North Ronaldsay, March 2013 – Part 4

Most of you know that the North Ronaldsay sheep live on the shore on a diet of seaweed, and many of you know that they are kept there by a 6 foot high dyke, or wall, all round the island.

Early in the year, a big storm from the east, coupled with very high tides, smashed a long length of wall, totally destroying it. Then a couple of weeks later, a storm from the west took out another long length from the west of the island. Several kilometres of wall are down and will have to be replaced – a huge undertaking.

North Ronaldsay east dyke down

North Ronaldsay east dyke down close up

North Ronaldsay east dyke down close up 2

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And in that pic, see the sheep eating seaweed?…

seaweed eating sheep

Meantime, the islanders are replacing the dyke with shire wire fencing to keep most of the sheep off the good grass. However, the North Ronaldsay sheep are good at jumping fences (and walls!) and that is only a short term solution.

North Ronaldsay east dyke down and new fence and sheep

North Ronaldsay east dyke down and new fence

I went to take pix of the damage on the east side and on the way back down the island I came across a scene which typifies the breed. In places the new fence is a couple of feet inside the old dyke. There was a very cold easterly blowing hard, and there, between the remains of the dyke and the new fence, were a group of sheep sheltering from the wind!

sheep seltering between broken dyke and new fence

Yesterday I went round to the west of the island. Here, too, long lengths of the dyke are down.

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New fencing has been put up in places, but rebuilding will take years. Mark and Simon from the Bird Observatory were rebuilding by the Gretchan hide, but even with some of the fallen stone to hand, it is desperately slow – not any old stone will do – they need to sit firmly, and interlock with their neighbours. There is no point in rebuilding something which will be blown over by the wind – it needs to be done properly, hopefully to last for many more years.

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15 thoughts on “North Ronaldsay, March 2013 – Part 4

  1. Those must have been some incredible storms. Who actually owns the sheep now? Are they restricted from the ‘good grass’ because it is not thiers to graze on? What is the good grass used for?
    How does it work. Does the Laird there–if there is still one– own the inside grass and have sheep of his own? I have some of the wool from those sheep, from the mill there. It is lovely.

    1. The sheep outside the dyke are in communal flocks, or cowgangs. Each croft is allowed a certain number, decided communally.

      If they get too much good grass it can kill them. And the grass is needed for other animals.

  2. urghs, I know all about replacing stone walls (we have quite a few of those ourselves) – and I also know that it is back braking work and not as easy as it looks either! over the years we’ve repaired quite a bit – but not on a scale like that! how many people do they employ to restore that length?

  3. I just got home after wintering in the south, and have so enjoyed catching up on your blog–especially this entry, with all the great pictures. Thank you so much. I just got through bragging to my neighbors about the North Ronaldsay yarn and my shawl that is made with it.

    1. I was there a couple of days ago and thought of you… There has been quite a bit of erosion – but no sign of anything textile of interest. Some ancient animal bones embedded in the clay, and the burnt layer is MUCH more obvious at one point. And new stonework has been uncovered.

      But no spindle whorls, broken or whole… yet…!!!


  4. Hi Liz, I was sorry to hear about the dykes around the Islandof North Ronaldsay I have wonderfull memories of there, unfortunatley Horst does not, as he has been diagnosed as having Dimentia, however my thoughts and prayers are with everyone on the Island. Muriel Peter

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