|To the lighthouse (and other walks on North Ronaldsay)
||[Oct. 3rd, 2013|10:31 pm]
Once we were settled in our room at the Bird Observatory, we took the sketch map we'd been given (a version of this one), and headed towards the sea: we thought we might just make it to the broch before dinner time. The beach at the south of the island is a crescent of fine white sand, the sea was blue in the sun and the seals bobbed along, keeping pace with us. More seals were sunbathing on the rocks at the end of the bay, where we turned inland. Here we were stymied: the lane ahead was barred, and there were sheep in the meadow, for shearing; June, who was out feeding her alpacas, introduced us to some of her elderly rare breed sheep, and showed us where we could get down to the shore, past the ruined store house with its "window on North Ronaldsay" which had provided the title for a book about the island. From here we could have scrambled round the headland on the stony beach, but we were running out of tie, so we turned back outside the sea dyke past the baby fulmars.
The next day we walked the length of the island, along the road to the lighthouses. There are two, both Stevenson lights of different generations: the red-and-white striped New Light, which was being repainted, and the Old Beacon, Scotland's oldest intact lighthouse, first lit in 1789, which is scaffolded:
We were told that funding had been found for renovation, but that work had ground to a halt because of disagreements about how far the keepers' cottage should be restored: this is what the North Ronaldsay Trust has to say. It's a perfect emblem for the island: a lighthouse, with all that says about safety - of sorts - in stormy seas, its history, the beauty of the building (and even the scaffolding has a certain geometrical elegance), the paradoxical conflicts between the heritage industry and the desire to keep things as they are...
Yes, well. Some word pictures: on the road north, the drystone wall topped a bank. Looking up, I saw above the lush grass and the stone of the wall, white cloud, blue sky and four bonxies wheeling. We approached the Old Beacon through a maze of stone pens, littered with wisps of wool from the recent shearing. There's a café at the New Light, where the stadd wear t-shirts with the slogan: "Have you seen the light?" As ecommended, we both ordered the mutton pie:
It was delicious, with a filling of mutton, green peas, and - unexpectedly, though it shouldn't have been - mint jelly, adding a lightness and sweetness to the dark and savoury meat.
Back at the Observatory, we were invited to see what birds had been caught in the traps, and watched a linnet being ringed - and weighed, for which purpose it was popped into a film canister: what will they do when there are no more of these to be had?
The next day we walked past the standing stone - unusually, but not uniquely, it has a hole in it:
and peered over the dyke at the black guillemots. Here's the day's mystery object (not the only one of these we saw, but the most pleasingly placed):
We were heading for the old church, where there is an exhibition of material about the island's recent history. I was intrigued by the photograph of Tomima Tulloch, "the only island woman to have been recruited into the armed services (she may have volunteered) in WW1" and a project to photograph everyone on the island. Later, durham_rambler set off on a second attempt to reach the broch, while I lounged about and read my book, and then went out for a much less strenuous stroll = and ended up again on the beach, watching the dunlins scurrying back and forth along the tideline.
We left North Ronaldsay the next morning: there was just time for one last visit to the beach, to say goodbye to the seals - and the seals came to the beach to say goodbye to us. There were also a family of ducks, and a very clear view of the lighthouse on Sanday, and then it was time to leave.