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Walling at Westness

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

This week I have been lucky enough to have another volunteer - Robert Brewis, who is on the committees of the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival and Orkney Sheep Foundation. He and his wife, Helen, keep Noth Ronaldsay sheep down South. For the past 21 years they have lived in Buckinghamshire where they have a small holding. Helen is a committee member of the North Ronaldsay Sheep Fellowship and Editor of its journal “The Hemlin”. This week would have been the second week of the sheep festival, which was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic. I’d been so looking forward to experiencing my first sheep festival! The good news is I’m now on the committee, and I’m excited to be involved with the preparations for next year.

Robert and I have been building at Westness, which has involved lots of large flat stones, which has pleased me, but has perhaps been a bit heavy going for Robert who “forgets” his lunch occasionally…! 

It’s been great getting to spend time with the lambs, who are in a pen adjacent to where we’re building

Our friends Alex and Jack have been clearing Westness, which they recently bought, in order to slowly restore it to it’s former glory. It’s such an amazing part of the island, a beautiful peninsula in the North. I’ve been enjoying seeing more and more parts of it revealed as Jack sorts through it all. Abandoned places have such an intrigue and mystery about them. They are also beautiful, the cracked paint, the rusting ironwork, broken roofs casting interesting shadows.

Olly is working on mainland at the weekends which has coincided with the most glorious weather we’ve had all summer. I’ve generally been spending it relaxing in the garden and painting the chicken coop. But we did manage to get out for a snorkel around the pier when he got home. I was hoping for an diverse artifical reef habitat on the pier wall, but it was a bit boring - probably because of all the nasty stuff coming out of the ferry when it moors. Then I spotted a jellyfish and became a bit paranoid, Olly got cold, so we called it a day.

We also found a nice day to explore the “fuschia forest” near Holland House. We couldn’t believe the height and density of the fuschias growing there, it almost felt like an actual woodland, so strange to have vegetation over head height in this windy climate! It is an amazing sheltered space, and proof that trees (or overgrown shrubs) can grow on North Ronaldsay. It was a beautiful place to walk through, full of bees enjoying the bright fuschia flowers. I had been excited to try fuschia berries since discovering we have a fuschia bush in our garden, alas, they weren’t very tasty!

We spotted an amazing queen bee - probably the biggest bee I’ve ever seen!

This queen bee is a Garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum. Garden bumblebees can be confused with the bee which parasitises it, the cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus. You can see here that it's a garden bumblebee because it has a long head, rather than round. In the video you can see her extending her long tongue, or proboscis. Garden bumblebees have the longest tongues of all the British bumblebee species. Bumblebees get all of their food from flowers. Most of the pollen is used to feed the grubs, so the adult bumblebee's food is mainly nectar. They need long tongues to reach deep inside flowers into their nectary, which in turn pollinates the flower!


A nice evening on the West Coast after exploring Gray Stane pool (or pow in local dialect). The pool used to be deep enough to swim in, but it now filled with lots and huge rocks, it is quite shallow. It’s amazing how much the waves and the sea can lift and throw around! Many long summer evenings were once spent there. Islanders talk of learning to swim in Gray Stane pool and diving from the edge into its depths. It is such a shame this resource and lovely warm bathing pool (on summer days!) is now lost. Some even experimented using WW2 gas masks as snorkle masks to enjoy the beauty of the waters below the surface.

I have loved having bonfires on the coast made of driftwood, sausages sizzling and marshmallows melting in the flames. Eating outside is a real joy of summer for me, the food always taste better (especially if you’re a bit cold - ie always in Orkney!) and it’s more mindful being to take in nature and our surroundings while eating. On this occassion Olly forgot the matches, so I was particularly cold and hungry (or should i say hangry!) when reinforcements showed up with some matches and we coudl finally eat. But the marshmallows tasted even sweeter...

Grey Stane pow - now not very deep!

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