Tune in on 16th July!

At long last I have the date for the BBC one programme Our Lives. If you want an insight into a day in the life of North Ronaldsay then check out BBC One – Our Lives at 7:30pm on 16th July.

It gives a bit of a bleak look of the island but bear in mind, it was filmed in Winter and I was trying to show the island as it is – warts and all! It’s true the island has problems, mainly a diminishing and ageing population, we don’t have housing or jobs available at the moment for anyone wanting to move here despite many of us having multiple jobs. But we are working on it! The island is at a turning point as more and more families are moving to the island and being incorporated into the fabric of this island. We don’t have much money at the moment but things are looking up for us in the very near future and we should be able to start funding projects in addition to the government funded programme of renovating our Schoolhouse to help people move here with the hope that the next phase of development will kick start the renovation of another property on the island, then another and so on!

A lot of people are working hard to keep this island’s heritage alive, we’re all living a lifestyle that is as natural as breathing – far more connected to the rhythm of nature than city life but we do need help. Help to prevent North Ronaldsay from suffering the same fate as St Kilda and their ilk.

All of Scotland’s islands are struggling, some more than others, although such small, sparsely populated areas seem unimportant and unviable but I assure you, they are anything but. Life on an island is something that cannot be described, it can only be experienced and I implore everyone to visit as many of the Scottish islands as possible.

The islanders living and working in these remote places are in possession of skills, knowledge and a greater understanding of life than almost anywhere else: basic survival, self sufficiency, living off the land and maximising resources you have available but that knowledge is dying out.

Of course, I knew living in Edinburgh that I was a ghost – merely getting through my day, each day almost exactly the same as the last. Never really acomplishing anything or making a difference. It can often be difficult to retain a positive perspective, even here sometimes but I’ve found that it’s harder to ignore the simplicity of life in a place like this.

I may be a little biased though! 😉


Half way through

With the longest day just around the corner I thought I’d give a little review/ update on my summer so far. It’s already shaping up to be a better summer than last year, with the promise of things to come!

I posted last month I think, just after I planted my raised boxes and my daisy’s – they’re really coming along well! The raised beds are just full of colour now, I really love pansies – they always strike me as being a very happy flower but that could be Walt Disney’s doing. A chorus of singing pansies in Alice in Wonderland is bound to influence anyone!

I’ve had real success with my little herb pots (basil, parsley and chives) and my daisy pot is really blooming – I’ve been waiting for ages for my daisy’s to actually look like daisy’s and I think there is a little bud getting ready to make a debut!

My rose trees and pear tree have been planted but no activity with them yet, I don’t suppose there will be much going on with them this year.

I’ve definitely been bitten by the gardening bug – I’m looking after a vegetable garden up the road and there are leafy things coming through there so I’m taking this ‘toe-dipping’ into the gardening world as a success so far! To such an extent that I’m making plans for my garden next year. I’m hoping to grow some hedgerows around the boundary of the garden to give the birds nesting in the dyke some cover should the chicks fall out the nest – I’d like something a bit prettier than docks!

My sun house is going to go in the far right hand corner of the garden (looking at the below picture), in my mind it has a veranda out the front so I can admire my hard work with a cuppa and a chocolate biscuit! I have a raised banking around the back of the house which I’ve decided to leave as a wild meadow (after my house’s namesake – Meedoo/Meadow) and plant some wild flowers in there, possibly with some nest boxes in there and finally a vegetable garden where the drying green is at the moment.

I really hope that I have the stamina and the commitment to carry all of this out over the coming months. Baby steps I think! Wish me luck!

For the record – the pallets are around the plant boxes at the moment to protect the trees from the strong southerly wind we’ve have these last few days – they and the boxes won’t be staying there!




In the summertime…

It’s been a while since I last posted anything but it is that time of year where the workload just explodes and before you know it, weeks have gone by and you hadn’t even noticed!

Ok, let’s see what I’ve been doing lately – I suppose if I start from today and work back that might help. This morning is one of the few days that my time hasn’t been taken up at the airport – I think I mentioned in a previous blog that I was painting the boards; a long a tedious job that is – but it’s all done now and the sun is shining today so it’s grass cutting day. I really should have cut the grass more than 3 weeks ago or so but my excellent Titan mower from Screwfix that I bought last year was packed away in the back of my dad’s van, I used to store it in the middle bedroom since I have no shed but now that the folks have moved in, there’s no space for it!

Anyway, dad and I dug it out, it was a bit of a job to get started but once that mower gets going, nothing stops it – unless of course the lass using it gets a message from Billy to do a bit of punding! I knew it was coming, we’d spotted a few sheep on the beach with dirty back ends so we had to round them up and worm them. I abandoned the grass but thankfully dad finished it off for me.

Now, you might think that rounding up a dozen particular sheep from the beach at the lighthouse into a pund would be impossible – I’ll admit, I was thinking the same this morning – but the sheep obviously decided they didn’t want too much hassle today.

We set up the hurdles in the road to lead them into the pund and I went in to shoo them out of the open field they were in. They weren’t even paying attention to me when I first went in! I was practically standing next to them before these wild sheep even bothered to look up! Still, I think they’d figured out that we were expecting them to do something so they reluctantly sauntered (and I do mean sauntered) out the field and into the pund.

From then, I set up some hurdles inside the pund, Billy and I shooed them in there, then one by one caught them and squirted some foul smelling wormer down their throats – I’ll be honest if it tastes anything like it smells, I think the took it rather well. I stupidly put my nose straight in the bottle when I got it and regretted it! Why does medicine never smell or taste nice? It’s so unfair that kids get Calpol and literally everything else in the world has to choke down something disgusting to cure any ailment!

So that was a good job done today, the garden is looking great again, the exhaust for my car has arrived. I was visiting me sheep a week ago, I think and my exhaust decided it’d had enough so I got it all home, jacked it up to have a look at what I needed to get to fix the problem and noticed that one of the straps holding my petrol tank to the car has sheared through as well. Bloody atmosphere up here is pretty savage on metal but I have to thank my exhaust for being the one to fail first – it would have been a world of hurt for me if the petrol tank had fallen off!

It’s been pretty inconvenient not having a car for a week and it’ll probably be another week before I get the straps for my petrol tank – my car is ‘getting on in years’ as they say and seemingly it’s not so easy to get those kinds of straps.

Never mind though, the sun is out today anyway, it’s been kinda cold and foggy lately – not as nice as I would like for the end of May but certainly today is more like it and my old bike is performing well. At the beginning of the month, my dad and I took my old Raleigh Montana pushbike that’s a year older than me – it’s 28 this year – and converted it from a derailleur into an internal gear bike like my other one. Honestly, internal gear bikes are just fantastic – everything is completely enclosed and safe from the weather, it’s certainly what you need for a place like this, with a lot of salt air. Anyway, the conversion was reasonably painless as well, given the fact that a lot of things on that bike hadn’t been removed in around 28 years – very little maintenance needed on that bike; they don’t make ’em like they used to! The bike obviously has two different wheels on it but it’s not that obvious, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway but it works out exactly as I wanted it. Obviously I do a lot of cycling around the island and on that bike I was always in top gear (apart from in the winter months when, at times I was only just managing to keep turning the pedals into some of our strong winds) so now the bike is a 3-speed but those 3 gears start at difficult and progress to Chris Hoy level (well not really but you get the idea). My legs are certainly feeling it! We don’t have many hills on the island but the ones that we do, I can’t climb them in anything but first gear! For the moment that’ll be my summer bike and I’ll use the easier bike in the winter!

Right, I better sign off before I waffle anymore!

It’s that time of year again

We’ve only had a whisper of a promise of good weather so far but that isn’t stopping anyone on this island! It’s certainly been a fairly busy week for me with airfield maintenance looming, an English exam to revise for, and a fitness regime to restart (that last one has already fallen by the way side!). Since last Saturday I’ve been painting the red sections of the red and white boards – a very tedious job and so far I’m quite disappointed that I haven’t had the chance to scare the living daylights out of an innocent passerby as I pop up from behind a board! Never mind though, there’s still plenty time. I have 5 more boards to paint with the red and then have to go back to the start and paint the white sections of all 12 boards!

When that is done there’s yet more moss clearing from the edges of the runways, we’ve done a lot so far but it’s difficult to make progress when you get one reasonable day in a week of driving wind and rain! However, time is running out before our CAA inspection in a couple of weeks and the runway resurfacing in June!

Today I’ve been trying my hand at a bit of gardening – or more like landscaping! Spreading topsoil over sandy soil, helping out a croft up the road. That was certainly hard work and my back does not believe it was worth it but as soon as the vegetables start peaking from the soil (if it does – I’m not much of a gardener) then I will be happy. I planted my own flowers a few days ago and my daisy’s are coming along lovely (in my indoor pot) but I still need to build a little sheltered area to plant my pear and rose trees, I’m not holding out a lot of hope for the pear tree but I might try growing peas to disguise the fact that my sheltered area is made from pallets!

My garden is a bog and I really don’t know what I can grow in there, I’ve been watching a lot of Alan Titchmarsh’s miracle transformations of difficult gardens and for moments throughout the day I believe that I’m capable of making my garden a little wonderland then I squish my way across it and think again! Let’s take it one step at a time and get something growing eh? So far so good, wish me luck!

Settling down

It’s been a while since I last posted, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. From overtime on delivering the post to pre-lamb punding.

Thankfully everything is starting to settle down. My ewes are in the field with a couple of little ones already.

Filming for the BBC programme Our Lives is complete (as far as I know). I have to say, I’m not looking forward to its screening – I can’t think of a worse way to spend 30 mins than watching me on TV!

Normally at this time of the year, everyone on the island would be outdoors, working, preparing machinery for the upcoming summer work but even now we still don’t have the weather! We’ve not had a good enough spell of warm weather to even think about leaving the house without the winter gear nevermind kick start the grass growing.

I’m nowhere near beach ready but I’m certainly ready for a bit of warmth and sunshine!

There will never be their like again.

Kinnaird Head lighthouse stands dark once again, likely never to be lit again, instead her modern beacon stands watch over the sea. It is a sad reminder that all things must someday come to an end but from the tremendous number of visitors, volunteers and former keepers returning to tell their tales; it may be the end of a era but it is lost yet lost.
From my experience of the event this weekend, volunteering at the open door event in 84 George Street in Edinburgh in September, and from leading tours of North Ronaldsay lighthouse, it is clear that lighthouses still have a deep connection to a great many people. As long as we nurture that passion and keep the lamp burning, the era of manned lighthouses and the sound of a fog horn will never be truly gone.

I really had a great time at Kinnaird Head, I’m truly grateful to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses for organising such a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I got to meet quite a few wonderful keepers and hear of their everyday lives working in the lighthouses. It’s quite special to be taken along memory lane, to relive their days and to stand by their side as they take up their watch in the lightroom. I even got the chance to be a light keeper for a couple of hours through the night. I can tell you, I have a new found respect and understanding for the keepers and how so many of them remain fit and strong so late in life.
Kinnaird Head had to be wound every 30 minutes but to preserve the arms of those on duty we thought it best to wind every 15 minutes. There’s an old saying that just because something looks easy, it doesn’t mean that it is easy. I’ll be honest, I never even gave it a thought that winding the lens might be hard work… Well colour me surprised as my arm slowed and only just managed the final couple of turns to get the weighted pendulum back to the top of the tower!
Now, when the electric bulbs were introduced to the lighthouses, turning the light on was as simple as flipping a switch but back in the days of paraffin the tanks had to sit at pressure to fuel the Tilly lamp and keep it burning, which had to be hand pumped as frequently as the lens did!
So imagine this: you’ve just put everything you’ve got into winding the lens, only now to hand pump the tank! You had to be fit to be a light keeper, that’s for sure! I can certainly see the appeal have very much enjoyed my 2 shifts with Billy Muir in the lighthouse (you can see me hard at work in the picture 😉 lol), meeting everyone involved in the event and (once I got used to not having any work to do) enjoyed touring Fraserburgh’s harbour and beach!

A typical day in North Ron?

There’s definitely no such thing as a typical day in North Ronaldsay! I was expecting the second batch of filming for the BBC programme Our Lives to start tomorrow, instead I was cycling down to the Bird Observatory this morning to plan our filming day!

We decided to pop up to Cursitter and get a run down on the basics of gardening as I’ll be looking after a vegetable garden this summer (and I’d like to do a bit with my own garden) but I found myself up on their roof banging in a few nails to secure the slats they put up a couple of weeks ago! I won’t have to tell anyone who watches this programme that I am not a natural with a hammer!

From there we decided to go onto some more manual labour and build up my dyke that blew down over Christmas. I certainly was not expecting to be building dyke today and I certainly didn’t expect to finish it today! With the help of Richard, we made short work of that mess of scattered stones in the field and threw them together into a mess of piled stones. It’s not a good looking piece of dyke and the native islanders would probably be mortified with something so higlety pigelty but with a couple of skinned and crushed fingers, I wasn’t too concerned. So long as it keeps my sheep secure in the field, it’s doing it’s job. It may well be down again come next winter!

I got an unexpected surprise just as we were about to call it a day for filming: a blue tit had been caught at Holland House, now that’s a common bird just about everywhere in the UK but up in Orkney, it’s a big deal! To be able to see such a beautiful little bird up close was a fantastic treat! Such a delicate little thing!

I wonder what tomorrow is going to look like! It was a beautiful day today but it’s to start getting bad later in the week with the beast from the east threatening to make a reappearance at the weekend. Fingers crossed it’s not that bad!