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English people from Scotland in Ireland

We continue to confuse people when they ask where we are visiting from…

It’s been a gorgeously sunny day here today. We’ve had daffodils in bloom, buds peeping through the soil and birds starting to sing on and off for a couple of weeks but today was warm, sunny and most definitely spring-like.

So we decided to visit the Cliffs of Moher. It had been recommended to us by several people and searching online for tourist-y things to do while in Ireland always brings it up. I’d also found details of The Burren and knew we’d be driving through that area too.

Along the way we caught sight of a very tall structure that looked almost like a space rocket so pulled off the road to take a closer look. It turned out to be the round tower at the monastery of Kilmacduagh so we had a wander around there, looking at the buildings and reading the gravestones.

We arrived at the Cliffs just after midday and had a lovely couple of hours wandering around there, mostly outside along the actual cliff edges (not as near as some of the visitors who were taking their life into their hands in pursuits of ever more daring photos. We were very sensible with our safety, if not our poses!) but also a look around the visitor centre including watching the video showing a gannet swooping around the cliff faces before diving into the water and swimming with dolphins, seals, whales, basking sharks and other sealife, then resurfacing and joining the other seabirds in flight and on nests including puffins and gulls. We saw mostly crows and gulls in real life. For a Tuesday in February it was very busy, I can only imagine how packed it must being during the tourist season in the summer. We downloaded the app to listen to the audio tour and had to correct our original proclamation to Scarlett that the next land was America when she claimed to be able to see it and we realised that actually Arran was rather nearer that New York!

On the way in we had driven past signs for Aillwee Cave. 14 years ago, back in 2004 we came to Ireland for a 3 or 4 night stay. It was not a great trip; our car was broken into and all of our stuff was stolen and our ferry home was cancelled due to a ferry strike meaning we ended up on a much longer, later ferry with two toddlers, getting home around 3am with a bin bag taped over the broken car window. But we did have some good times while we were here including a visit to Blarney castle to kiss the stone, a day at Bunratty village, an open topped bus tour around Dublin and a visit to Aillwee Cave. None of us had much memory of the cave itself (Davies as 3 and Scarlett was 1 so they are excused!) but we do recall buying Davies a little torch in the gift shop which he promptly lost. We looked everywhere for it and assumed he had dropped it. Back in England when tidying out the car after the new window was fitted we found the torch. It must have been in his pushchair and fallen out when we folded it up to put it in the boot. That torch was in the toy box in the playroom for years and years and may even still be in the small amount of stuff we have stored. So we had to visit the cave on the way back today, if only to see if they still sold the torches.

They don’t.

But the cave tour was really good. All the usual stalactites and stalagmites, weird and wonderful rock formations, the tour guide turning off all the lights for complete darkness, the amazing acoustics of being metres and metres underground.

I have no photos but the drive there and back was stunning. On the way we passed feral goats grazing on the Burren, loads of cattle with calves and sheep with lambs and the strange landscape of rocks, the big flat paving slab like formations which look like giant jigsaw puzzle pieces and the miles of grey which looks like a moon landing video clip or as though all the colour has been removed from your view leaving just black and white and shades of grey. On the way back the sun was setting after a glorious day of weather so we had pink skies streaked with orange above the grey. We got home just as it was getting dark but saw a huge murmuration of starlings in the distance and a smaller but closer group (murder) of crows flying in much the same way which I’ve never seen before. There are masses of crows here, I’ve never seen so many.

All of the natural beauty and wonder of Ireland today for sure.

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A trip back to the UK

Not mainland UK though – Northern Ireland.

Last week we had a lovely four nights staying with our friends in Northern Ireland. Scarlett and I had visited before, last spring, but it was Ady and Davies’ first time there. It’s a nice easy drive from where we are staying in County Mayo. Our friends were at school / work on Friday afternoon when we headed north so we took the opportunity to head into Belfast first and visit Titanic Belfast Scarlett and I had spotted it and heard a little about it last year so it was on our list of things to do.

The drive was slightly longer than we’d planned, mostly due to snow and ice on the roads at the start of the journey meaning a slower travel time but we had just over two hours and were there before the latest admission time. I would definitely recommend longer though – we saw everything but as (almost) proper grown ups Ady and I would have lingered longer over all the many interpretation and signs and read everything. You can see why it won 2016s world’s leading tourist attraction. Telling a story that everyone knows at least one version or retelling of in the very place it all started – right where the ship was built. An excellent mix of interactive displays, recordings, artefacts and more. I’m at risk of sounding like a tripadvisor review so I’ll stop but if you are anywhere near Belfast and have three or four hours I would highly recommend adding this to your itinery. Along with the many, many other things to do in the city.

Ady and I did a city bus tour around Belfast – similar but slightly different route to the one Scarlett and I had done last year but taking in the peace wall, the murals, various other landmarks of key places during The Troubles and many of the new and renovated parts of the city too. Amazing to see how much progress there has been even in the 10 months since I was last there. Belfast is a really lovely city. I like it a lot.

Another friend had flown across from Manchester to visit while we were in Northern Ireland which was a fantastic treat – we’ve not seen each other for about 8 years and it was so, so lovely to catch up in real life again. We met in another of the city’s landmarks – McHughs pub. Usually the location for traditional live music on a Saturday afternoon but that gave way to live coverage of Ireland winning a rugby match in the six nations. Not as exciting for me but judging by all the shouting and cheering at the various large screens throughout the pub no less exciting generally! We got to have a pint or two of Guinness and sample some top craic with friendly Irish folk though. It was all good.

It doesn’t take much for teenagers to turn completely nocturnal and I confess to heading that way myself in certain company so much late night antics were on the cards – for the teens it seemed to be consuming lots of processed snacks and fizzy drinks, heading out for late night walks and watching a lot of youtube clips. For the adults it was also fizzy drinks, along with some singing, ukulele playing and some peaceful craft skill sharing as we taught our friend how to crochet. We all watched quite a bit of the winter olympics too, but with the sound turned down, music turned up and our own commentary instead.

The crochet skills came in very handy on the Monday when our planned trip to the Giants Causeway had to be called off. It had snowed quite heavily overnight and when we checked travel information we realised all of the visitor services at the Causeway had been closed due to the weather. Of course we could still have gone, but a four hour round trip in poor driving conditions to an outside destination which is slippery even on a dry sunny day seemed foolish. So I held a crochet hexagon masterclass and we made our own! It does not quite have the majesty or breathtaking quality of the real thing but what it lacks in ancient geology, huge size and natural wonderment it almost makes up for in colourfulness, portability and entertainment value! We’ve left it with our friends in case of any more of their visitors having a planned trip to the Causeway fall through.

It does mean our plans for Northern Ireland are still not complete. Not this trip but a return visit is definitely on the cards.

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The hiatus continues

In December all four of us were laid low with a really nasty cold. Fortunately it hit us just at the right time to not interfere with anything we had planned or events such as birthdays or Christmas but it had all four of us feeling rough. Ady, Davies and I have all had another cold over the last two weeks or so. Scarlett miraculously managed to escape it but it took the rest of us to our beds for at least a day each with associated moping, whinging and lack of appetite around and about.

Living on a remote island with just 20 or so other residents with a mostly outdoors existence and a fairly healthy diet means we are pretty isolated from the usual germs and rarely get ill. It also means that we have not been exposed to anything for all these years and so when a germ is about we have next to no immunity against it.

These two illnesses – both just winter colds even if there were particularly nasty strains if the virus were made all the easier to deal with by having cosier living conditions than the caravan, more space to flop about in and not get in each others way, access to the chemist for over the counter remedies to ease the symptoms, nice soft tissues and warm bubble baths, even fresh lemons to make countless warm honey and lemon drinks. Mainland living (mainland UK and mainland Ireland) has definitely had it’s advantages over island life at these points. Although of course it could well be argued that if we’d still been on Rum for the winter we probably wouldn’t have come into contact with the germs in the first place…

I guess if nothing else we’ll be returning to Rum with better immune systems!

Aside from coughing and sneezing we’ve been working our way through a few dvd box sets picked up in charity shops. We also had a look at some of the titles our landlords lent us. I don’t think we share tastes in movies although we had watched a few black and white classics. Citizen Kane was a winner.

Davies and I have been going great guns with our studying. We are far ahead of where we are scheduled to be on the study planner which is great as it means no immediate pressure when we get back to Rum. We are both really enjoying the study – both the routine of a couple of hours each day, the snuggling up to work through stuff and the actual content is really interesting. We have both submitted our next assessments which should be marked and returned to us next week and completed a few more of the online assessments which go towards our final marks. We are almost three quarters of the way through the content now and starting to think about further study options.

I’ve been busy with my crochet hook too – if only to justify bringing off a very large bag of yarn with me from Rum which we have carried all around the place with us in our rather cramped car. I now have quite a collection of midges ready to sit on a shelf in the shed when we get back. Along with the pattern I usually use I also bought a pattern for a mosquito and made some adjustments to the pattern to make a midge and found some images online of smaller midges which I was able to work out a pattern for. I still prefer my freeform crochet as a past time but I didn’t bring any blank bags, notebooks or cases to stitch on to so midges it is for now. I can get creative again when we’re back on Rum and I have my usual view to inspire me.

The cold virus and the cold temperatures – we’ve had a few snow flurries – have mostly kept us indoors rather than out exploring but we’ve plans for the next few weeks to get out and about a bit more and make the most of our Irish base.

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February

We realised today that it was already gone 530pm and still not dark outside. Living in a house is definitely adding an additional layer of disconnect between us and nature. Back on Rum while there were days that passed without me going outside, particularly at this time of year I was definitely more aware of what was happening out there. I am both missing and enjoying not missing that I think.

Turning the calendar to a new page today means two entire calendar months have passed without us being on Rum – December and January. Both the worst months in terms of being there for the weather but also the best months for being there to celebrate Scarlett’s birthday, Solstice, Christmas, New Year, my birthday, Burns Night. We’ve built some fantastic memories of the 2017 and 2018 celebrations of those occasions in different locations instead, it feels strange not to have been there for them ‘at home’ though.

Last week was Burns night, my favourite celebration on Rum. I love the food preparation – we’ve been involved in making the ‘staggis’ (Rum venison haggis) for the last few years, the ceremony of the order of the evening, I love the actual food, the poetry, the communal eating, drinking and telling stories, I love the ‘Rum twist’ of customs that are very much our own held within the community we live in. We cooked and ate haggis here, toasted lads and lassies and thought about our Scottish connections.

We had another ‘when in Ireland’ adventure and visited Knock shrine. Site of an apparition and place of pilgrimage for thousands every year. It was very quiet being January but the museum was excellent with a fantastic audio tour, we visited the one holy souvenir shop open in whole street full of holy souvenir shops to buy plastic bottles to fill with holy water.

Davies and I got properly stuck back into studying, finishing and submitting our second assignments, Davies had a phone chat with his tutor and we started the third block of study. We are still slightly ahead thanks to our intense start back on Rum despite taking December and most of January off.

Easily the loveliest thing about the last week though was a visit from friends. It’s definitely been what the house and our time here so far has been waiting for – friends to make it feel like a home!

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Three weeks in

This time three weeks ago we were at sea. We still had a couple of hours on a ferry and a couple more driving before we arrived here at the house.

In three weeks we have settled in. We’ve worked out how to use the clay oven and the range for heating and cooking. We’ve mastered bread, soups, coffee, pizzas, stews, pies, curries, roast dinners, cakes and crumbles.

I’ve bought the traditional yellow tin of Irish tea and am enjoying it in my own special mug

We have hemmed the fleece blankets we keep in the car to make makeshift curtains to hang up to keep the room cosier at night, invested in a thicker duvet, an electric blanket and a hot water bottle (for various people depending on preference) all of which will come home to Rum with us. We found a candle holder for one euro in a charity shop which has made evening baths into something special.

After more live chats with couriers that I can count and driving to the post office twice to collect parcels we have made a sign for the gate and successfully had our first delivery of post to the actual address.

We have worked out where to take bottles and cans for recycling and after a very frustrating and expensive trip to the local landfill site we are now returning what little plastic packaging we cannot avoid bringing home back to the litter bins at the supermarkets we’ve purchased things from. We can navigate to the local town and back without satnav even in the dark (that took a fair few attempts!) and have a loyalty card for the local chain of supermarkets and know what time short date food starts to be reduced to clear so have a freezer stocked with bargains.

Davies and I have been studying. We’ve both finished and submitted our second assignments. We’re about to start working on the third block of four. Ady is plotting improvements and plans for the croft and caravan when we get back to Rum. Scarlett is mastering a whole new level of baking challenges – what she gains in electricity and a fridge she lacks in an easily controlled temperature of oven. Bonnie and Kira are enjoying being free.

We have compiled a list of things to see and do while we’re in Ireland. It is far from the best time of year to be out and about, some of the attractions are closed or on limited opening at this time of year and a lot of the best things to see and do are outside so need careful planning for the best weather conditions. But we have drawn up a list and are ticking things off.


So far we’ve visited Galway and stood in the bay and been to the seaweed baths at Enniscrone which will definitely go down in our list of unique experiences. Ady and I had the twin room with two baths and a steam box. You go into the box with only your head outside and release the lever to fill the box with steam – a sort of gentle sauna which opens your pores, then you get into the saltwater seaweed filled bath. Eventually after a long soak in the salty, floaty bath while the seaweed swirls around you, you have a cold seawater shower to close your pores back up.

The baths, now in the fifth generation of the family who opened them in 1912 – the year the Titanic sailed from Ireland are housed in a gorgeous building right next to the stunning beach. A pumphouse brings seawater across to be stored on the roof of the building and it is piped in and heated to run the baths, filled with freshly harvested seaweed. The cold showers are simply released from the storage tanks on the roof. The baths, taps and shower fittings, steam boxes and tiling in the rooms is all original Victorian and over 100 years worth of people have relaxed in them. The seaweed and salt water is said to have health benefits for conditions including eczema, psoriasis, rheumatism and arthritis and is beautifully moisturising and relaxing. I’d never even heard of seaweed baths before we arrived here and found a leaflet advertising the bath house. It was a lovely, if slightly mad way to spend an hour or so!

We have been to the east and west coasts of Ireland now and plan to head down to the south and up to the north. We have various other places and experiences to tick off our lists while we’re here, along with more studying. Mostly though we are enjoying the wind and rain battering the house, particularly at night and feeling safe and secure instead of vulnerable and worried.

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Live and learn

As previously mentioned this was a knee jerk, impetuous decision for three months. We left Rum in November with a few goals to achieve – to work out what we wanted to do next, to see what the mainland and a more conventional life had to offer, to experience some of the stuff we had been missing out on by living on a remote island for the last five and a half years. We wanted to catch up with family and friends, escape the worst months of the weather on Rum, finish off Davies and my studying and enjoy a cosy winter with a few home comforts after five harsh winters battling the elements.

Somerset was great – a lovely, busy reintroduction to mainland life. We spent loads of time with friends, enjoyed the run up to Christmas in style and thanks to the generosity of our lovely friends Jill & Johnny were treated to many experiences. We had a cosy cottage with dishwasher, washing machine, fridge and freezer, bath and central heating. But we knew it was not where were supposed to stay and settle. We have connections in Glastonbury which will always call us back, even more connections were made this visit with more friends and memories.

Sussex is comfortable and familiar, filled with memories at every turn – here is where I grew up, went to school and college, learned to drive. Where I fell in love for the first, second, third time. There is the pub I used to drink in, the houses of friends I used to know, that is where I had my first job, used to go shopping, pushed my children in pushchairs, took them to the park, played on the beach. It’s where family live, where many friends still are. We will come back there again and again but it’s definitely, 100% no longer home.

It was so illuminating to spend time in those places at the end of last year. So interesting to live a different life, albeit briefly to the one we have lived for the last five years. To remind ourselves of how things used to be, how they could be again if we chose. I certainly expected to feel as though we had barely been away and as though we could slip back in, almost unchanged as though we had barely been away. After all we had left and returned to Glastonbury several times during our WWOOFing year, at the very start, midway through and again at the end. We had left Sussex for several years in the early 2000s and come back and re-settled.

It turns out though we have changed more than we realised. In ways we could not have imagined. Sitting at a Christmas party table with more people around it than live on the whole of our island did not excite and delight as we might have imagined it would. Instead it reminded us of those friends we usually live alongside and know so well that many of the conversations around that table, indeed the fun game we played after dinner to test how well we all knew each other (it was a staff party, many of those attending work together day in, day out and have done for years) would have been a flop on Rum as we all know each other so well it would have been redundant.

So to Ireland – what started as the calling across the miles of a beautiful house turned into a real option for another few months. An opportunity to explore another country, live somewhere we have never spent much time but wondered about after friends moved here more than a decade ago to start a new life. Land and property are cheap, the climate not unlike what we are used to. Transport links better than the Inner Hebrides and closer proximity to a town for resources, shopping, social opportunities. A house with a bath, washing machine, freezer, electricity. A house we can drive right up to to unload shopping. Land for the cat and dog to roam free once more. A bigger space for us to fill, more privacy and larger bedrooms for Davies and Scarlett. If not a permanent solution it could well offer another alternative to consider in working out what we do want next.

So far – just over two weeks in – we are learning every day. Learning how to operate a very different house to any we’ve lived in before. One with cooking, heating and hot water fuelled by a wood burning clay oven and a peat fuelled range. One in a different country with a different currency and different rules and ways of doing things. There are frustrations, things to get used to, things to learn and things to understand. While we’re here we are working through a list of ‘places to see in Ireland’ – some are revisiting from a previous trip, some are new. Some are experiences, some are destinations.

We are also doing a whole lot of talking, planning and working out what happens next and how we go about making it happen. A new plan is forming just as we hoped it might.

In the meantime though, Davies and I are back to studying, Scarlett is back to baking, Ady is back to photographing and we’re all getting on with living, learning and making the most of wherever we happen to be right now.

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Off island, on Ireland birthday

It’s a week ago now but last Saturday, a few days after we arrived here in Mayo was my birthday. I am 44.

I had an absolutely lovely day. I started it with a bubble bath, while drinking a huge mug of tea and listening to the radio. My favourite radio presenter is Graham Norton and despite having tried a few times before to get a mention on his show I’ve never managed it before. This year though I did! And not just a mention but a birthday greeting and a general chat from Graham about how to celebrate my birthday and a ‘good for you’ comment about our Irish adventure. Made my day!

We had a full Irish breakfast cooked on the range / clay oven which we are getting to grips with mastering. Sausages, bacon, eggs and bread all locally sourced from County Mayo.

Then we headed off for a walk. There is a peat bog at the bottom of the farm and we’d been told a good circular walk heading that way so off we set. Bonnie was delighted to be walking off the lead with all of us, the sun shone, the air was filled with the smell of peat fires and it was just lovely.

We saw donkeys, horses and sheep along the way which delighted Scarlett who adores donkeys.

Later we had Irish steak for dinner followed by some fancy desserts which we stuck matches in as the birthday candles are in a bag I left behind in Sussex (fool!) and has not made it here to us yet.


I’ve had some amazing birthdays over the years. This one was another happy memory to add to the list of lovely ways to celebrate another journey around the sun. Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday – family, friends and of course Graham Norton!

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So where have we wondered off to?

For the last two years I have been haunted by a house. On at least three facebook groups I belong to a house which has been for sale has kept appearing. I’ve clicked on the for sale link many times and looked at the countless pictures of the property online. I think I first found it because it has been rebuilt with natural materials – cob and clay, recycled glass bottles and hand carved wood. Another time I clicked because the pictures of the bath – freestanding with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside – caught my eye. We all know I love a bath. Last year after Scarlett and I returned from our brief trip to Northern Ireland I looked at it again and showed it to Ady because, it happens to be a house in Ireland. I never really looked at it with an intention of buying it, Ireland was never on our list of places we considered living but something about that house kept calling me.

In August when we were firming up our plans for coming off Rum over the winter the house turned up again. This time it was being advertised for sale or rent. At the time we were considering house sitting or short term rental options along with other possibilities so I got in touch with the seller. The monthly rent was fairly affordable but they were looking for at least 6 months worth of lease which definitely didn’t work for us. We had a few online exchanges but it felt like it wasn’t going to work out so we left it. In December when we decided that Somerset and Sussex were not giving us quite what we were wanting from our time away from Rum we got back in touch and discovered that actually our short term renting ideal would now also suit the owner of the house. We pondered for a day or two – as ever this was a rather impetuous and impulsive idea, not entirely thought out and rather whimsical. But it felt right. I sat in the bath in Somerset having just finished reading a particularly moving novel about life being just too short and grabbing all the opportunities that show themselves to you. And that was that. We signed a lease, paid the deposit and organised the travel plans.

I’d be lying if I said it has all fallen smoothly into place. It has been expensive, time consuming, not without all sorts of angst and hiccups and logistical problems. As with so many of the decisions we have made, OK, I have made, there have been moments where in retrospect if I’d known then what I know now I may have made different choices but surely that is what life is all about? Taking the risk, learning from the lessons and knowing that the rollercoaster always has a longer queue than the monorail for a reason!

So here we are. In County Mayo for 3 months. We’re staying in rebuilt barn with a peat-fuelled range and a clay oven providing the heating, hot water and cooking. I’m learning how to bake bread and cook meals at low temperatures. We’re on about 5 acres of farmland so Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat are free to roam once more after weeks and weeks of being cooped up inside (Kira) and walked on the lead (Bonnie). We have electricity, a washing machine and freezer (although the freezer is outside in a separate building, not quite so far away as the freezer on Rum) and a bath.

We’re getting used to euros and kilometres.

We’re making a list of things to do / see / experience while we’re here. Today we went to Galway, watched a street performer, mooched around the shops, headed to Galway bay and saw the west coast. We’re having lots of walks, talking lots about next steps (we’ll be back on Rum for the spring and summer at least), getting back into studying (Davies and I), playing cards (Ady and Scarlett), getting the crochet hook back out (me), flexing the camera button in a different location (Ady) and enjoying being in something rather more stable and secure than the caravan when the January wind and rain rages outside.

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Bad, Good, Learned in 2017 and hopes for 2018

We’re slightly late with it this year, but we have good excuses and notes from our mum and everything so please let us off!

I also have a round up of the year with pictures post planned and will definitely get that up in the next few days. But for now, here is the list of what was bad and good and what we learned last year and what our hopes and dreams are for the year ahead.

Ady
Bad:

1.Things starting to wear out. After five years the generator is starting to struggle with regular use and the wind turbine is needing lots of repairs and careful tending. We obviously expect to have routine maintenance but there are nagging worries about some of the things we rely heavily on lasting.
2. Getting rid of the pigs, Barbara in particular was very sad.
3. The caravan is ever more tired. We have a couple of places which leak in the rain, again five years living in a space designed for occasional use is taking it’s toll.
4. The novelty has worn off rather – what seemed charming and worthwhile sometimes feels like a massive effort in our lifestyle on Rum – carrying things up the hill is more of a chore than ever.
5. The sense of community on Rum continues to dwindle and attendance at meetings and social events is at an all time low. I am as guilty as everyone else of wondering what the point is in bothering at times which is sad.

Good:
1. Working with Internet Ian on hebent stuff. I did quite a lot of that in 2017 and it was interesting and rewarding, I learned loads and earned some good money too!
2. More tree planting. Another 500 trees planted on Croft 3. I love tree planting, it feels like such a legacy project, a real investment in the future.
3. Finishing having pigs. Although it was sad to say goodbye to the individual animals it was also a relief in terms of cost of food and worrying about their welfare over the winter.
4. The family Christmas. I have been planning having a Christmas with our family back on the mainland for the whole year and was so looking forward to it. It was just as I hoped it would be, a real highlight.
5. The sanitation set up – our flushing toilet set up works so well and I have maintaining it down to a fine art. It’s very rewarding to have designed and set something up that works and makes life so much more comfortable.

Learnt:
1. Shearing the sheep was a real new skill and one I loved doing.
2. Car maintenance – more tinkering with the vehicles and other machines this year. One of those things I would never have tried before and feel a real sense of achievement in doing and making things work.
3. We’ve not done it yet but this year I realised that keeping chickens without some type of penning them, even if just overnight is a pointless exercise as you simply get no eggs. We’ve been feeding chickens who them mostly run off all the food by free ranging over such a huge area, laying eggs for the crows to eat!
4. That I don’t miss the mainland as much as I thought I did. It’s been lovely having some longer time off Rum but the novelty of the things I thought I missed quickly wore off.
5. Some new approaches to life and what we have which I’ll be taking back to Rum. Stuff about making the caravan work better for us and using the resources we have on the croft.

Ady’s Hopes for 2018:
1. To earn a living from the Croft or at the very least create a credible business plan.
2. To make our Rum life a bit easier, maybe with some sort of vehicular or mechanical help with getting resources like food / gas / firewood in the right places.
3. Create a plan for the extended areas of the Croft. We now have a chunk of woodland and an extra area above the river and I’d like to create an area for the ducks next to the river and really make the most of the wood resource.
4. Learn more about working with chainsaws.
5. Build a bathhouse on Croft 3. We have plenty of water, several options for heating it, no end of space and a bath – I want to find a way to bring them all together!

Special bonus wish – To find out about setting up a community radio station

Scarlett
Bad:

1. Saying goodbye to the pigs.
2. It was hard leaving Rum and the Croft. For me Rum will always be home in the same way as people think of their childhood home as their ‘home’ or ‘hometown’. For me no matter where I live Rum will always be my first real home. I know I was 8 when we arrived there but it’s definitely where I grew up.
3. I didn’t spend as much time outside adventuring or exploring this year as in previous years.
4. Saying goodbye to the livestock for the winter – the turkeys and chickens who are with new owners and my duck Desmond.
5. Leaving stuff behind on Rum was hard. We only had a small amount of space in the car and it was tough deciding what to bring.

Good:
1. The Welcome To Nightvale life show which we went to in 2017 with a friend was amazing.
2. My friendship with E – this year we have seen each other twice -once in Ireland and once on Rum and had loads of online chats.
3. The trip to Bristol Zoo on my birthday – I’ve wanted to see a naked mole rat for years and there was one there which was so cool.
4. Our cousin Maisie visiting – she came to Rum twice and we saw her in Sussex over Christmas too.
5. The Small Isles Games on Rum were brilliant and it was really lovely to have friends visiting while they were on too.
6. (Scarlett couldn’t narrow it down to 5 so we decided she shouldn’t have to and we should celebrate her having such a long list of ‘goods’!) My trip to Ireland with Mummy – going on a plane, seeing all the stuff like Giant’s Causeway.
7. Having my braces off.

Learned:
1. More cake decorating skills
2. Lots of tech skills, using different devices and learning to use various things.
3. The possibility of a fish farm on Rum has meant learning lots about fish farms and how they work but also lots about sealife, aquaculture and the impact of them. I learned loads when we did the sweep netting and caught fish in the bay to check for weight, health and sealice.
4. Art skills – I have really improved my painting and drawing, tried new styles such as manga and watercolours.
5. How full on airport security is. I was really surprised at the security between Glasgow and Belfast and how we were frisked, Mummy had to take her boots off and our liquids were dip tested to check what they were. I had no idea it was so intense.

Scarlett’s hopes for 2018:
1. To return to Rum this spring.
2. To further improve my cake decorating skills. I am good at making pretty cupcakes but I’d like to try a more ambitious project like a large cake looking like something like a watermelon or something like that.
3. Develop a business from my baking and cake decorating.
4. A donkey! I know it might not work on Rum but I’d like to research it more. I’d like to rehome a resuce donkey.
5. I really enjoyed my horseriding lesson in Glastonbury so would like to try and do more horse or pony riding.

Special Bonus Wish: I’d like to visit Canada. I’d love to see the landscape and see the amazing wildlife like bears, wolves, moose and beavers.

Davies:
Bad:

1. I didn’t accomplish many of my hopes for last year. Some of them were just not as feasible as I thought and I changed my focus on others.
2. Realising that there is a chunk of life that I missed out on. The transition from being a little kids playing to being a teen hanging out with other teens. Because I have not had same age friends or peers around I have just not done this life stage. I know that there are other things I have done instead so on balance it’s not a regret as such but something I am aware of missing out on.
3. Lack of power / internet access on Rum means less contact online with friends or time to follow some of my other interests.
4. A disappointing year of Sheerwater boat trips (again) with no real noteable sightings.
5. My score on my first marked assignment for the OU. I achieved a pass and it does not go towards the end result. My feedback was good but it would have been nice to have had a higher score.

Good:
1. The Welcome To Nightvale trip was good. It was fun to go with a friend and it was an all round good experience.
2. Studying with the OU. It’s reassuring to have a long term plan now and I am really enjoying the subjects.
3. I’ve made some online friends this past year who are really important to me. Some are deepening friendships with people I already knew, some are brand new friends. Several are mutual friends who other friends have introduced me to.
4. Watching Hannibal with Mummy. It’s a really good show and it was really good to watch it together and share it.
5. Anime – Scarlett and I have gotten really into anime in 2017. It’s a shared interest with Scarlett and it’s not to share a fandom. We watch shows together, do art challenges and recommend stuff to each other.

Learned:
1. Study skills with the OU. Writing in an academic style, reading, researching and interpreting data. All of these are new skills to me.
2. My art has improved this year with me learning new styles and techniques and trying different materials.
3. My reading, writing and spelling is continuing to improve.
4. I’ve learned this year who I am a lot more. Scarlett was always passionate about animals but I never really had a big ‘thing’. From studying, chatting to people online and reading back over online chats I have a far better sense of self.
5. Language skills. I have learned a fair bit about languages this year. I have two friends who do not have English as their first language (one is Finnish, one Turkish) and have also had a lot of contact with Japanese from watching anime. I have learned about foreign alphabets and pronunciation. As a relatively late reader myself I recall learning those things in English and it means this is a skill I remember developing and have found it interesting and easy to pick up.

Davies’ hopes for 2018
1. To finish my access course and begin a degree course with the OU
2. To further improve my literacy skills.
3. To improve my drawing / art skills.
4. To make some youtube videos and increase the number of subscriptions to my channel.
5. To progress with my keyboard playing / learning to read music
(Davies had quite a list so we wrote them all down)
6. Start planning some travel adventures for 2019
7. Get a full driving licence.

Davies’ special bonus wish for 2018: To meet my online friend from Finland in real life.

Nic:
Bad:

1. Saying goodbye to the pigs, particularly Barbara. It was one of the tougher decisions we have made in our time on Rum. It was the right one, for several reasons but no less sad for all that.
2. Leaving Rum for the winter. It has meant so many good and lovely things, continued adventures, new experiences and really helped with making decisions about what happens next but standing on the open deck of the ferry waving goodbye to Rum and to my special friends was a wrench and a tough things to do. Under different circumstances perhaps Rum could have met all of our needs without us needing to take time away, that is a definite source of sadness for me about 2016 – realising that our current life was no longer quite enough.
3. Following on from that point is that most of the highlights of 2016 were times we were off island, with the noteworthy highs on Rum getting less every year. We’ve worked really hard to try and make our every day life so special that we didn’t need to take a break from it but this last year it has not been so often the case.
4. Car hassles. In stepping back into the mainland life for a bit we have also had to step back into mainland responsibilities and running a car is as expensive and hassle-worthy as it ever was. Quite aside from the costs of taxing and insuring a car (which have rocketed with the increase in size from our little black car to a much larger MPV) we have had problems with an exhaust, suspension and a broken window mechanism. All of these are outside our ability to fix which is something we had gotten used to on Rum.
5. The end of an era. I have always welcomed Davies and Scarlett growing up, Ady and I growing older, life marching on and the passage of time. I look back fondly at old photos and cherish memories of the past but have always felt excited about the next steps and the future. I am still feeling like that but this year has definitely marked the end of a phase of our lives which has been amazing. Davies is no longer Home Educated or even of school age (he remains studying at home with the OU but it’s a shift), both teens have increasing interests and pursuits that we don’t share from chatting online to friends to watching shows that we are not interested in. Ady and I are feeling less inclined to take on challenging long term physical projects. I know that the end of one phase in life marks the start of another and am confident that whatever happens next will be amazing too but I am pausing to take a breath in the tiny gap between the two chapters and feeling a sadness at the closing of the one which is now in the past.

Good:
1. The sheep. We are really enjoying having the sheep on the croft. They are fairly low maintenance, very low cost, easy going creatures to have around. Learning to shear them this year was a real highlight, and doing a bit of spinning and some crochet with the fleece was a very lovely thing.
2. Ukulele – I spent the first part of the year struggling and practising and feeling as though I really wasn’t getting very far but then, just as people said would happen I suddenly got it. I am still a long way from anything other than a beginner but I have really enjoyed learning songs, singing and getting to grips with the ukulele. I recently managed to transpose a song into a more suitable key for my voice and now find my half an hour or so each day strumming, picking and singing to be a pleasure rather than an effort.
3. Adventures off island. We have had a fair few trips off Rum in 2016 – small ones for dentist trips or to see local-ish friends and some fairly epic ones including Northern Ireland for Scarlett and I in the spring, Manchester for all four of us in the autumn and Somerset & Sussex for the end of the year. I’ve ticked a few ‘bucket list’ type experiences off my personal list this year including seeing the Giants Causeway and had some amazing experiences such as Bath Spa.
4. The shed – another really good year for the shed in 2016. I introduced a few new lines and had some great sales. Jam as always is a big seller and I found an outlet on the mainland who started stocking my jams and sold out. I have still not found the right outlet for my freeform crochet but had some excellent feedback on it and some of the smaller items have sold well.
5. The Small Isles Games – I had quite a big role in organising the games which took place on Rum in 2016. I’d be lying if I said it was done without getting frustrated or irritated, or that the effort I and a few others put in was universally recognised and appreciated, however looking back on the photos, watching the races being run, the wellies wanged, the barbecue eaten, the ceilidh danced at, the raffle prizes claimed reminds me what a great day it was and how well we did to make it happen.

Learned:
1. Over the course of 2016 I think all four of us had begun to lose sight of what was right with our life on Rum. The compromises, of which they are undoubtedly many, in our day to day lives there were starting to feel too big, the rewards too small. We knew that we needed to come off the island to gain some perspective and re-evaluate just what we wanted. That period off the island is not over yet, but 2016 is and it took me only a short while to get enough of an idea of what we gain and lose on Rum in contrast to a more conventional mainland life. I thought that living a fairly mainstream life for nearly 40 years, spending the year WWOOFing, then moving to a remote and extreme lifestyle like we have on Croft 3 meant I had already learned all I needed to know to compare the two. It turns out that the lesson was not quite complete and I needed to return again to be able to really see the differences. I learned a lot in the last six weeks of 2016. I’m still processing and reflecting on it but I definitely learned in what ways we are rich and in what ways we are poor and the true cost of things.
2. Social media stuff. I learned a bit about SEO, affiliate links and monetising blogs from my friend Kirsty who is an expert at it during their visit to us on Rum in April and our visit to them in September. I learned more while in Somerset and doing some facebook and blogging work for the place we were staying. My sister in law has a very successful business making jewellery and selling it online, making use of various social media and Davies is fast becoming an expert on various platforms too (as you would expect from a 17 year old!). As a writer and crafter I can see the potential of this for some of my skills and have a few ideas bubbling which have come about from learning more this year.
3. More about compromise. I would previously have considered myself rather an idealist, more likely to chose a side of the fence that best suited me and stayed there. Just as I mentioned earlier about realising the compromises and costs of the choices we make in our overall lives this year has also seen lots of compromises on Rum – community votes about the direction various things take – do we want a phone mast in our village? It means better signal but an ugly mast. Do we want a fish farm off the coast of our island? It means a visual and environmental impact but also investment in island infrastructure, employment opportunities and attracting new residents.
4. More about no-dig gardening and continued learning about the ground on Croft 3 and how best to make use of it. It continues to be a work in progress but as every year before I end with more knowledge than I started with about what does and doesn’t work and what is and isn’t worth doing again.
5. Alongside Davies I have also been studying with the OU doing an access course. It was to support Davies but also because I am interested in the subject matter (psychology, sociology, childhood studies, law and management) and because I had long wondered whether I would like to do a degree myself. I am enjoying the study and the subject but have learned that I do not want to study further, certainly just now. I am always learning new things, reading, researching and just doing and am better carrying on doing just that than studying additional things which are not as interesting to me for the sake of a qualification.

Hopes for 2018:
1. To return to Rum with a new improved plan for the future.
2. To support Davies and Scarlett in the next phase of their lives, I anticipate the coming year holding changes for them both and I hope they find the right balance for them as individuals for what they want, what they need and where they are headed.
3. To continue my creative pursuits: writing, craft, music. To improve, maybe to make some money but mostly to continue to get joy from them.
4. To work with Ady, Davies and Scarlett to find the path ahead which most suits us all as individuals and as a family. To try and meet the inevitable compromises and challenges with good grace and encourage and support the others to do the same, while continuing to have adventures, new experiences and lots of fun.
5. To make the most out of wherever we happen to find ourselves and live another year to the full.

Special bonus wish for 2018: To see an orca.

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Six weeks in Somerset and Sussex

I’ve not blogged much since we left Rum. Not because not much has happened – far from it, we’ve been ridiculously busy but it’s not felt blog-worthy as it’s every day, mainlandy stuff. Certainly it’s been several years worth of mainlandy stuff crammed in to a few weeks and definitely exceptional from our point of view but then walking round a supermarket or getting a takeaway is exceptional for us.

Since leaving Rum we have:
Celebrated a birthday, celebrated Christmas, seen the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Been to a staff Christmas party, had a day trip to the zoo (Bristol), been to Bath Spa (just me), had fast food, takeaways and food delivered, been out to dinner, out to lunch, out for coffee and cake, taken my crochet to a craft fayre, been Christmas shopping, helped open a farm shop, visited a pub turned into a gingerbread house for Christmas, seen the starlings murmuration over Somerset levels, attended a solstice bonfire and eaten food cooked on it, seen a zombie flashmob along Glastonbury high street, been horseriding (Scarlett and Ady), been to the cinema (Ady, Davies and Scarlett) to see the Star Wars film on it’s opening day, watched the darts final on TV, caught up with friends we’ve not seen for years, spent precious time with family, had a go at double glazing, cooked dinners and baked bread in various kitchens, made a Christmas cake in one county then decorated and ate it in another, gatecrashed a Christmas cocktail party (which we were really not appropriately dressed up for), sat drinking in a beer garden, been to many pubs, talked to complete strangers (a lot! Turns out we are very friendly these days!), taken Bonnie the dog for many, many walks (not something we ever have to do on Rum), decorated Christmas trees (two), finally met an internet friend after years of ‘knowing’ each other online, managed to hug people in real life we have really missed hugging for the last six years, queued in traffic jams, queued in post offices, queued in shops and supermarkets, had many, many baths, played Trivial Pursuit with Amazon Alexa, dashed out of the house at 1150pm on New Years Eve to dash up the hill opposite and watch the new year fireworks, walked along the seafront and marvelled at the wind turbines out at sea, bumped into an old friend in Marks & Spencers, been to Christmas markets, played bingo in Glastonbury town hall.

It has been fantastic, we all feel very topped up on family, friends and all that the south of England has to offer.

We have also really missed Rum. We’ve missed the croft, the way of life, our friends, the views, the calm. It has been fantastic to utterly immerse ourselves back in this way of life, to revisit our old haunts, catch up with the things we have missed. It means we have had a really good taste of the contrast of our old lives to our current life which is what we really wanted to experience once more to help us make decisions about what happens next. We needed perspective; time away from Rum and a reminder of what life would be like somewhere less extreme in some ways and far more extreme in others. It’s been a perfect snapshot for us of mainland life – filled with opportunities, people, busyness, all of the things you can imagine accessing at pretty much whatever time you want them. It was also a really good reminder of the cost of these things – in terms of time, money and commitment from us. It’s been both a fantastic six weeks of soul filling time with family and friends and a research project, gathering information and experiences to squirrel away and bring back out in the coming weeks as we start to consider our next options.

Which is the next step in our adventure – a period of consideration and contemplation. As soon as we arrive in the very special place we have chosen to do that and settled in I will share some more details of what that might look like. For now though we are on a different edge of the mainland to the south coast one we have been inhabiting for the last few weeks, poised ready to head off once more.