FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
We hope you'll find everything you need to know below, from how to get here, what to bring, and what to expect!
If you still have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch here, we're always happy to help!
When is the SheepFest'23 taking place?
SheepFest'23 will be taking place from wednesday 26th July - Wednesday 2nd August 2023.
How do I book a place?
You don't have to book to take part in SheepFest - just turn up and get stuck in (but if you can let us know when you'll be coming that would be great). We'll give you a health and safety briefing and you'll be guided by our trained SheepDyke Wardens.
How do I get in touch?
(N.B. Please do not call the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory for Sheep Festival enquiries - only for booking accommodation)
How can I get to the island?
There are daily flights from 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: www.northlinkferries.co.uk
Ferries within Orkney: www.orkneyferries.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: https://www.pentlandferries.co.uk/
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.
Where can I stay?
There are a number of accommodation options on North Ronaldsay including:
Camping, Bed & Breakfast at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory Guest Rooms and Hostel, Self-catering Lighthouse Keepers' Cottages and a couple of Air B&Bs. For a full list of private rental properties click here: www.northronaldsay.co.uk/accommodation.html
For those wishing to stay at the Bird Observatory, please make sure you mention that you are coming for the festival - they have reserved priority booking for festival volunteers.
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), and is believed to be the longest drystone structure 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.
Rebuilding the Sheepdyke
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, with two hours for lunch. You are not committed to attending every session - we also want you to enjoy your time on the island and get a chance to relax and explore.
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.
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.
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: 07777 818 2844 or email email@example.com
We will provide a Volunteer Minibus to rebuilding sites
Eat, Drink, Shop
Is there a shop where I can buy provisions, or places to eat & drink?
ObsShop // Bird Observatory (South end)
12 noon - 2pm, daily
Fully stocked general store inc. fresh fruit & veg, eggs, frozen produce, snacks, plus newspapers and souvenirs etc
ObsCafe // Bird Observatory
Tel. 01857 633200
Lunch menu 12 noon - 2 pm daily
Takeaway, packed lunches
Evening meals by arrangement
Friday Night Fish & Chips - order by 2 pm
Lighthouse Cafe (North end)
Open Wednesday - Sunday
Brunch/tea/coffee 11am - 12 noon
Lunch 12 noon - 2:30pm
Afternoon tea 2:30 - 5pm
Rolly's Pizza Delivery
Tel. 07927 409037 / 07487 572089
Tuesday evening (order by 3pm)
Lunch delivery by request (order the day before)
Special orders on other days can sometimes be catered for. Text for availability.
Iolaire Croft Shop // Quoybanks (North end)
Tel. 07837 2021101
Every day 8:30am - 7pm
General store plus baked goods, tea & coffee,
fresh fruit & veg, eggs etc
Self-service - cash and card accepted
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.
In the event of a minor injury, the island has a part-time Nurse who can carry out First Aid before deciding whether or not a trip to the Mainland is required. In an 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 there is an Archive Exhibition all about the history of the island and its people. Well worth a visit!
There are numerous archaeological sites on North Ronaldsay.
For more information please visit www.northronaldsay.co.uk
And of course no visit would be complete without a trip to see the native sheep and the many deals that live around the island.
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, 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!