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"
WWW.NTS.ORG.UK51?(no more than 23 metres abovesea level) and virtually tree-less,the landscape seems to stretchfor miles. A walk around theshoreline will blow away thecobwebs, and with the totalpopulation only nudging 70, youare unlikely to bump into manypeople on the way. You will see plenty ofbirds, seals and sheep, though. The latterare restricted to the beach by a dry stanedyke that surrounds the island. Theirstaple diet is seaweed, which gives themeat a distinctive flavour. You can see thesheep's wool being spun, too, as anotherlighthouse outbuilding has beenconverted for this purpose. Getting about isn't difficult. If you comeby ferry, you could bring your car, butNorth Ronaldsay is the only pier in Orkneythat doesn't have drive-off facilities, so yourvehicle would have to be winched off bycrane. Though there are no buses on theisland, it is so small that you can walkaround it in a day. You can hire bikes fromthe lighthouse café, and you needn't lockthem up. The weather can bechangeable, so you may be gratefulfor the hot water on tap back at thelighthouse cottage. You shouldn'tfeel guilty either, as at least 6kwof the electricity to the cottages isgenerated by windpower - windbeing something this place is notshort of. There is a cast iron Victorianslipper bath in the cottage - our preference- or a shower in the courtyard, suitablefor disabled users.As we arrive, Maureen is looking forwardto staying at the lighthouse, as sheremembers the comforting light from thebeacon swooshing through her bedroomwindow at Waterhouse as a wee girl. Wediscover that beneath the tower, as weare, the light is almost invisible. Butthere's comfort in darkness andtranquillity, too. lThe National Trust for Scotland has superbholiday accommodation all over the country.See www.nts.org.uk/Holidaysor call 0844 493 2108 to request abrochure.Light notesThe rocks around North Ronaldsay hadlong been a notorious shipping hazardbefore the most celebrated wreckoccurred in 1784, when the Sveciawent down with its cargo of gold andsilver. The island's first lighthouse wasbuilt in 1786, but it was poorly sited andhad the disastrous effect of luring evenmore ships to their doom. Wrecks arerecorded in a book, above. The currentlighthouse is the tallest on UK soil at 42metres. Arrangements can be madewith the North Ronaldsay Trust toclimb the tower to see the impressiveoriginal crystal lens, and take in theincredible 360º view of the island. Theold beacon, which still stands andfeatured in the BBC's Restorationprogramme in 2006, is being renovatedand a visitor centre is planned.From left: the twinbedroom; thenearby foghorn;the tastefully furnished livingroom; inside thetower and thelight itself