Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the Festival and how long can I stay?
The Sheep Festival dates are: Monday 26th July - Friday 6th August 2021
How do I book a place?
You can sign up to let us know you which days you will be taking part.
We also hope to be able to offer some subsidised places, so keep an eye out on our site.
How do I get in touch?
You can contact us here
You can phone us on 07762 285 0500 or 07494246723
You can message us via our Facebook page
(N.B. Please do not call the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory for Sheep Festival enquiries - only for booking accommodation)
Travel and Accommodation
How can I get to the island?
There are daily flights (Kirkwall Airport) and a twice-weekly ferry service to North Ronaldsay from mainland Orkney.
There are various ways to get to Mainland Orkney, with frequent flights from major cities to Kirkwall Airport, and a ferry service from Thurso, Gills Bay or Aberdeen.
The following links will help you plan your journey:
Flights from Scottish cities and within Orkney: www.loganair.co.uk
Ferries from Scotland (Aberdeen or Thurso) to Orkney:
Ferries within Orkney: www.orkneyferries.co.uk
Trains on Scotland mainland: www.nationalrail.co.uk
John O'Groats passenger ferry to South Ronaldsay and bus between
Inverness and Kirkwall: http://www.jogferry.co.uk/Home.aspx
Pentland Ferry from Gills Bay to St Mary's Hope:
Trains and buses run between all the major cities in Scotland.
A taxi is recommended between Thurso centre and the ferry terminal
at Scrabster Bay.
NB: Not all possible routes are listed for the sake of clarity.
Where can I stay?
There are a number of accommodation options on North Ronaldsay from camping, B & B to self-catering cottages. There is also a hostel, but beds there will be allocated to volunteers who receive a subsidy.
For a full list of private rental properties click here:
The Sheep Dyke
What is the Sheep Dyke? What is its purpose and why does it need repairing?
The North Ronaldsay Sheepdyke is a Grade A listed structure (equivalent to English Grade 1 listing), and is thought to be the longest drystone wall in the world, measuring over 13 miles.
Constructed by hand in 1832, the Sheepdyke is essential in the traditional day to day management of the native sheep, allowing a unique management system by keeping the communal flock on the foreshore to graze on seaweed.
The North Ronaldsay breed has evolved to extract all the nutrition they need from the seaweed, but in the process have developed a susceptibility to copper poisoning if returned to a grass diet for an extended period. For this reason, the Sheepdyke is an essential barrier to maintain the animals' health and the centuries-old system of managing them, as well as ensuring genetic purity from other sheep breeds kept on inland pastures.
The Sheep Dyke is often weakened by wave and wind action during the stormy winter months, and by sheep trying to jump and scramble over it (known as 'loopers'). Even a small gap can grow quickly as the stones around it no longer have their neighbours for support. The work of the Sheep Festival volunteers work is to close up gaps of any size and to re-build weak sections of the Sheep Dyke that are vulnerable.
Traditionally, this work is done by coastal landowners and shepherds, but with an ageing and diminishing island population, there are no longer sufficient numbers to maintain the structure. The community now urgently needs outside help.
Re-building the Sheep Dyke
Will I be shown what to do when building the Sheep Dyke?
You certainly will!
You do not need any previous experience- just a willingness to listen, to look and to understand that every job is important in the smooth running of the build. Each year there is a mix of experienced builders, returning volunteers and new faces that all bring their time and effort to the Sheep Dyke. You can choose to work alone, or in a small group of builders, or to spend your time sourcing and carrying stone to the wall, or to help in clearing the rough ground on the proposed route of the wall.
Just work to your ability and don’t hesitate to ask for help and guidance if you need it. Every expert started as a beginner!
The most prevalent stone found on the shore is a hard sandstone which, over time and with wave action, splits into useful slabs and pieces - perfect for drystone dyking.
The traditional building technique means that there is no need for any mortar or cement, as it relies on the careful placement of interlocking and overlapping stones for its strength. A well-built section of wall can last many, many years, serving as both a barrier to the sheep and as a haven for wildlife, who use its many gaps and cracks to make a home and as a protective shelter.
What will I be expected to do?
Each day, before you start work, you will need to check in for the day and be given important news and to sign up for trips and events. It is important that you attend so we know how many volunteers will be with us that day. There will also be a contact person in each Sheep Dyke work party who can help with general enquiries.
The Festival provides transport which will take you to that day's chosen site. Sometimes the group is split up to work on separate projects, or to collect stone from another part of the shore.
The workday itself is divided into two sessions of approximately 3 hours each.
If you hold a subsidised place then you are expected to work for the full day (total 6 hours) and for the number of days for which you are subsidised. If not, you can join either or both sessions as you choose
What to bring
What do I need to bring?
It's a working holiday, so you need to bring clothes that can get dirty and that can take possible rough use. Boots or shoes with steel toe caps are preferred, to protect your feet. The Festival will provide all volunteers with essential safety gloves (the Observatory shop also stock them). Feel free to bring your own if you wish, in a style that suits you. Good gloves are a very important item of safety equipment as the stones can have sharp edges and you'll be lifting a lot of them!
In the evenings and for 'time off', it's casual clothes. Bring books, a guitar, a fiddle, money for the bar and the shop (debit cards and major credit cards are accepted as well). Binoculars for the wildlife…
North Ronaldsay has poorer mobile reception and a slower internet connection than you may be used to! Big picture files and videos may not send as quickly as on mainland UK.
What will the weather be like? How should I dress?
Be prepared for all weather conditions as Orkney is well known for having changeable weather. Be prepared by bringing sunscreen as we have had warm, glorious sunshine during the last three festivals.
Do I need insurance?
The Sheep Festival has Public Liability insurance in place for all staff and volunteers. You should make your own arrangements for travel insurance, personal belongings insurance, etc.
How do I travel around the island?
You can, if you wish, get to all parts of the island on foot. However, bikes can be hired on the island and there is a minibus taxi that can be booked by phone.
Bike hire: Alex 07809 770 082 or email
Minibus taxi: Tommy Muir 01857 633 244
Dietary / Medical Requirements
I have special dietary requirements. Will this be a problem?
If you have any specific dietary requirements it is essential that you inform your place of stay, if you are being catered for. If you hold a subsidised place, it is important that you let us know in advance so that suitable supplies can be shipped to the island. In addition, you will be able to record your dietary needs on the required medical form.
In the unlikely event that your needs cannot be met, there are self-catering options available on the island and the shop can order supplies of your behalf in advance of your trip.
Is there a shop where I can buy provisions?
The shop at the Bird Observatory and is open daily at the following times:
Every day, 12pm-2pm.
Tuesdays, 12pm-4pm (because of the ferry arriving)
There is a wide selection of tinned and packet goods, sweets and biscuits, dairy products, meat and fresh vegetables (which arrive on the ferry twice a week), household items and branded NRBO clothing including hats, T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts and more!
The new Easting Road Store also provides island supplies, Orkney produce and souvenirs, as well as fresh coffee, cakes, snacks and hot pasties.
The Post Office stocks some tinned food in addition to pop, sweets and teas and coffees.
Open: Tue, Wed, Thur, Fri
Where can I get a cup of tea and a bite to eat on the island?
The Bird Observatory, Post office and the Lighthouse café serve tea and light snacks throughout the day.
What are the medical facilities on the island?
Firstly, please make all necessary staff aware of any medical conditions and allergies that you may have so that they can plan accordingly. The island has a full-time Nurse, who can be reached by phone, and who can carry out First Aid before deciding whether or not a trip to the Mainland is required. In a real emergency, an airlift is arranged via Air Ambulance or Coastguard.
A First Aid kit accompanies each group of volunteers during Dyke work.
Surgery 01857 633 226 (Landline)
What to See and Do
What else is there to do on the island?
There is plenty to do and see on North Ronaldsay. At the North end of the island is the tallest land-based lighthouse in the UK. In the same complex, there is a café, visitor centre and wool mill.
Tours can be arranged of the lighthouse and the wool mill.
In the New Kirk, near the airport is an archive exhibition about the history of the island and its people.
There are numerous archaeological sites on North Ronaldsay.
For more information please visit
What do I do in my spare time and in the evenings?
Festival activities include knitting and felting workshops, evening talks, traditional music sessions (open mic nights), film nights, wildlife walks, a dance, a bake-off competition, and the infamous island football match.
Where can I share pictures of the Festival?
Festival goers can join the Sheep Festival Community Group on Facebook and share pictures there.
Please be sure that you have the permission of persons photographed before you share them.
If you have some brilliant shots you are happy to share with us, please send them to the Festival!