WWW.NTS.ORG.UK49?A holiday in a lighthouse keeper's cottage was a towering success for Neil Braidwoodand his familyHOLIDAYS?I first visited North Ronaldsay, thenorthernmost Orkney isle, back in 1989,with my then girlfriend, Maureen. I hadnever been anywhere like it. We flew inon a Loganair Islander aircraft with justeight seats, landing in a field a fewhundred yards from Maureen's familyhome - Waterhouse. I was made to feelhugely welcome, and I loved the wildremoteness of the place. Back then, theStevenson-built lighthouse at the northtip of the island was manned round theBrightidea
50SUMMER 2012HOLIDAYS?clock by three keepers, who lived, with their families,in basic accommodation at the foot of the 42 metretower.Fast forward more than two decades and we are afamily of five, the lighthouse is automated like allothers in Scotland, and those keepers' quarters havebeen converted into two luxury self-cateringapartments let out by the National Trust for Scotlandon behalf of the North Ronaldsay Trust. Again, wefly in on a Loganair Islander aircraft - though thelanding is smoother, as the island has a runway now.With Waterhouse undergoing refurbishment, webase ourselves at 'Assistant Lightkeeper's cottage no 2'while helping Maureen's mother with her decoratingduring the day.Built in 1854, the single-storey dwellings were hometo two families working for the Northern LighthouseBoard, who looked after the light. After automation in1998, the North Ronaldsay Trust bought theapartments, and they were refurbished in 2008 to thehighest standard. The buildings are mirror images ofeach other, except that the master bedroom in cottageno 1 also has space for a cot.As you'd expect at a Trust holiday property, youare living in a period building with sash and casewindows, shutters, working fireplaces, brass fittingsand wooden floors. All these beautiful Victorianfeatures have been retained or restored and, in thecase of the windows, mercifully draughtproofed to21st-century standards. We find the cottage is cosy and draught-free withtelevision, iPod docks and wi-fi. The interior décor issuperb, with Anta tweed-covered sofas and chairs,comfy double beds and fluffy Egyptian cottontowels. To our youngest's delight, there is Lego,games and books - so even if the weather turnsnasty, we know we can keep ourselves occupied.North Ronaldsay has only one shop, with limitedsupplies, so it's best to order food in advance via theproperty manager and chair of the North RonaldsayTrust, Billy Muir, who was a lighthouse keeper onthe island from the 1970s, and still takes tours upthe tower to show off the breathtaking view. On aclear day you can see Fair Isle in the distance.If you don't fancy cooking, there are other options- the café in the nearby former Principal Keeper'shouse offers light meals such as North Ronaldsaymutton pies, made with meat from the indigenousseaweed-eating sheep, or soup and a roll. Theywould even help you out with a cup of sugar if youwere stuck. There is also an interpretation centrewith a fascinating exhibition and gift shop. At the other end of the island, some five miles tothe south-west, is the North Ronaldsay BirdObservatory. As well as being a hub for the many"twitchers" that visit the island, there is a pub,restaurant and accommodation. Things can get quitelively with spontaneous music sessions breaking outof an evening.North Ronaldsay is a beautiful place. Low lying"North Ronaldsay is a wild, remote and beautiful place"