Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

North Ronaldsay, Sheep Dyke And Associated Punds

Dyke (19th Century), Pen(S) (19th Century), Sheepfold(S) (19th Century)

Site Name North Ronaldsay, Sheep Dyke And Associated Punds

Classification Dyke (19th Century), Pen(S) (19th Century), Sheepfold(S) (19th Century)

Canmore ID 3647

Site Number HY75SE 56

NGR HY 76499 54021

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map


Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Cross And Burness
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY75SE 56 76499 54021

This site also falls on map sheets and HY75SW: the majority falls on HY75SE.

In 1832 the drystone sheep dyke encircling the island above the shore line was built using surplus labour after the collapse of the kelp industry.

The 12 mile dyke has a proper height of 6 feet but in many places it is now less as maintenance is difficult with a declining population.

Red paint marks are used to indicate the limits of 'Funship' responsibilities.

Visited R G Lamb 1979

Site Management (9 October 2008)

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.

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. 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. (Historic Scotland)


Field Visit (September 1979)

Until c.1832 the North Ronaldsay sheep had virtually the run

of the island and caused great damage by getting in among crops,

but in that year the drystone sheep dyke, which encircles the

island above the shoreline, was completed. Surplus labour

resulting from the collapse of the kelp industry is said to have

been used. The common grazings outwith the dyke are operated

using 9 punds. The dyke is 12 miles long and its proper height

6ft, but in many places now less. Maintenance is the

responsibility of the man holding lands in the tunship adjoining

each stretch of the dyke, and in places red-paint marks are used

to indicate the limits of tunship responsibilities. Great

difficulty is now being found in maintaining the length of the

dyke to the proper standard, on account of the declining

population, and the stretches most exposed to sea damage are

seldom rebuilt to the original height.

Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Sep 79.

Field Visit (1999)

The 12m long Sheep Dyke encircles the entire coastline of the island, serving to keep the flocks of sheep off the land. It is said to have been built in 1832 using surplus labour after the collapse of the kelp industry. Common grazing outwith the dyke is controlled using nine punds (see NR16). The wall is communally maintained, according to township, with red painted marks used to indicate the limits of each section. It is now in a state of disrepair in some areas due to reductions in the population. Ref.: RCAHMS (1980), #211.

Moore & Wilson 1999.

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, 1999


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions