The Holm of Aikerness is a series of small islets just off Aikerness, which is the northernmost tip of Westray, where the fields end in steep cliffs and raging waters. The name Holm comes from the Old Norse holmr, meaning ‘a small and rounded islet’. Aikerness means an ‘arable land point’, with the ness part meaning ‘nose’. The name the Holm of Aikerness means a small islet off the end of the arable land. Perfect.
Here’s Aikerness from the sea, proving what many have said, that the coast of Westray is hollow underneath.
On Westray, as elsewhere, they are not making any more land, unless you count the Netherlands, and the availability of grass for grazing is a significant limiting factor. Every bit of land is used for sheep and cattle. I wonder how the local farmers feel about the wild field at the back of my house? “A terrible waste of grazing”, I shouldn’t wonder.
The Holm of Aikerness is home to a feral population of sheep so wild they only see humans once or twice a year. Wiry, wooly and fiercely independent, they graze on a series of holms so small that when the tide comes in they separate into distinct islets.
Once a year a landing party appears by boat at the end, in time with the tide, which cuts off the north from the south. The aim is to drive the sheep and pen them so they can be sheared, or clipped, as it seems to be known here. We’re travelling past by boat and happen to be level with the Holm as the party begin their rounding up. It appears chaotic as several sheep charge at the invaders and evade them. It’s as if I’m back in the playground playing British Bulldog, running from one side to the other and evading capture. These sheep would be champions in any playground, and this is their home turf. Turf? Maybe abandoned shattered rock?
There’s a chase to get the rest of them penned. Some of them are double-fleeced because they successfully evaded capture last year. The awkward, wild, indomitable ones.
They have to be quick with the wire fence.
Or at least it was for some of them. This time a few evaded capture and clipping.
They head off on the flooded holm to the other end, fleeces dragging in the water.
Maybe next year they’ll be caught? Or maybe not. Perhaps we’ll have a triple-fleeced champion of the Holm.