is the northernmost of the Orkney Islands
and with an area of 2.7 square miles is the fourteenth largest.
North Ronaldsay lies around 4 kilometres north of its nearest neighbour, Sanday
at . The island is around 5 kilometres long along its length and is defined by two large sandy bays; Linklet Bay
on the eastern shoreline and South Bay
at the south. The west of the island is very rocky with many skerries
. Low lying and exposed, the island's climate is extremely changeable and frequently inclement. The surrounding waters are stormy and treacherous, and have been a notorious 'graveyard' for ships (hence the unusually early provision of a lighthouse on the island).
Hollandstoun at the south of the island is the most sizable settlement lying roughly equidistant from the airfield and the pier. The island is also home to a bird observatory.
North Ronaldsay has a unique dry stane dyke that surrounds the island whose purpose is to keep the seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay sheep off the arable land.
was built in 1727
and the Old Beacon
dating from 1789
was the third lighthouse to be built by Thomas Smith
for the Commissioners of the Northern Lights
Flights link the island with Kirkwall
on the Orkney Mainland
, as does a weekly ferry
operated by Orkney Ferries
The main industries on the island are crofting and sheep farming, where unique North Ronaldsay sheep are largely farmed collectively. Tourism also plays an important role.
The Bird Observatory
Established in 1987, the observatory's main purpose is to conduct long-term monitoring of bird populations and migration. North Ronaldsay is well-known as one of the best bird watching sites in the country during the Spring and Autumn migration periods. The quantity and variety of birds that can be seen at these times is often spectacular!
in the north east of the island is home to an historic lighthouse known as the Old Beacon
. The light was first established in 1789
by Thomas Smith
. It was to be the first of many island lighthouses for Smith (he had previously worked on the lights at Kinnaird Head
and Mull of Kintyre
). Smith received assistance with the North Ronaldsay light from Ezekiel Walker
and from his stepson Robert Stevenson
In 1809 with the construction of other nearby lighthouses it was decided that the North Ronaldsay light was no longer required and it was extinguished. The round stone tower was retained as a sea-mark, however, and the original beacon chamber at the top replaced by a vaulted roof capped by a remarkable ball finial. The stone spiral staircase which once led to the beacon was demolished. The original keepers' houses, roofless but largely complete, survive below the tower. In 2006, it was one of the neglected buildings selected for the Restoration TV series.
However a new lighthouse was built nearby just 43 years later in 1852. The modern lighthouse lies at the north of the island at Point of Sinsoss and boasts Britain's tallest land based lighthouse tower.