• Volunteers helping to rebuild the North Ronaldsay sheep dyke

Building connections in North Ronaldsay

The population of Orkney’s most northerly community has grown significantly this month, even if it's only in the short term.

The fortnight-long North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival has made its welcome return, with the long summer days in the island full of fun and activities - as well as some hard work!

While there was a series of online events last year, it’s the first time since 2019 that visitors and locals have been able to come together for a full programme of activities at this unique event.

The festival centres around the repair and maintenance of the island’s famous sheep dyke. The 20km stone wall was originally built in the early 19th century and is today a Grade-A listed structure. It was constructed to keep North Ronaldsay’s unique breed of seaweed-eating sheep on the shoreline and off the precious grazing.

But these days the island’s population is too small to carry out the constant repairs required, particularly with more frequent winter storms.

Dozens of volunteers have arrived in North Ronaldsay to help. They spend their days dyke-building, whilst evenings and weekends see workshops and social events. It's a chance to become part of the community here, safe in the knowledge that your efforts will help sustain life in the island in the years to come.

While some have travelled the short distance from the Orkney mainland, others come much further to help the small population here, building not just dykes but lasting friendships and connections.

Jane: “In 2018 I saw a BBC article about the sheep and the island needing people to build the wall. I decided I’d love to do something like that. I enjoy picking up new skills and learning to actually build a dyke is a fantastic skill to have.”

Sally: “It’s something completely different and I thought it would help the community. Jane mentioned the idea when we were out for a cycle one day. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it."
Jane (r) and Sally (l) from Norwich.
“I heard about it in a podcast and the idea of this small island and its unique sheep stuck in my head. I liked the idea of helping a community rather than just travelling around. Being outside doing something physical is great when you’re used to sitting in front of a computer, and being next to the sea lovely too. There’s opportunities to learn other skills throughout the festival with various workshops as well.”
Ursula, from Switzerland.
Martin: “We love Orkney. I’ve been here a couple of times before, including volunteering doing something similar to this in Deerness. We’d been to North Ronaldsay eight years ago and loved it. We enjoy doing hard work in the open air and it just seemed a really nice idea for a short holiday.”

Alexander: “It’s great to keep the dyke-building going and being outside doing physical work in a miniature paradise.”
Father and son, Martin and Alexander, from Surrey.

This year's festival comes to a close on 12 August, but plans are already being made for the 2023 event. Keep in touch via the official website, and you can also find the festival on Facebook and Instagram.

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