~ Ian Scott ~

A Letter From North Ronaldsay

Orkney Islands sculptor Ian Scott in his studio

Tom and I have many exciting books lined up to publish through our Orkneyology Press. We really can’t compare the books, as each is unique and wonderful in its own way.

However ...

There’s one book – actually, a trio of books is planned – which is of particular personal interest to me.

Ian o' Antabreck

Born in North Ronaldsay some eight decades ago, one man in a sturdy line of who-knows-how-many generations of islanders, Ian Scott is something of a renaissance man: sculptor, painter, writer, fisherman and farmer, keeper of memories and an irreplaceable member of the North Ronaldsay community.

North Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands artist, Ian Scott's painting

North Ronaldsay is Orkney’s most northerly island with a fascinating history of its own. This place has held my heart since long before I married Tom and moved to Orkney, but until early 2023 I’d never yet visited the island.

North Ronaldsay life

North Ronaldsay beacon, Orkney Islands, Scotland

I discovered Ian’s homely writings of everyday life in North Ronaldsay fortuitously while researching a selkie story I was writing more than twenty years ago.

Sitting in a little writing nook in my apartment, I waited ages for my glacially slow dial-up internet to load a webpage featuring one of Ian Scott’s Letters from North Ronaldsay. It was always worth the wait.

OrkneyologyPress-IanScott-Letter From North Ronaldsay

In the midst of a rather desperate life at the time, I’d get a cup of tea and spend a few blissful minutes dreaming of a bygone days and a happier way to live.

Sowing seed, North Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands. Photo from the collecttion of Ian Scott of North Ron.

Back in the present ...

Tom and I recently took the wee eight-seater adventure plane to North Ron. After seven years of living in Orkney, I finally got to meet Ian Scott, whom I'd long admired.

Following that happy meeting, the three of us had come up with a plan.

We'll be publishing a series of books gathering Ian's more than thirty years of writings, originally published in The Orcadian newspaper.

The first in the collection will appear early in 2024. Until then, please enjoy a little sample of Ian’s writing.

Merry Dancers at the Hall (1990)

A gathering of islanders at the Old Memorial Hall, North Ronaldsay, circa 1990, Orkney Islands, Scotland

At the Memorial Hall on the beautiful summer’s evening of Saturday, July 28, we continued our celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Old Hall with a slideshow and dance.

Ann Manson, the sound archivist for Orkney, gave an illustrated talk on ‘Women at Work in Orkney Early this Century’. The slides were made from a selection of Tom Kent’s important photographic record of Orkney life, which he compiled after his return to Orkney from the USA in 1898. Tom Kent died in 1936.

Ann Manson’s selection of photographs was very interesting, and she gave us some fascinating information on the life of Orcadian women in those days of long ago.

Interspersed through her talk, Ann told one or two stories learned from her own valuable work with which she has been engaged for some years. This work she manages with tact and understanding.

In the Orkney Archives will be stored the voices of Orcadians which, at the touch of a button, will tell the stories that were part of their lives and which will, in years to come, become part of the continuing history of Orkney.

Following the slideshow tea was served, with a grand selection of sandwiches and cakes. The dance then began. Above the roof of the Memorial Hall, and high in the late evening sky, an unusual and ghostly display of the Merry Dancers shimmered and rippled palely in gossamer trails – almost in strange harmony with the merry dancers who moved within the hall.

A crowd of between seventy and eighty, made up of islanders, ex-islanders and visitors, enjoyed rather a splendid evening. One ex-islander home on holiday, Tammie o’ Howatoft, now in his late seventies, intended to have, as he said, one more dance in the Old Hall, and then proceeded to dance all night long. No doubt he remembered old times and will, as he said, remember this evening for the remainder of his life.

Accordions continued to provide music to which the well-sprung floor vibrated in time to dancing feet. A further serving of tea was given during the night, and after the last dance cups of soup were also served.

Hands and arms were then linked in turn to the final and traditional performance accompanied to the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

The light of the summer dawn was already spreading across the morning sky when the company broke up and left.

The lighthouse still flashed but with a less intense beam, sweeping over white clouds of mildew which stretched coldly here and there through the island.

For everybody – but particularly the young folk who attended our 70th anniversary celebrations – we hope that such evenings will be remembered and valued, as we used to do when we were young.

We hope also that it will awaken an interest in our fast disappearing traditions and way of life. It’s worth holding on to, for in the last analysis it is the young folk who will be the guardians of our Orcadian heritage.

Roofing with simmons in North Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland. Photo from the collection of Ian Scott, North Ron.


Enjoy this wee film of our time with Ian Scott in North Ronaldsay


You might also like these pages:

Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages), and all other illustrations except where noted are here by the courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE, who owns all copyrights. Thanks, Bryce!

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