Today marks 6 months for us on North Ronaldsay. Where has the time gone? After the media “frenzy” at the beginning of the year things have very much quietened down since lockdown.
The last 8 weeks certainly haven’t been what I expected. March would have marked our first visitors, April my first volunteers. After a long winter with not a lot of socialising going on, I was looking forward to spring and summer of visitors, evenings spent in the bar at the Bird Observatory, getting to know volunteers, not to mention visiting other Orkney islands. I have spent more time on this small island than I ever envisaged, but I like to think I have made the most of being “stuck” here. Without being tied here it would have been a lot harder to develop the vegetable garden and have the caddy lambs.
Homesteading refers to a lifestyle that promotes greater self sufficiency. Currently for me it is cooking from scratch, growing my own vegetables and fruit, preserving that produce where necessary, keeping chickens for eggs, harvesting rainwater, sewing and knitting (including keeping sheep for fibre). Our garden is about a tenth of an acre, so this would be considered a very small homestead!
I have long been interested in living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. The 3 year contract on North Ronaldsay and the garden space means that I have been able to start that journey. There’s lots to learn, but I’m excited by it. Not everything that we’ll try will be a success, but that will make the things that do work even sweeter. It’s a tough location and climate to be starting in, but if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere!
We arrived in November, and had a long stormy winter ahead of us. It was a relief to hear that it was “worse than normal”, but at the time it didn’t make it much easier to live in. Being blown back as soon as I opened the door to go outside. The noise of the wind rattling through my skull making it impossible to hear myself think, let alone communicate with Olly. The sand blowing in my face while working on the dyke, getting into my eyes, having to take gloves off to get said sand out, then my hands freezing. Those cold few weeks when our heating wouldn’t stay on and we didn’t have our belongings because they were stuck in Perth. Hygge is something we embraced. Flames dancing in the wood burner. Hot chocolates covered in marshmallows and whipped cream. Hours spent pouring over a board game. Trying to convince Hagrid to go out when I didn’t want to go out either. The relief of a sunny or still day (you probably don’t get both!). Watching the gigantic white horses in the sea. Seals playing in the surf. Fulmars swooping in the wind currents. Huge piles of tangles on the beaches. The nimble native sheep navigating the slippery rocky shore.
The Sheep Dyke
Having hoped to have had many helping hands by now, the rebuilding of the dyke continues with me, sometimes Olly although he has been concentrating on the garden of late. I do consider myself lucky with the small amount of dyke which came down during the winter. Getting to help with punding in April gave me a much better understanding of the punds and how they are used to round the sheep up, and where could do with some attention for repairs and rebuilding. Now the ewes and lambs are on the fields only the male sheep are left on the beaches, and they are still very motivated to get on land. Sometimes it is quite difficult to know where they have broken onto the island, and it is just a matter of straightening bits which are leaning in, or adding height to shorter bits, playing detective with spotting rogue bits of wool on the fence or stones where they have brushed past, or spotting a couple of stones that have been knocked down that weren't there last week. A bit of fencing wire strung near the top does a great job of deterring them too! I can see in my own lambs how if they manage to get over something once they are adamant that they will do it again. If the smaller lamb can fit through a gap the bigger one is convinced he can. And if he can climb something she will try and try again to climb it too!