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Perspective….

Earlier this week Ady took some photos of the croft from above to the north, a perspective we don’t always see.

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At the start of the month I took some pictures of the croft from below, which is our most frequent perspective on the croft – looking up at it from the foot of the croft, with all the hill to climb, looking at back at what we’ve achieved.

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Today we were to the south of the croft, in the woodland seeking out this year’s Christmas tree. We found ourselves suddenly in a clearing with a great view of the croft from the other side.

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I love these images. They serve to remind us of what we have achieved, what we have made happen. When I look up at the caravan and see lights on and smoke curling from the log burner chimney – home for nearly five years where we have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, Christmasses, hosted family and friends, when I see the brown areas which is the ground that the pigs have turned up, the green bits that the sheep have grazed or that Ady has cut and the birds have kept down. I also love to see the long golden bits which we keep wild and our free range poultry use to take shelter from the wind or lay their eggs. These wild areas will be filled with butterflies and wild flowers in the summer. The cages which contain our soft fruit bushes and orchard trees, the raised beds, the water butts holding comfrey tea to feed our plants – comfrey that we grew from seed, a brash hedge laid with help from my parents on one of their many visits, supporting a climbing yellow rose we planted in memory of my granny. The polytunnel and cloches, built from scrap wood and the torn remains of the community polytunnel plastic. The little green shed at the gate of the croft where we have had over 300 individual buying customers in this, our first year of trading. The area at the top of the croft where we created our camp kitchen for volunteers and guests, the circle of impacted ground where the bell tent stood this summer, the row of cut down ground where we are planting over 400 trees, something that will create yet more change in the landscape in years to come. The human touches – the cob pizza oven and the large space where we may yet one day build a cob house, the kids’ trampoline, the bench where we have sat and drunk tea or beer with visiting friends. The patch of bare ground where we burn our rubbish, the various sheds where we store firewood, tools, animal bedding.

Croft 3, Isle of Rum. Before we came it wasn’t even a place. Now it’s a home, a business and a place you can look up to and down on.

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A benevolent November

I have previously found November a pretty tricky month here on Rum. Winter is all still ahead, days are short, the windows are dripping…

But this year it’s been cold, crisp, dry and still. We’ve had days and days of no rain and no wind.

Ady has been working in the mornings down in the village, leaving me with plenty of time to stay in the cosy warm drinking tea and working on various crochet and crafty projects. Some I can share photos of, others are gifts so I cannot.

I can show the start of my latest long term project though. I made two blankets earlier this year – one was made mostly in hospital and hotel rooms while Ady was having his gall bladder adventures, the other was a winter project just for the fun of it. Blankets are great projects to make because they are useful once they are made and the idea of something that allows me to mess about and not follow patterns too much is very appealing. A couple of my friends have made crochet blankets for their children – infact two of my friends are right now working on blankets for daughters which inspired me to make a blanket each for Davies and Scarlett. I like the idea of making them something they can use now, take away and use forever. I like the idea that they will always have something made by me, for them, with love, that also keeps them warm.

Obviously I was never going to just find a pattern for a blanket and make that though and I thought that if I was making a sort of leaving childhood type gift for them to take into the world then maybe it should represent their childhoods and be made of a whole load of squares that all had individual meanings, sewn together to show their whole lives so far.

So Scarlett’s will have lots of squares with animals in, along with various other passions, interests, places she has been etc. Davies’ will have lots of characters and logos from the various films, TV shows and music he loves. I’ll be making them up as I go along… we’ll see how big they grow and how random and mixed up they become. They will both be different, unique, fun, imperfect, filled with memories and greater than the sum of their parts.

scarlett blanket

davies blanket

I’ve made a start with their names. So far I have made a chick and a cat square for Scarlett’s. I’ll add more photos as I go.

In other news we’ve got more trees planted in the sunny afternoons this week before the sun dips behind the hills. We’ve done double rows of the two willows which will grow to screen off a section of the croft where people can camp. Tree planting is a bit like bramble picking – repetitive work leaving you lots of time to chat or think as you go. Dig the hole, plant the sapling, add a stake, tread it in, cover with a tree guard. It’s funny to think that one day these tiny trees will stand taller than us.

Ady took some photos from above the croft looking down. We don’t often look down on the croft, we are usually looking up at it and it gives such a different perspective. I love the panoramic shot as I can really see all the different sections on the land that we are doing different things with.

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trees

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Eternal Optimist

It’s bitterly cold here, while the rest of the UK is getting battered with gales and floods we are having a surprisingly dry and still stretch of weather, which is actually very lovely, despite plummeting temperatures.

We’ve lost a couple of the younger chickens, they just can’t seem to take the cold poor things. It’s been pretty extreme though.

Meanwhile inside the caravan it’s quite full on for us, the gas stopped working last night, we assumed a frozen valve or pipes on the supply as the gas itself won’t freeze. It meant no hob or hot water though which was a bit rubbish at hot water bottle o’clock. Ady managed to boil a kettle on the logburner this morning for tea and coffee but our kettle is not really suitable for the intense heat of the woodburner so it won’t be something we make a habit of. We always ensure we have a kettle and a few pans filled with water incase the water pipe freezes (although walking across to the river to get some is not such a big deal and now we have bought in the little one burner camping stove so we’ll be OK if it happens again.

Despite all of this when we woke this morning to a winter wonderland outside even the lack of a really hot cup of tea didn’t dim the beauty of Rum all dressed up in a winter coat.

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wonderland

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Tree planting started

We have 400 saplings – goat willow, rowan, downy birch, rowan and osier. We’re planting them along the top of the croft a few metres from the north wall. They will almost but not quite span the whole width of the croft. Ady’s cut the grass first and today we spent some time pacing out and planning the spacing and location. We planted the rowan and a few of the osier. Should get them all done this coming week. Davies and Scarlett will get involved too, planting trees is a real legacy project, knowing you may not see the fully grown trees yourself but they will be left behind.

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tree

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Winter… tapping us on the shoulder.

We’re at dark by 4pm, log burner lit for about 20 hours a day and double duvets on the beds stage. It may only be November and still technically autumn but the first snow has fallen, we’ve had the first seasonal losses of animals (sadly almost guaranteed when you have as much livestock as us, once the weather starts to get cold and wet there is a survival of the fittest thing going on which means despite there being plenty of food and shelter some of the birds just fail at staying alive).

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Ady has been working several mornings this week, helping with the dismantling of the old hostel building which is leaving the island over the coming weeks. We were here when it arrived and was opened and we’re still here when it’s being taken down again, that feels quite symbolic having seen an actual building come and go.

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The sheep are in their new pen, higher up the croft hill on drier ground for the winter. They have settled in well, are happily munching on grass and have gotten used to eating sheep nuts to supplement them over winter. They have had all their doses of medicine for various things until the spring and are growing well.

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We have various outside tasks to be getting on with when the weather allows – firewood processing, seaweed gathering to mulch the raised beds, winter pruning of fruit bushes, tree planting (we took delivery of 400 saplings this week) but while working in the cold is an occupational hazard we try to avoid working when it is raining or really windy – the windy simply prevents you from being productive… I’ve spent ages trying to chop firewood in the wind and you just can’t, your hair blows in your face, the log keeps blowing over before you can swing the axe down onto it. The rain is not only unpleasant to be outside in it means we bring loads of wet clothes into the caravan which is already suffering with condensation. So you grab your outside time when you can get it, sometimes just dashing out between rain showers, sometimes a whole afternoon of low hanging sun. This week aside from walks down to the village and trips to the ferry for various things I spent a couple of hours outside removing the netting from the fruit cage roof. Every spring I sew it on with baler twine to protect the crops from birds and every autumn I take it back off again so it doesn’t get ripped in the winter gales. Next spring I’ll be sewing on netting to the raised beds cage too so it’ll be a longer job.

cage sewing

It always feels like quite a symbolic task, full of hope in the spring wondering what crops I’ll be protecting with it, full of trepidation in the autumn, wondering how bad the winter might be.

There have been indoor tasks too – tidying and decluttering – cleaning out bedrooms and storage spaces, sorting out what we need and what we don’t need, making sure the stuff we use regularly is easy to get to. We all conceded we were hoarding more stuff than we should be – for me personally it was a cupboard full of old margarine tubs. Useful for storing leftover food, filling with brambles, taking food to the freezer, transporting snacks, using to store craft materials etc. Except I had a whole cupboard full of them and in a living space this small there is no room for a whole cupboard of margarine tubs. So they have gone!

I’ve been crocheting – I finished my ten midge commission, made a set of bagpipes and a santa hat to adorn another midge for a special order and photographed and listed all my crochet bags and purses and listed them on an etsy shop. I’ve sold more of those lines online than I have in the shed (where we tend to sell loads of jam and smaller value items) so it makes sense to have them online all the time and see what sales we get. We’re at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Croft3Crafts and will hopefully have more bits and pieces listed over time. Meanwhile I have finished one Secret Santa gift, almost finished a second and am still waiting for inspiration to strike for the third. No photos of any of those for obvious reasons.

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Roll up, roll up…

At the same time as my thoughts are turning towards Christmas gifts – so far I think we’re looking at personalised gifts like photo calendars, home made with love and maybe some interesting experiences, adventures, learning opportunities for next year as presents – it seems others are doing the same. I’ve sold a couple of my freeform crochet bags as Christmas gifts, some jam, particularly the more festive varieties such as bramble and mulled spice and I have a commission for ten crochet midges – which are almost finished
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midges

It got me to thinking, as I work out what home made delights I’ll be gifting for the three secret santa gifts I need to get cracking on making about festive versions of some of the crafts we already sell… should I stick some holly leaves onto some midges, make a red and green freeform crochet bag complete with jingle bells?

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In five years time…

Tomorrow, 10th November, marks the five year anniversary of the very first time we stepped foot on Rum.

It was a Thursday, just as tomorrow will be. The weather much as tomorrow is forecast, grey, a bit rainy. There was no snow yet on the peaks of Hallival and Askival which there already is this year. Back then we didn’t know the names of those hills yet. We’d spent the night before in Willow, parked in the carpark in Mallaig, scraping together pennies to cover the cost of the return ferry trip. We’d arranged to chat to a Rum resident on the ferry crossing over as she was also on board, except she forgot to look out for us and was busy chatting to someone from Canna. We were supposed to be met from the ferry by the development officer but she was busy with a contractor who was over so she didn’t meet us either. We were exhausted after nine months of travelling, volunteering, living in a van. We were daunted at the prospect that this could be the most life changing three hours ever, we were daunted at the idea that we could base this brief visit to an island on such a huge step. We were filled with excitement and hope and a sense of possibility.

We found Vikki and Georgie, the people we were supposed to meet on the boat and from the boat – both of them were instrumental in our decision to move to Rum, helping and making friends with us by email and phone call prior to our move here the following April. Both were really good friends to us when we first arrived and in our early time here. Neither of them live on Rum any more.

The winter ferry timetable allows for brief day trips to Rum on a Tuesday and a Thursday, arriving at 1135am and departing at 2pm, with time to get to and from the pier you have a scant two hours. Two hours to walk around the croft, that two mile trek from ferry port to croft gate since made TV worthy by Ben Fogle. Two hours to walk the perimeter of the croft ground, try and envisage the imaginary croft boundary line dividing the 20 acre field that makes up crofts 2 and 3. Two hours to whizz around Kinloch village and get our bearings, understand where folk lived, where the village hall was, the shop, the facilities. Two hours to ask as many questions as we could think of while trying to create a good first impression of ourselves. We took 13 photos during that visit, spotted a sea eagle, realised we had phone signal on the path above the crofts.

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When we got back to the mainland we bought reduced to clear pizzas from the CoOp in Mallaig for our dinner and a bottle of drink of each of our choice (Ady was beer, I was alcoholic ginger beer, the kids were coke as I recall) and drove to a campsite on the shores of Loch Lomond to spend the night. We all recall that night as one of the most happy and exciting of our adventures. One chapter was over, finished against all odds and expectations and complete. The next chapter was about to begin and no matter which direction it led us in we knew it would be just as action packed and fun as the one before. Those pizzas and bottles of drink were so delicious, we slept so very well that night. The following day we drove to stay with friends to catch them up on our plans before heading back to Sussex the next day.

Today as I walked down to the village to spend a couple of hours drinking tea and eating cake with friends I looked back up at that same bit of field. Now it looks like this
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November

Autumn on Rum is stunningly beautiful. The first fall of snow will hit the high peaks, sunrises and sunsets are spectacular, star gazing and northern light spotting on clear nights happens at a far more sociable hour than earlier in the year thanks to the clocks going back, the leaves are turning and falling, dew and raindrops hang on the spiders webs and prickly gorse bushes turned into diamonds by the low sun hanging in the sky. Mists roll across the glens, the herd of red deer reform from their fighting stags and harems of hinds back into hinds and yearling calves and bachelor groups of stags hanging out together once again, arch enemies no more.

We’ve had a busy week – friends visiting, various social events down in the village, earlier than usual evenings on the nights we’ve been at home on the Croft with the animals fed ever earlier each day as the light fades. We’ve carved pumpkins and made soup and cakes with the flesh, enjoyed home cooking once more after weeks away from our own kitchen, Ady’s been busy on the croft making a sheep pen and shelter ready to move the sheep up the croft hill onto drier ground in the next few weeks. This coming week we are moving the pigs again onto fresh ground. We’ve released the last of the penned young birds of the year – five chicks and the musgovy ducks are all now roaming free range with the rest of the birds. I have been making a start on a commission for ten crochet midges, finished off a freeform crochet glasses case and sent off a bag in the post.

We also made our Christmas cake, started three separate Secret Santa exchanges with various circles of friends and downloaded playlists of festive tunes in preparation for the start of feeling Christmassy by the end of the month.

It’s definitely time for the winter duvet…

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Adventurers in Mainlandland

Our Harris and Lewis trip was one of those ticking a box of places we’ve been sorts of trips. A real break away from our day to day lives and some family time. The sort of trip we have taken in the past covering a bit of culture, history, travel and wildlife watching.

In contrast the second week of being away from Rum for the kids and I was way more gallivanting about and a real return to our pre-Rum lives in many ways. Stacks of driving for me, some really, really interesting in car conversations (always the setting for the best chats throughout their entire childhood. Maybe it’s the lack of distractions, perhaps they don’t like my in-car singing, it could be that non confrontational no eye contact, not your full attention type space which makes for really candid and honest talking), a completely lovely top up of friends and family. My parents, my brother and his partner and son, my sister in law, my brother in law and the three cousins. So all the grandparents, all the aunts, uncles, brothers and honorary sisters and all the cousins, some family friends who have known me since I was younger than Davies and Scarlett are now.

And then on to an Open House hosted by some very good friends who invited along a group of friends who we have shared our lives with for well over a decade and become the sort of family you are not actually related to but hold just as close. These are people who we met online as fellow Home Educators and have spent many hours in real life company with. We have shared holidays, been at each others weddings, celebrated births of children, held each other close through dark times, laughed and loved and learned alongside each other. Our children are each others’ peers, friends and in many cases as good as siblings. I first met some of these friends virtually when we were all still using dial up internet and we have stayed in touch with a variety of the social media over the years. Of course nothing compares to real life contact though and we had a hefty dose of that with a rapid fall back into our usual easy camaraderie, in jokes and affectionate banter.

Davies continued that tradition by meeting up in real life for the first time with an online friend he has been chatting with virtually for nearly two years. It was so lovely to see the pair of them meeting for the first time, exchanging real life hugs rather than the online ones they are used to and leaving Scarlett and I behind as they headed off for a couple of hours together chatting away, bumping into them later still chatting and them returning to us still chatting.

The catalyst for our planned trip south was booking tickets to the live show of Welcome to Nightvale, a podcast that Davies and Scarlett listen to. We stood in the queue alongside other fans, Davies got a couple of T shirts, we got a photo with one of the stars and all really enjoyed a captivating performance in the fabulous venue of a church.

We arrived home after epic amounts of driving up and down the country and a few days later friends came for a 3 day visit to Rum. They happened to be here for one of the sporadic very busy weekends that seem to happen sometimes here on Rum – a Halloween party, a roller disco, various family and friends of other Rum residents visiting the island and so joined in with everything else that was going on.

It means as we waved them off today, the 1st of November, we are heading into our fifth winter here on Rum utterly buoyed up by plenty of time spent in the company of family and friends having had fun, adventures and made memories to keep us going through the darker winter months ahead.

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scotland

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Home away from home…

I love reading the visitor books in places. Whenever we stay in a holiday cottage or at an attraction it is so interesting flicking through and seeing who has been there before you, what they thought of it, where they came from…

We are just over halfway through our first week away from Rum. Ady will return back after just this week off, the rest of us are heading way down south for some time catching up with family and friends.

About three weeks ago I commented to Ady that I *almost* wished the holiday was already over so I could be looking back on it fondly and feeling refreshed rather than in that anticipatory state of fretting about details and anxiety about possible derailments to our plans. Life on Rum is always at the mercy of ferries, weather conditions, livestock and people. So any deviation from our day to day lives means even more vulnerability to outside factors out of our control. Ady corrected me that I could relax once we arrived at our booked holiday cottage on the Isle of Lewis because that would mean Croftsitter Jen had arrived safely on Rum (a trip from England for her which also involves public transport, an overnight stop and a ferry crossing), we had left the island (a ferry and car journey) and arrived on Harris (another ferry and another car journey). As it goes that first night we arrived in the cottage was not really that relaxing – the car had failed to start on the day we left Rum (easily remedied by starting one of our other cars, which doesn’t always start, rolling it close enough for the jump leads to work – scary when the brakes are unreliable and it’s a giant car rolling towards our tiny mainland car, all done with an audience of Croftsitter Jen and a random tourist who stopped to watch and chat to us), the ferry had been delayed and when we arrived at the cottage after a long day travelling, it was very cold, the oven was unfamiliar and we burned our pizzas and the wifi was patchy and slow.

I should have projected myself forward to last night as that was the point that relaxation kicked in fully. Two bubble baths, lots of stunning views and bracing walks on beaches, huge amounts of laughter and fun and in-jokes, quite a lot of crap TV, several good nights sleep, plenty of nice food and drink and all was well with the world.

We’ve been to the very bottom of Harris, bought some wool from the tweed shop, Ady surprised me with a bottle of Harris gin (he double backed in to get it for me after I’d fallen in love with the sample). We’ve been to the very top of Lewis – the Butt of Lewis lighthouse, the Callanish Standing Stones, Carloway Broch, to Stornoway. Our last full day is tomorrow and we’re planning a return to the stones to go to the visitor centre and a trip to the Blackhouse museum.

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And that ‘home away from home’ title? It’s a much used phrase in visitor books. Here at our holiday cottage it has been used by visitors in the past to describe the fully stocked kitchen with touches such as a radio, utility room complete with washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher, the comfy sofas, cosy bedrooms. None of these things are what we have at home these days. What is making us feel at home away from home is wild and windy weather, either outside the window right now, or evidenced by everything being tied down in anticipation of it – wheelie bins are tethered, shed doors are very secured. The lack of shops – we called in to a petrol station / groceries store yesterday to buy tonic water to have with my Harris gin and were told ‘Not till next Tuesday…’ a very familiar tale back at Rum shop. The attitude of the people, used to their lives being fascinating because they live on a remote island, well versed in the usual questions, slightly tired at the end of what has no doubt been a busy tourist season here too.

We came here because it seems mad that we live so far from our previous lives in a wild and remote place yet there is relative civilisation further away from the mainland than us. Because we live in the Hebrides but there is an ‘Outer Hebrides’ and we wanted to know what was more extreme and outer than where we are. Because one day, when we no longer live where we do we will probably live somewhere more anonymous, less documented. But while we live here, we should explore more, take the opportunity to visit the places which are, relatively speaking, on our doorstep.