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.
Orkney Ferries sail once a week from Kirkwall on Saturday mornings, taking 2 hr 40 min with the return departure about noon. This is the winter timetable and Apr-Oct there are usually three ferries a week, direct or via Westray or Sanday. However the winter timetable is being used throughout the covid-related travel slump. Return fares until April 2022 are adult £11, conc £8, child £5.50, and car (which few travellers need) £25.
1 Hollandstoun pier is the landing point for ferries.
Loganair fly 2 or 3 times a day from Kirkwall, taking 15 min direct; some flights also call at Eday or Papa Westray. These can't be booked online, as they give priority to residents and essential visitors, so you need to call them on +44 1856 872494. The schedule enables day trips in both directions and flights have kept going in 2021. Fares are subsidised: until April 2022 a day return is £36 but it's only £21 return if you stay overnight on the island.
Walk, it's not worth bringing a car.
Tommy Muir's taxi meets arriving flights, tel +44 1857 63244.
- 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. 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. 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-Sept Tu-Su 11:30-17:00. 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's a visitor centre with cafe, and the keepers' cottages are available for self-catering. Adult £6, child £3.
- Dark skies: there's very little light pollution, so Aug-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-July it's a lost cause as the midsummer sky never gets properly dark.
- Look up your ancestors at the archives in the New Kirk. Open daily, donation.
- Sheep Fest is a fortnight of community events in July, including repairing the sheep dyke. The next is probably from 25 July 2022 but tba.
- 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 & Drink
- The bird observatory and the lighthouse visitor centre cafe are the only choices.
- 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.
- 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.