I want to kick off this blog with a reflection of the year gone by.
This was my second year on the remote island of North Ronaldsay and what a year it’s been! I’ve become a part of this little community of 50 people. In the short time I’ve been here, I have learned an incredible amount of new skills, conquered fears, and matured into a person I can be proud of. None of this would have been possible without the help and support of the islanders of North Ronaldsay.
With their support, their time, and their knowledge, I’ve learned how to care for the rare native breed of seaweed eating sheep; I’ve taken part in one of the last examples of communal farming methods left in the UK, known as ‘punding’. I’ve become a fire-fighter at my local airport; I’ve become a home carer to the elderly and infirm on the island; I’ve helped mix the cement for our new terminal building; driven a tractor for the first time; lived on my own; stepped forward into the spotlight for a chance at saving this island from the gradual decline we are all facing here together.
The island has come together for 2 funerals, marking a great loss to our community and our loved ones but we’ve also never been closer than we have this year with everyone expressing ideas and hopes for the future and others doing what they can to make that a reality.
We have celebrated many successes this year, from humble move and books clubs to much more impressive achievements in the form of film crews documenting the incredible contributions one man has made to this community through his passionate love for this island and his determination never to give up on it.
If you want to know more about the inspiring story of a simple man on a small Orkney Island please check out episode 6 of ITV’s Real Stories and 2016’s Pride of Britain award. At 67 Billy Muir shows no sign of slowing down and has inspired me to help carry this island into what we can only hope will be a bright future.
That’s not the only thing we celebrate this year though. An charity, the Orkney Sheep Foundation, set up early in the year by a group of life-long friends that share a love of North Ronaldsay held, with the help of the local islanders, North Ronaldsay’s first Sheep Festival.
Events were run by locals from felting workshops to artists walks and treasure hunts. Accommodation throughout the entire island was filled with volunteers from far and wide answering our call for help. The 13 mile sheep dyke, the only one of its kind, that encircles the entire island keeping the sheep on the foreshore to gorge on the seaweed, was and still is in desperate need of repair. Once upon a time, the island supported some 500 people, more than enough to maintain the dyke and shear several thousand sheep but not anymore.
Instead dozens of people, strangers to us and to each other travelled from their homes, their families to our little island here to help rebuild a dry stone dyke and shear the native sheep alongside the young and old of the island. The kindness and strength of character it took for them to sign up for something none of them had ever done before in a place they have never been to before can’t possibly be overstated. The gratitude we feel towards these volunteers will stay with us until next year when many of them, now friends of the island will come back to help again.
One of the volunteers wrote a poem of her experience during the Sheep Festival, I’d like to share it here:
Ode to North Ronaldsay Sheep Fest 2016
A long time ago in a faraway land…………
There were lots of people around to give a hand.
But population declined as time went on
And the high winds blew and that wind was strong
And parts of a dyke built in 1832
Fell down, fell in and the sheep went through:
they left the shoreline and went into pasture
and there grazed on grass, which was a disaster!
For a diet of seaweed and grass do not mix –
The sheep species is endangered- this needed a fix!
A newly founded organisation and folk from the isle
Got together to plan and were on Country file…
The facts were presented; the message was clear:
If you want to help us, then get on up here!
Emails were sent, ideas unfurled…..
For a Sheep Festival – here !! – in this part of the world.
Volunteers planned breaks , booked flights and beds
And many travelled by ferry instead.
Well done to all who have played a part
Whether building or baking or displaying art;
the activities programme was varied and wide –
many walked around the island, some fished at high tide.
We’ve spent time on North Ronaldsay, it’s now on our map
And do you know what? ‘ you guessed it?
We’re gonna be back!
Next year’s Sheep Festival dates have already been confirmed, clear a space in your calendar from 31st July and 11th August 2017 and come to North Ronaldsay for an unforgettable experience. Even if you can only spare a few days here, I assure you it will make a tremendous difference to us!
I could write forever about this island and likely will but this is already shaping up to be a long blog! North Ronaldsay is my life and my future, if you want to know what it’s like to live on an island and why this one in particular holds such a special place in the hearts of any and all who live or have visited here then follow my blog. If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand.