===Introduction to South Ronaldsay=== Phone code: +44 (0)1856
South Ronaldsay is the southernmost of the Orkney islands, only six miles from the Scottish mainland across the stormy Pentland Firth, the most dangerous stretch of water in the British Isles. A small passenger ferry crosses to Burwick on the southern tip of the island from John O' Groats.
The main settlement is the picturesque little village of St Margaret's Hope on the north coast. It is said to be named after Margaret, Maid of Norway, who died near here in 1290 at the age of seven while on her way to marry Prince Edward, later Edward II of England. She had already been proclaimed Queen of Scotland, and her premature death was a major factor in the long Wars of Independence with England. The word 'hope' comes from the Old Norse word 'hjop' meaning bay.
Commodore Chalets, The Commodore chalets complex consists of nine superbly appointed self-catering chalets and six overnight lodges. Located 6 miles from Kirkwall on the south coast of the Orkney mainland the Commodore chalets command a lovely view over St Mary's bay and the Churchill Barriers, and is within walking distance of the Famous Italian chapel. The chalets are on the main Bus route to Kirkwall and are approximately 300 Meters from the Village of St Mary's which has a Shop/post office. Pet & Family Friendly - and good for short breaks.Reservations Email Address or call 01856 781319
The village smithy has been turned into the Smiddy Museum, with lots of old blacksmith's tools to try out. Info - Open May and Sep daily 1400-1600; Jun-Aug 1200-1600; Oct Sun 1400-1600. Free. The museum also features a small exhibition on the annual Boys' Ploughing Match, a hugely popular event first held circa 1860. Each year in August, boys from the village (and now girls as well) dress up as horses and parade in the village square (prizes are given for the best costume). Afterwards the boys and their fathers, or grandfathers, head for the Sand of Wright, a few miles west, and have a ploughing match with miniature ploughs, which are usually family heirlooms. The categories are: best ploughed ring, best feering or guiding furrow, neatest ends and best kept plough.
This sheltered beach is well worth a visit anyway, ploughing or no ploughing. The views stretch in a spectacular 180 degree panorama, south across the Pentland Firth to Caithness on mainland Scotland, west to South Walls and Cantick Head on Hoy, and northwest to Flotta and the west Mainland. It is also yet another good place to spot snipe, lapwing, curlew and redshank. Arctic terns also nest nearby and you can spot them diving dramatically as they fish in the bay.
To the north of the beach is the Howe of Hoxa, a ruined broch where Earl Thorfinn Skull-Splitter was buried in AD 963, according to the Orkneyinga saga. South Ronaldsay is a good place to buy local arts and crafts, and there are several workshops dotted around the island. One of these is the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, three miles west of the village on the way to Hoxa Head. Local artist Leila Thompson's huge tapestries are well worth a visit; you may not like the style, but you cannot help but marvel at the extraordinary amount of work and dedication involved in their creation; many of them take years to finish. Info - Apr-Sep Mon-Fri 1000-1730, Sat and Sun 1400-1800. Adult £2, concession £1.50, children under 12 free . Tel./Fax. 831395.
Local Sights & Activities for South Ronaldsay
At the southeastern corner of South Ronaldsay is the recently-excavated Tomb of the Eagles, one of the most interesting archaeological sights on Orkney. The 5,000-year-old chambered cairn was discovered by local farmer and amateur archaeologist, Ronald Simison, whose family now runs the privately owned site and museum. The interior contents of the tomb were practically intact and there were up to 340 people buried here, along with carcasses and talons of sea eagles, hence the name. Various objects were also found outside the tomb, including stone tools and polished stone axes.
Before visiting the tomb you can handle the skulls and various other artefacts at the small 'museum' in the family home, which actually means their front porch! Then you walk for about five to 10 minutes through a field to visit a burnt mound, a kind of Bronze-Age kitchen, where Ronald Simison will regail you with all manner of fascinating insider information about the excavation process, before walking out along the cliff edge to the spectacularly sited tomb which you must enter by lying on a trolley and pulling yourself in using an overhead rope. It is particularly eerie being here because there is generally no-one else around, and as you haul yourself into the tomb, with the sound of the North Sea crashing into the cliffs nearby, you wonder to yourself how those buried here met their fate. There is also a lovely, but generally wild and windy, walk back along the cliffs, via a different route, to the car park. Info - Apr-Oct daily 1000-2000; Nov-Mar 1000-1200. £2.50.
South Ronaldsay Hotels & Accommodation
There's a good selection of accommodation in St Margaret's Hope. Best of the lot is the award-winning D Creel Restaurant & Rooms, Tel. 831311, The Creel Restaurant on Front Rd. It offers comfortable rooms and superb, though expensive, food using deliciously fresh, locally grown ingredients. Dinner only. For cheaper meals, try the bar of the E Murray Arms Hotel, Tel. 831205, on Back Rd. For a good B&B try E Bellevue Guest House, Tel. 831294, or E The Fisher's Gill, Tel. 831711, which also offers seafood dishes. For cheap and basic hostel accommodation, head for the Wheems Bothy, Tel. 831537, open Apr-Oct, which is now an organic farm at Wheems, Eastside, a few miles southeast of St Margaret's Hope.