Harvesting

We deliberately have not done much in the way of crops this year. I sowed some herbs which are now in the herb spiral, some flowers, many of which have been cut and bought into the caravan to enjoy, some peas, most of which we have already eaten, some tomatoes which are just starting to flower, some chillies and peppers also just starting to flower, some sweetcorn which are monsters and already touching the top of the polytunnel but actually have some small cobs on and some salad which all bolted and went to seed. Keeping it small scale and mostly successful has rekindled the passion for me after a few years of serious losses of crops and allowed the raised beds a year to build soil quality with seaweed mulches and the chickens in the area enhancing the soil with their manure. I’m looking forward to starting again next year after more seaweed mulches on the soil over the winter. I’d really recommend the rest year, it’s worked well for me and hopefully also for the soil.

We bought some more lavender plants – they are my favourite flower, good for the bees but also really useful as an ingredient in both things like bath bombs but also in baking (lavender shortbread – yum!) and in my artisan jams. We have a trough on the front of the caravan decking with lavender and a whole load in containers which live in the polytunnel over winter and outside in the summer which I have been collecting flowers from to use fresh and drying to store.

We’ve had our biggest strawberry crop ever, all still from the original 10 plants we bought years ago and have taken runners from every year. I’ve thinned the plants already twice this year and have at least one more taking runners and planting them in the new big strawberry area ahead. Hopefully next year’s crop will be even bigger but we’ve had so many bowls of strawberries and for the first time ever had sufficient excess to make jam with too.

This is planted up runners waiting to be moved into the main strawberry area on a non-midgey day.

The blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries, raspberries, tayberries and loganberries have all had / are still having a bumper year too. I’ve been picking every couple of days for several weeks and making jam as I go – summer fruit medley, blackcurrant and vanilla, blackcurrant and lavender, redcurrant and rose jams all now in the shed and already selling well.

There are a few of the very first apples finally on our apple trees which we planted about 4 years ago and of course we are only a short while away from the start of the bramble season – if the blossoms on the bramble bushes are any sort of indicator it’s going to be a bumper year for the brambles too.

 

Spinning Around

I’ve been working on mastering my spinning these last few weeks, putting hours and hours into it. My original little drop spindle (which I am not entirely sure of the origins of, it may well have been from a kit bought when I very first had a go at drop spinning years ago at Butser Ancient Farm but has definitely been ‘improved’ by me screwing a cup hook into the top and then ‘fixed’ with duct tape more than once) has been semi retired with the arrival of a new bobbin and drop spindle kit handmade in Cornwall. The maker does not have a website but if you are interested then search for Treneyn Crafts, I highly recommend this kit, it is such a clever design and beautifully made, just the sort of purchase and small business I love to support. So I’ve been alternately carding the sheared fleece, spinning onto one bobbin, spinning onto another bobbin and then spinning the wool from both of those onto a third bobbin, removing the wool from the bobbin onto my arm to form a skein and then thrice washing to remove the lanolin and set the twist before pegging out on the washing line. It’s a lovely process, really calming and zen (aside from brief swearing bouts when I drop the drop spindle!), my hands are beautifully moisturised from the lanolin and I have a basket filled with balls of wool and even made my first thing – as requested a long time ago when we first got our sheep Ady now has a hat!

I’ve made a few test squares with it too – it’s nice to work with but quite heavy so I’ve been trying to decide what to make as a first big project with it while I carry on perfecting my spinning to create yarns of different weights. Very excitingly my Mum has bought some more pure wool in complimentary colours (purple and green, my favourites, which added to the white will create a lovely suffragette colour palette) which will arrive next week and I can start working on a blanket – wool from our sheep spun by me, added to wool from my Mum, made into a blanket with hours of my time crocheted into it to create a very special family heirloom. I can’t wait to get started, but in the meantime you’ll find me spinning….

Woolly Fun

Another busy week here. We’ve had mixed weather – plenty of sunshine and showers, enough wind to put us off heading out to sea for the weekly wildlife watching boat trip and cancel a trip to a neighbouring island for me for a (routine) doctors visit. It’s meant virtually no midges though, which is always a blessing worth celebrating at this time of year.

Outside we are still waiting for hatchling news from the broody ducks. We’re not quite sure what’s going on really as we are well past the due date for the first clutch of eggs but the broody duck continues to sit. We’ll see. More strawberries have been turned into jam and the fruit cage is looking very promising indeed with redcurrants and blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries all ripening and changing colour in there. We also have several tiny apples growing on a few of the trees for the first time ever.

Ady has been mostly cutting grass – for money, working cutting the grass around the castle, and here on Croft too. We have massively reduced the ragwort on the croft by cutting the grass regularly in certain areas and are seeing a real increase in the wild birds and butterflies on the croft along with the wildflowers and grasses on the land.

I spent a few hours with my trusty paint pens branding up our car. It now sports adverts for our crafts and produce at the shed and the fact that we take orders for freshly baked bread, cakes, pies and quiches and all of our various contact details and social media information. I think I will go over the paint pens at some point with some enamel paint to make it longer lasting and brighter but for now it looks pretty good and will advertise our various offerings as we drive around the island.

I have been mostly turning fleece into wool. I have now spent hours and hours using the drop spindle to create spun yarn, then plying two balls of spun yarn into one length, winding it on my arm into skeins and then washing and drying it to create balls and balls of soft, fluffy white wool. It’s amazing! Like a superpower!

And today Ady and I decided the conditions were right to shear the sheep this year. We were slightly off in that we had a very midgey second half of shearing the first sheep and the cleggs (a sort of horsefly type creature that bites hard enough to draw blood) were also out in force so there was a lot of slapping ourselves as we went. But shear all three sheep we did and with an acceptable level of leaving only a tiny amount of fleece on but not cutting the sheep. They won’t win any prizes for speed or technique but it was a stress free experience for us and most importantly for them. The result was three happy sheep who are now frolicking around like spring lambs again freed from their very heavy winter coats, two happy crofters who have done yet another new thing all by ourselves and a HUGE sack of fleece which will represent hundreds if not thousands of hours of spinning activity over the coming year.

A crofters life’s a very diverse one!

Celebrations

June brings Fathers Day and two specific anniversaries each year. One is solely mine – the anniversary of passing my driving test, which I did on 12th June 1991. I posted some memories of passing my test and the feeling of independence and adventure it gave me on facebook this week and it seemed to strike quite a chord with people. I know that travel and exploring the world is more than possible without a driving licence and that running a car comes with quite an environmental impact but I love driving and the freedom and empowerment that sitting behind a steering wheel offers. I reminisced about my first car – a bright yellow Mini that was older than me – and the adventures that we had together. I remembered also the various other cars I have held V5 forms for over the years and what they have symbolised for me – Ady and my first ‘nice’ car with electric windows and central locking, the brand new company cars which came with less than 10 miles on the clock, our campervan Willow, first introduced on this blog and our home for 9 months. My 27 years of driving celebrated this week hold a great many memories for me.

The next anniversary that rolls around each June is of Ady and I being a couple. We had been friends for a couple of years before we got together and infact I have known Ady since I was younger than Davies is and not much older than Scarlett is now, but we officially became ‘Nic & Ady’ 25 years ago today. It was a very quick path from first kiss to moving in together (a week) and buying a house (6 months). Getting married took longer (6 years) and was speedily followed by parenthood which should probably have been the start of acting like grown ups but as readers of this blog will know we may have grown older but we most certainly have not grown up. Many people who knew us back then doubted it would last and several of them congratulated us on facebook today but last it has and a very happy, love and laughter-filled 25 years it has been with memories made, fantastic adventures had and outlandish dreams chased and come true.

And it’s Fathers Day – a day to celebrate the wonderful Dads in our lives – Ady of course, a brilliant dad to Davies and Scarlett

And my Dad, a fantastic Dad to me and my brother, father-in-law to Ady and Grandad to Davies and Scarlett and my nephew Robin.

Truly a week of celebrating our good fortune to have the people in our lives that we do and the opportunities in our lives that we’ve had.

It’s been a week of very mixed weather with midges, sunshine, storm Hector and finally some much needed rain to top the water supplies back up again. During the dry start to the week we were busy outside. We re-laid the worn path up the croft with some wood we’ve been given. Ady carried the wood up the hill, cut it to size and created a new path on top of the stone path which was eroding. I then finished it by stapling on chicken wire to make sure it is non-slip.

Ady had cleared out the herb spiral which had been rather over-grazed by the sheep so I replanted it with some of the herbs I’ve grown from seed in the polytunnel

And the day finally arrived when we had an actual excess of home grown strawberries and I got to make jam. Only 3 jars and one has already been consumed but the caravan smelt like Heaven and it truly is a landmark day when we have more strawberries than the four of us can eat!

The signs at the Shed and around the nature trail had faded a little from all the full on sunshine we’ve been having so I did some re-touching of them with my paint pens

And then it rained. And was windy.

Which was really just as well quite honestly, the river was unbelievably low so it was a huge relief to have it topped back up again.

Being inside for a few days has given me the perfect opportunity to really work on spinning with the drop spindle. I can see a huge improvement on the wool I was spinning just a week ago to the wool I’ve been spinning today, it’s really exciting measuring my progress.

And with a huge THANKYOU to the generosity of reader Liz I have a start in my spinning wheel fund too – I really appreciate it Liz and hopefully sales from the Shed will continue to top up the fund.

Dads, life partners, rain, generosity, strawberries, herbs, a better pathway and new skills… that seems like quite a lot to be celebrating.

Mostly sunshine and midges

Still no rain…. it’s been weeks! The midges are here in force now, certainly feeling like the worst year we can remember and other islanders agree. After a few pretty hellish nights we have Taken Steps and now have two new fans, new foam sealant around the windows and Scarlett and I (the two most affected by the heat) have special cooling towels which have meant better nights sleep all round as we keep the midges outside and the temperature in the static slightly lower. It’s still quite a challenging run of unusually hot weather though and the dry, while lovely in terms of being able to roam around in normal shoes is starting to prove slightly worrying as our drinking (well every really) water supply is a mere trickle. I think we have some rain forecast for next week and it it will be pretty welcome. The island is also tinder dry so risks of more wild fires are pretty high too – hopefully the large volume of visitors will continue to be hyper-cautious and heed all the warning posters around the village and at the ferry pier.

It’s far from all doom and gloom though – everything looks and feels better in the sunshine doesn’t it? Rum is beautiful, everything is green, the seas and skies are blue and if we’re getting plagued by the midges and cleggs (a sort of horsefly, very bitey!) we’re also being treated to plenty of more welcome wildlife such as cuckoos calling, dragonflies starting to fly, the first dolphin and porpoise sightings of the year out on the Sheerwater boat trip and the red deer stags with their antlers grown back and covered in velvet while their coats redden up. Along with our weekly boat trips I also went out with SNH this week volunteering as scribe for the annual nesting sea bird count around the south coast of Rum. I was noting down the numbers for people spotting guillemots, razorbills, shags, fulmars, gulls and kittiwakes sitting on nests. It’s lovely to see Rum from different perspectives and realise how many hidden treasures and undiscovered corners our little island has. It’s only 8 miles across but is covered with such diverse landscapes and nooks and crannies.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks In The Shed – top seller is our little crochet Highland cows, which are not flying off the shelf but are certainly ambling along at a good speed. Today was a very midgey day keeping me indoors for most of the day so I managed to make another two to replace sales.

We got our certificate and stickers to show we are approved Scottish Crofting Producers which are now on display in the shed and sent off a parcel of our items for display on the Scottish Crofting Federation stand at the Royal Highland Show too.

Jam continues to be a good seller, along with our eggs and we’ve had another big order for bread, cakes and quiches which kept Scarlett and I busy for a whole afternoon of kneading, baking and decorating.

Ady and I have had a couple of fishing sessions. Just for an hour or so each time, coinciding with the ferry. The first time we caught a mackerel which we shared as a starter that evening – sea to plate in about an hour. The second time we only caught a tiddly fish so threw it back but it’s coming to the big mackerel season so they should be on our menu more and more frequently in the coming weeks.

Also in season now are the strawberries, with a huge bowlful ripe every other day. So far we’ve noshed the lot between the four of us but Ady is dreaming of strawberry jam so I may yet hold back some. Last years lavenders are in bloom so I’ve harvested some of the flowers to dry ready for bramble jam season in a few months time – bramble and lavender is one of our best sellers. The rest of the flowers I’ve left for the bees, along with the comfrey which is starting to flower and various other flowers I am growing for the bees including calendula.

The peas are starting to pod, the herbs are ready to plant out in the newly spruced up herb spiral that Ady sorted out this week and the sweetcorn and tomato plants are doing well in the polytunnel.

We’ve planted out 60 new tiny lavender plants this year including a boxful attached to the front of the decking around the caravan – for the bees, for us to smell and enjoy and for picking and drying the flowers.

Outside there are tiny apples forming where the blossom is dying back, the raspberries, loganberries and tayberries are also starting to form and the blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries are all growing fatter and starting to ripen too.

We have started making plans to buy or hire a ram for our three ewes this winter so that we can have lambs next spring. We’ll be shearing the sheep in the next week or so and while I am still saving up for a spinning wheel I have made a start on processing the fleeces from last year with a drop spindle, which I am getting better at with practice.

Alongside all of this activity we have also found time for several rounds of croquet each day which is Ady and my new favourite thing. The croft is a million miles away from a flat, manicured croquet lawn but the quirks of the pitch make it all the more fun, the dodging of goose poo, and often geese themselves, along with Bonnie attempting to fetch the balls and Kira trying to chase them, frequently with a side order of midges distracting us makes for great hilarity and a well deserved G&T or beer afterwards.

Like I said, sunshine makes everything look and feel better…

Traffic and travel

It is crazily hot here as I type. Inside the caravan it is currently over 30 degrees. The sun has shone day in day out (for over 18 hours a day) for at least two weeks maybe more. The midges have returned with an absolute vengeance and I am envious of friends moaning about rain storms or posting pictures of them enjoying leisurely evenings sitting outside. No pleasing me is there? Complaining in the winter about the wind and mud-causing rain and whinging in the summer about the sunshine and insect life! Along with the midges we are playing unintentional host to bees, wasps and beetles. All of which are interesting to photograph and identify (we have several bug ID books) although we do have to evict any who show intentions to share our home long term – a very persistent wasp has finally been dissuaded from creating a wasps nest in the shed after several removals of it’s groundwork!

A close existence to nature has it’s very definite ups and downs. For me the ups are the spring and autumn and the downs are high summer and deepest winter. I have not the complexion, build or temperament for being too hot and fortunately for me it is usually a blip rather than the norm living here in the Highlands to have prolonged high temperatures and still, sunny days like these.

It’s far from all bad though,  I have to admit that walking around the croft in normal shoes (and sometimes even barefoot, which would always be the preference for both Scarlett and I), along with it being perfect conditions for the young chicks and the broody ducks (two) and geese (four) all sitting on nests, along with ideal for ripening strawberries, currants and bringing along the peas and tomatoes in the polytunnel very nicely.

We’ve had two glorious Thursday afternoon boat trips – no sea life to speak of spotted in the way of cetaceans but the shearwaters and puffins are back.

We had a weekend off Rum catching up with friends – a quick overnight trip to Inverness for me (city break!) with a coffee shop visit and a meal out in a restaurant, a mad 100 mile round dash to Fort William to do a supermarket stock up of essentials for Ady and I and some midnight trips to the beach for the teens with their friends, along with some stressy car driving in our own vehicle, some stress free driving in a car club car and an unplanned but very lovely evening of sitting with musicians singing. The car issue is now perfectly resolved by us once again not having a mainland vehicle and instead just booking the car club car(s) as and when we need to drive on the mainland. The relief – both mental and financial – is huge.

It seems if we’re not off visiting then we are here being visited. This weekend just passed we had a lovely visit from our very first WWOOFing volunteer who was first here with us nearly four years ago. It was great to catch up with him and see through his eyes how much things have changed and progressed here on the croft in the last four years too. When he was last here it happened to be an islanders birthday so there was a big party with musicians and late night drama of the air ambulance taking someone away. We assured him then that both were fairly unusual so it was ironic that he returned on a weekend that fellow islanders had arranged a mini festival with a whole crew of visiting musicians and the helicopter coming to airlift someone injured out walking….

The bank holiday, amazing weather and huge influx of visitors have meant loads of customers for us. The shed has been doing fantastically with several large sales of clocks, cuddly midges, eggs and jam and I’ve had several special orders for bread and cakes. The most recent order for cheesecakes proved especially challenging in this heat but the glowing feedback made it worthwhile.

Our crafts and produce will be displayed at the Royal Highland show in June at the Scottish Crofting Federation stand as we now have the Scottish Crofting Produce mark for our jams, eggs, photography and crafts. If you have not looked before please do check out our etsy shop .It really feels as though our work towards setting up the Croft 3 brand and finding ways to use all our different skills is starting to slowly pay off.

On a similar note we had our annual visit from a student group who visit Rum each year on a field trip and meet with various islanders doing various things. We chat to them on the croft about our lives here, what we have done to set up and improve the croft since we arrived and what challenges and impediments we have faced. It’s always interesting to be faced with a sea of people watching and listening to you start to tell your crazy life story and see whether they are engaging with you and interested or whether you are failing to reach them at all.

A tour of the croft and a chat about island life is something we have been approached to offer before and have done for various groups of students and school children. We often wonder whether there would be a demand for it on a wider basis for visitors to Rum.

Davies and I have finished our studies and submitted our final assessments. We will get our marks back in about 6 weeks or so but Davies is already signed up to continue studying in October with the OU for a degree in Psychology. He is enjoying the freedom to pursue his other passions for the summer but is looking forward to that in the autumn. I have decided not to continue studying at this stage. I like the idea of committing a set period of time each week to something though and have a few ideas of other things I could focus on myself come the autumn. I’m very proud of us both though – a middle aged woman who left education some 25 years ago and a never-been-to-school Home Educated teen. We both really enjoyed the content, learned plenty of new skills, had some amazing conversations and spin-off learning spilling out to Ady and Scarlett too and completed our studies over an academic year filled with all sort of distractions including living in three different countries and a largely off-grid life with limited internet access.

Our poor sheep are suffering from the heat – we are in the throes of sourcing some shears and will be shearing them again in the next week or so. In the meantime I have been gathering the shed pieces of fleece around the croft as they scratch themselves on posts and buildings and spinning it very slowly by hand to make a tiny ball of wool. I am on the look out for a rented spinning wheel or saving up for one of my own but in the meantime this is a nicely meditative and zen activity while sitting in the shade!

Birthday and birth days

I seem to report on the weather rather a lot here. We do live very closely with nature and so tend to both notice and be affected by the weather and of course so much of what we do on a day to day basis is influenced by and impacted on by the weather in terms of livestock and crops, choosing to do laundry or collect firewood, wear sunscreen or waterproofs. And indeed head down to meet a ferry to send stuff off or collect it, or not bother as in the case during this last week the ferry was cancelled due to poor weather. Which meant a friend arrived for a visit a day late, the annual ceilidh celebrating community land ownership (nine years this year) didn’t happen as the band and many of the intended ceilidh-goers couldn’t get here and our very first etsy sale did not leave the island as intended on it’s way to it’s new owner.

In the last week we have had all of the above – sunscreen and sitting outside, cancelled boats and howling winds. We’ve also had plenty of days of perfect alternative energy with both the wind turbine and the solar panels giving us oodles of power.

We had a meeting with Marine Harvest – the company who are building a fish farm off the coast of Rum along with a shore base and housing development on the island, creating new jobs, new houses and new opportunities for existing and prospective islanders. To welcome or not welcome them was a much debated and considered topic for the islanders over the last couple of years and after a lot of serious thought we have gone ahead and will hopefully secure a more sustainable future for generations to come here on Rum with employment and investment in our little island. On a day to day basis this is likely to have little affect on us here on Croft 3 although it is great to see the island population numbers boosted and new faces calling Rum home, along with offers of help with island infrastructure and issues with transport and logistics. Several of the issues which scuppered island plans over the last week or so may well prove to be issues of the past once Marine Harvest are set up here with their two all weather boats heading back and forth to the mainland on a regular basis.

Ady and I got the strawberries all moved across to their new area and covered with plastic hoops. We have plenty of strawberry flowers so are very hopeful of good crops this year. We also have promising blossoms on our apple and cherry tree and our currant bushes so it could be a good year all round. Early jam sale mean some currant and berry crops helping to bolster our stocks before the bramble season begins would be very welcome. This years new lines in the shed are starting to sell well with a cuddly pony, several badges and keyrings all selling. It’s really great to see new ideas proving popular and worth the investment of time and money on materials paying off.

Mrs Turkey finally returned home to the croft having been away sitting on eggs for weeks. Sadly she returned alone; we did find her nest but it was empty. There were a few smashed egg shells around so she had laid eggs but whether they were infertile and she gave them up to the crows and ravens or she did manage to hatch chicks which were taken we just don’t know. Mr Turkey is very pleased to have her company once more though and has stopped his almost incessant calling for her.

The broody hens have been slightly more successful hatching a few chicks between them. They are not all making it but we are not intervening and leaving them to see how they do left alone. At least we know our single cockerel is fertile.

The biggest birthday on the croft though was Ady’s this weekend just passed. We celebrated with an evening at Rum shop with island friends, a whisky club night which is a Rum tradition and a barbecue with friends on the croft with our own sausages and lovely brownies. The sun shone for all of the above and Ady declared it one of his favourite birthdays ever.

 

A wet week

It’s been a soggy start to May along with plenty of winds. The Sheerwater boat which does runs from Arisaig on the mainland to the Small Isles during the summer should have started it’s twice weekly visits to Rum this week but both days it would have come have been wild weather. Our plastic has arrived to create new strawberry covers but it’s been too windy to be outside trying to wrangle plastic sheeting. Fortunately none of the broody birds have hatched any chicks yet although we are due both chicken and turkey chicks any day now.

Instead we’ve spent a lot of time indoors dashing out between showers, or sometimes just putting on waterproofs and braving the elements. Inspired by the bramble baskets I read some of my bush craft and countryside craft books to find out which materials can be harvested to craft with at this time of year and spent some time experimenting with reeds / rushes – an incredibly plentiful resource here. We have far fewer on Croft 3 these days thanks to regular cutting and grazing but we still have clumps in the wilder areas of the croft and a handy supply of very green and verdant ones inside the polytunnel. I cut some and made some cordage or twine with them.

I have made a small bracelet with it to see how it fares with changing temperatures. So far it is holding up well and is still pretty strong.

Ady and I had a victorious afternoon of replacing a broken part on our chainsaw. Getting the part in the first place proved trickier than expected with our original source failing to get it to us after several weeks so we had to resort to an online purchase which finally arrived this week. In theory it should have been a straightforward like for like swap with just a couple of screws to remove the friendly looking casing to reveal the scarier innards of the machine but this also released a tightly wound spring coil which we then had to re-wind and re-insert. You tube helped with that – hurrah for the internet! But the final hurdle was something we couldn’t find help with online so after some feeling the fear and doing it anyway we worked out a theory and went with it. And we were right! Our greatest triumphs since we’ve been on Rum – and quite possibly in our whole lives – have been in having faith in ourselves and being up for trying something that feels right even though common sense (as in what everyone else might caution you to do!) tells you to not to incase you get it wrong.

Half an hour afterwards I was not needing that jumper anymore as Ady had chopped up a load of firewood and we’ve been cosy ever since!

Continuing in the vein of lifelong learning Ady has followed in my footsteps as I followed in our teens and joined instagram – home of pretty pictures online. So there has been much talk of hashtags and @-ing people, which ties in rather nicely with some of what Davies and I have been learning of the impact of globalisation on individuals, culture and language development.  The north side nature trail on Rum borders three sides of our Croft and we recently put up some signs at the top of Croft 3 encouraging people to stop, look up, down and around, listen and pause giving some suggestions of things to look and listen out for. Today we added some seasonal tips such as listening out for the cuckoo (who we’ve started hearing again in the last week) and asking people to share their photos online. We also added a sign at the Shed for people to check in there on facebook or instagram.

Sometimes though you just have to brave the rubbish weather. I remember when I was at primary school and we would have days when it was too rainy to go outside at playtime / lunchtime. A double bell would be rung instead of just one to signify we should stay in our classrooms. The teachers would still get to leg it to the staff room for their coffee fix and older kids would be sent to monitor the younger kids classrooms. The lack of running around outside fresh air time would kick in pretty quickly though with kids squirming in their chairs and being rowdy in class, unable to concentrate. Despite never having done ‘sitting down structured learning’ with Davies and Scarlett we would still sometimes get ‘wet play syndrome’ if we’d been indoors for too long so we’d don wellies and head off to splash in puddles and find raindrops on spider webs, or wait for the smallest break in the rain and get outside to smell the wet pavements and see how the colours changed from wet to dry and back again.

It’s not practical to work in heavy waterproof clothing here, we don’t have much room to dry wet clothes and when it’s as windy as it has been this week you can’t do much anyway outside without risk of things blowing away. But we still have to feed animals, collect eggs and pop down to the village to collect the post, fetch food supplies from the freezer or deliver eggs to the shop and so just as when Davies and Scarlett were little we have been deliberately slowing down and deciding if we are already soggy we may as well linger and enjoy the difference to the landscape that a downpour brings about. Rivers running faster and wider, the colour changed to dark and peaty as the water gathers debris from the land, the spring colours of the shrubs, trees and flowers in brighter relief against the low mist than the blue skies.

Beauty everywhere. I can’t deny a bit of sunshine would be nice now though!

April in all it’s glory

April is always such an unknown quantity with weather conditions and temperatures. We have had a few evenings without needing to light the fire and a few days of being outside in t shirts, the ticks are out in force and we are mere days away from the midge season. We’ve had days of tens of people coming off the ferry for a day trip and ferries being cancelled due to bad weather.

The last few days have been the very best of all April conditions though – plenty of wind and plenty of sun. That means not only are we rich in power with the wind turbine and the solar panels meaning as much power as we can use we have also had perfect laundry drying conditions. The novelty of a washing machine on the croft has still most definitely not worn off.

The birds are all in full lay mode with a half dozen duck eggs collected every morning and a further dozen chicken eggs most days too. We have two broody hens sitting on a clutch of eggs each so are expecting chicks to hatch in the next 10 days or so.

Mrs Turkey has also been absent for a good 4 weeks so she is due to return with a brood of wee turkeys too fingers crossed. The geese are all feisty and furious and we are managing to collect the odd goose egg if we happen to spot where they lay them but more often than not the ravens are beating us to those. We are hearing their trademark croak over the croft more often than any other bird call just now. Ady heard the first cuckoo of the season in the village yesterday but the rest of us are yet to hear one and nothing yet here on the croft. We did have an exciting avian encounter on Monday though when a sparrowhawk landed on a tree guard just outside the caravan. I managed to get a picture and we spent ages looking at our bird books torn between various possible birds of prey before throwing it out to the facebook world for confirmation.

Isn’t she (confirmed female sparrowhawk, thanks to many birdy mates and experts) gorgeous?

The sheep were due their tick medication. We tend not to medicate any of our livestock if we can help it but the ticks are really bad here on Rum and we are already picking them off ourselves and the cat and the dog. On a routine catch and check ’em over look at the sheep last week I spotted a couple of ticks. They have magnificent fleeces this year thanks to the very harsh winter but we are still a good month away from shearing them. The ticks would struggle to navigate through those fleeces but their faces and bellies are prone to getting them. Having handled the sheep so often and petted them when they come for feed it is a stress-free exercise and we just bring them into a pen for feed, close the gate and catch one at a time to apply the treatment.

One of the skills I have long wanted to acquire is basket weaving. I did a couple of day long courses at the local college with my sister-in-law years and years ago when our children were tiny and really enjoyed it. I have various books on the subject but the correct time to harvest the material is the middle of winter and I’ve never quite managed to do it. I stumbled across an course advertised online for woodland and wild crafts which included bramble basket weaving using green (as in freshly cut rather than stored or treated in some way) brambles though and did a bit of research to find a simple basket. In a short break during an otherwise very soggy Sunday I managed to cut some bramble and weave a few baskets. They were fairly easy to do and look really nice although they are a fairly short lived basket (the online video I found was someone showing you how to make a speedy receptacle to gather berries if you find yourself out and about and stumble on a harvest without a suitable bowl).  They are currently holding eggs although we did toy with other uses!

I am inspired anew to gather suitable weaving materials once the season is right at the end of the year.

I’ve been making more clocks and some hanging signs too using slates but today my new toy arrived on the ferry – a badge press! Scarlett and Davies have long collected pin badges- and actually I do too, of places we visit. Our fellow Small Isles all have badges for sale but no one here on Rum has them so we decided we would. I’m currently playing around with designs and we will likely end up with a whole basket full of individual ones, maybe it will encourage people to choose more than one?!

But that is another of those rainy day / morning / afternoon / snatched hours between sunshine jobs and today was a sunny day so Ady and I did some work in the strawberry cage. We are waiting on a part to arrive for our chainsaw and so our original plan of working with dismantled pallet wood would have proved too time consuming and with all this perfect growing weather the strawberries have been going crazy. Having spotted lots of growth on them last week yesterday we realised that not only were the leaves touching the plastic sheeting we had laid over them there were also quite a few plants with flowers on already.

So we dug out the old hoops we had used on the raised beds with netting before we caged that area off and made some cloches. We need some more plastic so only managed to cover half of the area which meant moving some of the plants across to ensure they are underneath. We have more plants to move across to the other half of the cage once we have some more plastic but this is a good start. It was good to be doing it on a windy day as we were able to check that our work was Rum-proof even if it did make for a few comedy moments of the pair of us holding a large sheet of plastic like a sail as the wind battled to take it from us. It did prompt us to use some green shading around two sides of the cage to be a windbreak though.

At this rate we could even be eating our first fruits of the year before May is out…

In the polytunnel the peas, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and flower seeds I sowed are all starting to do their thing.

The currant bushes are all greened up with leaves and tiny fruit and some of the fruit trees even look promising this year for the first time. Putting the ducks in the fruit cage has been an inspired plan – we’re getting all the eggs and they are having a feast on all the bugs and beasties who usually turn up around now to start chomping on the fruit tree leaves. There is a perfect ditch running through the cage to keep the ducks happy with splashing about and they have done our usual job of painstakingly cutting down the grass around all the trees and bushes in there for us.

It’s six years since we arrived here. Three years since we had a film crew staying with us. It’s funny to reflect on how much we have learned and achieved in that time and exciting to realise there is still so much new stuff to carry on learning too.

Rum Time

Yesterday was our six year Rum-iversary.

Six whole years since we drove off the ferry and started our new lives here. Over a third of both Davies and Scarlett’s lives.

So many highs, a fair few lows, so many memories and experiences, adventures and lessons. A friend who no longer lives here and infact was only here for about half as long as we already have been once told me that Rum never leaves you even if you leave Rum. Local lore has it that you don’t choose Rum but Rum chooses you – if you are meant to be here then the Rum gods will make it so and be kind, if you are not then you will be shown. A place which is so sparsely populated that you can almost see the footprints of everyone who has ever walked here, almost still hear the echoes of voices whispering every word ever said. Without a shadow of a doubt our time here has forever changed all four of us.

Friendship and family mean something different here, there is a dialect so local that only the residents understand every word and Rum-specific phrase, currency is not spent in sterling, time is not marked in minutes and hours, Rum customs and festivals mark the passing of time along with the first cuckoo calling,  the first shearwater fledging, the first stag roaring, the hills changing colour through the seasons, the ferry timetable switching from summer to winter to summer to winter.  We speak here of ‘Shop o’clock’, ‘Ferry o’clock’, Rum Time.

I’m attempting to capture the essence of that in my newest In The Shed line – Rum o’clock clocks on recycled slates. I’ve got them displayed in the Shop, Bunkhouse and will soon have them at the other businesses on the island too.

That six years has both been a lifetime and passed in a flash.