As part of Orkney Viking Week we invite you to visit our flock of Boreray sheep in West Mainland. A primitive breed, part of the North Atlantic Short-Tailed family of sheep, and little changed over the centuries. These little short-tailed sheep were vital for Viking life and exploration.
Boreray sheep are the UK's rarest breed, until recently critically endangered, but now there are just over 500 registered breeding ewes. Their history from Neolithic times is fascinating and includes their Viking heritage and their home on St Kilda where they were left behind on Boreray island when the population was evacuated in 1930.
For the Vikings, the Short-Tailed sheep were extremely important. Their unique double coated fleece had properties essential for the sails that powered their boats and longships, as well as providing clothing that could withstand the wet and cold. Work reproducing woollen sails has shown other qualities of the wool of these tough little sheep that made it possible to have woollen sails. Calculations of the work involved in making these sails and the number of sheep required give insights into Viking life.
This is a photograph I took of a demonstration of Viking textile work from the 2014 North Atlantic Native Sheep & Wool Conference in Iceland.
Viking Sheep Experience, Talk & Demonstration
The visits will last at least 1 hour and we can accommodate up to 12 people. The visits must be pre-booked.
If demand is greater than the number of places available between the 3 days, we may be able to add visits on the Monday or Wednesday, depending on how the sheep are coping with the farm visits and their visit to the Ness of Brodgar Open Day on Sunday 18 August.
Tuesday 20 August 10.30am
Thursday 22 August 10.30am
Friday 23 August 10.30am
Full terms and conditions are below.
In our shed ('barn' for those from England) we have a display of posters showing the sheep and their history, and a display of fleece and woollen items. Your visit will include a detailed talk about Viking sheep and their place in Viking life. You'll have the opportunity to handle some double coated Boreray fleece, learn how to separate the outer and inner coats, and try for yourself (twisting by hand) how differently the outer and inner coats behave when spun. You can see a demonstration of how the wool was spun into yarn.
One or two of our sheep that were bottle raised by lambs, so more comfortable around people, will be in the shed for you to see close up. This is Ferdinand, born June 2017.
The shed enables the visit to take place in comfort even when it's windy or raining. We will also bring a group of sheep (ewes and lambs if possible) to one of the fields adjoining the shed area. You'll be able to see them at fairly close distance from the hard standing around the shed and take as many photographs as you like. Here is a photo of some of the ewes and lambs taken July 2019 from the hard standing area at the back of the shed.
There are full hand washing facilities so you can wash your hands after the visit. This is recommended for everyone, but vital if you've handled any fleece. We can't offer any toilet facilities.
There is car parking on the driveway a short walk, on hard standing, from the shed. For disabled visitors it is possible to drive a car right up to the shed.
Full terms, conditions and charges
£6 per person (due to limited group size we can't offer concessions)
- Visitors must follow safety instructions on the farm, including avoiding the steep slope by the entrance to the shed that is blocked off with hurdles.
- Children must be fully and closely monitored by their parents at all times.
- The talk is detailed and may not be suitable for very young children.
- Borerays are primitive sheep and even the ‘tame’ sheep in the pen in the shed will become stressed if they are petted, so instructions regarding any limited touching or handling that is felt possible and appropriate for that sheep/lamb must be obeyed.
- The option to touch any sheep on a visit cannot be guaranteed since not all the sheep will tolerate this.
- Hand washing facilities are provided and everyone is strongly advised to wash their hands with soap and hot water at the end of the visit for health & safety reasons.
- On any livestock farm unexpected things can happen. If a talk is unable to go ahead fully as planned then an appropriate reduction in charges will be made.