Time marching on

It’s August. When I was a child August was the summer really, the whole of the month was school holidays. My parents were both self employed and so school holidays were often spent going to work with one or other of them – with Dad that meant riding in the back of his van (in the days before seat belts, let alone child car seats), wedged between paint pots and brushes, sat on a pile of dustsheets. The smell of turpentine or white spirit, linseed putty or a freshly prised open tin of gloss paint takes me back. With Mum that meant going to first a snack bar /cafe in early school days where my brother and I would mostly join in with the gang of local school kids in that town (not our own, but we had a crew of friends there in that way that kids fall in with each other based on being more or less the same size as each other and in the vicinity to play together!), so days at the local park or playing elaborate games in the car park behind the cafe. In later school days it was a restaurant where I might actually be helpful. We also spent time at friends’ houses or sometimes at home looked after by a ‘babysitter’. School holidays were times of adventure, of freedom and of endless days of long hot summers or so it feels looking back with those rose tinted glasses of nostalgia.

The August of my teens was of summer jobs rather than college – far better to be working for cash than grades and far better to clock off at 5pm or even 8pm but be done for the day without homework. I think that comparison of term time to holidays was what tipped me towards not carrying on with education back then. I remember distinctly a summer where I spent my lunch breaks lying in the garden strategically topping up a sun tan.

The Augusts of my young adulthood meant driving to work in daylight rather than darkness and leaving work in daylight rather than darkness. It meant evenings after work in the pub beer garden, barbecues and a different stock on the shelves of whichever retailer I happened to be working for or a different sort of staff need to recruit for when I worked in recruitment. The Augusts of early parenthood meant paddling pools, sticky children in hot cars, trips to the beach and sand everywhere, ice creams and camping, sun cream and shopping trips to Clarkes for Doodles.

Here on Rum August does not mean summer, instead it heralds the start of autumn. The nights start to draw in, slowly at the start of the month but by the end noticeably almost each day. We are still at peak visitor numbers but residents are starting to talk about ‘winter jobs’ and look weary of the feeling of being on show. Birds have fledged, wasps are drowsy and the hills are starting to turn from bright green to golden as the purple of the heather takes over and the brambles ripen, the fungus springs up and the stalking season of the red stags is here.

Today I spent the morning picking brambles, the first of the year. It was slow, they are only at the start but I checked my usual picking haunts, noted where looks promising for this year and gathered sufficient for the first four jars of bramble jam of the season. Added to the mix were dried lavender flowers from the croft harvested and dried a few weeks ago.

Very excitingly the seas around Rum have been host to a large number of basking sharks these last couple of weeks. They are regular visitors to the waters at this time of year but have been very absent these last few years and we have previously never seen one despite tales from locals of them coming close to the shore and one of the previous residents even swimming with one a few years back. Lured by tales of encounters and photos of them we went out on Monday in search of them and were rewarded by a tail and fin spotting! No photographic evidence to support it and it was a fleeting sighting but an exciting one nonetheless. Scarlett and I went out again on Friday in search of them but despite it being a nicer day to be out on a boat for a couple of hours we didn’t see any more.

Meanwhile back on the croft the last few crops are doing their thing. Our chillies have done very well this year and we are enjoying picking one or two for dinners several times a week.

My experimental sweetcorn which probably took up more room in the polytunnel than the small harvest will justify but were fun to try are getting close to ready, not quite yet though….

 

 

 

There are still some soft fruit to come – autumn rapsberries, loganberries and tayberries are still cropping but the rest are over for this year. We will do a hard prune later in the year. We have plans to start gathering seaweed to mulch the raised beds in the next month or so ready to leave them over winter for spring planting next year. Our salad crops came to nothing this year really – I think the extreme early heat followed by a fairly chilly July meant things bolted too early or were stunted too late. A great crop of strawberries and peas again though and the currants did really well.

We had a group of Scouts staying on the island who almost cleared us out of stocks of paracord wristbands and midges so I took delivery of more cord this week and spent a morning making up more of both to restock the shed.

When not knotting paracord I’ve been knotting wool carrying on with squares for the big blanket project too which is coming along nicely.

I’m getting short of the handspun white though. so may need to take a crochet break and do some spinning this coming week.

August is also the month of the perseid meteor showers each year here in the UK, known in our social circle as ‘percy-wotsits’. A name coined about 12 years ago on a group camping trip when we saw round the campfire star gazing together looking out for them. Over the years we have spent many August nights in the company of some or all of those friends either in real life looking up an the skies together in a field, or online sharing stories about how many we’ve spotted. Last night Ady and I spent a happy half an hour on the bench outside, whisky laced hot chocolates in hand looking up at the heavens, watching meteors shoot across the sky and reminiscing about years gone by and dreaming about years to come.

Decades from now I could well be pondering on how during this stage of my life August meant brambles and basking sharks…

Fun & Games

Every summer there is an inter-island Small Isles games between Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. We take it in turns to host – so every isle gets a go once every four years. Just as the four islands each have their own ‘personality’ and feel, so do the games depending on which island is hosting.

The largest of the Small Isles geographically is Rum – we are wider, longer, taller and wilder. We are the third in population size though. Rum is partially owned by Scottish Natural Heritage and partly by the Isle of Rum Community Trust. Our wildlife is pretty diverse but very red deer heavy, oh and midge heavy too! Eigg is the second bigger island and by far the largest population of the four islands with over 100 people. Eigg is community owned and is a really thriving and diverse mix of people, properties, businesses and endeavours. Canna is owned by National Trust for Scotland and has the smallest population of the four islands. Muck is privately owned with a similar sized population to Rum. This year the games were hosted by Muck.

Muck is the sort of tiny Scottish island you might imagine if you have been reading Katie Morag books. It is pretty, everyone has a place and a job and it all runs very efficiently. There are generations of the same families living there and people who visit the island year in year out. It has a lovely feeling and is tamed and organised. There is a healthy diversity in ages across the island with plenty of young folk from toddlers to teens. They are fit and active and certainly for as long as we’ve lived in the Small Isles they win the games every year in a whitewash of victory! This year was no exception. The games were a great mix of fun and creative but with a heavy emphasis on sporting achievement, something the rest of the isles are not quite a match for Muck on, either by lack of resident numbers, lack of sporting prowess or the lure of the beer tent! Either way we were all very happy to compete, have plenty of fun and be very gracious runners up (Eigg came second, Rum came third and Canna came fourth) and cheer on the victorious Muck once more. Before retiring to the village hall for food, drink, dancing and quite possibly the longest raffle I have ever witnessed (seriously it went on for nearly an hour!)

Very excitingly Davies and Scarlett returned to Rum on the ferry on the same day – they were happy to miss the evening in favour of a film watching marathon and their first ‘home alone’ experience. So they came back to feed animals, deal with the cat and the dog and tie up the wind turbine as the high winds which had been moving around the long term weather forecast all week had finally settled during the early hours of Sunday morning. Ady and I stayed on Muck for the evening celebrations and caught a lift with the remainder of Team Rum back on the Marine Harvest fish farm boat on Sunday morning.

It was a rough, but super speedy trip back and we were home before sleepy teens were even awake.

Thanks Muck for another memorable Small Isles games.

The Process

“If life’s about the journey and not the destination
Then maybe we should all take time to do more procrastination
Eat the cake, smell the roses, take time to stop and stare
Walk along that sunset beach, be the tortoise, not the hare”

So penned a wise woman I know in a song she wrote and sings (spoiler, it’s me with my ukulele!)

It’s a cliche-ridden verse in a clique-ridden song, but cliches are cliches for a reason ie they are true, relevant, pertinent. Davies, Scarlett and I have been chatting about next steps for them recently. Davies got his results for his access course this week- a very high scoring pass which we are all delighted with. He will begin his BSc in October and is looking forward to that. Scarlett reaches official school leaving age in Scotland at the end of this year and having had a taste of online distance learning and how it works we have been looking at interesting short courses that she can work through over the winter – to have some varied options to maybe spark her interest in studying more in depth and to build her CV. These conversations have included talking about ‘the process’ with different types of activity.

My pre-parenthood employment was a mix of retail management and recruitment, while Davies and Scarlett were little I did various bits and pieces including freelance CV writing. Over the years I have used the terms self-motivated and goal-orientated countless times but in recent pondering I have come to realise I possibly never fully understood what they meant in terms of being neither positive or negative character traits particularly, just different types of personality. I’ve talked about methodical approaches, being ‘super organised’ and looking back at teams of people I have worked with or managed I can see that it was more often than not whether a person was goal or process driven that made them more or less suitable for certain tasks than anything else, including their actual skill in that task. I can tell you which of the members of our family is process driven and which are goal oriented. Neither is better or worse, just better suited for certain tasks, motivated and rewarded in different ways.

It will surprise no one I suspect that I am about the journey, the process, finding if not joy then at least fulfilment in every step. I’m happy to stop halfway up a mountain and enjoy the view just where I sit (another song lyric) without feeling the need to reach the top. And I realise that most of what I have constructed around me as my day to day life, way of making money, long term plans are all about the details, the process, the unhurried finding joy in the details and every step of the path. From my jam making where I love the growing the fruit, harvesting the fruit and planning jam flavours, the actual making of the jam itself and then the making the labels for the jars and displaying them in the shed, to my crochet which has the additional pre-step now of having sheared the sheep and spun the wool to choosing colours and textures, crocheting component parts and constructing a blanket, a soft toy, or other project.

I’ve been walking up one of the steep Rum tracks for the last month, not every day; I took a break while my parents were visiting and if I can’t fit the 90 minutes or so it takes into my day then that’s fine. It is partially about being active, for the health benefits that brings but also just as much about the views across Rum and out to sea, to Skye and the mainland, over to the Croft, the portfolio of pictures of me sat at the point I walk to each time with different backdrops of weather, of plant foliage and of wildlife, about the people I sometimes meet and sometimes stop to chat with. It’s about the headspace, the chance to listen to a podcast or some music, or enjoy the sounds of Rum – the crunch or splosh of my footsteps, the river running or trickling, the wild flights of fancy or new ideas that occur to me when my mind is empty of other things, or as my friend Joyce calls it the ‘mental tupperware sorting’ of organising your chaotic brain into tidy compartmentalised thoughts and the sense of peace that that can bring.

Learning new things is a fantastic gift that I think one should strive to enjoy every day, at every stage of life. Learning new things about oneself along the way is really interesting and probably goes a long way to explaining some of the choices in life I have made and why I am most happy in certain situations. I am so lucky to be able to live in a way which embraces these traits and to be able to share that life with people who are also celebrating their natural inclinations instead of working against them.

Harvesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spinning Around

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

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

Woolly Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

A crofters life’s a very diverse one!

Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it rained. And was windy.

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

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

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

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

Mostly sunshine and midges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic and travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday and birth days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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