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North Ronaldsay is the most northerly of the Orkney Islands of Scotland. It's 3 miles long by a mile wide, low-lying, and in 2011 had a population of 72. It's named for Rögnvald Kali Kolsson or St Ronald (1100-1158), who was Earl of Orkney and founder of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. South Ronaldsay is also named for him so he book-ends the Orkney archipelago.

Get in[edit]

Old Beacon and damaged Sheep Dyke

Orkney Ferries sail from Kirkwall. May-Sept they sail twice a week: on Fridays direct taking 2 hr 40 min, on Tuesdays either the outward or return sailing is via Papa Westray and takes 15 min longer. They sail once a week in winter: the 2022/23 timetable is not yet published. Return fares until May 2023 are adult £11, conc £8, child £5.50, and car (which few visitors need) £26.

1 Hollandstoun pier is the landing point for ferries.

Loganair fly year round 2 or 3 times a day from Kirkwall, taking 15 min direct; some flights also call at Eday or Papa Westray. Book online, or call them on +44 1856 872494. The schedule enables day trips in both directions. Fares are heavily subsidised and in 2022 an adult day-return is £36, but only £21 if you stay overnight on the island.

The 2 airport (NRL IATA) is central. The terminal is just a small waiting room with a shed for the fire truck.

Get around[edit]

Map of North Ronaldsay

Walk, it's not worth bringing a car.

Tommy Muir's taxi meets arriving flights, tel +44 1857 63244.

Bike hire is available - tel 07778 182844 or email and collect/return at the airport, ferry terminal or lighthouse. £10/day


  • The Bird Observatory is 100 yards north of the ferry pier. It's open all year and has accommodation.
  • Stan Stane is in a field north of the observatory. It's 13 ft tall and pierced by a hole.
  • The Sheep Dyke rings the island, 12 miles round. It's a dry-stone wall that keeps the sheep off the fields and forces them to live on the beach, eating the kelp. The sheep are feral, and their genetics suggest they were introduced from Scandinavia away back in the Iron Age with very little cross-breeding since. The breed is considered endangered, with only 600 pure-breed females; the only other flock is on Auskerry off the island of Stronsay. They're stocky and primarily used for wool: the meat has a distinctive salty, iodine taste. The wall was built in 1832 as a work-creation project when the kelp industry collapsed, along with nine "punds" - sheep pens, still used for lambing and shearing. Storms are damaging the wall faster than it can be maintained, but in 2016 the island appointed a warden to repair it. She's described this as "a mammoth task", implying another reason why the wall keeps getting bashed down.
  • 1 Broch of Burrian Broch of Burrian on Wikipedia is an Iron Age fortified dwelling, though it may have been inhabited as late as the 9th century AD. It has defensive earthworks and very sturdy walls.
  • Old Kirk is the ruin of a 19th century church with a graveyard. It's just south of the airport.
  • 2 Dennis Head Old Beacon Dennis Head Old Beacon on Wikipedia is a partly dismantled lighthouse, lit from 1789. It wasn't very effective and was unlit from 1809 as other Orkney lighthouses sprang up, but was retained as a day-mark, with its curious spherical tip added. The lightkeepers' houses here are also ruined.
  • 3 The lighthouse, Dennis Ness KW17 2BG. Mar-Sep: Tu-Su 11:30-17:00, by appointment only. This is still in use - Britain's tallest, at 139 ft (42 m), and you can ascend the spiral staircase within. From 1806 the Old Beacon was considered redundant when Start Point lighthouse was completed on Sanday, but North Ronaldsay's reefs soon forced a re-think. The low-lying island is difficult to spot in poor light, and a tall light was therefore needed, and built in 1852 with Alan Stevenson the architect. There was a visitor centre with cafe, and the keepers' cottages were available for self-catering. As of May 2023, lighthouse tours are available by pre-booked appointment, and everything else is closed indefinitely. Adult £6, child £3. North Ronaldsay Lighthouse on Wikipedia
  • Dark skies: there's very little light pollution, so Sept-April if you go outside on a clear night and give your eyes 20 min to adjust, the sky will fill with celestial objects. May-Aug it's a lost cause as the midsummer sky never gets properly dark.


The 1852 Lighthouse
  • Look up your ancestors at the archives in the New Kirk. Open daily, donation.
  • Sheep Fest is a fortnight of summer community events, including repairing the sheep dyke, in early August.


  • The bird observatory and the Post Office have a few supplies. Easting Road Store in the north of the island has closed down.
  • Yarn from North Ronaldsay is a knitware business using wool from the island sheep. It's based at the lighthouse visitor centre, same hours.

Eat and drink[edit]

  • The bird observatory is the only choice; there is an honesty-box shop on the road near the lighthouse that sells some food and drink.


  • The Bird Observatory has half-board in the guest house for £65 pp and in the hostel for £42 pp. Camping with use of the facilities is £5 pp.
  • In 2021 no other B&Bs are open and only self-catering is available, at the Lighthouse Keepers' Cottages, Nouster, Brig, Quoybanks, Dennishill and Verracott.


As of Oct 2021, there is a patchy signal on North Ronaldsay from O2 and Vodafone. 5G has not reached the island.

Go next[edit]

  • In summer you can sail to Westray, but all routes eventually bring you back to Kirkwall on the Orkney Mainland.
  • The next island north, Fair Isle, is part of the Shetland Islands and you have to double back via Shetland Mainland to get there.

This city travel guide to North Ronaldsay is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.