Orkney: Getting to and from North Ronaldsay

North Ronaldsay is the farthest north island Orkney, a group of islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. It's where "those seaweed-eating sheep" live. A few other types of sheep eat seaweed, but this is the breed that's best known for it. In a later post I'll include lots of photos of sheep, but first it's necessary to get to (and in my case back from) the island.

The ways to do this are by air or by sea. We went by air. For this trip, I enjoyed the excellent company and guidance and grace of Liz Lovick. If you don't know her work, you should. If you don't know her in person, you would very much like to.

Liz lives on another Orkney island, Flotta, so we met up in Kirkwall, on Orkney's main island. The airport there serves, among other places, North Ronaldsay. This is the land side of the Kirkwall airport.


Here, on the other side, is the plane we took:


Per-person baggage allowance is 15kg (about 33 pounds). Bulk is not as much of an issue as weight, so transporting wool on the return isn't a huge problem, but the whole matter of having clothes, computer, and other basics in a rucksack while leaving enough weight allowance for the possible return of a few more supplies than went outbound requires some planning.

The plane's capacity is two in the pilots' seats plus six passengers, two by two. Boarding is orchestrated at travel time, with passengers assigned to seats in order to balance the load. The young woman demonstrating the life jacket was in training to become one of the new regular pilots on this run. She flew us into North Ronaldsay, accompanied by the pilot next to her who had a lot of experience in the area.


I like small planes where I can see that the pilot's having a good time flying. Because North Ronaldsay isn't very big, I ended up sitting next to shepherd June Morris, with whom I was scheduled to visit on the island during my time there. She'd taken one of her cats to the vet and had to leave it there over night. Getting the cat back to North Ronaldsay was an interesting adventure that will be recounted in a future post. Liz, who was sitting behind me, took this photo. 


The views along our route kept me busy watching.


When we got to North Ronaldsay, the wind was blowing pretty fiercely. So much so that although there's now hard-surface runway, our pilot, Rebecca, set us down on a grass runway. She also aimed her approach to the left of where she wanted the plane to land, and the wind tweaked the alignment during our final descent so we came in perfectly.


We did taxi in on hard-surface runway.


The North Ronaldsay airport.


Its luggage handling system is more reliable than the one at Denver International Airport.


I think it's a bit windier more often on North Ronaldsay, even though Denver does get wind from the plains and off the mountains. (Thanks again to Liz for the next photo.)


I went to North Ronaldsay to see sheep, and there will be a lot of photos of them in another post, but there needs to be at least one in this installment: eating seaweed.


The reason we need a sheep here is because it's necessary to make the connection to stuffing wool into sacks. It's good to encounter friends who understand this kind of work and can help stomp a lot of fiber (and, as it turns out, a fair amount of moisture) into a bag.


Or several.


On the cart as we got ready to leave, note the proportions of white puffy bags to other luggage. No, those aren't all my fleeces. Several of us gathered wool. (Thanks to Liz for those photos.)


We sat where we were directed to.


This time our pilot was one of the ones who are about to be required to retire because there are strict age limits. Only a handful of pilots handle these routes. They know the weather and the geography exquisitely well. On this trip, we were told we'd be flying in a particular way (basically, low) in order to make the air time as short as possible. The total flight time from North Ronaldsay to Kirkwall (or vice versa) is less than half an hour. The schedules say 18 minutes, but conditions determine whether it's a bit more than that. Or whether the pilot has to turn around and go back to Kirkwall because it's too windy or socked in or otherwise unfavorable to land on North Ronaldsay. (Our travels were just fine. A couple of days later several flights turned back.)


I took a lot of photos on the return flight.



It was the end of the day, and the light shone low on the water.



Too soon, we approached Kirkwall again. 


How many times do you get to see this when you're flying on a commercial flight as a passenger?


And in we went.


Welcome (back) to Kirkwall airport (air side).


Thanks so much, Liz! I had an amazing time. 


(Blog note: MANY more details, and sheep, and wool, to come.)


4 thoughts on “Orkney: Getting to and from North Ronaldsay”

  1. Can I steal your life? this looks magnificent. I think I am getting sick of the cold and snow here and need to get out and maybe a bit of sun would help too. But, my real comment was to say – this plane reminds me of a scotch bottle that I think is on my bottle tree. Is there a connection to Highland Park scotch?

  2. Sara, parts of my life you would not want, but its true this was a magnificent trip and I had a superb time, even when I was drookit (drenched to the skin and cold). More of that to come.

    Meanwhile, YES, there is some connection to Highland Park whisky, and it says Highland Park on the side of the plane, and I truly didnt know what I thought about that, but maybe theyre fueling the planes with single malt {wry grin}.

  3. It would be so fun to visit with Liz! The flight reminds me of the many hair raising flights I had in the years we lived in Sitka. Can’t wait to see more pictures.

  4. Susan, Ive flown in and out of Sitka–but only in the summer, and by way of what is probably the *new* runway. Thats an amazing airport, too, in a different way. And yes, you would have a lovely time with Liz. More photos to come.

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