• james@jamesharding.net

Category ArchiveGuest Blogs

North Ronaldsay

New Years Day on the Island of North Ronaldsay – Guest Post

North Ronaldsay

New Year’s Day

​It’s a North Ronaldsay tradition, that on New Years Day at around 3 in the afternoon, we gather around the standing stone, at the edge of a field with a mysterious neatly cut but off-centre hole. I’m not sure anyone really knows what this standing stone or the hole is about but every year we anoint the hole with a dram!

Once everyone has arrived, we hold hands in a circle around the stone with a bit of accordion music, played by an islander to keep us in time! We go around in one direction, then change, we might do this a couple of times, depending on how cold the accordion player is getting!
After the dancing, we’ll pass around every bottle of whiskey that’s been brought and take a nip from each one, I was pleased to discover that it isn’t an old wives tale that a tot of whiskey warms the cockles! After 3 nips, I was pleasantly warm again, so we went for another turn around the stone!

North Ronaldsay North Ronaldsay

Finally breaking up and making our way up the island to the home of Ian Scott; North Ronaldsay’s born and bred artists, sculptor and co-organiser to some of our biggest social events through the winter months.
I’m reliably told that 20 people attended the dance, all of which partook in a dram and some cake at Ian’s, a few people came later and there would’ve been people coming and going for much of the day. It’s a lovely cosy atmosphere for bringing in the New Year, tucked up around a roaring fire, a dram in one hand and a selection of cake, biscuits and crackers making the rounds.

Not to toot our own horn but when North Ronaldsay puts on a doo, we do make an effort and that effort has been translated through the generations, as was obvious last night with native islanders, kids and grandkids of native islanders, incomers, friends and family of the incomers all gathering together to see in the New Year together. It’s really quite an incredible thing that so many people from different walks of life have woven themselves into the fabric of this small island and it’s traditions. We’ve all thrown our lot in with the natives and incomers that have come to mean the world to each other.

The connections made through life define us and I’d wager there are few places left in the world where such a strong sense of community still lives. On this 5 mile long island, with a population of 50 or so, everyone knows each other, everyone knows each others business, every aspect of our lives is interwoven into everyone else’s and because of that unity, the people who live here will never be just fellow islanders, we’re family.

Read More about North Ronaldsay – www.northronaldsaytrust.com

Blog Post By: Sarah Moore @ https://islandontheedge.wordpress.com/

North Ronaldsay Ferry

Life on North Ronaldsay – Part 2

Here I am again – my 2nd blog after a successful movie night!

We had a meeting on the island last week with Volunteer Action Orkney – a small organisation dedicated to finding small pots of money for little projects around the Orkney Islands.

We had an extremely good turn out at the meeting and the idea of a regular movie/night and get together seemed more popular than I’d expected.

So that lit the fire under three of us, we got together and set up the projector in the community centre and called around the island. I supplied the movies, the nurse supplied the refreshments, and the newest incomer to North Ronaldsay supplied the technical know-how.

13 people sat around the silver screen watching Eddie Redmayne’s fantastic portrayal of the life of Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. We decided, like it was ‘back in the day’ that we would have a movie night every fortnight with tea/coffee and biscuits to end the evening.

Here’s hoping that the North Ronaldsay movie night grows from here to be a night we all look forward to!

Read More about North Ronaldsay – www.northronaldsaytrust.com

Blog Post By: Sarah Moore

North Ronaldsay Sheep

Life on North Ronaldsay – Guest Post

North Ronaldsay

What a way to start off this blog than right after a successful punding!

Allow me to explain:

I live on the small remote island of North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. The island is around 5 miles long by 4 miles wide and has a dwindling population of around 50 people. I came to live here from Edinburgh almost 2 years ago and haven’t looked back since!

The charm of this island really can’t be put into words, which means a lot coming from me – words are a passion of mine but I’m afraid to truly understand this island, you just have to come here.

We have a regular flights to the island, roughly 3 a day in the summer and down to 2 most days in the winter. The airfield is staffed by 3 trained fire-fighters, so don’t be alarmed when 2 of them dressed in full fire-fighting PPE greet you after you arrive! It’s only a precaution, I assure you, we’ve never had an incident here!

We also have a ferry a week in the winter and 2 in the summer. We don’t have a link span so all vehicles must be lifted off the boat via a crane! Again, this is not something to panic about; it’s perfectly routine for these parts. I personally find it’s a great photographic opportunity – when else are you going to get such a good look at the underside of your car?

North Ronaldsay Ferry

So that’s getting to the island covered, from mainland Orkney of course, you will still need to hop on a ferry or flight to get to Orkney but that’s relatively straight forward and I’ll get to that later.

Now that you’re on the island, you will find a bird observatory by the pier, offering accommodation, meals, the local shop and most importantly… The bar!

Further up the island, you’ll find the airport, the clinic and the post office in the heart of the island. We have archives of island’s unique history in the kirk next to the clinic. You’re welcome to pop in any time and peruse the exhibits, it’s open all year round, free entry.

If you’ve heard anything about North Ronaldsay before, watch Countryfile or Landward then you must have seen our iconic red and white lighthouse at the north end of the island – the tallest land based lighthouse in the UK and you would have heard about the native seaweed eating sheep currently grazing, or in this weather, perhaps sheltering around the shoreline of the island.

Which brings me back to punding: in the summer the native sheep, a rare breed of sheep adapted perfectly to survive on a diet of seaweed are brought in from the shore to have and raise their lambs on pasture. When these lambs are around 6 months old, they with their mothers will go back onto the shore shortly after the first winter storms bring the seaweed ashore.

North Ronaldsay Sheep
The male sheep, mostly wethers (castrated rams) will stay on the shore for the rest of their lives but come next spring, the ewe’s will be pregnant again and brought inland.

The sheep survive; in fact they thrive, on the shore, gorging themselves on the seaweed they love. They are a primitive breed and are well equipped to look after themselves and for the most part are left alone to do as sheep do.
However, every now and again the sheep must be sent to market. We get an order from, in this case, the Faroe Islands requesting a number of sheep – the word is spread around the island and at high tide, we meet at one of the punds (of which there are 5 around the island). Stone enclosures, built in a similar fashion to the famous 13 miles of dry stone dyke encircling the entire island, keeping the sheep on the foreshore.

It requires the entire community to come together to ‘caa’ the sheep into the punds. The fattest sheep are then chosen, weighed, their tag numbers taken and recorded then released into a waiting trailer.

Today, thankfully this only took a couple of hours but I have been involved where it’s gone on to almost midnight – the punding was scheduled for 11am but a couple went up early to set up and for the first time, since I’ve been here anyway, the sheep decided to co-operate with us and just those 2 people were able to get the sheep into the punds before any of us arrived!

It was still a cold, wet and muddy job sorting through the sheep and as they were being sheltered either by the dyke or inside the trailer we were out standing when the heaven’s opened up and soaked us through again!

Despite the typical Ronaldsay weather, the camaraderie among the islanders stayed the same; working quickly together, fuelled on by the bag of sweets in Winnie’s pocket! We got it done and, like cats, curled up in front of the fire warming our hands on a big mug of steaming hot coffee.

Read More about North Ronaldsay – www.northronaldsaytrust.com

Blog Post By: Sarah Moore

North Ronaldsay Lighthouse