It has been a very special summer in the Orkney island of North Ronaldsay.
Over two weeks in July and August the small community welcomed visitors from around the world as part of the inaugural North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival, aimed at celebrating the rare breed of seaweed-eating sheep that make the island shoreline their home.
Events included tours, walks, BBQs, workshops, exhibitions and dances. But the main activity was the re-building of damaged parts of the iconic sheepdyke – a thirteen mile long structure that keeps the sheep on the shore.
Volunteers came to the island prepared for hard work and lots of laughs, and that’s certainly what they got. One of the organizers, Kate Traill Price, has been sharing her thoughts on the Festival...
North Ronaldsay's first ever Sheep Festival has been a resounding success, featuring a fortnight of sheepdyke re-building, punding and a plethora of activities organised and executed by islanders and volunteers, all eager to get the community buzzing with enthusiasm once again. Over 40 volunteers came from far and wide (across the UK as well as from Sydney, Amsterdam and Colorado) to take part, and by the end more than 200 paces (metres) of sheepdyke were successfully rebuilt to standard, saving the island several thousands of pounds.
The effort and enthusiasm of those involved surpassed all expectation. People aged 12 to over eighty were getting stuck in with six hours of building a day. The group participation was reminiscent of the community efforts of years gone by, with several islanders offering their expertise on the best methods of re-building, and providing a unique and fascinating insight into life on the island and their hopes for the future.
Each day’s work was rewarded with an activity to celebrate the building success, from tours of the lighthouse to felting workshops, beach BBQs, live music, kids clubs, two pub quizzes, a treasure hunt and a traditional dance, which welcomed more than 120 people to the island!
During the second week volunteers assisted with the island’s annual summer clipping pund - the process of rounding the sheep off the shore to be clipped. Once the sheep were gathered volunteers were given lessons from islanders and their grandchildren, clipping over 20 sheep between them over the course of the four days - not bad for beginners!
The reaction from the residents of North Ronaldsay was overwhelmingly positive and there is a feeling of renewed energy released in the community. It was heartening to see folk coming together to celebrate North Ronaldsay's unique history and heritage whilst conserving its future.
The rebuilt sheepdyke was of course assessed under the critical eyes of several islanders and deemed worthy of North Ronaldsay standards - an accolade that made everyone involved feel triumphant! Interest is already growing from people wanting to know next year’s dates and plans are underway to offer an even bigger and better Sheep Festival for 2017 – watch this space for more details!
We’re starting to fundraise for next year’s event now so we can make it as special as possible. To get things started I’ll be running a half marathon in London in October - the distance of 13.1 miles is almost the exact length of the sheepdyke, so I'll be tackling the route and thinking of the island all the way! Funds raised will go towards hiring transport for volunteers and ongoing festival costs – maybe even a line of special souvenirs from a conservation holiday like no other.
You can find out more about the run from my Just Giving page - it would be great to have your support.
Take a look at our official website to see some pictures of this year’s festival – if you’re interested in taking part in 2017 please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can also find us on Facebook, and there is more information on the Orkney Sheep Foundation website too.