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Off island birthday

We’ve celebrated a lot of birthdays on Rum between the four of us including a couple of ‘big number’ birthdays. This week Scarlett turned 15 , the first non-Rum birthday in our family since my 38th birthday just before we arrived on the island in 2012.

We retained a fair few of our birthday traditions – Scarlett had her usual birthday breakfast of cinnamon French toast but thanks to the joys of the mainland we were able to have a day out on her actual birthday rather than scheduling it for our closest mainland trip. As ever though it was a zoo trip she chose. This time Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Our rather eccentric satnav which tends to lead us in all sorts of curious directions gave us a tour of some country lanes along the way which was scenic if rather non-direct and gave us a real taste of the landscapes of the South West.

We had a lovely day wandering around the zoo, visiting various animals more than once. The zoo is a pretty small one which was perfect for feeling like we’d really seen everything. I think my favourite animal was the giant tortoises which are just magnificent creatures. Scarlett’s best was the naked mole rat, a creature she has long admired but never seen in real life before. I love the randomness of the creatures Scarlett adores.

Davies tolerated silly photos – I keep telling him he will be grateful they all exist when he is older, I’m not sure he believes me!

On the way home we drove over the Clifton Suspension bridge – another first for all of us, unplanned but it was there so we did it!

Mainland birthdays mean fast food opportunities for dinner so that’s what we did, followed by birthday tiffin and birthday fizz.

Happy birthday darling girl. May 15 be as filled with adventures, fun and laughter as all of the previous years.

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Not normal…

You live for over five years in a caravan, that you dragged – with assistance from fellow islanders and a tractor down a bank, along a bumpy track, over a river and up a muddy hill. You create an address yourself because no one has previously lived in that spot, get your water from a river, your power from solar panel and wind turbine. You rear and kill animals, learning to shear sheep, fend off eagles from stealing your birds and red deer from eating your crops. Your idea of a top night out is sitting infront of the shop in your wellies drinking cider from a can while singing along to a fellow islander strumming a guitar. You make friends who will last forever and memories to fondly recall when you are old and grey. You are the subject of a Ben Fogle show and make a living from selling crocheted midges. It’s hard to know where to go when you need a bit of respite really.

Cue Glastonbury. Home to the largest green field festival in the world, place of myth and legend, a high street filled with shops selling tie dye and crystals. It’s very not Rum but it’s certainly not without it’s parallels. And much as I don’t feel a calling to settle here for any length of time it is certainly somewhere we return to again and again, often at times of feeling at a loose end and needing to regroup. So here we are again.

So far it has been the usual eclectic mix that Glastonbury always offers us. Comforts and conveniences – central heating, washing machine, bath and microwave. Retail therapy – both in shopping and in playing shops as we have been helping to get a new farm shop ready for it’s opening today; calling our old skills into play of merchandising and planning layouts. I’ve also spent a day at a market displaying my crochet wares – I didn’t sell anything but had some interesting chats with fellow stallholders and visitors. There have been treats – a visit to Bath spa for me, the ultimate of all baths! Tastes of Christmas including our overdue annual Christmas cake making. And friends – the friends we are staying with and a steady flow of visiting friends who happen to be nearby either visiting or living close.

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1000 miles. And also a million….

This time last week we spent 14 hours driving almost from one end of the country to the other.

We left Rum the day before, waved off by friends as the ferry pulled away. Thanks to a quiet word whispered in my ear as I hugged one friend and the tears in the eyes of another I too was a bit leaky of eye. But this is not goodbye, this is see you later…

As the ferry approached Mallaig, the mainland port the skies opened with a downpour of rain which had been rolling towards us across the sea for most of the journey, while on the mainland the sun shone. A stunning rainbow, over a sea of houses. It all felt rather symbolic.

We were only travelling 50 miles along the road on that first night, to Fort William which was less than would have been sensible, given the length of the total journey but necessary as we all had dental check ups and Scarlett had a brace progess check up the following day.

It meant the start of what seems to be a series of Kira the cat goes travelling photos as she settled into the Travelodge

Bonnie also did very well with all the travelling but she was at least able to have regular ‘get out the car for a wee’ stops along the way whereas Kira was in her cat carrier for the duration.

The early stop did mean a meal out for Ady and I (Davies and Scarlett were much happier with fast food in the hotel room, served with a side order of hotel wifi and TV) and a bonus beer with a Rum friend who we had not said a proper goodbye to as he was off the island looking after his poorly Mum who happens to live in Fort William.

Then to Friday. There were moments in that epic 14 hour drive south for the winter, cat in carrier mostly quiet and still but occasionally with a pitiful meow, dog curled across my feet bringing on pins and needles, a 50 mile diversion with some mis-read signage meaning it became nearly 100 miles diversion, it already being dark before we hit the sign telling us we’d reached England, the oil light pinging on about 80 miles from our final destination, when it felt like David Attenborough should be voice-overing the trip. I know birds migrate for days on end to head south but surely in people years that was days on end? It certainly spanned two days as it was the early hours of Saturday when we finally pulled up at my parents house in Sussex.

Which meant that settling in the cat and dog, having some food and catching up even in brief with my Mum and Dad took us to a very late bed time indeed.

Saturday and Sunday was rather a blur of dog walks, supermarket trips, spending time with my parents, my brother and his family and a speedy trip to our old house to check on an overgrown hedge intruding onto the neighbours garage. It was odd to see the house (which we still own, hence checking up on it) and not feel any pull to it – it’s just somewhere that we used to live. On Saturday morning I was woken by unfamiliar sounds including an emergency services vehicle with siren blaring as it drove by. I counted 12 sirens over the course of that first day. A sound never, ever heard on Rum but as much of a soundtrack to life in that house – where I lived from ages 4 to 19 – as the cockerels crowing to announce morning, cuckoos calling to herald spring and stags roaring to signify autumn are the background noise on Rum.

On Monday we headed west, driving past Stone Henge and arriving in Glastonbury in the early afternoon. I feel as though Glastonbury and our planned time here is worthy of a post all of it’s own and frankly the first leg of the trip away from Rum was exhausting enough that just recounting it in a blog post has me feeling tired again.

So we’ve landed. Back on the mainland, starting to remember things and slowly take stock of where we are, where we want to be and how we might get there. We knew this would be a lot to take in and we were most definitely right.

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Nearly there…

Just two full days and three sleeps till the off.

It’s tricky to know what to bring and what to leave, what we might need, what we might regret not bringing and what we may end up looking at in weeks to come and wondering why we gave it car space. Four people, a dog, a cat, a full size keyboard, a ukulele, Open University study materials for two, clothes and shoes…precious things, useful things, just in case things.

Some are easy decisions – the clock stays, despite it probably being my most treasured possession it only hangs on the wall when I consider myself at home. Everywhere we’ve planned to be so far is not going to be home. I won’t be needing my jam funnel….craft materials will be useful for making Christmas gifts, most of our Rum suitable clothes are cheaply and easily replaced with more mainland worthy garments once we arrive on the mainland.

We’ve had our ‘See You In The Spring’ party in the Rum village hall, inviting the community and various visitors to the island who happened to be around last weekend to come and cram a full seasons worth of celebrating into one evening with us as we’ll miss Christmas, Hogmanay, Burns Night and everything inbetween. There was singing, laughter and a very Croft 3 pork heavy menu.

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The caravan is pretty much packed up as far as anything we want to bring with us goes. Tomorrow we have various outside on the croft tasks to tend to, Wednesday we will be packing up the car ready to head off on Thursday. It’s exciting and real now and already plans are starting to get lined up for things to do, people to see, places to go. But first, pausing for breath, taking long last looks around us and gearing up for the changes ahead.

By pure chance we have had two very Rum-equse Fridays in a row the last two weeks and have two very mainlandy Fridays ahead.

On 3rd November we were out leading ponies across rivers and up and down steep paths on mountains in the rain.

On 10th November the four of us were out on the croft all afternoon planting trees. 420 in total, bringing the total count of trees we have planted on the croft since we arrived here to over 1000.

If everything goes according to plan on 17th November we’ll be driving almost the length of the UK from the Highlands to Sussex. I am anticipating traffic jams, road closures and diversions, the M25. We will leave the scenery and quiet of this life and head towards the busyness and excitement of the next chapter. We have a plan for the 24th which is even more at the other end of the spectrum but I’ll share that as and when it happens.

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Pigs to pork

Today Ady and I made sausages from the last two pigs we killed for eating. I’ve blogged before about our pig processing and how much we have learned. Seeing the whole process from breeding, birthing, rearing and killing the live animals, to the skinning, butchering and processing them. We have experimented with roasting joints, chops and diced meat. Used wet and dry cures to make bacon, created brine to make gammon, had an ill fated attempt at charcuterie products such as salami and chorizo and made sausages. Lots and lots of sausages.

Sausage making is time consuming and requires some kit and additional ingredients. Given our lack of power up here on the Croft as well as lack of indoor, sterile and spacious environment we have always hired out the village hall space to make our sausages and made use of the community owned mincer and sausage machine. We did have a small hand crank mincer but it was a pale imitation version of the heavy duty ones from our grandparents days. We do have a small electric mincer with sausage stuffer attachment so in times to come when we are not processing an entire pigs worth of sausages at a time we will likely still experiment with our own blends of herbs, spices and flavourings and have another go at some of the more ambitious ideas which require certain specific conditions to work in or finish off in.

As a child of the ’70s I have a much clearer recollection than Davies and Scarlett of butchers shops on the high street with strings of sausages hanging from hooks rather than pre-packaged polystyrene trays in the supermarket. We did patronise our local butcher surviving against the odds in Sussex but I think even he probably bought in his sausages rather than making them. I remember the hilarious attempts of contestants on The Generation Game trying to turn a huge stuffed sausage skin into a string of linked sausages. When we were WWOOFing we stayed with a farmer who had been butcher trained and could do an impressive link of sausages which the rest of us were only able to observe and vacuum pack as it was quite a skill. Ady and I joined fellow islanders in our first year here on a venison processing course though and while Ady retained far greater knowledge of the various cuts and butchering skills I have been deemed the Sausage Queen and am the one responsible for stuffing and twirling the sausages to turn them from one giant two metre long length to something while maybe not quite worthy of hanging outside a butchers shop certainly recognisable as a string of sausages.

Sausages are something of an art, not just in the actual stuffing and linking but in the preparation of the sausage meat itself. The meat is best minced and processed very cold, if it’s not quite defrosted so much the better, which works well for us as the village hall is not being used to run a seasonal teashop during the winter and we usually kill our pigs in the autumn so we just need to work out the optimum timing for taking the bags full of chopped up meat out of the freezer to ensure it is defrosted but not too much. Previously we have erred on the side of not enough time and been hacking at raw pork ice lollies to get chunks off to mince. This time we allowed 48 hours and had frozen it in smaller quantities which turned out pretty much perfect. There is a huge array of choices available for herb, spice and flavour seasoning options and then whether to add rusk or not. After lots of experimentation our preference is for a fairly herby but not too spicy blend. This time I messed up by managing to order the correct seasoning blend but the seasoning only rather than the actual mix including rusk. D’oh! Cue some hurried purchasing of stuffing and sausage mix to aid in the bulking out. We could have gone with all meat and the sausages would have been fine but rather dense compared to our personal preference.

Then once you have minced the meat, added the seasoning and rusk and water and re-minced it to fully blend comes the stuffing. We use bought skins (again not having the facilities to process our livestock sufficiently to get intestines to use) which need to be soaked in water to remove the salt coating used to preserve them. I have yet to get right the amount I buy either ending up with too many or too few. Today was a too few day and we only ended up with enough for about a third of the sausage meat we had. So 150 sausages made and enough sausage meat bagged up into the right sized portions for sausages for the four of us for another 300 sausages in the freezer.

It is days like today which make me wonder whether it is living here like this which mean we dedicate a whole day for two of us to making sausages, having to curse and make do when we discover we have miscalculated the resources required rather than dashing out and buying more. Or whether it is living here like this which means we don’t simply pick up a pack of sausages or two from Tescos on the way home…. only time will tell.

Either way I am delighted that not only will we be dining this evening on sausages made by us from pigs we bred here on Croft 3 but that there was a brief moment today with nearly 5 foot of sausages dangling below me when I could have hung them on that hook outside a butchers shop on the high street of my childhood and they would not have looked out of place.

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The Lasts

We’re in full on count down mode here with just over a week to go until we head off, assuming ferries run and any of a myriad possible happenings changes things of course. And the end of that last sentence demonstrates just how much Rum has changed me.

I’ve not been blogging so many of the logistical details of the pack up and shut down here as I did in the months leading up to our WWOOFing adventure although in many ways they have been very similar. I guess they didn’t feel quite so daunting this time around or worthy of documenting. I’ve also not been sharing the details of our plans – this is because they are still largely unformed. We know where we’ll be until Christmas but after that we are not sure. This is entirely deliberate as we need to check in with ourselves to see where we want to be. We have several firm options and a whole world of possible choices to explore more or think about. But the key reason for heading off is to work out what we want to do next and just as we spent time slowly working out what we wanted from life by testing out various possibilities when we were WWOOFing and travelling we are intending to do the same again before settling on the right location, arrangement and lifestyle. This means trying on for size and considering a few options and plenty of conversation between the four of us.

It’s a really exciting time with lots ahead of us – we are really looking forward to landing back on the mainland again and spending time with family and friends and are lining up lots of plans to see people, many of whom we have not seen since we left Sussex. We’re looking forward to seeing the opportunities that greater access to the resources the mainland has to offer and what that might inspire us to learn, to change, to get involved in.

Meanwhile though we are saying our own quiet goodbyes to all that we love about Rum and the things which bought us here.

It is six years ago that we were on Eigg, looking across at Rum every day as we walked on the beach and pondered ‘what next?’

It was on Eigg that we experienced the sense of community living that most closely matched our own dreams of what that might mean. Various islanders collecting firewood and building the bonfire, various others smuggling over fireworks on the ferry (sshh!), others letting off the fireworks, bringing round the mulled wine, watching the fireworks together and then gathering afterwards at the tearoom for drinks, songs and games of pool. It was that night which inspired us more than anything else to visit Rum and look at the croft. We’ve now had six Bonfire nights here on Rum. They have ranged from the first one where the weather postponed the event but because we were not contactable no one could let us know so we stood in the rain until someone drove along to tell us and then we walked home, passing Davies, Scarlett and Bonnie across a part of the path where the river had burst it’s banks to this years with easily the best weather we’ve had – a clear night sandwiched between two nights of pouring rain and howling winds as though it was meant to be. We helped build the bonfire, Ady hoisted the guy built by an island child atop it and then supervised another island child lighting the fireworks, I bought the mulled wine, Scarlett handed out the sparklers and we stood watching the most amazing moonrise while laughing and joking with fellow islanders who perhaps know us better than anyone else ever has having shared our whole lives with each other day in day out.

I remember when we visited the island to be interviewed for the Croft walking through the village and looking forward to a day when we might walk with family or friends showing them the island and sharing it with them.

Last week friends visited again – their fourth trip to Rum and we managed to again show them a new corner of the island they had not seen before.

The first time we arrived on Rum on the ferry we realised how vast and largely unchartered Rum’s peaks and valleys were, with limited tracks criss crossing and strange sounding names on the maps. Some of those places are now familiar, others remain just names we have heard but in every direction I can see places we made memories.

Last week I fulfilled one of my own personal wishes to head out with the ghillies leading the ponies into the wilds of the island. I only led a pony for a short distance but I walked out further than I previously have and have yet another tale to tell of life here.

So amid the more mundane tasks such as ensuring we have a dog lead and seat belt clip for Bonnie in the car and a cat carrier for Kira, sorting out our clothes to see what we should / might take with us and trying to decide what justified a space in the rather cramped car we are also having our little moments with this amazing island we’ve called home.

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Rum – Bad, good, wandered off a bit towards the end with maverick questions….

We have just a couple of weeks left before we head off Rum for the winter. Currently we intend returning in the spring but we are realistic enough to know that even if we come back we will want to change the way we live, work and exist here. So it feels right, almost six years to the day since we first stepped foot on the island to look back over our time here and sum up what has been bad, good and various other questions that I threw into the mix as we went along.

Ady
Bad:
1. The size of the community. We had hoped it would have grown and flourished in the years we have been here, instead it has gotten smaller and smaller in numbers.
2. We did not build. We needed to be positive and ambitious in order for our move here to happen at all and we had such big dreams and ideas about a build but it has not happened.
3. We have not achieved self sufficiency on growing crops.
4. Being WWOOF hosts was not the success we had hoped here. We love WWOOF and have so much to thank WWOOFing for in our adventures and we have had some great people here volunteering with us but have not been able to offer the hospitality we would have liked or had the numbers of WWOOFers that would have made a real difference to us here.
5. The quality of the land here on the Croft. Despite SNH as landowners before us putting in many drainage ditches and us spending lots of time and effort in adding more and maintaining those ones the land remains incredibly wet.
6. The visitor numbers which we anticipated and saw in our first year or two on the island have decreased steadily with fewer people coming to Rum and walking around the nature trail which means fewer potential customers for us.
7. All of the development focus on Rum is on the village and surrounding area. It’s a chicken and egg situation that without more people living outside of the village there is little call for more infrastructure but people are unlikely to start trying to live outside of the village without that supporting infrastructure.
8. Island life logistics – cancelled ferries, relying on mainland back up for things like fuel deliveries.

Good:
1. When the community works it really, really works. People pulling together in emergencies such as when I was helicoptered off and people helping out with animal feeding, the social side of the island with events.
2. The confidence I have found in learning, taking on challenges and trying and experimenting with ideas.
3. I love our set up here – a caravan on top of our croft, sitting outside on a sunny evening or watching the waterfall is all so beautiful.
4. The time we have spent together as a family thanks to our life here.
5. The lack of stress of our lifestyle, particularly compared to our old lives with career pressures.
6. The feeling of belonging and pride about where I live – telling tourists that I live here or going off the island and telling people where I have come from.
7. Learning Scottish culture – events and ideas like ceilidhs, Burns Supper and the Highland ways.
8. How much I’ve learned and experienced with livestock.

Most proud of – to have lived off grid for over five years, how we have progressed, how things have gotten easier to when we first started.

What I would change – to have built a house.

How has it changed you – I am more methodical and considered, planning projects and having a contingency plan. I realise now that I have time, time to consider and do things properly, to stop and stare.

Are you glad we did it?
Oh yeah!

Sum it up: It’s been the biggest adventure of my life. So far….

Davies
Bad:

1. My bedroom in the caravan – I have such a small amount of private space to keep my stuff and to spend time in.
2. A lack of social life – I am the only person of my age so I have no peers but also none of the typical activities that someone of my age might want to do.
3. Lack of opportunities – I can’t pinpoint what I’ve missed because I’ve not done it, but I feel that I have missed out on things that I know other people my age may have done.
4. I have had a very sheltered adolescence, not being tested in situations or having time to develop myself. I’ve not really started to be independent from my family yet.

Good:
1. This is a good story to tell – I have not had the same experience as most kids my age and I think this makes me interesting and different.
2. I think that I have had freedom to here to pursue interests.
3. Whilst I am lacking in privacy compared to most teens the plus side of that is a really close relationship with my parents and sister. I notice when other people are around and staying with us that we are not with each other as much as we are just now. I think having this time together has been something we would not have had if we’d not lived here.
4. I am very interested in psychology and studying it with a possible future career in it. I think that living closely with a small community of people and getting to know them very well has shaped me and sparked an interest in psychology and individuals and how they relate to each other.
5. I think that I have a good attitude to life and a good outlook on things which is linked to having lived here. I consider myself lucky and good at putting things into perspective.

What I’d change – I would have left Rum earlier. maybe a year ago. Looking back I think we should have realised before that things could be better elsewhere and taken steps to change it.

How has it changed you?
– hard to say, I don’t know. When I came here I was still really little, when Mummy and Daddy moved here they were already fully formed people. But I think this has shaped who I am.

Are you glad we did it? Yes. Definitely yes, but I think we should have left earlier.

Sum it up : It will be a great story to tell.

With Davies’ full knowledge, agreement and permission I am stepping in here with a Nic disclaimer. I am aware that this could read as though Davies was unhappy here or didn’t want to be here for the last year or more. This has not been the case. Infact we decided as a family to think about next steps at the start of this year. While Davies feels we didn’t act quickly having made that decision he also concedes that as a family our way of making big changes is slow and with small and considered steps and that it has taken us this long to work out what to do next, manage leaving the croft with organising animal and that we had collectively agreed to enjoy a last spring, summer and autumn on Rum. Our decision to leave has to suit all of us and with much discussion between the four of us this was agreed to be the right time. However for a 17 year old time is relative and nearly a year on from making a decision it is fair to feel it was a long time coming!

Scarlett
Bad:

1. Not having a place to help poorly animals – no sheds or outbuildings have meant there have been times I would have liked to bring an animal inside but couldn’t because we didn’t have an inside space for them.
2. Davies and I are the only teenagers on the island, there are only little kids here other than us so we don’t get to spend time hanging out with friends.
3. We are really affected by the weather – boats get cancelled and travel plans have to change or things get delayed.
4. Rum is beautiful but can be quite dangerous. I have hurt myself a few times and people have had really serious injuries here so you always have to be aware of danger, much more than on the mainland.
5. In five years here we have seen a lot of people go away. We have become really good friends with people only for them to leave and that is really hard.

Good
1. I have a lot of freedom to do stuff. We can do pretty much whatever we want from building a tree house to deciding to have a different breed of ducks.
2. We’ve met loads of people here who we might never have met in our old lives, really interesting people and got to know them well.
3. We’ve seen some amazing wildlife like whales, dolphins, eagles. People spend a lot of time and money chasing those sorts of experiences and we have had them here.
4. Our family is really close. We all four know each other really well and spend loads of time together.
5. I’ve learned a lot of skills that I would probably not have learned otherwise and found new hobbies and interests that we only discovered here. I’ve done crafts like candle making and things like baking because they have been things I can sell and I might not have even thought about trying them if we didn’t live here and have a shop.
6. All of the livestock experiences – seeing eggs hatch and being there when Barbara had the piglets are experiences I would only have had here in this life.

What would you change? having a house – it would not be such hard living if we had a house and we would not worry so much about the winter

How has it changed you? – impossible to answer as I think I would have been a totally different person if I hadn’t moved here when I was 9

Are you glad we did it? Definitely.

Sum it up:
I can’t!

Nic
Bad:

1. Not achieving our dreams of self sufficiency with growing crops. Retrospectively they were unrealistic without spending a massive amount of money, time or energy and we quickly learned that battling nature was a soul destroying fight but I still regularly look at photos of my south coast of England allotment to remind myself that it is not my failing, rather a mighty challenge.
2. The lows in livestock keeping. Failed hatchings, baby birds lost to crows, piglets drowned in mud. I am all too aware of the saying that if you have livestock you’ll have deadstock and on balance I still think we have had more victories than defeats with our animal keeping. However every single dead creature discovered holds a corner of my memory.
3. I’ll say it though none of the other three have – the bloody midges! If you live on Rum you do indeed have to live alongside them and I think we’ve done that admirably armed with midge jackets and midge spray, being as amicable as we can and paying tribute to them with Midgefest events, setting them in resin (maybe not entirely amicable!) and crocheting their image. But I also know that the mighty beasts have removed the possibilities of evening barbecues, sitting out as the sunsets, summer solstice camping on the beaches and many other plans. They have meant ridiculously hot summer nights spent with windows sealed shut against them in a metal caravan already warmed to unbearable temperatures by the heat of the day, four people living inside and cooking dinner. They have actively prevented my parents from visiting us here from April to September and made our planned camping and outdoor activities with friends impossible. They have not ruined my life, but I certainly won’t miss them!
4. People. The lack of people. The impact of living alongside such a tiny (and dwindling number) of people and the politics and pressures that can bring. The saying goodbye to people who have become as important as family members to you having shared your lives to such a high degree and being away from people I love during both sad and happy times.
5. The reality of our island life – When we were WWOOFing we stayed with lots of people who have just as extreme off grid lifestyles as us. Compost loos, lack of mains water, electricity or gas were not at all unusual. But not one was as remote as us – however rural and remote they were they could get to a town with all the resources that offered in under an hour – launderettes, petrol, food, clothes shops, libraries, cinema and all of those facilities were all accessible when they needed them. Here on Rum we live alongside other people living an island life relying on ferries to bring supplies, coping with regular power cuts and wild weather but all are in houses – with vehicular access to their doors and flushing toilets, a grid for water and power, sturdy shelter that mostly keeps the outside elements outside. There are aspects of our life here which are exactly what we wanted but so much of our energy and time has gone into simply surviving that little has been left over for moving forward. I am not sure what I would have done differently to change that – the reality is that even if we had built a house such a project would have been years in the completion so we would not be any further ahead with the other aspects and would still be making compromises on things like having 24 hour power to run appliances which I now realise are essential if we wanted to achieve dreams like hatching birds from incubators, keeping dairy animals and so on. A two mile round trip to take produce to and from the freezer or do a load of laundry has simply sucked more hours of our life than I could ever have imagined.

Good:
1. The livestock highs – keeping animals we could never have had the space for without access to the amount of land we have on our croft. Breeding pigs was amazing and being at the birth of a litter and watching them grow was fantastic. The butchering and processing we’ve done of pigs and birds has also been a fantastic experience producing delicious results. The shearing our own sheep was another real high.
2. The experiences that living on Rum has afforded us – the wildlife encounters – seeing eagles soar overhead is an almost daily delight, hearing shearwaters land in the pitch dark and call to their mate and chicks, pulling fluffy chicks from their burrows, experiencing the red deer rut with the sounds of them roaring and clashing antlers, the smell of their urine and feeling so close to them you are almost part of the event. Being on a small boat in the very middle of a superpod of hundreds of dolphins, having minke whales swim alongside us seemingly as curious as us as we were about them. Watching an otter prance along the shoreline, hearing eider ducks call in the loch, noting whether the cuckoo’s call heralding spring is early or late this year, spotting the geese fly overhead honking as they migrate, seeing seals bob about every time we got to the beach. The skies above us – treating us to displays of the northern lights, shooting stars, a solar eclipse, the breath taking quick-run-outside-and-try-and-take-a-photo sunrises and sunsets. Finally the living so close to nature; the experiencing so fully with every sense the moment that spring has arrived, the instant that summer makes her voice heard, noting the very first leaf turning to show autumn has begun and feeling the drop in temperature or hearing the first crunch of frost underfoot that heralds the coming of winter. Being so utterly in tune with each solstice and equinox, living so closely that even one degree of temperature change, millimetre of rainfall or mile per hour of wind speed or change of direction affects your actions and life. Knowing which rock needs to be visible to show the river is low enough to drive a car across. Gaining this knowledge and experiencing these things has been a privilege that I never anticipated, never even knew I was missing until I became aware of them.
3. The doing something different – the fact that tourists flock every year to the island I call home, countless visitors take photographs of our caravan, our livestock, our home, we were the subject of a TV show which has been repeated and syndicated worldwide, people read our blog, we have been on the radio, in magazines and newspapers and inspired and impacted on people’s lives. We have had school trips, university field trips and groups of volunteers and visitors visit us here on our croft. Feeling that we are doing something interesting and out of the ordinary has been a real highlight for me. We are living the sort of life that I used to read about, watch TV shows about and hanker after myself.
4. The opportunities. We have been able to experiment, learn, cock up and achieve all with complete freedom. We’ve dug sand from the riverbed and clay from our croft land to build a cob pizza oven. I have cut willow switches from the woodland to experiment with weaving or creating living sculptures. I have wandered over acres of land picking brambles and played with flavour combinations to make jam, able to put up a shed and open a little shop to sell from. We have ordered car spares off ebay and worked out how to do mechanical repairs, set up and maintained plumbing, learned about green power, foraging and preserving. We have read magazine articles and books, watched you tube clips, been inspired by a random idea on the internet and just had a go at making it happen. We have done it our way, with no one watching unless we invited them to. We are largely free from rules and regulations, prying eyes or judgemental views. That freedom and autonomy is a luxury that our life here has afforded us.
5. The community and a sense of belonging. I have been incredibly proud to be part of Rum’s history, joining the ranks of hundreds and hundreds of years of human history on this tiny isle. We came, we made our mark and we hopefully did good. Rum is an amazing place for giving you a sense of perspective – about your place in the community, the world and the universe. There is a magic here which I am proud to have been a tiny, transient part of.
6. The last six years have felt like an adventure – a rollercoaster of a ride with stories to tell, mad experiences, funny anecdotes and so many snapshot moments of laughter, tears, supporting each other, excitement and magical memories. It has certainly been unconventional and unusual but the fact that the four of have shared it with each other has been fantastic. I have had a very close relationship with Davies and Scarlett throughout their lives having been with them for so many hours each day and Ady and I have worked together in the past but having so much time together in this precious, finite period of the childrens’ late childhood and having it in such unique circumstances will forever be something I am so happy to have experienced. It is the extremes of our life here which will make our memories so very precious.

What are you most proud of? Having done it. Having set out to do something and followed what many thought was a madcap idea. So many people live life wishing they could make a change, do something different or take the crazy option and we actually did. It’s not been without it’s tough times and all four of us can think of things we would have done differently but my mantra has always been that I would rather regret the things I did do that regret the things I didn’t. I really feel that we have grabbed every opportunity that came our way. I love standing at the bottom of Croft 3 and looking up at that space and knowing that every single thing on it was what we have achieved.

What would I change?
Honestly? I don’t think I’d change a thing. The tough bits will become part of the tale, the low points taught me things, the challenges made me stronger and I learned so much that to regret or change anything would to be alter what I think has been a remarkable period in my life.

How has it changed you? I think I grew up on Rum. I came here aged 38, married with children, a whole career history behind me and a life already fully lived. I had faced challenges, made mistakes and lived with the consequences and tidied up my messes but I always felt I had ultimate control over my fate. Life here on Rum has proved me wrong. I have learned that there are bigger forces than me responsible for what happens next, that I can’t always just carry on regardless and assume that everything will be OK just because I said it would be. That has been humbling, weirdly reassuring and a tough lesson to learn.

Are you glad we did it? 100% yes

Sum it up: One of the more action packed chapters of a life story – hopefully one of many high points and still somewhere in the middle.

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Wondering *and* wandering

The title of this blog came about mostly due to me often using the wrong version of the word when I typed it but using both words frequently.

Wonder
noun
1.a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.
2.a person or thing regarded as very good, remarkable, or effective.
verb
1.desire to know something.
2.feel doubt.

Wander
1. walk or move in a leisurely or aimless way.
2.move slowly away from a fixed point or place.

Life with two children, home educated and ever curious led to frequent wandering and wondering. Finding the answers to our questions and ponderings, exploring ideas. Roaming around, often with no specific purpose other than the joy of the journey. Finding wonder in all we happened upon.

In 2010 our wonderings and wanderings bought us to starting this blog and planning a year long adventure – the culmination of several years of keeping an allotment, having chickens and ducks and thirsting for something different. In 2012 our wonderings and wanderings led us here to the Isle of Rum. A place which met all of our needs at the time – wild and beautiful, acres of freedom and opportunity, a community of interesting pioneering people. This new life offered daily opportunities to wonder and to wander, chances to learn and explore, to experiment and to discover answers to every ‘What if….?’ question we could possibly think of to ask.

As a family of four individuals our passions, interests, needs and wishes are always going to be ever evolving and our wondering and wandering desires have altered myriad times even since this blog began. When we started we were a couple of adults and two young children. We are now coming close to four adults and our urges to wander are stretching beyond Rum’s shores. Our inclinations to wonder are throwing up what ifs that cannot be answered here – or maybe they can but given a big what if just now is ‘what if we left Rum?’ we can only answer that by wandering a bit.

With so many parallels to our 2011 adventure – swapping vehicles, planning the first location but having the rest still fluid, knowing that we’ll be returning here either for good or to pack up, shedding possessions and responsibilities, tying up loose ends, planning a goodbye party, we are off wandering again, at least for a while.

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With a sense of melancholy

I posted the text below on facebook earlier. Ady and I have been taking photos and video clips to remind ourselves of just how many aspects of our lives here are unusual, are not like the lives we had before or are likely to have again.

As the countdown continues Ady and I are thinking about our lives here now, how they compare to our old lives and how they might compare to our lives in the coming months and years.
Today we walked half a mile to where we park our car, carrying a bin bag filled with a weeks laundry for four people and a box of 30 jams. We drove into the village to collect our post from yesterday – as the only people living outside the village we don’t get our post delivered to our door – we did have an arrangement of collecting it from a disused vehicle parked in the village but the vehicle has been moved so we’re back to collecting it from the postman’s house as and when we visit the village – we’ll need to do that after most boats so that he is not having to clutter up his house with our mail.
We drove to meet the ferry, stopping on the way to put the laundry on – a facility which is pretty threatened as it is a hangover from when the castle here on Rum used to be a hostel. We collected two jerry cans of petrol from the ferry. We had made a special trip to the ferry on Saturday to send them off as booked but due to there being bottled gas already on the ferry for another island they didn’t go off. Instead rather than make another trip (1/2 mile walk, 2 mile drive using previous diesel that we have to do the same procedure to get here in jerry cans) we asked a friend who was going to the ferry to put them on for us – the ferry coming at all on Sunday was uncertain and the timetable was amended twice due to the gale force winds and resulting swell. We then had to phone the fuel seller on Monday to arrange for them to collect our cans, fill them and return them to the ferry ready to come back to us.
We were collecting our mainland car which has been parked elsewhere while family stay on Rum last week – they brought a trailer tent to stay in as we don’t have enough room for them in our caravan. Unfortunately they could only tow it a certain distance towards the croft as the roads are in such a poor state. The place they had set up was exposed to the winds last week and in the middle of the night I had been helping them take down the tent, the following day they had suffered further damage and despite moving into the village square they took the decision to call their trip short when all their bedding and spare clothes were wet with further bad weather forecast.
We bought both vehicles (slowly, carefully) back to our parking space, then used wheelbarrows to bring the laundry and petrol back to the croft.
That took most of fhe morning.
This afternoon we chopped and collected firewood, emptied our compost toilet and waded into the river to change the filter on our drinking water supply.
On a good day I am massively proud of all we have achieved here and blown away by the sheer beauty of the place we call home. On a bad day I am reminded that it is these tasks, essential merely to survive here which coupled with the weather and climate and sheer logistics of life here that are what have prevented us from realising our dreams and made us alter our expectations of what this life was all about.

I keep catching myself drifting off into daydreams and deep thoughts, looking out at the views and breathing deeply, trying to commit to memory the sounds, the smells, the feel of Rum, of this life, of what it represents.

We are excited, scared, sad and happy, filled with feelings of missing what we have here before we’ve even left it, thrilled at the prospect of what we’re heading towards.

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New Learning Adventures

In the midst of all of our uncertainty about what happens next in terms of where we live and what we do Davies and I have begun studying with the Open University. After lots of consideration, career quizzes, chatting to friends and discussions Davies decided to embark on an access course with the OU with the long term intention of doing a degree in psychology. We did a lot of research on various study options and the OU seemed a really good fit with our location and uncertainty about continued location, his personal aspirations both in terms of learning for learning’s sake and for a potential qualification for a career and as a good way of continuing with his lifelong style of an autonomous, at his own speed, fitted in around and as a part of his everyday life education. A few conversations with an adviser at the OU, some form filling (a first for him) and he was enrolled on the course way back in the spring ready to start now.

Which got me thinking… my own formal education ended with A levels. I didn’t intend it to, I had planned to travel and work for a year, maybe two and enjoy the freedom of being a young adult with a car and a part time job and autonomy over my time to finish work when I left the building rather than feeling a burden of studying hanging over my evenings and weekends. I was not entirely clear on what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’ or which direction to take further studying so felt getting some life experience and adding to the careers section of my CV might be a better option than the qualifications section. I fully intended going back into education but knew that now was the the right time. The further I moved away from the friends who followed the route into university while I began working full time, climbing the career ladder via long hours at work and learning skills on the job, falling in love and buying a house at 20 the more the path I had deviated from looked less and less for me. I’ve always said that continuing my education was an option should I want to do it, regardless of my age although in latter years that has been more to illustrate a point when talking about Home Education and how not studying for exams as a teenager does not mean you can never do them if they become desirable at some point.

For me that point has arrived. I’m not sure if I’ll go beyond the access course – despite not needing to do an access course and being able to sign straight up for a degree I decided to do the access course. Partially because it felt like a great way to support Davies – to learn alongside him and work through the content together (although we have different tutors and will do our assessments independently of each other, it is so far proving really useful to both of us to be studying together) but mostly because I realised that I would feel quite envious of him doing it. The more I read the course information and learned about the way the OU works the more I felt it was something I wanted to do too, for me. I may yet decide I’m still not ready to commit to studying for a degree and if I do I am unsure in what or quite what I’d aim to do with it once I had it, but certainly for now I am enjoying learning for the sake of learning and flexing that particular muscle once again.

So far, a month in we’re enjoying it. We have found a rhythm to our studying and not only is it springboarding lots of discussions and further research and talking about ideas and experiences it is radiating out with all four of us getting involved in chatting about the new things we are learning. It’s great welcoming the Open University into our learning partnerships in our household, so far they are fitting in really well.