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First visitors of the year

The early part of the week continued with that special low hanging in a bright blue sky that only a winter sun brings, along with the promise of spring in the air and a magical kind of light. We’ve had our share of gloomy skies and rain too just for balance.

We managed to get the artichokes in – I think I had 50 in total and we planted them two or three to a pot. They were very cheap black pots I bought from a supermarket on a mainland trip a couple of years ago and have never really used because they had no drainage holes. So I sat in the sunshine with a drill for an hour on Sunday and drilled holes in the bottom of them all, carried them over to a patch of ground that the pigs had previously been on so was bare ground, beautifully broken up with manure trodden in. Scarlett and I filled the pots with some of the soil and have left them in a sunny, sheltered spot. Hopefully the fact they are black pots, in the sunshine, sheltered from the worst of the wind should mean the soil inside them warms up more than the earth and the artichokes start to grow. Once they have broken the surface soil of the pots I will transplant them into the ground and fence the area off to stop any deer or our birds or sheep nibbling.

artichokes

We caught the three sheep at feeding time one afternoon, sprayed a number on each and treated them all for fluke and ticks as if the ticks the cat and dog are starting to show are any indication the weather has warmed up enough for the sheep to start suffering too. We took the opportunity to check their teeth and feet and general health while we had them penned and they are all doing well.

My ukulele-ing continues. I still have ever such a lot to learn but now at least feel that even if I took months off I would be able to pick one up and remember stuff again. My fingers are far from knowing where to head next to find a note but I can feel that it is starting to get there. I could sit and pick out a tune on a piano, it would be lovely to get to that stage with the ukulele. I have gotten way better at changing between chords and learned a few songs so my next challenge is learning some strumming patterns.

The highlight of the week though was on Tuesday – not St Valentines day, but just as filled with love we had our first visitors of the year as friends came for a couple of hours between boats. We didn’t have time to walk to the croft and back so instead walked along to the otter hide which is close to the pier where the ferry comes and goes but takes us through some woodland, past some blackhouse remains and looks out over the bay and into the open sea. It was a beautiful sunny day and while we sat chatting, drinking a glass of prosecco and enjoying the view we were treated to a heron, some oystercatchers, several seals and a porpoise. Just magical.

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Even more magical though was the night before when parked up in Mallaig overlooking Rum and Eigg at sunset my friend sent me a message to say she could see a pinprick light over on Rum. We assumed it was one of the houses around the bay but when we flicked our light on and off in the caravan it turned out it was us she could see! She took a video clip and shared it online with other friends too, uniting a whole group of women who I have been friends with for over 10 years, scattered all over the world (one is in New Zealand!) all able to see our tiny light flicking on and off live. It was very special.

rum light

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Up and down

It’s been a week or so of mostly clear skies here on Rum. That’s meant sunshine and blue skies during the day, starry skies and moonlit nights.

Last night the moonrise was so stunning we thought a chicken house had caught fire from a spark of the rubbish we were burning until we realised it was a reflection of the moon on it’s roof. Several planets are visible in the night sky just now too and sitting watching the first star appear each night followed by a handful more, then a sudden burst of loads until you feel as though you could look up into the sky and count them forever (which I know you could) is amazing, humbling and wonderful.

Of course as my friend Helen, who we have been camping with many many times and is a very wise woman always says ‘clear skies mean bloody freezing. Socks by six!’ referring to the need to start layering up early around the campfire of an evening so you go to bed cosy rather than chilly. Socks for the gas bottle might have been wise last night as the regulator froze meaning no kettle or grill for tea and toast this morning. Plus ice on the inside of our bedroom windows. As a child of the 70s from a metal window single glazed bedroom on the shady side of the house waking up to pretty patterns sticking the net curtains to the inside of the panes was nothing unusual at this time of year and our double duvet and hot water bottles mean once we’re in bed it’s pretty cosy. Always better than a tent!

ice window

ice gate

ice

It’s been lighter later too, we even managed our last cup of tea of the day outside yesterday at nearly 6pm

last tea

After nearly five years, with the help of last summers volunteers and a final push from Ady using some off cuts of wood we were given from the old dismantled hostel building in the village we finished the footpath from the bottom of the croft up to the caravan.

path

It’s amazing. We can walk up and down without risking knee deep mud or slipping and sliding. To ensure it is safe to walk on I stapled chicken wire to the wooden part yesterday. Just in time for the heavy frost last night to make it perfect for this morning.

chicken wire path

It’s very funny watching the cat, the dog and lots of of the birds all using it to avoid the mud too!

I’ve managed to get the first crops in the ground – some onions and garlic and some early potatoes already in containers. The rest are waiting to go out along with the artichokes once the ground has warmed up a little.

And I’ve been doing well with the ukulele – I got a couple of cheap songbooks and have been practising every day. I’m really enjoying it. The others are all walking around humming La Vie En Rose and American Pie from hearing them over and over again… see how I have brought music into all our lives!

uke booksukulele

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Two of twelve

February. January did feel like it dragged it’s heels a little towards the end, it’s great to have February here.

The last few years we have been away for at least some of February. For various reasons, including lack of pet / livestock /croft sitters we are not away this year which is a shame. As resident numbers on the island continue to dwindle and we remain the only people living outside of Kinloch village the favour of trekking up to the croft twice a day to feed our animals, particularly at this time of year feels like a big ask.

We are not the only ones starting to think ahead – in the last week or so we have had a real flurry of contact from family and friends wanting to arrange visits to Rum and potential volunteers offering their help. 2016 was a really good year for volunteers and we felt that we offered a good experience of both our lifestyle and Rum to the various people who came to lend a hand, while benefiting from their time and energy with help on the croft. Having set co-ordinated volunteer events worked well for us too.

This year we are taking a year off hosting volunteers though and have already added to our WWOOFing listing that we won’t be taking anyone. We don’t have any large specific projects planned and have decided to put all our hosting energy towards family and friends coming to stay instead.

Ady has been spending lots of time with the sheep getting them really tame and friendly. They now free range roam around the croft and despite early concerns about how they might mix with Bonnie they all seem to have the measure of each other and practice deliberate ignorance! This is great and we are really hoping that a final cut of the areas of the croft that we have already semi-tamed followed by grazing by the sheep will see us moving closer towards our permaculture ideals.

I have finally finished planting the last few trees. There were a few willow and hazel left over from the line we did all the way across the top of the croft and I have planted them close together in our walled garden. They should help with drainage in there and also be useful for basket weaving material. My next job is planting out the potatoes, artichokes, garlic and onions I have, along with the first sowing of early seeds. But there are very low temperatures forecast for the week ahead so I am holding off for another week or two to wait for the weather to warm up a bit more. I don’t want to bury things only for them to rot in the wet ground before they get a chance to start growing.

Last week was the AGM of the Island Community Trust so lots of talk about projects being planned to move the island forward for the future. We had a nice afternoon yesterday watching the rugby with Rum friends. I don’t really understand what’s going on at all with rugby but grasped enough to know that for yesterday at least we didn’t need to choose between our adopted homeland of Scotland or our English roots.

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The longest month

Even with a week off the island January seems to be stretching really long this year.

It’s been really cold and very windy so outside tasks have not been a very attractive proposition. I decided against planting onion sets and seed potatoes as I think they will rot long before the ground warms up to start them sprouting. I have ordered some artichokes and garlic though to keep me inspired even if nothing is in the ground yet.

The daylight hours are stretching with every passing day, sunrise a little earlier, sunset a little later and twice this week we’ve braved the five o clock chill to have the last cup of tea of the day outside on the sporran as the light fades.

Fortunately there have been plenty of indoor tasks to get on with; tax returns, car tax, emails to catch up with, a bit of spring cleaning, some crocheting, tea drinking and chatting with friends.

It’s also been a week of celebrations – Bonnie the dog was five (which in dog years seems to make her about the same as me we think) so Scarlett made her a special treat and Wednesday we joined in with probably my favourite night of the year here on Rum for the Burns Supper. I’d helped make the haggis earlier in the week so I was part of the proceedings presenting the haggis to be addressed (which mostly involves prancing around carrying it while being followed by someone else brandishing a bottle of whisky!) and I also wrote and read out a poem. Many others read poems and the primary school had put together a presentation too. A lovely evening with friends and this year we had various contractors and volunteers on island too so they got to join in and see Rum community at our very best.

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Away and back

Those who know me at all will know I am prone to clumsiness. I am capable of tripping over an invisible, imagined hazard on a smooth path in sensible shoes. Add a muddy uneven hill path into the equation and frankly it’s a wonder I am not on first name terms with the pilot and carry a valued customer loyalty card for the medivac helicopter here!

So it was with no grace or dignity whatsoever that I managed to fall down two weeks ago and badly sprain my ankle while walking down the croft hill, drill in hand, to go and dismantle some more damaged cloches. It had been a rainy morning, we had gotten wet going to the pier to meet the ferry and collect a delivery but it brightened up around 3pm so with an hour or so of daylight Ady went to chop firewood and I headed off to do some practical outside stuff too. My ankle went from under me, I made a split second decision to try and save the drill from the mud and twisted myself. My ankle gave an ominous ‘crack’ and down I went into the mud, drill held aloft out of harms way! It appeared to be not quite as bad as I had first feared, thanks I think in no small part to my very sturdy wellies (which were a bugger to get off!) and I took the advice offered by medical friends and Dr Google of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) with it propped up on a stool and cushion, a very cold (ice obviously out of the question here, although it did very helpfully snow a couple of days later) water soaked towel tightly bound around it and three days of largely sitting around wincing every time I moved it.

That seemed to do the job though, to the extent that with the support of my sturdy wellies I was able to drive us all the way from Mallaig to Carlisle five days later. It remains swollen and a bit tender and sore even 12 days later but I am walking OK and only using it a little bit as an excuse to get out of things I don’t want to do…’I can’t possibly do the washing up with my ankle!’

What were we doing in Carlisle I hear you ask?

Well, all sorts of things. Some of us got a haircut, all of us went to the cinema to see the final episode of Sherlock on the big screen,
cinema

sherlock our car went for a MOT (and passed! Yippee!)

And then the next day we went to Penrith Centerparcs. I have to confess I am not a huge centerparcs fan. Camping I (used to) love but CP always felt slightly like contrived being in nature and paying a lot of money for it. However we do all like swimming and have had four very enjoyable CP holidays in the past with family and friends. This was a family break and my parents came up to join us which was lovely. We also managed a day trip to spent time with adopted family for a few hours which was very special as it’s been nearly two years since we had seen them. Annoyingly, just as the last time we met up we failed to get any pictures of that though!

meal

libery s

swing

sofa

nic hill

pancakes

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A lovely break with hours in the pool – for Davies and Scarlett this mostly meant the slides and flumes, for Ady and I it mostly meant sitting in the spa pools chatting to each other and for Ady a very long conversation with a man from Bangladesh who happened to be sitting next to him in the spa pool and in a chatty mood. A couple of nice meals out, time spent watching BadgerCam in our lodge, late nights, late mornings and lovely time spent with family. It was a real break for us with no dentist appointments, shopping lists or places to be which usually characterise our time off of Rum.

And now we’re home. Armed with a planting calendar list and packets of seeds to get cracking with, seed potatoes to start chitting, a pig to process, a shed to get ready for re-opening for the season, the first flurry of volunteer emails to answer and start to think about planning volunteer events for this year.

Busy, busy, busy. And obviously anything I don’t really want to do I can still just about wriggle out of by blaming my ankle….

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The month of 6th December to 6th January is a pretty busy one for our family – it starts with Scarlett’s birthday and ends with mine and has Christmas and New Year sandwiched in the middle.

The weather has been kinder this week than it was over Christmas with less wind and colder temperatures (which we welcome – cold is easier to deal with than wet, it’s far easier to keep the caravan warm with the woodburner or an extra layer of clothing than it is to deal with the constant condensation and bringing in wet clothes, shoes, dog, cat and people that rain brings). Even a bit of frost which makes for starry starry nights and nice stomp-worthy ground out on the croft which is always a welcome change to the soft mud underfoot. It’s been back to wet and windy again the last few days though.

We’ve managed to get outside when there have been weather windows though – for firewood runs, animal feeding, collecting and delivering various things to the village and back. Ady and I did some seaweed gathering ready to use as a mulch on the raised beds. We also offered some to the sheep and the pigs as the deer and goats on the island all eat seaweed, as do the highland cattle and ponies and I have seen sheep eating seaweed elsewhere. Both tried it in the manner of suspicious toddlers being offered green vegetables and ate a little.

birds sheep seaweed

pigs seaweed

seaweed

I’ve begun to dismantle the damaged cloches I made to cover the raised beds which have strawberries in them. I had been proud of making them from scrap wood, reclaimed polytunnel plastic scraps and off cuts of water pipe last year but despite knowing better really from experience I had not really made them Rum-proof and sure enough during the recent gales they had all blown off the raised beds and congregated in one corner of the fenced area (we call it the walled garden although actually it’s a fenced area of the raised beds) having sustained lots of damage to both the wood and plastic but thankfully not damaged anything else while tumbling across the area. A rethink and some online research has given me the new plan of securing the water pipes into the ground using bamboo canes (which we have a load of leftover from the tree planting) to make a tunnel frame and then putting plastic over (which I have arriving this coming week).

broken cloches

I spent some time working out a planting plan for the spring – sorting all my seeds into plastic bags labelled with the month to sow them in. I used various books to give me additional information than that on the seed packets and have a short list of some seeds to buy too.

sowing plan

And just because doing all that thinking about it started to make me feel desperate to get started I sowed some basil seeds indoors to start a little kitchen herb stash. Last year I had had my first sowing of basil not germinate and when I looked online I found an article about how you should swear at basil seeds to make them germinate. Seemed a bit mad but I did it anyway with the second sowing and it worked! In the name of scientific research I sowed one lot with happy thoughts and speech and then a second lot (well out of earshot of the first ones) with all my best swearwords! I’ll let you know what happens…

basil

I’ve been having a play with metal stamps as I have an idea for a range of jewellery to sell from the Shed. So far it’s still very much a learning curve work in progress so no photos to share on that one. Once the actual output even slightly resembles the vision in my head I’ll take some pictures.

And having given the good growing season part of my plans for 2017 a good amount of attention I spent some time today playing with my ukelele. I’d been offered the advice that good strings can make a cheap ukelele much better so have got some of them on order and with the help of a good book and a really good website and two hours of practise I now have very sore and dented fingers but have mastered a very slow, clunky, not always reliable but there nonetheless chords of C F and G and changing between them.

uke

I’ve been crocheting a fair bit too – enforced indoor time and the need for cosy headwear inspires lots of hat making… so far I’ve made two new hats for me and one for a gift.

scarlett hathat4 (the third is in the picture of me infront of the raised beds).

Ady’s been very busy regardless of the weather tending to the animals. Making sure the sheep and pigs have cosy shelters and plenty of grazing / feeding space. We’ve also started getting fresh eggs again daily, having inadvertently created an excellent nesting area in the shed we’re storing cut grass from the croft to use as animal bedding / sheep feed.

And my birthday? 43 years on the planet, 43 trips around the sun. It feels both very old and very young! I had a lovely day with gorgeous heartfelt cards and gifts, many of them home made by family and friends, loads of messages, texts and phonecalls with those I was not with in person and a bracing walk during a couple of hours in the afternoon when it wasn’t raining! In the evening we went to the village and had a few celebratory drinks with Rum friends and shared the traditional birthday brownies. It was a good one.

resting on walkresting on walk

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Happy New Year!

You may have noted a certain quiet here over the last few weeks. Despite not being remotely superstitious I am always very conscious of anniversaries and marking time passing (as regular readers will know. I think it’s a diarists way and what is blogging if not keeping a modern diary?!) and the upcoming anniversary of Ady’s helicopter adventure felt rather like it was hanging over us. Not least because it felt slightly as though we had almost summoned it in posting our hopes for the year ahead including flying over the croft for Ady and having a big adventure from me. Careful what you wish for as the saying goes…

So while it makes no actual difference what the date on the calendar might read I confess to breathing a sigh of relief and removing my own self-censoring once we safely arrived in 2017.

We saw the old year out and the new year in with a few drinks down in the village with Rum friends and a few of the traditions we are part of now on our little island before heading back up to the croft, under the most spectacularly starry starry sky for a late dinner (no later than a takeaway we reasoned), watching the London fireworks live on the computer (close friends who we have seen many a new year in with, including once here on Rum were there in person so we felt very connected) and then spilling outside onto the sporran to let off our own firework which we had had stashed away for over a year having bought it with the intention of letting it off on New Years Eve last year.

Below is our post summing up 2016 and noting our hopes and plans for the year ahead. 2017 will mark our fifth anniversary here on Rum. So much longer than we ever planned to calling a static caravan our home. The year in which Davies and Scarlett turn 17 and 15. Horizons are broadening, priorities are shifting and as we all know the secrets of tomorrow are yet to be learned, we can speculate but no one truly knows what lies ahead.

We ended 2016 in a far happier way than we began it. All four of us, together, healthy and none of us wearing compression stockings!

HNY

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2016 – Bad, good, learnt… and hopes for 2017

Ady
Bad
1. The health emergency at the start of this year. It really bought home how remote we are, how vulnerable. Croft 3 is almost an island on an island – we are so remote even from the village.

2. The feeling of being trapped a little bit. We now have a mainland car and the ferry prices have been reduced so in theory it should be feasible to escape for a weekend off every now and then. The reality is that we don’t have anyone we can regularly ask to look after our animals here as there are so few residents now and no crofting neighbours we can return the favour for.

3. That our infrastructure challenges on the croft have more or less ground to a halt. Despite making huge inroads to things like power and water we will never be able to drive our big deliveries onto the croft without a big financial investment on a vehicle or a bridge we will not move any further forward than we already have.

4. There are lots of big decisions on the table for the future development of the island, all of which are pretty divisive and contentious. This has meant a feeling of tension and a lack of the fun socialising that we enjoyed in our early time here.

5. The knowledge that this adventure in it’s current incarnation is finite. That we have a limited amount of time left doing this for a variety of reasons.

Good
1. I think we have come on in leaps and bounds with taming the croft. We’ve cut large areas of the reeds and grass, planted trees, have lots of livestock grazing and living. When we look at the croft it is very obvious what we have done.

2. I’ve enjoyed the working off the croft. I’ve done a fair bit of ghilly work and working for SNH on the hostel and I like that.

3. Our set up on things like power, water, gas is now working. It requires regular maintenance and sometimes things go wrong but I am confident in sorting out any issues.

4. It’s been a kind year of weather. Right up until mid December we have had a period of very calm, dry conditions. Spring and Summer were good this year and autumn stretched.

5. Hosting volunteers. We had some great WWOOFers this year, met some really interesting people and got lots done during their stays.

Learnt
1. I thought that it would be possible to live this way forever but I am realising it is not going to happen. The living space is starting to not work for us, fixtures and fittings are wearing out.

2. That despite our unique set up – island life, small community, off grid living – we are not really that different. From talking to others and really listening this year I realise that the same challenges and issues exist in so many other places. And that you can learn so much from how others do things.

3. Sheep. We’re still learning obviously, but this is a new livestock for us and as such I have been getting educated about their care, behaviour and handling.

4. Our usual philosophy is to make small considered moves forward and ensure we have researched and prepared properly. This year we made a couple of rasher decisions, all of which proved foolish. I’ve learnt that we should stick to our usual ways.

5. We need to do more to create a camping / accommodation area. We made an excellent start this year but there were parts of it lacking – a path, a better base to the bell tent, something more Rum-proof.

Hopes for 2017
1. To set up hydro power. I have done lots of reading and would really like to conquer harnessing water to provide power.

2. A way of getting across the river or at the very least brainstorming it and coming up with some ideas. Bringing up firewood, gas bottles, animal feed etc. is all so very hard and I’d like to see whether we can change that.

3. More trees! I smashed last years aim of planting 100 and we’ve planted about 500 this year. I’d like to plant even more in 2017

4. Neighbours – again!

5. Improve the camping / accommodation area on the croft.

Special bonus wish: to learn to ceilidh dance. Whenever we have ceilidhs here I always sit them out because I just can’t do it, but everyone always has so much fun I would love to be able to join in and feel confident that I know what I’m doing.

Nic
Bad:
1. The incredibly challenging start to the year and first few weeks. Technically it was still 2015 rather than 2016 when it started but the couple of hours sat in the dark waiting for the helicopter to arrive, trying to remain calm for Ady and the kids, trying to the find the balance between organising my thoughts for worst case scenarios and remaining positive while the batteries ran flat, the fire went out and we were utterly at the mercy of other people was easily the most difficult period of my entire life. The following week was also filled with challenging moments, all of which were made all the more tricky because of where we live. Back in our old lives an incident like that would have meant either a 999 call to an ambulance which would have been at our house with Ady in hospital within half an hour or more likely me just driving him there. I could then have spent time with him in hospital each day with other family and friends able to easily visit. We would not have had to put our entire lives on hold, call in countless favours in croft / pet / animal feeding duties, spent a fortune in hotel bills, car hire, fuel, food, clothing and so on. It really bought home to me the precariousness of our living situation.

2. The continued decline of resident numbers on Rum. I love Rum, I love our lives here. But I also love people, lots of different people and just now there are very few people.

3. Tom the pig dying. Infact pig stuff generally has been sad and bad this year. From Tom dying to Barbara losing a litter of piglets to Waddles also failing to birth and raise a litter to the complete debacle of introducing a couple of new pigs here which didn’t go at all well.

4. Mortality reminders. That’s a bit morbid I know but a couple of friends have lost relatives, obviously lots of high profile people have passed away during 2016 and we had a health scare within our own family unit. All of this reminds me that life is short, time with people you love is precious and finite. For me that pulls me in different directions and gives me a feeling of conflict – it makes me both want to stay close to those I love and spend as much time as I can in their company but it also makes me want to chase my dreams and pursue my own adventures even more. Those are not very compatible things to achieve!

5. Limited opportunities. 2016 has been a huge year on the world stage. Social media tells me that people feel disempowered, fractured and helpless, angry, unrepresented and just plain sad about the state of our planet, our politics and the consequences of our actions. I personally have had the least politically active year of my adult life. I have done little in the way of volunteering or actively making things I believe in happen. I have found it tricky this year to live to my own belief that we should be the change we want to see in the world. I have signed petitions, engaged with my MP on a couple of issues, contributed to various consultations and made a few charitable donations but I know that I could have done more. Part of that is lack of access to ways to make a difference, part of it was a conscious choice to focus more on us and the croft this year but I am aware of it as a lacking part of this year for me.

Good:
1. The shed. We opened our little shop at the croft gate this year with high hopes but no real idea of what level of sales we might get. It’s been great – over 300 customers (many buying more than one thing), a really good insight into what lines people do and don’t want to buy. We more than made back the cost of buying the shed and setting it up and had some lovely comments in the log book where people note what they have bought.

2. The set up on the croft. We more or less have the land on the croft set up or in progress on the way to being set up. We have clear areas for animals, crops, camping, firewood processing and storage and so on. I feel we have a good understanding of how the land works here through the seasons and while it will always be a work in progress we understand what we have to do to improve and work the croft.

3. The volunteer events – both the actual hosting of the volunteers which was great, meeting new people, sharing ideas and working together and the actual output from those events of improved camp kitchen, areas weeded and our path up the croft which is proving a real life changer during these muddy winter months.

4. Our various trips off (January helicopter chasing aside!) have all been good this year. In previous years we often begrudged the time spent on the mainland for dentist visits. This year we really made the most of the time off with careful planning. The big trip off in October with the Harris & Lewis trip for all of us and the trip south for the kids and I was brilliant, so good to catch up with family and friends.

5. Feeling blessed. This year has had a lot of soul searching but during the tough bits I have felt supported by family and friends, I have felt very fortunate to have the life partner I have, the children I have, the relations I have and the friends I have. To have the opportunities I have had and the health and freedom to make the choices I have. There were a whole host of small acts of kindness over the course of this year which made me cry (in a good way) and together definitely qualify as one of my goods this year.

Learnt
1. I had intended to learn more about basketry this year, I’d gathered the materials but the unexpected January trip meant I never got to it. Instead I ended up making a crochet blanket during those hours spent in the hospital and hotel room in January which inspired me to make a bigger blanket afterwards. A couple of books on granny square patterns and a vague notion of an end result later I had a huge kingsize bed sized blanket which is gorgeous and I love but also taught me so much about crochet – about patterns, stitches, tension and technique. That gave me the confidence to experiment with crochet and led to the 3d midges and the freeform crochet bags I have made this year. I still don’t really follow patterns but I now can if I need to and I understand about ways to do stitches and put things together.

2. Beekeeping – I really want to keep bees, have done for ages and think Rum would be a really good location. I attended a weekend course in May and spent a lot of time trying to organise bees although I didn’t get anywhere. I did learn lots on the course though and it remains a plan for the future.

3. Marketing and advertising. Despite having worked in retail and in marketing in years gone by there is always more to learn. Opening the shed shop and seeing what sold and what didn’t, what signage, labels and packaging were attractive, which were the key hotspots for displaying things and best way of showing them off in the shop. We had a huge brainwave with the welly boot trail and have made a start at selling some lines online using etsy and facebook too. Because our on-island market is so niche I have even been able to work out which lines appeal to which demographic of customer from the student groups to the yachties (people who arrive on their own boats) to the wildlife spotting day trippers.

4. Livestock stuff – from getting and keeping sheep for the first time, getting the new pigs and nursing the injured boar back to health and the massive success we’ve had this season in breeding the birds. All of these involved learning, research, advice and getting a bit of a crash course in doing things as they happened.

5. Papermaking. By chance I happened to be in the right place at the right time in February to go along to a papermaking workshop. It is one of the crafts I have never done at all before and happened to be really pertinant to us as it was making paper using reeds from boggy highland ground. Although it wouldn’t be that easy to do here as it involves a blender and a good few hours of boiling up the reeds it was definitely a new skill and something I have squirreled away as an idea for future pondering on.

Hopes for 2017:
1. A good growing season. I’ll say it again! Every year I hope for it and every year it doesn’t really happen. Every year I work out why it’s not happening and try to improve on that for the coming year. This year I realised we were lacking propogating space for the seedlings – we now have the polytunnel, four mini greenhouses and several trays of mini propogators so have massively increased the amount of space. Also this year despite buying in more pipe to create arches and netting to make covers for the raised beds crops were still got at by our own birds and the deer. Now we have the entire growing area fenced off so no creatures can get in. 2017 will see us going into the growing season with by far the best set up we have ever had plus time to condition the ground with seaweed, two water butts filled with chopped comfrey making tea to feed the crops and a real commitment from me to plan, tend and nurture. I’ll see if this is the year I succeed with it.

2. To begin to earn a real income from the croft. We have various potential income streams identified and set up now from the camping area to the shed to an online presence for our crafts. I am hoping that 2017 is the year we actually begin to make the croft a credible possibility to earn money from given we have now realised that self sufficiency in actually growing all our own food is not a feasible option.

3. To really make the most of living here on Rum. All four of us have committed to trying to find opportunities which only living here offer us. Scarlett is looking at volunteering opportunities, Davies is looking at some community radio ideas, Ady is keen to expand his photography and I am keen to do more Rum specific crafts.

4. More writing. I’ve continued to write for Barefoot Diaries in 2016 which I love doing but I have not managed to get any further with other writing projects. I would like to make 2017 the year I get some writing published and get paid for it.

5. To learn an instrument. I bought a ukelele this year and despite trying with books and online lessons I have utterly failed to make any progress. More than one person tells me that the really cheap instruments simply don’t work and that you need to spend more on one so I probably need to rethink but having done a bit of singing this year I realise how much I miss having music in my life. So a better ukelele, a different instrument or finding more opportunities to sing.

Special bonus wish for 2017 – I have realised that all four of our passports have run out this year. Adventures abroad are pretty tricky for us financially and logistically but I’d love to have a reason to need to renew those passports and travel somewhere exciting with the others.


Davies
Bad:
1. Daddy in hospital. It was stressful, we had to leave Rum in a hurry rather than a planned event. It was unexpected.

2. I had intended on working on growing a new business / line of things to sell in the shed, but I didn’t do that this year.

3. Losing my phone on our trip off island. I used my phone a lot to listen to music, watch iplayer shows and talk to my online friends. It is a real lifeline for me so to lose it was a big deal.

4. I miss the opportunity to make friends my own age. Although we’ve been off this year and had friends to visit there are very few chances to make new friends living here.

5. I have developed interests in film making, you tube videos and other online based things which I am not able to fully make happen because we don’t have 24 hour power or space to set up the equipment I would need.

Good:
1. Granny and Grandad bought us a car which means when we go off we are able to get around more and travel further. This means we can make the most of these trips.

2. Welcome to Nightvale – a podcast that an online friend introduced me to and I have introduced other people including Scarlett to. It’s been a real big thing for me this year and to go and see one of the live shows was really cool.

3. Compared to last year when we didn’t have as many visitors or go off as often this year has been good. Going off and seeing everyone all at once at a party was really good.

4. Better power this year and freedom to spend my time online has meant lots of hanging out with friends online, which is almost as good as spending time with them in real life. Being able to actually meet up with a friend I met online was interesting. I’d been chatting to them online for over a year and it was nice to meet them in real life.

5. Fishing! I remember doing fishing for the first time in Tarbet while we were WWOOFing and again while we were camping with friends and I have always enjoyed it. We’d not done it here for ages but we got new rods which are excellent and had about five sessions of fishing and caught loads.

Learnt:
1. From spending time online hanging out with kids my own age I have learned this year that I am mostly happier than a lot of other teens. I would put this down to a different outlook on the world based on my experiences and my views on those experiences. Travelling, living on a remote island apart from other people, being Home Educated all mean I have had a different life to most of my friends.

2. One of my hopes for this year when we did this last year was:

“To have an idea of what direction I’d like to take my life by the end of the year. I will be 16 and starting to think about what I want to do / learn / experience next.”

I have spent time doing that this year. I have researched and spent time doing things including film making (creating my own storyline and shooting my own video then finding music and images to put together), counselling (I did a lot of research into psychology online and chatting to friends) and broadcasting ( from listening to podcasts, to working with Scarlett on creating videos for youtube based on our surroundings which is like reporting and a trip to our local radio station to learn more about broadcasting). All of this has given me a path and a purpose to work towards. I know I have lots more to learn, to practise and will possibly look at qualifications but I know where I am going with it.

3. In spending more time with people this year I have witnessed lots of difficult areas of peoples’ lives and how they treat each other. I have learnt how much it matters how you act around other people and ways to offer support.

4. I am the leader on an online forum which I set up and manage. I also support the leaders on a couple of other forums. Although I am not actively involved with Rum I am aware of how the community works too. Between the two I have a good understanding of how communities work and how to operate leading a team. For example if there was a zombie apocalypse I feel I would be capable of leading people to keep them safe. I think I have good leadership skills and ideas.

5. From time online I have got a whole new set of skills in techy stuff. I can set up forums, sign up for user accounts, use apps, blog and navigate around the internet and social media. These are really important skills in the world we live in.

Hopes for 2017

1. Further my writing skills – spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on.

2. To have trips off island. It’s been great to go off more this year and I’d like to do more of that in 2017.

3. I have a youtube channel, in the coming year I’d like to expand that – get more views, more subscribers and make more videos and podcasts to go on it and build it into something bigger.

4. I’ll be 17 by the end of the year. I’d like to be started or ready to start driving lessons and understand how driving / a car works.

5. I’d like to come up with a line or several products that have sold in our shed.

Special bonus wish for 2017: Same as last year – I’d like to visit another country.

Scarlett

Bad:
1. More people left Rum this year. They were our friends and it’s sad to see them go.

2. The musgovy ducks didn’t work here on the croft. They can’t cope with the mud and that is sad because I like having different types of ducks.

3. Tom pig dying. He was one of the very first animals we got here and we were all quite attached to him.
4. Daddy being helicoptered off. It was very dramatic and unexpected.

5. Gunther, my pet duck died this year too which was hard.

Good:
1. Raising another duckling – this time I just had one and called him Desmond.

2. Getting Kira the cat. We really wanted a cat for getting rid of rats and mice on the croft and although Bonnie does it she digs great big holes while she does it.

3. Going to see Welcome to Nightvale. It was my first live show experience and I’m really glad we did it, it was really fun.

4. Seeing friends and family members that we have not seen in a long time was really good.

5. Seeing a polar bear! It was on my list of hopes and although I saw pandas last year I really wanted to see meat eating bears.

Learnt:
1. Not to take animals that need rehoming without researching it more. The pigs and the musgovy ducks we have taken at short notice have not been good decisions.

2. I learnt lots about cake stuff – baking cakes and cookies and lots about decorating them. I learnt that from Mummy and from watching videos on the internet.

3. I learnt more about animals. I watched lots of documentaries and had the trip to the zoo.

4. This year I have used some of our new power tools – drills, sander and the circular saw helping to make bird pens and covers for the crops.

5. From spending time with other kids my own age again that I’ve not seen in a while I learnt that I don’t really fit in with a crowd any more and that that is fine. I have made friends while we’ve been on Rum who I have lots in common with rather than just being Home Educated or our families being friends. I learned that’s its really good to be myself and that I will find people who are like me.

Hopes for 2017:
1. I’d like to help raise another type of animal. I’ve reared a few ducklings now and would like to have a different animal which is more like a pet than livestock – maybe a lamb or a piglet or some other animals we get.

2. To still be on Rum this time next year.

3. I would like to see more exotic animals but in their natural habitat. I love going to zoos but I would love to see more animals in the wild.

4. I’d like to learn more cake decorating and maybe go on a course and try more ambitious projects.

5. I would love to have more of a small business and think that I could try selling my cookies and cupcakes as I’ve helped with some of Mummy’s orders this year. Even if I don’t start selling in 2017 I would like to have a business plan to do so and increase my skills.

Special bonus wish: to go in a plane or a helicopter. Everyone else has flown and I have not.

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The Limbo

That period in between Christmas and New Year is an odd one. Kids off school, most people still off work (although when we were working in retail it was the maddest time of year of all!), a house filled with festive food like biscuits and chocolates but so often not any actual real food to cobble a meal together. No one knows what day the bins will be emptied. The TV scheduling is all messed up and there are never enough batteries in the house!

It’s not like that here on Rum of course. No retail therapy, no leftover turkey, no rubbish and recylcing collection anyway. From Monday 19th December until Tuesday 27th we didn’t have a ferry due to bad weather. I think that’s the longest we’ve been without a ferry here in all our time on the island.

It meant when the ferry finally appeared on the horizon on Tuesday it was very welcome indeed. It took eight wheelbarrow loads to empty the car of all the deliveries it bought for us – sacks of animal feed for the birds, pigs and sheep, cat food, a regular monthly bulk order of items like sugar, tea, coffee, a box of wine expected for Christmas. Fresh fruit and vegetables, two mail bags full of post including delayed Christmas cards, the last few gifts each for Davies and Scarlett, two boxes of gifts for all four of us from friends, secret santa for me from online friends.

We’ve had a few more trips across the island feeding the cattle and ponies over at Harris bay, a few trips into the village feeding a friend’s chickens while they are away, time spent outside feeding our own animals, chopping firewood and Ady has extended the pig pen as it was getting very muddy for them so he’s given them some fresh ground.

We’ve been catching up on various online tv including a fascinating two parter about people on Fair Isle which was so very similar to our lives here. Today we took down the Christmas tree which was starting to brown and drop needles. It’s now outside being enjoyed by the sheep rather unexpectedly! And for once the caravan feels almost spacious.

We’ve drafted out our masterplan for 2017 and done our bad, good, learnt roundup of the year and talked about what we hope 2017 might hold. I’ll share that once the year is finally over, I’ve definitely learned my lesson from sharing it early last year!!!

full car

ferry came

gin o clock

masterplan

warm wet and windy

calmac

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Festive Tidings

We braved both Barbara and her following on bigger brother Conor and tomorrow the ferry is scheduled to bring all sorts of delayed goodies.

Our annual Christmas jumpers outside on the croft photos were the breeziest yet!

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Today we drove across the island as Ady is on feeding the cattle and ponies duty across at Harris on the south coast of Rum. The island is very undulating generally but to be able to see the caravan and have snow on the ground around us because we were that much higher than the croft was pretty amazing.