estimated 18,000 tourists visiting the island, but she is also be involved in the work by the UKAHT to monitor the effects of climate change on the island’s penguin population.

Clare said that the mission is going “very well indeed”, and that while there are many penguins around them, there are no chicks yet as eggs arrived late because there has been so much snow this year:

"We are working hard and enjoying sharing our experiences and the history of Port Lockroy with all the many visitors that come ashore here.

“We are living amongst the penguins, as guests on their island. There has been high predation of the early eggs but numbers seem to be settling now.”

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