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North Ronaldsay (Scotland)

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Is one of the northernmost of the Orkney Islands, Scotland.

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      18.11.2008 13:51
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      A beautiful remote place which is a place I love.

      Do you fancy going somewhere in the UK which is so remote you have to fly on a tiny plane? Or what about sharing your beach with a seaweed eating sheep?- well if so I can recommend a visit to North Ronaldsay in the north of the chain of the Orkney Islands. Only 3 miles long it is an unspoilt place of natural beauty.

      I went there last year and what an experience that was. You may know from reading my reviews that I love remote places, and am always searching out new destinations where I can sample a taste of the wild side of life.

      One day whilst I was reading a copy of a magazine I have reviewed on Dooyoo called "Scottish Islands Explorer" I came across an article on The Island Of North Ronaldsay and was immediately drawn to the paragraph in which the author reported they had been stranded by low cloud, and the plane was unable to rescue them for a good few hours- great I thought- a place for me.

      So my husband and I set off from Gatwick for the long journey north. First we flew British Airways to Glasgow, then Loganair to Kirkwall, which is the capital of Orkney via a drop off in Inverness. This had already involved three take offs and landings so probably not for the nervous flyer!
      We disembarked at Kirkwall and sat in the lounge waiting for our onward connection.

      Kirkwall airport is extremely comfortable and has been designed with a Celtic theme in mind and is beautiful. Before long our plane was ready. I must tell you that inter-island air services are a lifeline for these remote communities and buying a seat is rather like buying a bus ticket. If you stay overnight the fares are much cheaper. £12 return is all it will cost you for this scenic low flight on an 8 seater aeroplane to sit just behind the pilot. Fantastic! You can also take a ferry if you hate flying.

      The views over the island were fantastic and you could see all the way north towards Fair Isle and Shetland. Landing was easy on a gravel runway and the terminal just a tiny hut.

      We hired a small car and drove to our accommodation which was to be our home for the next 4 days.

      The island is very small only 3 miles in length and only has a population of 70. The bird observatory was established in 1987 and was to be our home. We were met and shown to our room which was very cosy and warm. The observatory caters for bed and breakfast and serves a delicious evening meal. There is an evening bar and the choice of whiskies are wide and varied, and they sell Northern Lights Beer which is locally produced.
      The doctor on the island lives there with his wife and together they run the guest house and also provide posts for assistant bird wardens.
      If you are a keen bird watcher you would love it and the observatory keep a daily blog which covers details of all sightings www.northronbirdobs.blogspot.com

      The best thing about the island for me though are the seaweed eating sheep. We went in April at the start of lambing and helped the islanders bring them off the beaches into pens for lambing. These sheep make the most wonderful wool which is famous the world over and comes in cream through pale grey and café au lait, to chocolate brown and black. They are also the only sheep in the world to exist on seaweed. I had to stop at the island's little shop to buy some gloves and a wooly hat because it reminded me so much of my time there. I often look at it and wonder in amazement how these sheep survive in such an inhospitabable climate on seaweed.

      If you are interested in history there is a brilliant website which tells you so much about the island and this can be found at www.visitorkney.com/orkney_isles/north_ronaldsay.asp

      We met some wonderful people and we drove around the island gazing at empty beaches and felt a sense of complete isolation. It is a community threatened by the problems of depopulation as there are few jobs here for locals.

      In 2000 with the help of a Heritage Fund Lottery grant the island was awarded a £300,000 award to preserve and restore the natural heritage of the island. Work has enabled some vacant lighthouse buildings which were abandoned when the lighthouse was automated to be converted to provide a workshop to process the wool from the sheep.


      It is possible to walk all round the island and this may give you some wonderful sighting of seals and birds. There are many ruins on the island including cottages where if you peak inside you will often see furniture left as if the occupant has just popped outside for a few minutes. You may see whales and dolphins out to sea and in winter-The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

      The lighthouse there is Britain's tallest land based tower and you can arrange a guided tour of it.

      For me the existence of places like these are a miracle. To know that these people survive in these isolated UK outposts is part of what I love about our island. We mustn't forget these people and their lives because St Kilda out west lost all it's inhabitants when the difficulty of survival became too much for the people who had made it theirs for so long.

      When I push my trolley around a big supermarket I think of these outposts waiting for their food deliveries by plane or by sea, and I think it makes me value more what I have and to appreciate what they are doing which is preserving our UK landscapes and customs even in adversity.

      Useful numbers
      North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, Tel. 633200
      Full Board Accommodation at D-E Garso House Tel. 633244 -also for cottage, car and bicycle hire)
      www.island-cottage.co.uk for a lovely cottage you can hire.

      The Burrian Inn and Restaurant is the island's pub, and also serves food.
      Camping is possible on the island, contact, Tel. 633222.
      Loganair
      www.loganair.co.uk for flights.

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