Wow, what an amazing month it’s been. This has been Elizabeth’s last week here and we’ve really packed it in. I hope she’s enjoyed her time here as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing this special island with her these past 3 weeks.
Elizabeth and Olly have been climbing on the West coast while I enjoyed reading in the sunset.
On 21st July the islanders gathered for punding the sheep and shearing at Westness. At this time of year the sheep on the shore are males - the ewes and lambs on still on the fields. Punding has to coincide with high tide so there is less space between the sea and the wall and the sheep can be funnelled along the beaches into the punds. Punders run behind the sheep to where they meet a dead end, with no option but to enter the punds (or double back on themselves!)
North Ronaldsay sheep have a double coated fleece (comprising of short coarse hairs and longer soft wool fibres) so clipping must wait for the lith (the gap between the old and new fleece) to rise. Shearing is still done using hand shears, and there is a chorus of clipping as many set to work.
The next day was punding near the Old Beacon, which is over a wide grassy areas, so more vehicles are involved. Although Olly did manage to catch this rather old sheep who gave up half way through the chase, he probably preferred to be carried to the pund!
Later that day we helped with shearing the ewes at Lurand, which was Olly’s first go at shearing - it was a success!
After punding we continued to build at Scottigar. The dyke had been pushed onto the land below by storms. A lot of the stone had been covered by vegetation and the stone on the beach was a bit of a walk, so progress was slower than usual, but I made sure we finished before Elizabeth left!
We’ve been enjoying having the lambs with us while we’ve been at the beach, giving them a chance to fill up on seaweed. Getting them there has been interesting - all 5 of us crammed into Elizabeth’s Mum’s mini!
The night before Elizabeth left we had a bonfire on the West coast, and attempted pizzas on hot stones! It was tricky to get the cooking on them right, as the stones were very hot and the wind was very cold, so they had burnt bottoms and raw tops! But we made little tin foil “hats’ to keep the heat in and they were delicious.
The next day we moved the lambs to Westness to start their careers as conservation grazers. More on this soon! It’s sad to have them leave us at the Schoolhouse, but good that they will have lots of forage and stop p***ing off the neighbours when they escape...
The weather turned pretty grim on 28th, with the wind gusting 54mph. Here you can see the sheep sheltering against the dyke and stormy seas at Westness.
That evening we tuned into an online seaweed foraging course. Inspired and after the weather had calmed down a couple of days later we went to see what seaweeds we could find at Westness.
Seaweed foraging is very accessible (if you live near the coast) as there are no poisonous seaweeds that you can collecy on foot, unlike mushrooms. Seaweed is highly nutritous (just take a look at the sheep!). No is not the best time to collect seaweed to eat because it’s
spawning season, so we collected a little fo everything to hone our identification skills.
Lots more information if you’re interested here:
East Neuk Seaweed do in person and online workshops and have a book on harvesting in the intertidal zone.
I’m excited to get to grips with cooking and using seaweed in the winter, it’s a great excuse to get outside and connect with nature!