All for the swim

I’ve mentioned on here a couple of times that Scarlett and I have begun wild swimming in the loch. We even took a visiting friend in with us in August.

We had been driving alongside the loch most days and walked around various parts of the shores in our early months here and looked longingly at it – it looked cooler than the inside of our car during heatwaves, it looked beautiful and inviting and exciting. When we started doing the marine identification workshop and surveys and learned more about the plants and animals living in and around the loch it was even more attractive to think we’d be sharing the water with starfish, anenomes, crabs (the small ones at least!) and so many varieties of beautiful seaweeds.

Then I interviewed a local swimming coach to write an article for the paper and that felt like the final prompt we’d needed. We booked a guided swim session with her, initially planning to hire wetsuits from her but the same week found bargain wetsuits on offer when we did our food shopping (one of those supermarkets with middle aisles filled with non food items you didn’t even know you wanted or needed in your life until you spot them there!) so we arrived for our guided swim clad in our own wetsuits. I had not previously left the house without cleavage on display since about 1992 and Scarlett hates anything restrictive so we were tugging on our necklines and wriggling about uncomfortably feeling both exposed and restricted. By the end of that first hour we were converted!

Fast forward a couple of months and we now both own two wetsuits each, have snorkel masks and goggles, gloves and tow floats and towel ponchos. Our downstairs shower is almost always host to at least one dripping wetsuit and I seem to wear waterproof mascara more often than I did in my tearful teenage years! We keep a stock of ‘after swim pear drops’ in the car and my instagram feed is filled with pictures of us looking dry and anticipatory or wet and happy before and after shots of our swims.

We are both able swimmers having had swimming lessons as children – in my case rather more years ago than in Scarlett’s, at the same swimming pool in Sussex, albeit 30 years apart. When Davies and Scarlett were having their lessons I started swimming again in fact. I was not a fan of sitting in the overly heated viewing area and never really clicked with the other swimming lesson mums chatting about schools so I used the time instead to get in the water myself. In 2010 I did two charity swims and raised nearly £500 shared between Marie Curie and Aspire. The first was a 2.5km all in one go swim and the second was the cumulative total of the English Channel over a 12 weeks period.

Since then though with the occasional exception of a couple of isolated swimming pool opportunities and the odd dip in the river on Rum swimming has not been part of our lives. Both of us have flaws in our techniques and I was a committed breast stroke swimmer with a firm aversion to getting my face wet. Wet suit swimming in salty water is not best suited to breast stroke though as the added buoyancy gives you a funny curve to your back if you keep your face out of the water and the words of the swimming coach who did life guard duty and watched me swimming up and down that pool nearly a decade ago have never stopped echoing in my head. She said I had all the stamina and determination of a good swimmer but needed some help with my style and that I would be a good candidate for adult lessons.

So I’ve had a few lessons to try and get my front crawl sorted and while I am still not totally there and may well have a couple more lessons to really crack it my confidence has soared. I’ve done a couple of group lessons too and found the camaraderie and support of fellow learners to be a brilliant motivator. Sufficient enough for Scarlett and I to sign up for two wild swims with the fantastic Highland Open Water Swim charity. We signed up months ago when October 5th seemed like a date so far in the future we needed even think about it yet. We had grand plans for training schedules and proper preparations and every so often I’d get email reminders or look at the website and then close it down again with a nervous fizzing in my tummy. August was so busy and even though we were in the loch several times a week we did a lot more looking in wonder at the world beneath the waves and leisurely floating on our backs gazing at the sky and marvelling of the beauty of being at loch level than we did actual swimming.

Suddenly the date was edging really close and just as we’d started to start thinking about measuring distances and looking at timings I fell ill with a really nasty cold. We managed just two dips in the weeks leading up to the swims and if I’m honest I was feeling very underprepared indeed. I’d met several others who were doing one or both of the swims and we all seemed to share the same anticipatory feelings of ‘it’s going to be amazing!’ and ‘I am utterly terrified!’.

And then it was yesterday – the day of the swims. I was finally better and recovered sufficiently to feel underprepared but well enough to swim. We had all the details printed out, knew where we were parking and what time we had to be there, which ferry we hoped to catch but had a reserve later one just in case we missed it, or it was full. Ady had the evening off work, Davies (who is largely nocturnal) was primed ready to get up many hours before his usual awakening time to come and cheer us on. I woke with butterflies ready to start easing myself into my wetsuit only to hear the distinctive sound of coughing and nose blowing coming from Scarlett’s bedroom. Sure enough she had been awake most of the night struck down with the very germ that I had finally seen off after three weeks suffering. Scarlett was out of the game and I was swimming alone.

Ady, Davies and (well wrapped up, tissue toting, sad faced) Scarlett in tow I arrived ready to go for round one. We headed across as foot passengers on the ferry, joining a crowd of fellow wet suited up people one way across the Corran narrows, which is the closest two points in Loch Linhe, where a ferry crosses every half hour during the day to make the trip from the Ardnamurchan peninsula to just south of Fort William. It’s about 380m but is very tidal so the drift means all but the very strongest swimmers end up covering rather more of a distance as they fight the tide.

There were 90 of us, some in wetsuits, some brave and hardy folk just in skins (swimsuits) and as the ferry left to head to the other side so did we. Accompanied by kayaks and ribs with safety support off we went. The large group soon spread out – the fastest swimmers were going there and back and before I was two thirds across there were already swimmers heading back and crossing me in the opposite direction. I have no record of the time I made other than knowing Ady, Davies and Scarlett were still on the other side when I got out of the water so it was within the half an hour window. By the time I had cheered on some fellow swimmers, posed for some jubilant photos and walked along the shore a bit they were coming in on the next ferry. We crossed back over again to hand in my tag (all swimmers were issued with numbered tags referenced to our personal details and emergency contacts incase of problems) and grab a cup of soup and then headed back for home to have lunch and try and get my swimsuit and wetsuit at least partially dry.

Then a few short hours later it was time to head off again. Leaving by now even more poorly Scarlett behind with Davies to look after her Ady and I drove back (using the ferry this time!) heading towards Glencoe. The second swim of the day was a night time one. Twice the distance of the daytime one although not quite so tidal with the added excitement of night falling while we swam. I gathered with fellow swimmers, this time adorned with glow sticks attached to us for the second safety briefing of the day before getting back into the water. This time it was Loch Leven and a swim around the Ballachulish peninsula, a headland that juts into the loch and is around a kilometre in the water.

The double distance, the falling light, the buffeting of the incoming tide pushing me towards the land and the fact it was my second swim of the day meant this was more challenging. I had completed the first swim with a grin on my face the entire way. This one was longer, closer to an hour in the water (although again I have no absolute record of the time) and allowed me time to go through all sorts of feelings as I swam. I felt alone and small, but mighty and powerful, just me and the tide and the waves. I felt part of something bigger, although I was not interacting with any of the swimmers around me I kept pace with the person infront wearing two glowsticks in the band of their goggles, motivated to swim that bit faster again when they pulled ahead, reassured I could slow up a bit again when I caught them up. I was aware of the kayakers close at hand and as the light faded and the people around me went from clear arms out of the water and faces with goggles turning to the side to breathe to blurry glowsticks and splashes in the darkness I also felt safe and surrounded by others doing this crazy thing.

I knew that this ‘race’ was my own. At any time I could call it over and make for the side and wait for the rib to collect me without anyone judging me but that I wanted to do it and that the feeling of achievement if I swam to the end and walked out of the water would be huge. As the mountains of Glencoe went from clearly defined peaks in the distance to looming shadows, the sky turned from grey to black and the tide grew fiercer creating waves that engulfed me and gave me mouthfuls of salty water I was super aware of my place in the world, at one with nature, yet the lights of the hotel I was aiming for, tail lights of cars driving that iconic road through Glencoe and the intermittent flash of the camera taking photos of people as they emerged from the water up in the distance along with the feel of my wetsuit and my spluttering out of every gulp of loch reminded me with every stroke that I was human and not really designed for being immersed in water.

As the ending lights grew nearer and I started to hear people on the shore my marker buddy ahead and I both sped up. I told myself that it would be less than 100 strokes to the end. Then I told myself it would definitely be less than 100 strokes to the end when I reached 112 and started my counting again. Finally my third ‘last 100 strokes’ proved correct and I could hear Ady calling out to me and it was me causing the flashes as the photographer captured my emerging images.

I’ve done some pretty mad things in my time and had some very memorable experiences. Yesterday definitely makes it high on my list of top memories. I am really sad not to have shared it with Scarlett and I missed her with every stroke as I know how much she wanted to do it and would have enjoyed it. I could hear her voice urging me on and see her face as I have done so many times in the loch over the past few months as we grin at each other and say in unison ‘this is amazing!’ when we spot a starfish, emerge breathless from a big wave or float on our backs in the middle of the loch with mountains all around us.

The best thing of all though is that our wild swimming adventures have only just begun. There are more places to discover, more skills to hone, more challenges to meet.

Microcrofting

Back when this blog first started, before I even knew what a croft was I would have described my dream to be smallholding. The idea of enough land to keep sufficient animals and grow enough crops to provide for ourselves with maybe a small excess to sell. I wanted to scale up from the allotment and back garden chickens and ducks we had at our house towards more food production which would mean we could have to work less. I recall saying something along the lines of wanting to not have to go out to work to earn money to put food on the table, rather to work hard to grow the food to put on a table that maybe we’d made.

I cherished notions of self sufficiency, Ady watched endless re-runs of The Good Life, Scarlett dreamed of acres of animals, Davies wanted woodland and freedom to roam. We had a growing desire to tread more lightly on the earth, reduce our impact and live a greener existence. We wanted to expand our skills in rural crafts. We wanted to be in closer contact with nature and have more time together.

Whilst we’re all really glad our lives took the turn they did with Croft 3 on Rum and that extreme adventure with all it taught us and we did manage a huge amount of those goals wrapped up in that it’s been lovely recapturing some of the aspects of that original smallholding / crafting / in touch with nature in the smaller scale since we’ve been here.

In our time on Rum we had hundreds of birds hatch with varying degrees of success. Our philosophy there was to leave the animals to get on with things themselves as much as possible and to let nature take it’s course. Partially this was simply all we could do as we lacked the inside space and infrastructure to do more. With no power comes no heat lamps for small hatchlings, with no outbuildings comes no shed to bring a farrowing sow in to birth her litter of piglets. It was mostly a desire to interfere as little as possible – to watch and learn, to understand how nature worked though, and learn we did. The Croft was never going to earn us a living, barely going to cover it’s own costs so having accepted that we were able to focus on high welfare, giving our livestock good, natural lives and reaping the rewards of living alongside them and learning from them.

Back on the mainland we have mostly adhered to the same principles but having bought Rum chickens with us, hatched and reared on the island it would have been unfair to subject them to new threats and predators they had not lived with previously so we do shut them away at night – something we never did on Rum. We have still lost two hens to a fox though because we choose to free range with complete freedom during the day and only close the door to secure them once they have gone in to roost of their own volition. Two hens went broody this year outside of the chicken house – we found them and made them as secure as we could and allowed them to try and hatch their clutches of eggs. One hen lost the lot – we assume to a small egg predator such as a rat as she was unharmed. The other hatched five of her nine eggs and nearly 6 weeks later is still roaming around with a trail of healthy chicks growing more independent each day. We did intervene last week when one was ailing though and bought it inside for a few hours to warm it up, get it fed and watered before returning it to it’s mother and siblings. Something that on Rum we would likely not even have been around to notice on such a huge area, let alone able to dedicate one of the four of us to sitting with a chick for six hours.

Our huge flock of mixed poultry on Rum meant they were a collective of birds, at their peak in excess of 60 in number. Now we have a small flock and I am starting to get to know each individual bird again with their quirks and personalities.

We’re starting to look at growing for next year here too. We already bought over a load of strawberry plants from Rum and created a raised bed along a south facing wall. Although we didn’t get much of a crop we have a lovely healthy looking strawberry patch now which should thrive next year and provide us with plenty of fruit. We have a load of pots of plants on our decking including some lavenders (my favourite herb / flower / plant – for its gorgeous smell and pretty flowers, to use in baking and of course for bees), some marigolds, rosemary, oregano and mint. We’ve already been using them in cooking and I have earmarked a spot for a herb spiral ready for next year.

We’ve also gotten permission from our landlord to put some vegetable beds in the garden and worked out the best location for the first ones which we will get cracking on mulching in the next few weeks so they are ready for planting in next spring. I’ve also picked up a heavily reduced mini walk in greenhouse in the end of gardening season sales in the local shops ready to get seeds sown in next year. Obviously in a rented property it makes sense to only create reversible or removable areas for growing but I’m keen to have as much home grown produce as we can manage for next year. Even in a small garden I know we can create abundance.

Having simply not had time for any creative pursuits over the last few months I found a couple of hours this weekend to sit outside in the sunshine and card a load of fleece from sheep shrearing over the last three years. I’ve been spinning, washing and hanging out wool from my drop spindle for the last two days too and have a plan to finally have a bash at some dyeing. Suddenly the constraints of a safe space to store experiments with natural dyes, the ability to leave a potion bubbling on the stove for a couple of hours now we’re not on bottled gas and a flat surface to work on that doesn’t need clearing away as soon as it’s food time or someone else needs the table for drawing or setting up their own activity opens up a whole new world of opportunity with creative crafts again.

As I said, a rented property with limited garden space is always going to prevent a full on small holding, but having been out this morning collecting and cutting fallen firewood, getting out and doing the tiniest of bramble pickings yesterday morning to make crumble for pudding and looking out on the garden with our chickens scratching around and wool drying on the fence it feels like maybe 8 acres is not essential and perhaps crofting is as much a state of mind as a physical space. Croft 3.1 anyone?

On not picking brambles

It’s the first year in nearly a decade that I have not spent September picking brambles and making jam. On Rum jam was one of our biggest income streams and I would pick more than my own body weight in brambles every year turning them into several hundred jars of jam to be labelled up and sold in our little shed throughout the year. I sent jam all over the UK, both in the rucksacks of people who bought it and took it away with them and in the post to people who bought it from me online.

Picking brambles was one of my favourite things to do. September is so often a gorgeous month of weather, the midges have mostly gone, the visitor numbers are lower so I would wander, largely uninterrupted through some of my favourite places on the island swinging a bucket that got heavier as I went. I would have time for my thoughts, my summing up of the season passed and the season ahead. I did some of my very best thinking while picking brambles.

Then I’d bring them home and be creative, filling the caravan with splashes of purple sugary loveliness, adding all sorts of crazy flavour combinations like a mad professor or an alchemist. I’d spend hours lovingly creating labels for the jars and then feel such pride looking at a table filled with productivity, groaning with the weight of clear glass jars, jewel-like jam inside, my own writing and drawings on the outside – clear proof of my endeavours. I’d walk the heavy bags full of jam down the hill and display them in the shed, then enjoy the sales throughout the year ahead, counting out the tens of jars sold and watching stocks diminish until finally it was September once more and time to start the whole cycle again.

Friends often joined me on my bramble ambles. Sometimes they were helpful, adding large numbers of their own picked fruit to mine. Sometimes they were seen off by midges, or I’d need to spend ages picking through their foragings to remove stalks, stems, leaves and other non-bramble imposters. I had some very good chats with fellow bramblers though.

I always sustained scratches, on my arms and legs and feet. I always had fingers wounded by tiny thorns and stained by bramble juice.

This year I have picked not a single bramble. Davies picked one this week and gave it to me to eat, which was the only one I’ve consumed this year too.

I’ve picked strawberries, raspberries and currants on Rum when we’ve been over. I’ve made jam, even bramble jam just before we left the island in March and I was clearing out the freezer and the sugar stash. But I’ve not picked a bramble. I’ve not had that very specific headspace that bramble picking always gave me. I’ve indulged in no bramble philosophy, bramble ambles or bramble ponderings.

It’s been a deliberate act. I’ve been busy with other things this year; work, life, mainlandiness. But I also left it behind on purpose. That belonged to a different version of me, the Rum Nic, the jam maker, the crofter. Just now that is not who I am. It’s been good to have that break. To draw a line, take a breath, turn a page. We don’t need the jam.

Next year I’ll pick brambles again though. It turns out maybe it is still who I am after all. I’m Nic, and in September I pick brambles.

Six months in…

It will six month tomorrow since we arrived here at this house for our next chapter in our lives. I’ve been quieter on this blog although from my perspective it’s been one of the greatest periods of change in my adult life. Our move to Rum was the culmination of a year of dreaming and planning, followed by a year of travelling and working out what we wanted. In contrast this move felt more of a leap into the unknown akin with new parenting or leaving home for the first time.

It was not planned, we did not know the area, had no real idea of what our day to day lives would look like and we didn’t have to create a business plan, submit an application form or sit an interview to qualify for it. We knew what we wanted in terms of a house, in general terms of location and this felt like the best fit we’d come across yet so we went for it.

I know that does not necessarily make for such interesting reading because we are returning to the known and familiar for most of our readers. Back to the mainstream and the conventional in many ways, departing from the extraordinary, the remarkable and the TV show-worthy.

But for us this is new. Lots of it is not necessarily what I am happy to share with a wider audience – parenting through the fledgling years, the spreading of wings and working out next steps. These are now no longer my stories to tell. In the same way as we did not always tell every single aspect of our WWOOF hosts or the minute details of life on Rum life here and the type of work and small community we have joined means it is not appropriate to comment on every aspect of life here in such a public forum.

However, in the same way as this blog began as an account of a period of change and a break from the norm this next phase is much the same. It’s about readjustment and starting from scratch to work out what is important, what is essential, what is desirable and what our priorities are.

So here we are, summing up those first six months into our new life here. The highs, the lows, the learnings. And we have added in a line each about what we’d like the next six months to bring, where we would like to be after a whole year into this next chapter.

Ady:
Bad:

* We are not fully in the loop of all that is happening just now on Rum but we are aware that there is some turmoil and changes. It is frustrating not being fully part of it, not having a say any more and knowing that some of the things we helped to build are not going so well just now.
* The internet here is poor. It is very slow and not really up to the demands of four people with various devices. We need it for study, for work and for leisure and it is often simply too slow to meet those needs.

Good:
* For the first time instead of dreading it I am actually looking forward to the winter.
* I enjoy my job. I like learning new skills and working with people. The hours (I work evenings) are not great but it does mean no early starts and I still have all day to myself.
* Now we are settled here and planning on staying long term we are starting to make the house our home. We have been furnishing it and getting things like lights. We are also looking for a sofa. We are buying from re-use centres or charity shops to avoid buying new things but it is nice to start making the place feel like our own.
* I have loved having lots of people to stay and am looking forward to having lots more. It is not the worry it used to be on Rum about running out batteries or filling up the loo, we can just relax and enjoy being hosts.
*I have gotten some of my tools over from Rum and am enjoying feeling practical again like I used to in that life. I have fixed a wobby loo seat, am planning to put some tiles up around the bath and re-seal it and it’s good to feel useful like that again.

Learnt:
* I have learned loads from my work at the tearoom, about prepping food, cooking food, waiting tables. I’ve learned a bit about the politics and differences in types of catering kitchens.
* I’ve learned how close Glasgow is! From all our trips to the airport in August and a few deviations off to shopping centres I have realised that getting to the airport here takes not much longer than it would have done to get to Heathrow from our Sussex home, or into a big city for an Ikea trip. Suddenly we don’t feel so remote.
* From the Strontian show we got a real taste of the local community here and how it feels close knit and friendly.
* That it really is possible to find the right balance between how much you work, what you do and what you need to earn.

In six months time.I would like to have a more stable job – with regular hours and term and conditions / a contract. I would also like us to have a second mode of transport and a TV.


Scarlett:
Bad:

* I have only been back to Rum once and still have lots of my stuff there that I would like to get over here.
* I have not done the beach cleans that I used to do so regularly on Rum as it’s too far to head down. I am managing to do it but nowhere near as often as on Rum when I did it most days.
* My room is on the north side of the house and is a bit dark. If I want to do art in there I need to have a light on.
* The internet is very slow here and is often completely unusable.
* I had really hoped to make selling cupcakes a business and that looks like it might not be quite so easy to set up as I wanted because of the private water supply here.

Good:
* I am really enjoying wild swimming in the loch with Mummy.
* It’s been nice having guests here. We were able to collect people from the airport and have lots of people here to stay.
* Winning first prize for my cupcakes at the Strontian show. Also selling my cakes on our stall there.
* Going to the cinema week at the Sunart centre. It was really fun seeing four films in five days.
* It was cool to see a fox (even though it had caught two of our chickens!).
* I’ve really noticed how much Bonnie has slowed down and aged and life here is so much easier for her so it’s nice that she gets to retire in comfort here.

Learnt:
* I’ve learnt loads from the Marine ID surveys we’ve done and really enjoyed those.
* I have learned lots about swimming, particularly in open water from having some lessons with Mummy with a swimming coach.
* Our visit to the local sand mines taught me a lot about how mines work.
* In the six months we’ve been here we have seen about four or five road traffic accidents, all of which have had a big impact on traffic and holding people up. It has made me realise that people are not stupid but are so used to being told what to do that they struggle when they have to think for themselves. They either wait for the police to direct traffic or someone else to take charge. Back on Rum we were used to using common sense and making decisions for ourselves.

In six months…. I would like to have set up a small business selling my cupcakes. I would also like to explore the possibility of volunteering or getting involved with an animal rescue charity or sanctuary.

Davies:
Bad:

* The internet is very poor. It stops me from doing much of what I would have planned to do.
* I have set up as a self employed artist and registered for universal credit. This has meant meetings and phone calls with a work coach at the job centre. I find this a bit stressful and not really very helpful. Often the coaching sessions are not relevant to what I want to do and I feel they are taking away my time and attention from my art or selling my art.
* I often blamed my lifestyle on Rum for preventing me from achieving some of the things I wanted to. Six months away has shown me that actually it is myself.

Good:
* Megan came to visit! It was easier to collect and take her to the airport living here, we had more room and privacy here than we would have done in the caravan and we were able to do more stuff like: bowling, shopping, meeting other friends, going for a meal, visiting Inverness, going for walks.
* I love the space, the freedom to do more of my own thing in a bigger room, the increased privacy, the extra bathroom of the house.
* There are increased opportunities here than on Rum for social, educational, voluntary things. I am not necessarily making the most of all of them yet but at least things I don’t do here are because I am choosing not to rather than because I simply don’t have that option.
* The cinema. In six months we have seen lots of films at the cinema, in Oban and at the local community centre. Cinema was one of the things I missed on Rum so it’s been good to go regularly again.

Learnt:
* I have learnt things about running a business and the ins and outs of running a small business. I have created a business plan and looked at things like cash flow.
* I have learned a lot about biology both from the Marine ID workshop and surveys but also while Megan was here we looked at lots of videos about evolution and genetics which used lots of the same terminology and theories as we’d learned on the marine courses.
*I have learned lots on the training courses for my voluntary work on the phone line. Both the actual content of the courses in areas such as suicide prevention and awareness, phone line counselling, confidentiality, protecting vulnerable people etc. But also about how training courses work as I have not been on anything like that as an adult before. I am attending another course soon on domestic violence awareness. I have also found that a lot of the course content fits in to what I have been learning in my OU course about social sciences.
* I have learned some more things about cooking such as making lasagne, cheesecake, potato gratin, pork chops in pepper sauce. There are more things I would like to learn to cook but this was a good start.
* In the last six months I have made moves towards an adult independent life. This has included setting up a business, managing my own money, living with my girlfriend for a month. Mummy and Daddy were away for a lot of August either working or actually staying away and I was responsible for the animals, the house and things like food.

In six months...I’d like to have a trip to America planned. I would like to have my business more established with an understanding of how it will develop into the future. I would like to have my next module of study well underway and the end of that block planned.

Nic:
Bad:

* An inevitable consequence of both moving away from Rum and getting busier lives, along with young adult children is that we do not spend quite so much time together as we previously did. While this is a natural move towards Davies and Scarlett becoming more independent and the next stage of our lives and we are all finding ways to ensure we still spend quality time together as it was more me who has always had one or both of my children within very close physical distance I am mourning this change a little bit.
* Life is a bit more compartmentalised. Further to what I said above back on Rum our work / life / family / leisure / hobbies were all very blurred together and it was all just ‘life’. Now I have clearer boundaries between things I do to earn money, things I do to keep the house going, time I spent with one or more of the rest of the family, ways to ensure I am staying active etc. I am working really hard to ensue that I still merge these things wherever possible but it requires more effort.
* I still have not found my social niche. I have met a fair few people that I have clicked with and some I would even start to call friends but still no one I could send a message to and have turn up an hour later with a bottle of wine for an evening.

Good:
*I will echo what all of the others have said and say how many friends and family we have had to stay over the six months here. We love having a house full of people and while we had lots of guests to stay while we were on Rum it was always harder to manage due to space restrictions in the caravan. Here we have plenty of room and have really made the most of it.
*The work we have found. I was confident that if we had just a couple of months somewhere we would be able to find opportunities to earn money and we did. I possibly have slightly too much work to feel I am doing it all justice but I am sure that over the coming months I will work out which to prioritise and find the right balance. I am really enjoying getting to know people in the community, working with local young people through the youth work and flexing my writing muscle with the freelance reporting. All of the jobs have potential to create more opportunities to suit me and it’s good to feel useful and that I am an asset to these various employers.
* I am absolutely LOVING the wild swimming. I am loving doing something with Scarlett who is a perfect buddy for it as she is adventurous, enthusiastic and super fit so she urges me on to be better myself. We have shared so many magical moments out of our depths, bobbing about in Loch Sunart looking at each other with absolute glee. We have made new friends, experienced new challenges, encouraged more people to do the same and seen a whole world beneath the surface of the loch as well as a whole new perspective of where we live.
* Seeing my family so happy and settled. There was a moment last month where Ady had just arrived home from work full of gossip and pride for having cooked for a huge number of people with sounds of chatter and laughter drifting downstairs from Davies, Scarlett and their two best friends / partners where I just felt so happy. I’ve not really had any doubts that this move was the right one for us, but seeing the other three so happy here is a real high.
* The opportunities. From being easier to get to events such as a gig, the cinema, a concert, away for a weekend, to collect or drop off a friend from the airport. A highlight which was amazing in itself but also a shining example of this was going to Edinburgh festival and seeing Tony Slattery.

Learnt:
* I’m learning new stuff in all my various jobs, as you always do in new jobs. Stuff like actual skills to do the jobs, stuff like the work place culture. It’s great to be doing contract / self employed work too so that the things which I know I would struggle with in a more conventional job are not an issue because I think learning or re-learning those would prove tricky.
* How life works here – from the ferry times to the etiquette for the single track roads, having bin-day and the opening times for the local shops. The best place to get local information or who to ask about what. All of those general, not always quantifiable things to learn about the mechanics of a life somewhere.
*That in the same way as you will always spend at least as much money as you have you will also fill up all of the time that you have. I would have anticipated having loads of free time without all of the time sucks I used to have on Rum like fetching things from the freezer every day, meeting the ferry to collect the post, spending hours each week processing laundry. But I actually seem to spend less time with nothing specific to be doing now than I did then.
* I would agree with Scarlett on learning about swimming. I have been having some lessons and have massively improved. I have not paid to learn anything for years and would previously have always thought I could teach myself something. So I have not just learned the swimming, I have also learned about learning!

In six months time… I would hope to be ending our first year in this new phase of our lives with our various jobs more settled. I would like to have some crops growing or at least seedlings planted for the season ahead and some crafty or creative pursuits happening for myself. I would like to have a more local social life established.

Do what you can, where you are.

A couple of years into our time on Rum we had a young friend come and stay with us for a month. She was a remarkable young woman who is continuing to fulfil her potential and forge her path through life making a difference and beating her wings very hard so that the world has to be affected by what she has to say. Back then she was utterly charmed by our off grid, remote, survival style lifestyle and felt that that would be her calling. We had a lot of interesting conversations her and I, with both of us teaching the other. What I could offer in age and life experience she could more than match in youthful positivity, fresh eyes and a belief that anything was possible. One of the conversations I have often thought back to with her was about making a difference in the world and the best way to do that. My advice was that you should make your changes where you were in the first instance. Make the most of where you happen to be right now. The world certainly needs big voices, big changes and leaders to gather behind in order to make those big differences. But we also need smaller voices and smaller changes too.

Our lifestyle on Rum was incredibly low impact environmentally most of the time. But it was also reliant on a lot of the infrastructure we had chosen to leave behind still being there when we needed it. For us it was about living lightly on the land, learning about self sufficiency; in food, in power, in heat and water. It was about building community and stripping back all of the twenty-first century trappings of a modern consumer lifestyle to see which bits we could live without and what compromises we were prepared to make to bring back in the bits we missed. About seeing what the true cost – environmentally, financially, spiritually, personally and in terms of our time of our lifestyles. We didn’t set out to be quite so extreme, quite so remote, quite so remarkable. Along the way we met people far more extreme than us and plenty of people doing more or less in some areas but making their own choices and controlling their own lives. We were inspired by them to really understand what was most important to us and focus on those areas. What matters to us as a family is not necessary what will matter to other people. What matters to us as individuals is not always the same as each other, what mattered to me yesterday or might matter to me tomorrow may not be what matters today. Life is like that, ever changing, ever evolving, ever learning.

Returning to the mainland is involving compromise again. It is meaning that we are once again evaluating what is more or less important to us, what we care most about, what our priorities are. There is always an ‘ideal world’ scenario in my head, offset against doing what we can, where we are. I’d love to reduce car travel (or indeed travel generally) but we live somewhere with very limited public transport and the green options of walking or cycling are tricky due to single track, very windy roads making some of the routes unsafe. So we do the best we can – for us this means working as close as possible, or indeed actually at home. It means co-ordinating work trips with other members of the family or other reasons to take the car out to minimise journeys wherever possible and trying to organise lift shares with neighbours. As and when we do need to look at a second vehicle (which as four people living in a remote area with poor public transport links we very likely will do) we will explore various options including electric vehicles, small engines etc. We make the trip into town for grocery shopping just every ten days or so and have invested in freezers to mean we can stock up on food and store it to allow for less frequent trips.
This past month has involved a lot of driving and for Scarlett and I it has also involved air travel – something both of us were uncomfortable about and had looked at alternatives to. Although we were more than prepared to take longer to arrive at our destination – Northern Ireland – the alternate mode of transport to a budget airline was a ferry and was about five or six times the financial cost (if taking our car). On this occasion we decided to save the money being spent on travel knowing that having more money to spend in other areas means we can make better choices there -e.g. more environmentally friendly purchases on food. We have agreed that subsequent trips will be planned further in advance and we will take advantage of special offers and promotions from the ferry company to allow us to choose that transport option next time though.

Mainland life has meant electricity from a large supplier again in our home instead of the solar and wind power that we used on Rum. I’ve already mentioned having a freezer and we also have a washing machine and dishwasher here. We had a washing machine on Rum – powered by petrol generator which I used once a week to do our laundry in small loads. It would have to run for a couple of hours to get through four people’s washing. I would say the automatic washing machine here is running for a similar amount of time each week. All our drying is done just the same, out on the washing line (still making use of that wind and solar power!). Dishwashers seem to be touted as the more environmentally friendly option for water and energy use.

Our hot water here is oil fuelled, clearly not the best eco-option. If we were to own a house we would look at better options for that, but we don’t, we rent so we limit hot water use. So far we are on track to use about half what the oil company told us was typical usage for our house and house-hold size so I think we’re doing OK there. The oil also fuels the heating but we have a log burner so that will be our primary heating source with just the radiator in Davies’ room on (as he feels the cold).

Mainland life is a re-entry back into consumer society in lots of ways which Rum was not. Of course consumption has negative impacts. It also has positive ones too – the choice on how to use your consumer power being one of them. Sometimes being in the system gives you a voice.

Doing what we can where we are has enabled us to re-join a more mainstream, although still fairly small community and find voluntary opportunities in areas that we are passionate about and feel we can make a difference in. It has meant we have found employment in places which are not just enjoyable for us but also make a difference to others. I am writing for the local paper and getting to cover stories about subjects that I want to raise awareness of, working with young people helping to shape their ideas and support them in finding their future paths.

I think we achieved a lot in our time on Rum – we learnt so much and were able to give Davies and Scarlett a rich, wild, adventurous and alternative end to their childhood. The ripples and impacts of that will spread way beyond our time actually living there.

We also touched the lives of other people – those who visited us on the croft – family and friends, groups of students and school children. All those who came and volunteered with us, many of whom I am still in touch with and went on to change their lives in larger or smaller ways as a result of the time they spent with us. People who read this blog, who watched the TV shows or read magazines or newsletters, heard us on the radio talking about our lives. People we met on our cob course, at the Eden project community camps, friends of friends…. I have lost count of the times I have been told that people have made changes in the way they think about things, approach things or live because they have heard about us – our low impact life, our alternative education, different way of life, moves towards self sufficiency.

Part of doing what you can where you are is in realising when your work somewhere is done. I think that was the point we reached on Rum. We felt we had achieved all we were likely to manage there within the boundaries and confines of what our own health, wealth and desires dictated along with those imposed on us by external factors. Moving away has changed our stage and our audience but is allowing us to learn more ourselves while potentially do more in some areas, despite maybe not being quite so close to our ideas in others.

This post came about partially in response to a comment left by a regular reader but had also been prodding me as one of the potential posts constantly forming in my mind while I’m going about my day to day life. Our Rum life was a bit of a bubble and coming out of that bubble to realise that in some ways the world has changed a lot while we’ve been away but in others it has not changed at all has been a really interesting concept to catch up on.

August of Adventure

I was going to title this post ‘August of Opportunities’ but then I realised I’ve already used a similar title and there were plenty of adventures so I went with that. Because who doesn’t love an alliterative title? But it is mostly about opportunities.

It’s been quiet here because we’ve been so very busy. I’ll have a ‘six months in’ up in the next week or so because, yes, it’s been six months this coming weekend since we left Rum and started setting up our lives here. We’re still tweaking and working out the finer details of precisely what our lives will look like post-Rum, or maybe not post-Rum but certainly post-full-time-Rum as we combine very part time crofting with our new mainland lives here.

As my previous post described Rum in a day so August was a snapshot month of life now. In a word – busy. Busy with work, busy with volunteering, busy with hobbies and busy with friends. Probably a bit too busy to be honest, certainly at a level beyond what we could keep up with all the time, but a lovely whirlwind of a month packed with loads of good things.

Work first – lots of shifts at the tea room for Ady. He enjoys the work, feels like he is learning loads of new skills, really likes working as part of a team and is getting to know lots about the local area and meet lots of local folk and visitors to the area. The hours are rather unsociable and it is likely to be be very seasonal so will start to slow down now we are heading into autumn so he may well need to think about alternative ideas moving forward but he has a couple of things to ponder further on with regard to volunteering / studying / career paths. August was his busiest month so far there though with shifts six days a week.

August was super busy for me at work too – I had stories in the paper every week, was out on tour at a couple of local schools for summer holiday youth events, worked at the community centre for film screenings and gig events, put on a couple of events for crafts and games and did the first weekly youth club after the summer holidays (schools have earlier summer holidays here in Scotland than in England, breaking up in June and going back in August). We’ve also been doing our holiday cottage cleaning.

We took a stall at the local agricultural show in the craft and produce tent where Davies had his art work on display, Scarlett sold cupcakes and I had jam and crafts for sale. We all did pretty well but Scarlett cleaned up – she entered various cakes for the competitions and took first prize for her fabulous cupcakes. Showing true entrepreneurial family spirit she took her remaining cupcakes out into the crowds towards the end of the afternoon and sold the lot walking around, Apprentice-style talking to people and offering discounts.

Davies has had his first sales on his local art work and been working on his online accounts and getting plenty of likes and follows on social media.

Davies and I have been doing a shift or two every week on the helpline. So far we have not had any calls but we have more training coming up soon and are both hoping to put our training to use in the not too distant future. An area of volunteering where we have put our new skills to use is in the citizen science project we have been involved with locally on marine identification.

Having done a workshop way back at the start of the summer on identifying the various plants and animals found on our local shores we attended several surveys where we joined in with other fellow amateurs and a marine biologist to identify and record seaweeds, lichens and all manner of creatures found on quadrats on the shore of our local loch. We know our bladderwrack from our spiralwrack and can gender ID a shore crab, spot a lichen, name a barnacle and uncover a starfish with confidence!

As always our hobbies have blurred with our work and with our lives but there has been art and music and baking as usual. Scarlett and I have also started a new hobby which we are absolutely loving – wild swimming. We’ve invested in wetsuits and goggles and I have been taking a few lessons to brush up on my strokes (pun intended!) and we’ve spent a fair few hours bobbing about in Loch Sunart which is just wonderful.

Ady and I had a weekend away. We stayed with friends and went to a film screening as part of the Fringe by the Sea festival in North Berwick but most excitingly of all went to a show in Edinburgh. A bit of background here is that my favourite comedian when I was young was Tony Slattery. I adored him, on Who’s Line is it Anyway? but also on various of the other (many) things he did. Another of my favourite comedians is Richard Herring, who we have seen several times doing stand up over the years and I listen to his RHLSTP podcast too. When I spotted that Richard Herring was interviewing Tony Slattery for one of his Edinburgh shows it was one of those things I would have sighed over back on Rum as something I would have loved to go and see but was utterly out of logistical reach. But now it is not. So we went!!!

And then I had a photo (and a hug!) with them both and thanked them for making me laugh for so many years. And if I look a bit like I am on the verge of tears in that photo with Tony Slattery it’s because I am.

The eagle eyed among you may have noticed a new face in some of the photos above, which brings me rather tidily to friends. We have had various house guests during August – several have stayed for a night or two like my friend Helen. Ady, Helen and I managed a quick overnight trip to Rum in the middle of all the craziness which was fantastic – we had an amazing wildlife encounter on the boat trip over with a pod of dolphins and whales, countless numbers of gannets, shearwaters and a great skua all participating in a feeding frenzy in the waters between Eigg and Rum.

Helen and I got up my hill…

and she got to meet lots of our Rum friends and have a night on the croft with us. Then back here we had a wild swim, a walk in the local woodlands and plenty of time spent here with the rest of the house-full eating ice cream in the sunshine.

The other new face is less friend, more family. It’s Davies’ girlfriend Megan who was here staying with us for a whole month. Megan came all the way from America to spend August with us and was a lovely addition to the family, fitting right in. We did some special trips to show Megan part of our lives like heading over to Inverness to take in Loch Ness, Channonry Point and some of the sights…

Megan also fitted in with our day to day lives joining in with cooking, helping on the stall at the show, being on hand when one of our hens hatched her brood of chicks and joining in with general Goddard craziness.

It was fabulous to have her here with us and we’re already looking forward to her next visit later this year.

The other new face is Scarlett’s best friend E, who was here with us from Northern Ireland for a few days adding further to the blend of ages and accents in the house. Then Scarlett and I joined her heading back home and had a week in Northern Ireland ourselves.

And just to keep the whole circle joined up Helen who had visited us here also came out to stay with our friends there too!

And no, despite appearances I didn’t spend the whole of August with a glass in my hand – just the moments that were captured on camera!

There is more to say, more that the gallivanting and working and volunteering and general busyness have bought to the fronts of our minds. More that visiting Rum and hatching chicks and children growing up have made us think about. More that travel and a changed lifestyle have thrown up as considerations which were not on our radar in our old lives.

But for now, as we pause a bit to catch our breath, flip the page on to the next month on the calendar and regroup back to being a household of four instead of three, five, six or seven it was definitely an August to remember.

New Lives in the Mild

Ady and I visited Rum for the day on Saturday.

It was a really long day. We had been on a family visit to a local sand mine for a tour on Friday afternoon as I was writing an article about it, then both Ady and I had been working on Friday evening so it was 11pm before we were home and eating dinner, long past midnight when we were in bed and then a 5am start on Saturday to catch the 730am ferry to Rum.

The ferry back left Rum at 730pm, arriving in Mallaig at 9pm which meant it was nearly 11pm before we were home again that night.

In our 10 hours or so on Rum we packed in so much. It was almost like our whole lives of 7 years there in just one day.

We came off the ferry and greeted various friends, most of whom were getting on the ferry as we got off as the neighbouring Small Isle of Canna was hosting this years Small Isles games so Team Rum were off to compete. (We had intended going ourselves but had so much to do on the Croft and so few opportunities to get to Rum in the next few weeks that we had to prioritise.) So that was a speedy hello, goodbye, hug in passing with people who were such big parts of our lives there.

Next we had to reconnect the battery and pump up the tyres on our Rum car. Two of the tyres have slow punctures so that is always the first job when we arrive on the island. We drove into the village to collect the small amount of post which we have not redirected to our new address and then headed towards the Croft. The car gets left half a mile or so away from the actual croft and then it’s a walk the rest of the way up the hill. As usual we are carrying things, although this time it was mostly just our food supplies for the day.

Once on the Croft I checked over the Shed, collecting cash from some of the sales, topping up the jam shelf and reading the messages in the visitor book from people who have bought things or just stopped by to say hello.

Ady went to deal with the water supply which had stopped. Without being on island to deal with the regular maintenance of our plumbing set up it usually requires a bit of attention when we first arrive, as does the boiler. The gas supply needs reconnecting so he dealt with all of that. Later he also had to scramble under the caravan to sort out a blocked drain pipe.

We were on Rum with two main goals. One was to dispatch the sheep. We lost one of them a month or so ago and so after much discussion we had decided that we would be better with a freezer full of mutton and more fleece for spinning than a continued sheep feed bill, long distance fretting about them and the favour being asked of our friend who has been looking after them for us. The original aim of sheep keeping was for grazing, for fleece and to breed them for a continued stock of meat so this would have always been their fate anyway.

A happy and good life lived on Rum.

The other task was fruit picking. The soft fruit bushes of redcurrants, blackcurrants, whitecurrants, blue berries, raspberries, strawberries, tayberries and loganberries, strawberries and gooseberries were laden with ripe and ready fruit. While again Rum friends have been picking some I really wanted to get part of the crop for jam making.

So while Ady and a friend dealt with the sheep, in a respectful, calm and humane way, quickly skinning them and then butchering into cuts of mutton before getting it into the freezer I picked fruit.

and then made jam – 29 jars to be precise!

We did stop for a quick lunch break, thanks to a friend for making food and ensuring we did have a rest in the middle of our day.

Then I spent time clipping the fleece off the sheep skins, another two sacks of fleece ready for spinning.

By which time it was late afternoon and time to start packing up ready to catch the ferry back. We realised that two wheelbarrows on the Croft is probably one wheelbarrow more than is required and that actually a wheelbarrow here on the mainland might be very useful. So we packed one up and brought it back with us, along with a camping stove (we had a power cut here last week and were rendered helpless as everything in the house is electric including the water pump and all the cooking facilities. We were able to collect water from the river to flush the toilets but had no way of boiling a kettle! Funny to be more inconvenienced here with no power than our entire off grid life on Rum!), some of the mutton and a stash of jam.

The wheelbarrow is the one that the New Lives in the Wild crew bought with them for us, so that Ben Fogle could help us move animal feed around the Croft. It felt appropriate to bring it with us for a new life in the mild. Our other wheelbarrow is a big yellow one and was bought to Rum by the couple who originally had the croft next door to ours. When they left they passed it on to the couple who ran the castle and when they left they passed it on to us. It feels right that it stays on Rum and is maybe passed on again at some point.

We chatted to friends at the pier, greeted the returning games participants as they came off the ferry and we got on. We also talked with the ferry crew, the staff at the ferry terminal and friends from another island who were on the ferry.

As I say, most of Rum life in just one day.

A friend asked on facebook if we missed our life in the wild. The answer is yes, in many ways we do. Both Ady and I felt really quite sad on Saturday. The Croft is returning to the wild without us there taming it. The trees we planted are thriving, the fruit bushes if not food for us are at least providing food for the wild birds. We only have geese left on the croft now and they require no attention at all. Our walled garden is overgrown, there are some nails loose in the shed panels and the path to the croft is no longer tidily trimmed. The gate is a bit loose and needs fixing. Maybe it is not obvious to anyone else but to us it is really clear that we are no longer there.

I used to walk around the croft and feel proud of what we had achieved. Against all the odds we had created something on that wild and beautiful island, something that was all our own. Seven years of our lives, all our hopes and dreams; the naive, the grand, the foolish were all there to see. I could chart what had and hadn’t worked, every victory and every challenge. There are echoes and memories and whispers in every corner of our days there. On Saturday when I walked round it was harder to see the wins; the losses and the battles felt more present and instead I found myself dwelling on what we had not managed to do, the places we had fallen short.

I was very, very tired. Although we kept animals because we eat animals we have always cared deeply about their welfare and the day that we kill them for food is always an emotional one for us. Alongside the lovely bits of our Rum life being present in that one day all of the tougher bits that we had been only too pleased to leave behind were also there. We heard about island politics and stresses, about fallings out and life being hard. We left with blood on our jeans, mud on our boots and a lack of decent cups of tea because the long life milk had expired even it’s own very long life.

While we were away Davies and Scarlett had been dealing with chaos at home. What we had thought to be a pine marten had killed two of the chickens. Scarlett had found one body but while she was recovering that a second chicken was taken. She was keeping me updated and dealing with it all superbly well including offering to pluck the bird she had found and making sure she wrapped it up ready for us to eat. They kept the rest of the flock safe and made sure they were all put away securely.

The following day I cooked roast mutton for dinner, served with yorkshire puddings from our chickens eggs and mint sauce made with the mint we’re growing in pots here. We missed the start of the season but next year we’ll be growing the potatoes, carrots and peas to be serving with our Sunday dinner too, because the soil here is so much better that than on Rum and the growing conditions so much kinder than the croft.

I do miss a lot about that wild life. But it was never forever, it didn’t quite offer enough. But we are carrying that wilderness with us. It’s in my daughter who knows how to deal with animals in a calm and confident way and copes with mishaps and unexpected happenings with common sense and a level head. It’s in my son who creates amazing art of the landscapes around him and is volunteering for a mental health charity because he understands the challenges of being human and how we should support each other when we can. It’s in my husband who can kill a sheep one day and be working in a restaurant kitchen the following day cooking local meat and fish. It’s in me as I spent my days supporting my family or turning my hand to one of four different jobs. That is what we learned on Rum, that is what we took from the wild.

We have a five year leave of absence from the Croft. We still need to visit regularly, I think we all want to anyway. We still need to be working the land in some way, again I think that’s what we want to do. We have trees and crops, we have the shed selling items. I don’t really know what the future holds or whether it will be one of the four of us who returns to Rum and Croft 3 in the future or whether we will pass that legacy on, just like the yellow wheelbarrow, to the next guardian of that space. But I do know we started something very special and even if it’s hidden away for a while as nature takes back over it’s still there in all the places that really matter.

Mainland of Opportunities

We are well into our fourth month here now and have settled in very well. Life is a good blend of busy and enjoyable and all those various opportunities we left Rum in search of are certainly here for the taking.

Ady is now working most evenings at a local tearoom where the owner is ‘over the moon with him’ as she told my parents when they were up visiting us recently. He is learning loads, really enjoying the feeling of being part of a team, meeting lots of people and despite the working hours being a bit on the unsociable side is finding it a positive and fun experience.

Davies is now fully trained and volunteering a couple of shifts a week for the helpline of a local charity. He had his results of his first year’s study just today and achieved a distinction. His next module starts in the autumn so he still has a couple of months away from his studies and is focusing on launching his art business. He is hoping to get sales locally and online. Please do check out his various places to see and buy his wonderful art and give him a follow / like. He’s on facebook instagram and etsy.

Scarlett is also working on a lot of art, alongside continuing to litter pick and of course her fantastic baking and cake decorating. Fortunately we have plenty of eggs now so she has been venturing into cooking too and perfecting her egg fried rice among other dishes. She has been taste testing her ideas for entering the local show in a few weeks getting us to rate the flavours, textures, decorations and appearance. It’s a tough job but we’re just about managing!

I’m pretty busy too, although I am making sure I still find plenty of time for the things that make me happy – crafty things like crochet and decorating some pots for our lavender plants, tending the strawberries, hanging out with the chickens, playing my ukulele, baking and of course taking lovely long bubble baths.

But when I’m not ‘messing about’ with things like that I’ve also been doing my youth work, holiday cottage cleaning, working as a supervisor at the local community centre where I’m going to be running some events in months to come as well as helping out at regular music and film events. Perhaps most excitingly though I have been doing lots of writing for the local paper – Oban and Lochaber Times where I have been contributing as a freelance reporter. I’ve had two articles published already and have another couple due in this weeks paper with more interviews and stories lined up to cover this week.

I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I hope this doesn’t mean I am a grown up now though!

We had a lovely visit from my parents. It’s still a very, very long way from Sussex to come and see us but at least the ferry trip now is a 5 minute one running every half an hour and you can drive all the way to our front door! They also get their own bedroom instead of evicting us from ours to sleep on the floor of the caravan and even have a toilet and shower room to themselves here.

We managed to show them plenty of the locations they are hearing about in our new lives and also finally get my Mum to the Isle of Skye, which has been on her list of destinations to visit for many more years than we’ve been living here in Scotland.

Life is good. Filled with opportunities that we are making the absolute most of every day.

Operation Chicken Relocate

We’ve been chicken keepers for a lot of years. Infact I have just checked and our chicken-keeping adventures started way back in 2007.

In lots of ways that was the very start of our journey towards the lifestyle that began this blog. We were offered an incubator to borrow from a farmer friend of ours, along with half a dozen eggs. It was meant to be a science experiment for our home educated children. We would learn about how eggs hatched into chicks, with all of the surrounding chat about reproduction and life cycles as well as where food comes from.

We set the incubator up, tended the eggs for the 3 weeks it takes for chicken eggs to incubate and hatch, carefully turning them several times a day and keeping the conditions inside just right in temperature and humidity. We candled the eggs at various points during the incubation to check whether they were fertilised – one was not – and monitor the development inside. The pipping of the eggs and subsequent hatching was so exciting.

The original plan had been to keep the chicks and learn about their development for a few weeks and then return the young adult chickens to our farmer friend along with the incubator. This would involve watching them grow, change from balls of fluff to feathered creatures, initially requiring light and heat and tending until they were off able to be independent.

Hatchwatch 2007.

Predictably we grew attached, named the chicks, handled them a lot and really enjoyed being their ‘parents’.

It wasn’t long before they were ready for some outside time. So I visited the local industrial estate and begged some pallets to dismantle, borrowed a drill and a spare pair hands from my Dad, along with a roll of chicken wire he had spare and we built a chicken run so they could spend time outside each day.

It was a small leap (and a few more pallets and assistance from Dad) to build a chicken house for them to move outside full time. Unfortunately all of those chickens were cockerels. In order to continue the experiment to it’s logical conclusion one of them was our Sunday roast. The other four did indeed go to our farmer friend but we had the chicken keeping bug.

Our next in take was four bantams bought for us by a friend from an agricultural fair. Along with some more incubated eggs over the years they were the start of a flock of back garden chickens we bred and kept for eggs. We also hatched out a pair of ducks, which Scarlett raised and kept until we were off WWOOFing when we re-homed them with a friend who had a lake for them to live on, and a clutch of quail eggs.

We always made sure our birds were safe from predators and kept in comfortable happy conditions but we also always managed this on a very tight budget. We made use of reclaimed materials, creative ideas and learned so much about natural chicken behaviours and what makes for a happy chicken.

Our very first creatures on Croft 3 were chickens along with some ducks and a pair of geese. We started with 10 brown hens and a speckled cockerel and true to form we housed them in a cobbled together with random materials chicken house. Rum is a great place to be a chicken as there are so few predators. There are no foxes, pine martens, badgers, polecats or any of the other mammals I have heard of other chicken keepers losing birds to. We did lose a chicken to a dog once but putting up signs around the croft asking visitors to the island to ensure their dogs were kept under close control seemed to alleviate that issue from happening again. We also lost a chicken once to an eagle, and another to a buzzard but otherwise our free range flock on Rum had a very happy, healthy idyllic life and thrived accordingly. They were disease and ailment free and bred very successfully, providing us with ample eggs for ourselves and excess to sell along with the occasional bird for the table when our flock grew too large, or too cockerel-heavy.

We have rehomed a lot of our flock, mostly on Rum but also as far afield as North Berwick and only had a small number left on the croft, all of which were Rum hatched and bred and are a mix of descendants from those first chickens we bought and a few bantam hens and a cockerel we rehomed from someone else on the island a few years ago. They were being well looked after by our friend who is keeping an eye on the croft and our own visits back, but after 12 years of chicken keeping we were missing having them around.

We were also feeling the imbalance of paying for chicken feed to be sent across to Rum, throwing away bread scraps and fruit and veg peelings and buying eggs. The obvious answer was to bring our Rum chickens over here to start a new mainland life alongside the rest of us. We checked with our lovely landlords that it would be OK to have the chickens here first. Not only were they quite happy to agree to that they also offered us some chicken wire they had spare and said we could make use of any of the offcuts of wood (from various house build and other projects here) in the garage to make our chicken house from. Did I mention they are lovely?

So Ady and I dragged out all of the bits and pieces of wood we were able to use along with a tape measure, a saw and plenty of screws and set about creating a Chicken Castle. Our prime concerns were size – it had to be big enough to comfortably house the flock we wanted to bring over, and safety – it needed to be as predator proof as possible. Our biggest chicken keeping challenge here is likely to be pine martens – a super cute but deadly to chickens master predator, very prevalent in this area. There is never a 100% safe house but we want to be sure we have done all we can to keep them as safe as possible.

Our dimensions were very much dictated by the size of the wood we had available. We wanted a sloping roof to allow rain (of which we get a lot!) to run off which meant one side taller than the other, with two sides with sloping edges. A sturdy floor, a roof which was heavy enough to take the strong gusts of wind we get here. So six pieces of wood in all. We measured and cut these aiming for as large a space as possible with the wood we had.

‘measure twice, cut once’ so the saying goes.
A plan was starting to form

We wanted an easily opening but securely closing door as that is obviously a weak point. We decided on a slidey up and down design, so cut out the space, cut out a door bigger and cut out some lengths to create the sliders.

door open…
..door closed.

By the time we stopped for lunch we had the six panels all finished and a plan for fixing them together. We wanted strong and stable so used some chunkier wood to create battens inside on three of the the edges on two of the pieces to butt the other two and the base up to. The wood we were using was off cuts, reclaimed or already used for other things previously and while it was mostly in really good condition there were a few pieces we had to discard and some nails we had to bang in. I’d not bought a claw hammer across from Rum so had to use a hammer that I use for metal stamping. I’m not entirely sure of it’s origins, almost certainly one we were given by my Dad and almost certainly older than me!

Antique but still more than up to the job.

We were able to put together the four sides and the base in situ in the corner of the garden we’d decided would best suit a chicken castle. It’s under a tree so gets plenty of shade from the sun, the rain and the worst of the wind. It’s close to a fence and a relatively flat part of the garden but slopes away in one direction down to the house and in the other towards a small river than runs alongside the house so that is the angle the roof aims towards to run off into.

We then placed the roof panel on top, with an overhang all around and drew round it from underneath. That gave us a template to create little corner pieces screwed on to ensure it stays securely on and does not slip off or get blown about.

Bonnie and Kira approved!

One chicken house. All in a days work!

The following day we painted it. Also in the garage was half a tub of wood preserver paint which just so happened to be green – my colour of choice for anything. So a couple of coats of that and some holes drilled around the top of all the sides for ventilation and one chicken castle ready to receive it’s inhabitants.

The following day we were busy in the morning and Ady was working in the evening but I spent a couple of hours constructing panels to make a run to fit on the front. We would need to keep the chickens in for a couple of days once they first arrived, to make sure they understood the chicken castle was their safe home. There will also be times when we want to let them out but not to free range so a run is perfect to contain them in those instances. Most of their time will be entirely free though so this also needed to be fairly portable / able to be moved and removed.

I started well using sarking board we had earmarked for this bit of the project, measuring and cutting lengths to create two long sides, one same length but wider top panel and one small end panel. I was hampered by a few things though; one was the sarking board being up on the side of the garage accessible only by ladder…

another was the lack of co-operative tools. We had not bought any tin snips with us and I needed to cut the chicken wire. I improvised with a tiny pair of wire cutters I have for jewellery making. They did the job, but at a very slow pace…

The next challenge was the midges – curse of the west coast at this time of year. I managed to set up a little space out on the decking with all my materials and tools assembled around me and the electric fan bought out. It created a small, but real area of midge free respite.

I was doing so well and very proud of my resourcefulness but the final hurdle which ended my creativity was a misbehaving staple gun. It worked for about half of attaching wire to wood for the very first panel and then simply refused to work at all any more. I dismantled it and hit it very hard against the ground but to no avail. I decided the universe was trying to tell me something and as I still had dinner to cook ready for Ady getting home from work I took it that the message was not ‘if at first you don’t succeed; try, try, try again’ but rather ‘know when to give up, grab a cold beer and have a bath while the pizza dough proves’.

Early the next day Ady and I caught the ferry across to Rum. We rounded up eight hens and a cockerel and bought them home the following day. They sailed down on the car deck in a large dog crate filled with straw and covered with a tarp. They were non the worse for wear from their travels and one of them even laid an egg on the trip!

I waited at the pier with them while Ady dashed off to get our car and we were quite the attraction for all the visitors waiting to boat the ferry across to Skye, with several of them asking to take photos and questioning me about them all. The final leg of the trip was in the back of the car.

And then we were home. We’d collected another staple gun and the tin snips from Rum so it was a speedy job to finish the run and assemble it infront of the chicken castle.

And then the big release! Welcome to your new home chickens.

They settled in really quickly and we’ve had an egg every day so far. It always takes a while after a trip like that before they are all laying again but we’re anticipating plenty of lovely fresh eggs in the weeks to come.

We have already made a few modifications and additions to the chicken castle. The first was putting in a perch – for this we used a broom handle we bought across from Rum (the broom head had long since lost it’s bristles but the handle lives to serve another purpose). We also created four nesting boxes. This was easily done with some lengths of marine plywood leftover from the castle build. We put in a base across the whole length of one side attached to the sides with brackets and secured from below with an upright support. We then added a small batten across the front to prevent those freshly laid eggs rolling out and three dividers to create four boxes secured with brackets. It doesn’t need a roof as when the lid of the castle is closed that acts as the roof for the nesting boxes.

After three days familiarisation we opened the run up so that during the day they are free ranging and exploring the garden. Bonnie is delighted to see them again – she loves nothing more than herding them from one part of the garden to another. They have created an area to dustbath in and already earmarked their favourite sun trap corner of the garden to sit in when they are not scratching around .

Hopefully they will enjoy this new life on the mainland as much as we are. They are certainly as settled, busy and at home as we have become.

Three Months In…

It’s three months today that we arrived here at this new address. Three months since we pulled up, signed the tenancy agreement, were handed over the keys and started the process of settling in and making this our new home.

It’s been a busy three months. We arrived not knowing anyone, with no work, having never been to this little corner of the highlands before, despite it being within 50 miles of Rum. At that point we had no phone or internet connection either.

Three months on we have started work in various jobs, made contacts (who will hopefully become friends), met the neighbours and plenty of locals, joined the library, been to the cinema and several local events and signed up for voluntary work. We have planted up a bed of strawberries and potted up some plants in the garden, made plans to bring across the chickens, hung up our clock, found furniture, had the phone and internet connected and done all of the changing your address admin. We have had several overnight guests, several more visitors for tea and cake.

We have had visits to the doctors, the dentist, the optician, the supermarket. We’ve been down to Sussex, across to Northern Ireland and to Rum for the day and overnight. All of which have had huge layers of logistical trickery removed. We have been here in rain, wind, hail, snow, sunshine and midges.

In lots of ways it is still very early days. We still have things to get properly sorted out, details to finalise and long term plans to thrash out. In other ways it feels like we’ve been here for ages, we settled in so quickly and it definitely feels like home, like the right move.

So in classic WW fashion, as we have continued to wander a bit, and wonder a lot here is the bad, good and learned from our first three months here. As none of us felt we had learnt much new (yet) we have gone with just one thing we’ve learned here and added in a new category of ‘opportunities I am going to explore’ as a prompt to help us all find the social, educational and work or voluntary lives we would like and make the most of this move.

Ady
Bad:
*Nothing is walking distance.
*It’s hard to meet people, on Rum we just went to the shop and eventually made all those connections. Here there is no central place to just hang out and meet folk
*Although the ferry to Rum is only 50 miles away we have not gotten over as much as we’d thought. The straddling two places is not as feasible as we’d hoped it might be
*Mainland expense. We are relying on spending to accumulate, the need to run a car, to have semi-decent clothes
*I’m missing the freedom of knowing the rules.
*I’ve lost a little of the pride of doing something different and living somewhere unusual.

Good:
*The security of being in a sturdy house means I sleep easier at night and I’m really happy to see Davies and Scarlett in better living conditions.
*I like being able to go out just for the day, to go to appointments and shopping or into the town.
*I am pleased that we have stayed in the same region and still have the amazing views and brilliant wildlife of the Highlands of Scotland
*The logistics of day to day life are so much easier. Next day delivery is still not quite next day but it is so much quicker than on Rum and does not involve a trek to the ferry and a wheelbarrow up to the croft.
*I am loving not having to empty the compost loo.

I have learnt:
I am working in a tearoom, assisting the chef and understanding what happens behind the scenes in a catering kitchen. I am really enjoying every aspect of it and learning a lot.

Opportunities I am going to explore:
Social: I’ve made a few possible social contacts and there are some specific men’s social opportunities here which I am going to explore more.
Educational: I like learning more about the social and cultural history of the area and have been getting books from the library and researching online.
Work / Volunteering: My work at the tearoom is likely to be really busy over the coming months so I will see how that pans out.


Scarlett:
Bad:
*There is less to do here than there was on Rum. The beach is slightly too far away to take Bonnie and do beach cleaning as I need to keep a hand free for her lead.
*There is a lot of bird life here, more than on Rum but there is not so much other wildlife (like the deer).
*I still have quite a bit of my stuff left on Rum and had hoped to be spending more time on Rum than we’ve managed.
*It feels quiet without the livestock here and I miss seeing the Croft creatures around.
*Not having as much scope for selling my baking and Mummy’s produce as we’d hoped due to the regulations around food production for sale.

Good:
*Being in a house is good. When it’s midgey or the weather is really bad you almost don’t notice it living in a house.
*With internet and electricity all the time I can spend more time chatting to my friend online without it needing to be at times when the internet is on or I have charge on my devices.
*As much as I said we don’t see the wildlife I am enjoying seeing more birds. We have a couple of woodpeckers around most of the time which I’d not seen for years.
*I really enjoyed the marine ID workshop. It was interesting to do and something I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do on Rum.
*Kayaking was really fun. It was something I would not really have had the chance to do on Rum. The whole Water Festival was good, it was nice to see some of the local community and see that stuff like that goes on here.

I have learnt:
*About strontium, which was mined above Strontian, our nearest village.

Opportunities I am going to explore further:
Social: There is a youth club once a week which I will go along to and meet some of the other teens in the area.
Educational: I will look at the courses available online or locally
Work/voluntary: Marine ID volunteering opportunities plus Mummy has made contact with the local ranger who I am going to meet and have a chat with about volunteering opportunities locally too.

Davies:
Bad:
*It is hard to still be between homes with some of my stuff over here and some of my stuff still on Rum.
*The internet took nearly a month to get installed and is not always super reliable.
*Although it is great to have unlimited power after having limited electricity on Rum, all of our power there was renewable from the wind turbine or solar panel whereas here the electricity comes at a cost, both financial and environmental.

Good:
*My bedroom is big, I have more privacy than on Rum in the caravan. I have a bigger bed, a desk, my games / TV set up and it’s a space I actually use and spend time in. I can be drawing or watching something at 4am if I want with no restrictions such as light / power/ internet / disturbing the others.
*I have not started yet but I have signed up for volunteering on a helpline and am on a course about it this coming week. This is something I would definitely not have had the opportunity to do on Rum.
*I like the location of our new house. We are able to get back to Rum so I can still enjoy the parts of that life which I liked. But we are also closer to civilisation.
*Being on the mainland makes my online friendships easier to maintain. I am able to get to the post office to send gifts, have better internet to chat and hopefully have a friend visiting later this year.
*Life feels fuller here. I have more going on. I am getting outside more with Scarlett for walks, largely because if we get wet or muddy it’s easier to get clean and dry, there are more things happening (in the last week we’ve been to the cinema, a party, a workshop, to the re-use centre, to the town for the dentist). When I am not out there is an unlimited number of things to do inside too with the internet always on.

I have learnt: while living on the mainland I am still able to maintain the positive things that I had while living on Rum 😀 such as having freedom for the cat and dog to roam, keeping livestock, being remote and rural, having access to nice walks.

Opportunities I will explore:
Social: Arranging more visits from friends coming to stay. I will attend the local youth club at least once to see whether it is likely to offer me.
Educational: I have finished the first year of my degree and am enrolled on year two starting in the autumn. I will also be attending various training courses to support me in my voluntary work.
Work / voluntary: I have set myself up as a self employed artist and have a meeting this week to register with a work coach for support on that.

Nic:
Bad:
*I would echo what Ady has said about nothing being walking distance. If I could pick this house up and move it five miles to the right that would be perfect as we could all walk to work, we’d be closer to the ferry crossing to Fort William (nearest big town for supermarket, dentist etc.) and if we ran out of milk we could nip out and get some.
*Red Tape. Which is not entirely red tape as such, just barriers that I’ve gotten used to not having. I made a couple of contacts who were up for selling my jams and Scarlett’s baking but when we looked into registering as a food producer we discovered that because we are on a private water supply we would need to have it tested annually. While I totally understand the reasoning behind this it would be a cost of several hundred pounds to us which we’d be needing to cover before making any profit, effectively putting paid to any such business even starting. This is the same private water supply that our landlord is able to let the house to us with perfectly legally as long as they take responsibility for the filters so we all know it is safe. Rum, in contrast offered none of these barriers and I’d gotten rather used to having an idea and making it happen without having to adhere to rules as long as I applied my own common sense.
*We are in a strange middle ground here of not being in such a small community as we were on Rum where everyone just knows everyone and not being in a big town where you don’t know most people but there is plenty going on to just join in with. Some of the things I’d like to do I am going to need to travel for, others I am likely to have to either accept are not there or make happen myself.
*Rum feels a long way away. Not as easy to get back to as we’d planned. Not as much a part of our lives as we’d anticipated.
*I’ve not yet found the creative outlet that meets my need for that sort of making. My crochet bits and pieces that were so well received on Rum in my little shed have not been so welcome here and so far neither of the places I’ve approached about selling them were interested, my jams and baking are a no-go thanks to the food producer regs. Rum was perfect for providing inspiration and answers and demand for me but so far I have not been struck with any such brainwaves here. I may not need to do creative crafts for cash but I don’t want to lose that side of me either.

Good:
* I am really proud of what we’ve achieved in this short space of time. I completely acknowledge that we have been very lucky in having some financial support from my parents which not everyone is so fortunate to have. We have however absolutely made the very most of that privilege and have put everything into making this move work. It is a big balancing act trying to meet the individual and collective needs of four people, ensuring we are all recognising and making the most of our opportunities, seeking out all the options and making leaps of faith to try out new and often scary challenges. As always, a lot of our path is driven and suggested by me with the odd bit of cajoling and persuading of the others at times. It’s really good to see that paying off and working out.
*People! New, interesting, fascinating, as yet not known people. Potential friends, teachers and allies. I love my little family and I have a lot of friends already but I am always, always in the market for making new friends and getting to know new people. In three months I have already made a few new actual friends, got a fair few new colleagues, quite a lot of people I know well enough to smile and say hello to when I pass them. Lack of people on Rum was one of the biggest low points for me, so it stands to reason that a village with several hundred people to start mixing and mingling with hits my lists of goods.
*The house. I love the bath. I love the kitchen. I love the two toilets. I love the washing machine and the bedroom. I love the space and light in the lounge and the views from every window. I’ve loved watching the trees come to life in the spring and I’m looking forward to seeing them change in the autumn and go to sleep in the winter.
*I love the challenge. I was restless towards the end on Rum because although life was far from easy it had become familiar and without fresh challenges. This change has offered new tests, new possibilities and new directions for all of us. I think we have celebrated more victories and achievements in our three months here than in several times that period over the last few years. Even though the other three do not actively seek out these sorts of challenges with quite the relish that I do I can see that they are getting a lot out of them too.
*The busyness. I have had to set up a google calendar for the family to keep track of all the things we are getting up to. And it’s full! We are already finding things clashing with each other or not being able to fit everything in. That’s a pretty good situation to be in after days and weeks of nothing happening at all.

One thing I have learnt: Is that every phase of life is slightly different while carrying forward aspects of what came before. I used to think that we moved wholly from one life stage to the next and maybe some people do, losing every bit of their life before when they become part of a couple, or a parent, or retired… perhaps work defines some of us more than we realise? As I move from being a Home Educator living off grid to someone with older kids doing their own thing while living in a house I find I have not much changed and lots of what I held dear and lived by carries on regardless.

Opportunities I will explore:
Social – I’ve yet to find people just to hang out with, something that I have always had in life before, wherever I’ve lived. I know from experience that they way to find that tribe is to put myself in the right places where they will be. So it’s going to be books, crafts or music that brings me to the people I probably want to spend time with. I know from Rum life and from talking to a few folk around here that this is the time of year for being busy, head down, getting on with earning money during the tourist season and that the winter is the time for the real socialising. So I’ll carry on making connections and if I find they don’t turn into what I’m looking for as the year goes by I’ll have to rethink.
Educational – My various jobs are all teaching me new things, along with learning quite how life here works in what is still a pretty small community.
Work / voluntary: I already have three new jobs (and an interview for another one) and two volunteering commitments so I think I’m sorted there!