See and Do on North Ronalsdsay
You can read through the things to see and do below, or click here to use the interactive map
Visitors who choose to travel to North Ronaldsay via sea will arrive at the Nouster Pier. Ferry service to and from North Ronaldsay are operated by Orkney Ferries (to view their current sailing schedules, click here). On “steamer days,” as the islanders call them, the pier is a bustling place with the on and off loading of goods, livestock, and even Tractors. Visitors to North Ronaldsay can even arrange to have their own car brought out to the island. A waiting room with toilet facilities is located at the head of the pier for the convenience of travelers.
The Standing stone or “Stan Stane” is a monolith perforated with a hole and stands in a field a short distance from Nouster pier. The stone measures approximately thirteen feet high and its hole may have been a sighting hole for another stone or a celestial event. According to folktales, the hole was made by a giant woman who found the stone on the beach, stuck her finger through it, and went onto the land and planted it into the ground. The stone is the centre of an ancient North Ronaldsay New Year tradition where the islanders gather, and according to Rev William Clouston in 1795, "The writer of this has seen fifty of the inhabitants assembled there on the first day of the year, and dancing with moonlight, with no other music than their own singing.” This practices is still occasionally seen on new year’s day at the present time.
The dyke is regarded by Historic Scotland as â€™probably the largest drystone construction conceived of as a single entity in the worldâ€™. It is over 12 miles in length, and stands some two metres high â€“ enough to deter a â€˜louperâ€™ (jumping sheep). It is listed Grade A by Historic Scotland and highlighted in the Buildings At Risk Register for Scotland. It was completed in 1832 to confine the native sheep to the foreshore and so protect the cultivated land and crops from their wanderings.
At its inception, the population of the island provided sufficient manpower to undertake a project on this scale, especially since traditional kelp gathering and burning was in decline and gave rise to â€˜spare handsâ€™. Once built, the dyke required regular attention to be an effective barrier. The rules of the islandâ€™s Sheep Court therefore laid down procedures for sharing the responsibilities and tasks of maintaining the integrity of the dyke upon which the existence of the native sheep relied. This tried and tested system sufficed for many generations and the sheep dyke stood proudly as a symbol of vision and enterprise. For more information about the Sheepdyke and its ongoing preservation, visit the Orkney Sheep Foundation.
North Ronaldsay's exposed position and rich wildlife habitats make it ideally placed to receive a diverse array of migrant birds as they arrive in Britain from their journeys over the North Sea. The islands's potential as a place to observe and study bird migration has been renowned since the late nineteenth Century, ultimately leading to the establishment of the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory in 1987. Some locations for viewing birds include: Holland Gardens, Ancum loch, and along all of the beaches of the island. The staff of the NRBO provide year round assistance and accomodation to those visitors wishing to experience this aspect of the Island. Visit the NRBO's main site for more information on a birdwatching vacation on North Ronaldsay.
There is no better way to experience the charming sights and sounds of North Ronaldsay than at your own pace on a bicycle. See the local wildflowers and animals, breath the unparralled fresh air and enjoy the big sea and sky views. The NRT offers a fleet of well-maintained bicycles for rental. Sizes are available for adults and children alike. To have bicycles delivered to you when you arrive at the pier or airport, click here.
Located at Dennis Head, in the northeast of the island, the Old Beacon is an historic monument and iconic silhouette visible from anywhere on the island. There is a rich history associated with this monument. The light was first established in 1789 by Thomas Smith. It was to be the first of many island lighthouses for Smith (he had previously worked on the lights at Kinnaird Head and Mull of Kintyre). Smith received assistance with the North Ronaldsay light from Ezekiel Walker and from his stepson Robert Stevenson. In 1809 with the construction of other nearby lighthouses it was decided that the North Ronaldsay light was no longer required and it was extinguished. The round stone tower was retained as a sea-mark, however, and the original beacon chamber at the top replaced by a vaulted roof capped by a remarkable ball finial. The stone spiral staircase which once led to the beacon was demolished. The original keepers' houses, roofless but largely complete, survive below the tower. In 2006, it was one of the neglected buildings selected for the Restoration TV series.
The new lighthouse was built in 1852 and is situated at the Point of Sinsoss on the north shore of the island. Visitors to the new lighthouse can enjoy a guided tour of the lighthouse including an optional stairmaster-like jaunt to the top (burns at least 300 calories!) of Britain's tallest land-based lighthouse. There are fun interactive displays to enjoy while learning about the locals, sea faring and lighthouse keepers. Find out more about the famous Stevenson lighthouse family, view the foghorns and practice morse code in the beautiful ambiance of this beautifully maintained lighthouse complex. All exhibitions are free and are open from 10am to 5pm daily from 1st May to 31st August. At other dates the times will vary. Contact either 01857 633297 or 07526629654 for further information.
Tour this small local wool mill owned and operated by North Ronaldsay native Jane Donnelly. The mill is located at the lighthouse complex and offers a wide range of natural colors of natural high quality yarns, batts, rovings, and felt all produced from the island's rare breed of seaweed eating sheep. To arrange for a tour of the wool mill or learn more about A Yarn From North Ronaldsay, click here or contact Peter or Jane at 01857 633297 or 01857 633242.
Located at the New Lighthouse at the north end of the Island, the gift shop offers a wonderful array of North Ronaldsay and lighthouse related products. You are sure to find truly unique gifts for your loved ones as well as something special to remind you of your visit to North Ronaldsay. You will find lovely wool products from rovings, felt and yarn produced in the wool mill next door. There is also a wide selection of knitwear produced by the skilled knitters of North Ronaldsay. The Gift Shop also carries the beautiful textile work of Freda Bayne from Kirkwall. Freda dyes North Ronaldsay yarn with dyewood from the shipwreck of the Svecia which famously sunk off the island in 1740. There are many more treasures to discover in the Gift Shop such as fleeces of the North Ronaldsay sheep, prints by local artists, Orkney Crystal whisky and wine glasses etched with the New Lighthouse and Old Beacon, and mugs and plates depicting North Ronaldsay Sheep, lighthouses, and the sailing vessel Svecia to name a few. There is truly something for everyone in this charming shop.
The CafÃ© is situated in the Old Principles Lighthouse Keepers accommodation, offering diners views over the north shore taking in the Seal Skerry and the North Sea including Fair Isle. The cafÃ© is Orkneyâ€™s most northerly licensed premises with Wifi available free to all visitors. The cafÃ© is open for Lunch and dinner services as well as offering a take away/delivery service, fresh bread, and handmade chocolates. The cafÃ© produces a wide variety of freshly cooked options including North Ronaldsay Mutton as well as using a variety of other Orkney products such as cheeses, meats, and milled products.
Lunch 1st May â€“ 31st August 10:30am-4:00pm daily outside of these dates times will vary Dinner service is available throughout the year and it is recommended to contact the cafÃ© to confirm evening opening times and availability. Take Aways and Home Deliveries are available throughout the year from Thursday to Saturday between 5-7pm. Fresh Bread 1st May 31st August - Place your orders with the cafe Hand Made Chocolates â€“ Available through the cafÃ© Please see menus and drinks lists below. Please note the evening menu will vary throughout the year. Please contact the CafÃ© on 01857 633297 or 07526629654 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information and reservations.
From time to time art and craft exhibits will be open to the public for viewing and purchase of artists works. Over recent years exhibits have been staged at the croft of Nouster, Veracott, and the Old Manse. Most recently, in conjuction with the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival, an exciting pop-up art exhibition entitled A Sense of Place took place at the Old Manse, North Ronaldsay, from 24th July to 9th August 2016. Works of many contemporary Orkney artist were displayed and appreciated.
From periwinkles, to "grodie buckies," to limpets and a thousand others to boot, the beaches and tidepools of North Ronaldsay offer beachcombers a treasure trove of beautiful shells. Bring a little box and some white glue and your children can create a keepsake box, decorated with shells they find themselves during your stay. One of the best shell beaches is Ryas Geo, located on the west side of the Island. Just take the road down from the the croft of Antebreck, climb the "slap" and walk to your right for about a quarter mile. While you are at Ryas Geo, visit the "fairy well" where you can drop a coin in and make a wish. Legend has it that the fairies come overnight and remove the coin, granting your wish. You may need a local to help you find this little wishing well. Watch your step, as the rocks, especially greenish colored ones, on the West Banks can be slippery!
Visitors can arrange to play round of golf on the links above the West Banks. Natural obstacles and the flock native seaweed-eating sheep become part of the fun in one of the most unusual, remote, and wild courses in the world !click here or contact Peter or Jane at 01857 633297 or 01857 633242 to reserve your time on the links! To learn more about the NRT's plans to expand the existing 9-hole course to a full 18, click here.
If you haven't been to a tide pool lately, the North Ronaldsay beaches boast many home to hundreds of aquatic and beach plants and animals. Explore these rich eco-systems accompanied by hundreds of sea birds soaring overhead. The West Banks and Linklet Bay are great tide pool environments. A timeless enjoyment for children and adults of all ages. Bring your wellingtons!
A summer visit to the island could mean the opportunity to attend and observe a North Ronaldsay pund wherein the island sheep are driven along the shores into stone enclosures where they are clipped of their fleeces. The renowned flock of seaweed-eating sheep is special also because they are communally tended, one of the last of its type in all the U.K. To find out if your visit to the island will coincide with punding contact Peter Donnolly at 01857 633297 or 01857 633242.
In a world where night sky are become less visible because of the ever-brighter city lights, North Ronaldsay is ideally situated miles from any major light sources. The Milky Way, the Aurora Borealis (locally known as the "Merrie Dancers" ) and the full glory of night skies unpolluted by light will make a lasting impression on anyone who views them. The NRT has recently acquired a communal telescope and will endeavor to secure funding for a portable planetarium Skylab to enrich our visitors study of the heavens. But such high-tech skywatcher pales to the extrodanary views afforded by the naked eye on any nighttime walk.
The people of North Ronaldsay have long been called the "selkies" or seal people. There are many places to view seals and they will often accompany you as you walk the island beaches. A tip: if you sing to them they will on occasion sing back! Some great places on the Island to view seals are on the rocks below Hooking Farm, Nouster Beach, and Linklet Bay.
Holland House was built in the mid-18th Centry for James Traill, an Edinburgh lawyer who purchased the island in 1727, as the seat of the island's Laird. its location, Holllandstoun (meaning high ground), was chosen for its dominant, elevated setting and views over the Southern point of the island, and it appears on the very first edition of the Ordinance Survey map in 1882. Until the 1967 Crofting Reform Act, North ronaldsay was the last remaining estate-owned island in Orkney.
Holland House was extended to the south in 1872 and again to the west in 1905, with the addition of a castellated tower. The house is still owned by James Traillâ€™s direct descendants, and when in residence the towerâ€™s flagpole flies the nautical flag for the letter â€™Tâ€™, a family tradition that continues today.
The houseâ€™s extensive walled gardens are of significant importance as they provide the only sizeable concentration of trees and shrubs (mainly fuchsia and sycamore) on the island, and therefore make it an appealing stopover for migrant birds.
Spring and summer on the Island of North Ronaldsay offfer the visitor a spendid array of windflowers and other flora. From Seapinks on the West Banks to Grass of Parnassus, Purple Eyebright, and Trefoil peaking out from the base of stone dykes, the Island offers a rich and attractive landscape for naturalists, young and old, to explore. In some of the walled gardens on the island other species of plants, trees, and shrubs can be found, all adapting their forms to the windy, sea environment.
After a day of exploring the island's sites, there is no better place to unwind, enjoy a dram, and even listen to local musicians. The observatory's spacious bar stocks a wide selection of quality wines, beers and spirits and is open to residents and non-residents. Digital projection and videoconferencing equipment is available and the whole facility is ideal for private functions, lectures, meetings etc. Wi-Fi internet access is also available.
Meals are served in the large conservatory, with views of Sanday and other Orkney islands across the North Ronaldsay Firth. Evening meals are communal with guests and observatory staff eating together. A TV lounge is also available for the use of visitors, and contains a range of books, DVDs and board games.
NRBO was established in 1987 to study and record the migrant birds that pass through Orkney's most northerly island each year. The number and variety of birds that arrive here on migration in Spring and Autumn can be spectacular, and North Ronaldsay is well-known as one of the best birdwatching sites in the country. The observatory also provides a variety of comfortable accommodation, including guest house, general shop, hostel and camping area, for visitors to the island. For more information and to book your stay, contact the NRBO.
As you travel around the shores of North Ronaldsay, the native sheep will be an ever-present part of landscape as they clatter across the stones, climb the ledges of rock faces, and chew on strands of seaweed. They are an ancient breed, small and hardy, and they are confined to the seashore by the drystone dyke encircling the island, they survive on a diet of seaweed to which they have become adapted.
The native sheep of North Ronaldsay are the only domesticated sheep still to be managed under a communal system of farming in which key events in the shepherding calendar bring together the whole community. At such times the island workforce gathers the sheep on the foreshore into drystone enclosures known as punds (pounds) and traditionally, this process of â€˜pundingâ€™ occurs three times in each year: in June or July for shearing; at New Year to select for market and in February to â€˜scoreâ€™ or carry out a head count. North Ronaldsay sheep belong to the ancient northern short-tailed group of breeds and bones of similar animals dating from the Neolithic have been found at Skara Brae.
For more information on these unique and facinating sheep please visit the Orkney Sheep Foundation.
North Ronaldsay was notorious for shipwrecks, and with the growth of shipping traffic in the 17th and 18th centuries, they became ever more frequent. The first recorded wreck is of the Spanish galleon from which the suposed Westray Dons survived, which was probably lost in the Dennis RÃ¶st. The Swedish East Indiaman, Svecia went ashore on the Reef Dyke, east of Stomness in November 1740, only thirteen survivors making it to the shore. Much of the valuable cargo of silk and other goods was salvaged. Underwater archaeology work in 1976 brought up many interesting finds. In 1744 the Danish East Indiaman, the Crown Prince, went ashore at Savie Geo but this time her crew and cargo were saved. Three of her cannon still guard the lawn at Holland House , which has been in the Traill family since 1727.
One part of the cargo of the Svecia was dyewood, a now extinct hardwood species used in the past to dye cloth. If you have a sharp eye and a bit of determination, this wood can still be found along the beaches of the north end of the island. The wood's exterior weathers to a pale grey, but when a few shaving are taken off with a pen knife the wood reveled is an intense purple colour.
Near the farm of Howar is the Broch of Burrian. This site is part of an extensive Iron Age and possibly Norse settlement on the point of Strom Ness at the southern tip of the Island. This broch and its associated earthworks occupy a good defensive position, and was inhabited until at least the 9th century. During the 1880's the site was excavated, revealing underground chambers and storage cists as well as and the famous Burrian Cross which was discovered along with two Ox bones inscribed with Pictish symbols and other celtic objects. To schedule a visit to the Broch, contact June Morris at 01857 633 253 or email here.
Many sights and experience on North Ronaldsay are constant: The Old Beacon stands watch over the north end of the Island; The sea crashes against the West Banks; the great open horizon expands in all directions; the sheep clatter across the rocks. But what makes a visit to North Ronaldsays truly memorable are the surprises that each visitor will find. Perhaps it is a walrus that basks for a few days on Nouster beach and then is gone, or the message in a bottle that is wedged between two rocks, or the strange skeleton of a fish, or the conversation with an islander. Plan a trip to this unique island and let North Ronaldsay surprise you!