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- Category: A
- Date Added: 16/09/1999
- Local Authority: Orkney Islands
- Planning Authority: Orkney Islands
- Parish: Cross And Burness
National Grid Reference
- NGR: HY 76499 54021
- Coordinates: 376499, 1054021
Circa 1832 with later alterations. 12-13 mile-long, roughly 6 foot high drystone island perimeter wall, incorporating numerous window-like openings; associated stone-built circular-plan 'punds' situated to N around Dennis Head.
Statement of Special Interest
The sheep dyke around North Ronaldsay is a unique and important structure, probably the largest drystone construction conceived of as a single entity in the world. Ownership of sheep was common with crofters being allocated numbers according to the size of the smallholding. The dyke was designed to keep the sheep, for the majority of the year, on the foreshore where they would 'graze' on seaweed. At lambing time, (May until August) the breeding ewes and their lambs were taken inside the wall and allowed to graze with other domestic animals. A sheep court was set up to oversee the maintenance of the flock and its welfare, Tulloch noting that, 'regulations covering the authorised allocation, management of the flock, and the maintenance of the sheep-dyke were worked out and agreed between the laird and the crofters in 1839....'. The nine circular 'punds', or pens, which can be found at the north end of the island served a particular purpose. 'Punding' was carried out six times a year as a communal exercise, in order to complete tasks related to the upkeep and organisation of the flock. The first, called the 'scoring punding', occurred in February when the sheep were numbered and allocated. The second and third were for 'rooing' or clipping/shearing and the next for dipping. The final two pundings were carried out to select animals for slaughter. With reference to the construction of the dyke, Tulloch notes that, 'Both the age and quality of masonry of the dyke varies greatly. Some of it is very old, while other parts like the section known as the 'moonlight dyke' and some of the outer field dykes at Dennis Head and Twinyas are of more recent construction...[some] sections which have to act as a rampart for houses located near the high water mark are generally substantially constructed, and may even be dove-tailed into the rock'. The maintenance of the dyke was traditionally overseen by the sheep court who ensured that regular repairs were carried out. The late 19th century saw the island's population reach around 500, when each farmer took a hand in the repairs.
R G Lamb, SANDAY AND NORTH RONALDSAY: AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF TWO OF THE NORTH ISLES OF ORKNEY, Archaeological Sites and Monuments, 11 RCAHMS; A Ritchie, EXPLORING SCOTLAND'S HERITAGE, ORKNEY AND SHETLAND, (1985), p73; P A Tulloch, A WINDOW ON NORTH RONALDSAY, (reprinted 1995), pp 95-105.
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