Chef James Martin celebrates North Ronaldsay’s seaweed-eating sheep

North Ronaldsay sheep. Picture: Wikimedia
North Ronaldsay sheep. Picture: Wikimedia
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A celebrity chef has praised the unique culinary produce of Orkney’s northernmost island as part of a 20-episode series for ITV.

James Martin discovers North Ronaldsay’s exclusive seaweed-eating sheep, kept by local fireman, lighthouse keeper and farmer Billy Muir during the first instalment of James Martin’s Great British Adventure.

James Martin.

James Martin.

Outside of the Galapagos islands, they are the world’s only animals with a seaweed-only diet and, according to the acclaimed chef, produce a “beautiful” tasting meat.

Most people are familiar with the flavours of British or New Zealand lamb, however, Muir explains that North Ronaldsay mutton is produced when the sheep are aged between three and six years.

The meat from these older animals is darker and takes longer to cook, but Muir tells Martin: “Once you have it cooked properly and tender, it is absolutely delicious.”

The island combines rocky cliffs that overlook the Atlantic Ocean and golden, sandy beaches facing the North Sea, and is encircled by a 13-mile stone dyke, which predominantly keeps the sheep along a beach.

The historic listed structure was completed in 1832 to prevent the flock – Scotland’s oldest breed dating back 5,500 years – from grazing on grass designated for cattle and people now come from across the world to maintain it.

North Ronaldsay, which is further north than Norway’s most southerly point, is also the remotest part of Orkney with humans outnumbered by the magnificent breed.

The unique animals attract visitors each year, but so does the island’s distinct culture and impressive views of killer whales, dolphins and puffins.

Muir also looks after Britain’s oldest lighthouse there, which opened in 1789 and has stunning panoramic views across the northern part of the island.

From the top of the lighthouse, Martin says: “The old, classic cliché in terms of television would be for a presenter to wax lyrical about all manner of different things, wildlife, colours, endless waffle as I call it.

“I am not going to do that, just look at it.

“What an absolutely amazing place. The real treat has been hanging out with Billy and it is people like him that I want to meet on this trip.”

Gareth Crichton, chairman of Destination Orkney, says: “Destination Orkney is very keen to encourage visitors to journey beyond the Orkney mainland, so we were delighted to provide support to James Martin and his crew for a visit to North Ronaldsay as we knew they’d have a fantastic experience there.

“The feedback from the programme has been great and gave viewers a real insight into island life, in addition to showcasing the diversity of high quality food and drink we have throughout Orkney.

“Each of Orkney’s outlying islands has its own unique character and attractions, with North Ronaldsay no exception.

“From the world famous seaweed-eating sheep, and sheep festival, to the tallest land- based lighthouse in Britain, there’s a lot packed into a small area and Orkney’s internal transport system makes a visit straightforward.

“We certainly hope lots of people will follow in James Martin’s footsteps and visit not just North Ronaldsay, but many of our other outlying islands too.”

The programme can be viewed at