We flew to North Ronaldsay by the ‘Flying Landrover’ – the nickname for the Islander aircraft that links the Orkney island of North Ronaldsay with Kirkwall, the Orkney ‘capital’. It has, oh, eight seats, or nine if you get to sit next to the pilot. There are no in-flight movies offered.
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I’d never flown in such a small plane on a scheduled flight. I couldn’t help but notice as I climbed into the thing that one of the tyres on the landing gear looked soft. But what do I know? Anyway, 18 minutes after we took off from Kirkwall we hit the gravel of the North Ronaldsay strip, the plane veered right, then pilot corrected and all was well. Later we heard it had suffered a puncture – and one that I’ve dined out on ever since. Hey, intrepid adventurer, or what?
North Ronaldsay is the most northerly island of the Orkney archipelago. We spent a day wandering around, trying hard not to look like serious birders. This was difficult as my travelling companion was carrying a tripod and a telescope.
I’ve tried to record this island honestly, though the temptation, as the sun was shining, is to photograph it as a pastoral idyll – but then, I blame the sheep for that. Ah, yes, the North Ronaldsay sheep – the little sheep that trace their heritage via the Vikings back to Neolithic domesticity.
In fact, the sheep give the island its special ambience, or smell, in this case. These woolly beasts are genetically disposed to munch seaweed. They are kept on the shore by a dyke (a wall) that is itself a protected monument and stretches for 13 miles all around. It creeps a bit inland at the delectable Linklet Bay, (pictured above the sheep pic), where the sheep nibble the sward and make it as flat as a golf course green (pictured above). We later discovered that, in fact, it is also a golf course, though we didn’t see any holes as such. But then, this island does its own thing.
We headed off for the north end of the island, where there are two lighthouses, a very early one being restored as a historic structure – the third built in Scotland by the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners back in 1789. The other, dating from 1854, is the tallest land-based light in Scotland.
Just as interesting, up at the north end are the remains of what the information board said were unique to Orkney – circular stone enclosures for protecting young cabbage-things. In Orkney they are called ‘crues’. In spite of the board’s information, they are not unique and serve much the same purpose in Shetland, where, spelled in a variety of ways, they are ‘plantie-cruives’, also a ‘Google-whack’, by the way. (If you are a guidebook writer, there’s nothing worse than duff information on an official info board. Yes, I’m over-reacting, I know.)
Plantie-cruives, or crues, pictured above, with Fair Isle in between on the horizon, faintly. And everywhere, the sheep. Wait a minute, a chance to reduce the population. North Ronaldsay Mutton Pie is on the menu at the cafe below the lighthouse.
Wait another minute though, there’s a notice in the cafe that says the guy in charge has just gone off to check his lobster pots. It’s lunchtime and, well, that’s funny - he was here a minute ago and sold us two skeins of native wool. And furthermore, isn’t that him walking across the field in a wet-suit, carrying a surf board? What the......? And how is he going to pull up creels from a surf board? What kind of an island is this?
We'll tell you in part two of our North Ronaldsay adventure, so click on the link. (Cue dramatic music.....) Oh, and here's another link to North Ronaldsay sheep. Though you end up there via the link above as well. (Nifty site navigation, eh?)
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Scotland in Three Days