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Storm Wars

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

A report came in that there was Dyke down on Nouster Bay. After surveying the South West corner I arrived to Nouster to discover a couple of sections down. Olly and I rebuilt the smallest section, ensuring the rest was sheep tight for another day. I returned to clear the other section and get started on laying foundations and rebuilding. The section was about 3m wide, but the adjoining dyke was leaning towards the shore at quite an angle, so that would have to be knocked over and rebuilt too. It is important to have stable adjoining dyke to tie the new piece into. Once again I was dealing with huge amounts of sand and clearing to find some kind of solid foundation.

I didn’t get very far before I was distracted by Angus Blackburn, a photographer from Scottish Field magazine. It was another windy day, and I had a few laughs while Angus tried to balance the lighting stand and take photos at the same time. We were in need of an extra pair of hands - difficult to find sometimes on an island of ~55 people. Unbeknown to me I was also to do a video interview for their website… impromptu acting isn’t exactly my forte in life!

Storm Ciara carnage

That evening I was running away to Kirkwall to forget all about my cringy camera moments to see Mark Beaumont at the Pickaquoy Centre. Olly is a HUGE fan. Mark was standing outside the venue doors greeting everyone as they came in. I watched as Olly got to meet one of his heroes, had his book signed and gave Mark a bottle of Orkney beer - awesome! In his talk Mark went over the incredibly detailed logistics and numbers (yay for maths geeks like me!) for getting himself around the world in less than 80 days, which he achieved in 2017. He also invited a local man, William Sichel who is from Sanday, up to the stage. William, 66, is an ultra-marathon runner and had just returned from the Athens International Ultra-marathon Festival, a 1000 mile race. He currently holds 732 records, and has set himself a target to get 750. 2 amazing athletes!

A lovely map of Orkney in the Pcky Centre. North Ronaldsay illustrated by the Old Beacon.

Over the weekend it was my Birthday and Storm Ciara, coinciding with a full moon, which meant very high tides and big waves. When I returned to the area I had cleared to rebuild on Nouster more dyke had fallen down and lots of stones had been chucked on top by the waves. Liam McArthur was on the island and was keen to lend a hand, but with the weather still bashing the coast, it wasn’t safe for us to be out rebuilding. I took him on a brief walk along Nouster, the water was almost up to the dyke and another gap had appeared. I came back with Olly after some lunch at the Bird Observatory to sheep proof it. We had to spend some time freeing a hurdle from the grass which had grown over it, but it plugged the gap nicely and we scurried home and out of the storm. The storm and high tide combination is very risky to the dyke, with wave action pulling the dyke down and washing away the sand on which it stands.

Storm damaged but sheep tight Bobble hats are essential

The following day we went to check Nouster again and I tried to get some footage of the sheep in the storm, sheltering from the winds, huddling against the dyke, and other braving the shoreline, grabbing fresh seaweed that the waves brought in, risky business when a rogue wave could sweep them out to sea. It was difficult to get anything good, with the camera (and me) being blown around!

Taking shelter against the dyke

The weather didn’t get a chance to dissipate before Storm Dennis rolled in, thankfully the tides are lower this time. Annoyingly it did stop me getting to the mainland to go on an apple tree grafting workshop. There are some small trees on the island, especially in walled gardens, it would be great to grow some fruit trees, both for ourselves and to provide good wildlife habitat. The relentless high winds have been a bit depressing, and I was relieved to hear from islanders that this is worse than usual! Hoping the storms will clear and we can enjoy being on the island a bit more soon.

Holding on for the storms to pass to be rewarded with brighter days

I have been busy trying to get sponsorship for the amazing volunteers who have signed up to help on the dyke. If you are reading this and would like to help, or know anyone that could, please get in touch! MacGregor Industrial Supplies have very kindly donated some work gloves for the volunteers. Big thank you to them!


Not only will the work of volunteers be crucial to the survival of the sheep dyke, engaging a wider audience with North Ronaldsay’s heritage and landscape is vital for the survival of the island

Would you consider donating any of the below items for the volunteers?

safety boots

safety goggles

knee pads

hot drinks flasks

emergency shelter

overalls/boiler suits/waterproofs

Give the volunteers some love and donate!

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