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.


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.


The last pig day.

A very emotional day today here on Croft 3. And perhaps the fact it was emotional goes a way towards stressing the difference between commercially successful farmers and us.

We said goodbye to the last pig reared for meat – now in the freezer and goodbye to Barbara pig, our original mother pig. It was a really tough decision, one of the hardest we have made and certainly not taken lightly or without quite a lot of tears shed. But it was the right one in terms of welfare for Barbara (she was well past her breeding prime so attempting to re-home her would prove pretty much impossible, involve the major stress of getting her from the croft, onto the ferry and further transport to a new home, introducing her to different conditions and so on).

Instead after much soul searching she is now buried with Tom, her original pig partner.

It has been our adventures in pig keeping which have probably taught us most here on Rum. We have had some crashing lows – losing piglets, losing older pigs, the saga of Bob and Blackie, processing pigs in all sorts of weather conditions, chasing escapees, frequent moves from one area to another, losing all of our salami and chorizo when the polytunnel blew away, losing a joint of gammon when an unseasonal hot spell interfered with the curing process. We let our pig numbers get too large, like every single pig farmer we have ever met had also done. We let our pig feed bills get too high, again like every other pig farmer we have ever met. We have had some amazing highs – being present at births and resuscitating ailing piglets, realising that both Tom and Barbara were fertile and good parents, making sausages and bacon and butchering quite literally in the field.

Tom and Barbara were on TV, mentioned on the radio and in magazine articles and blogs, they have been photographed and petted by so many visitors to the croft. They were not pets, they were livestock but the lines certainly got pretty blurry.

It’s the closing of another chapter of our lives here for sure and while I know it was the right thing to do and am at peace with the decision my heart is sore today.


Exit this way

Our lives since we left employment have taken on a different level of organisation and commitment. Once upon a time the rhythm of our lives was dictated by work schedules and meetings. We now have obvious demands such as animals needing feeding, people needing feeding, firewood needing chopping, gas bottles getting up the hill and so on but in the main we get to decide what happens when and work on our own job list prioritising. It’s fluid and flexible and a mix of what simply must be done in order to survive, what makes life nicer or more comfortable and things which make life move forward, are nice optional extras or are working towards the future.

We tend to create a Masterplan each year, an overview of things we’d like to carry on with or introduce to the croft in terms of animals, crops, infrastructure and business. A list of fun things we want to do – places to visit, new skills to acquire, experiences to have. This is a discipline we have been following for years as a family – it has shaped Davies and Scarlett’s education, family holidays and adventures, learning opportunities and new experiences. It was this sort of Masterplan over the years that led to us camping in Scotland dolphin spotting, Davies joining the Young Archaeologists Club, me attending a book group (which led to working at the local library), us getting an allotment and more. It’s definitely a technique from school and work where Ady and I learned about reviews and appraisals and succession planning. We then break that down into seasonal, monthly or weekly plans, all of which are fluid and often have to be reactive to other factors such as weather, health, what else might creep up and happen. A mix of proactive and reactive, being adaptable and having planning skills has served us well in moving things forward and feeling productive while still having a nice life with plenty of freedom to follow our dreams.

That same working backwards from an end goal is what I applied to our heading off WWOOFing and then again when we moved to Rum. A friend tells me it’s called Critical Path Analysis. To me it’s making sure that on November 16th the four of us, plus cat and dog are on board a ferry off Rum leaving behind us a croft that is packed up waiting for us to come back in March or with plans in place for our absence. We’ll need to leave equipt with everything we need to see us though the short and long term time away or plans for how to make that happen as we go.

I’ve divided this into the following areas:

Animals: Rehome, kill & process or organise food and shelter and supervision while we’re away for pigs, sheep and poultry.
Our pigs will be going next week. One will be processed for the freezer. One will be buried alongside the other pigs who have been killed or died for non food reasons. We will then dismantle and pack away all of the fencing . The housing will be reused for the other animals staying over winter.
The Sheep will be staying. There is sufficient food and shelter here on Croft 3 for them over winter and they will be regularly checked for health and condition. We will dose them before we go and again on our return.
The turkeys will be staying on Rum with a friend who will feed them for us while we’re away. We will supply the food so they will still be our turkeys. They will come back to the croft when we return.
The geese will be staying on the croft. There is a huge population of wild geese on Rum and they thrive here needing no special food or shelter. They will remain on the croft along with the sheep and continue to graze and keep the croft grass down.
The guinea fowl will do the same.
Most of the chickens and ducks will be killed and processed. A tiny number will remain and be fed and checked along with the sheep by a friend. We’ll leave sufficient food supplies behind along with lots of shelter on the croft. As a fully free range flock they are well used to finding their own food and shelter on the croft and have very few predators.
This plan for the animals means that if we return to Rum in the spring with the intention of staying here then we already have our starting livestock here for us. If we have decided we are moving on then we can make arrangements to take the livestock with us or rehome it.

Crops: I have the usual end of season clearing up to do in the polytunnel, fruit cages, walled garden and other growing areas. I will clear any spent crops, tidy away anything at risk during the winter weather, cover all the bare soil with a thick mulch of seaweed and prune the fruit trees and bushes. These are my usual activities at this time of year and for the sake of a few days work it is worth preparing the ground for next years crops incase we do return.

Caravan: The caravan will be sealed up against the weather and pests during our absence as best it can be. We will turn off the water to the caravan and re-route the supply to drain into the ground to ensure it does not freeze, burst or grow stagnant in the pipes during our absence. The wind turbines will be dismantled, the solar panels disconnected, the batteries disconnected and the generators emptied and stored (we may take the main one off for a service). We will cap the log burner, turn off the gas and seal any vents with fabric conditioner sheets to deter rodents from moving in. We will remove or cover all soft furnishings, seal closed the doors and windows which leak water in the rain and leave internal doors and cupboards open for the air to circulate as much as possible. All food and perishable stuff will be removed and precious things taken with us or carefully stored away.

The croft: all tools and machines will be drained of fuel, cleaned and put away securely. We will not be leaving anything of great value, mostly because we don’t have anything of great value! But we have moved things useful and specific to croft 3 into a shed which will be sealed up to keep things safe.

The Shed: Most of the crafts are listed on Etsy so will be coming with us to ensure we can carry on fulfilling any sales we make. Jams will be stored here ready for next season. The shed will be locked up against the elements while we’re away.

Off Rum:
The logistics of leaving include booking the car onto the ferry (we have successfully completed the task of getting a new car and selling the old one – hurrah!), organising accommodation for our journey break down to Sussex (we have booked dentist and orthodentist check ups for the day after we leave which will dictate how far we get on the first leg of the trip), organising immunisations for Bonnie who has not needed them before by virtue of living here with no contact with other dogs. Planning things like mail redirection, emergency contacts and so on.

I have a masterplan for all of this laid out in a notebook with provisional and last possible dates for ticking things off the list. We have contingency plans for the variables and are starting to make plans for the actual things we’ll be doing while we’re off. But that’s for the next post.


Walking Down Memory Lane

Our WWOOFing adventure was not the first ever time we had packed up ourselves and changed our life direction. In 2001 we were offered the opportunity to move from Sussex to Cheshire when Ady’s old boss set up a new business venture and offered him a job. At the time I had just gone back to work after having Davies (1 day a week in the office, 2 days from home) and we were planning a second baby fairly soon so it felt like a good time to say yes to something and somewhere new and different.

We were there for only a couple of years, during which time we had Scarlett, decided to Home Educate the children, gained loads of new skills and work experiences, settled into life in a completely different part of the UK to what we were used to and set about building a life for ourselves. We’ve been back to visit several times to catch up with friends.

We’ve just arrived back on Rum after a week off, our last trip off the island until we leave for the winter in mid November. As usual it was a multi-purpose visit. An orthodentist check up for Scarlett, collecting our new car for me (I went off the day before the others and got the train to collect the car then drove it back to meet them the following day), but the main reason was to attend a live podcast show which was one of Davies & Scarlett’s very delayed Christmas presents. The same podcast that we went to Sussex for last autumn to watch a live show of. This time when their European tour dates for 2017 came out we had already decided we would be leaving Rum for the winter but had no real idea where in the UK we might be so chose Manchester as the most central location to best suit wherever we might have ended up on the basis that we know the city well and could combine it with seeing friends too.

In the end we didn’t catch up with as many friends as we had anticipated – our dearest friends, more like family, happened to be away during our time there so our catch up with them will have to wait a while. Instead we did a lot of walking down memory lane, re-visiting the places that had meaning to us from when we lived there. I had looked at some old photos of our time in Manchester and we used them to go and take some then and now pictures and re-live the memories of those days when we took them.

This is Davies and I outside the daycare nursery he went to. He went for two short days a week for about 6 months. It was a lovely nursery, with lovely staff but he was very sad to be away from me and when Scarlett was born we took him out. It was in looking at alternatives to childcare and early years education that we stumbled upon Home Education, learned more about it and ultimately ended up deciding to follow that path for Davies and Scarlett.

Our old house. The house where Scarlett was born (home birth), where both the children took their first steps. As we pulled up we noticed a banner in the window proclaiming ‘it’s a girl’. We knocked on the door to ask if it was OK to take some pictures standing in front of the house and congratulated them – a brand new little baby girl now lives there.

Outside The Trafford Centre – where Ady and I both worked and we all spent a lot of time – a shopping mall with cinema, restaurants and more. The old pic was taken in 2003 and was the day Scarlett got her first shoes and took her first outside steps.

Inside The Trafford Centre, little Davies pretending to be part of the band. Now Davies tolerating with good humour my desire to recapture the moment.

There are various water features within the centre which used to fascinate them when they were little.

This indoor ski slope opened after we had already left Manchester but we visited it on a subsequent trip when both the children were still much smaller than me, unlike these days!

We went into the city centre on the metrolink tram, Davies had a haircut, Scarlett got some much needed new clothes and we enjoyed all the fast food, baths, TV and free wifi absolutely everywhere that the mainland has to offer.

We had arranged to bring one of Davies and Scarlett’s friends with us to the podcast show, which I went along to aswell and we had a great evening out in the city at a fabulous venue.

We ended our visit with a couple of nights staying with friends – the friend who had come with us. These have been family friends of ours for well over a decade although we have both moved around a lot. They have visited us here on Rum many times and it was lovely to catch up with them. Continuing in the spirit of the then and now picture pairs we found a snap from a visit to the, back in 2006 and took a new one.

In classic Rum fashion the ferry back home today was on high alert risk of cancellation or disruption as it’s very windy here. We did manage to get home albeit on a rather rough crossing and after much trudging up and down the hill with luggage and shopping (Ady) and putting it all away (me) we are settled back in with the logburner lit, the cat and dog delighted to have us home and a rapidly decreasing number of days left before we head off for a much longer spell.


Plan coming together

In many many ways life just now is feeling very similar to when this blog first started and we were putting together the plans for our WWOOFing adventure. Loads of emotions: uncertainty, excitement, nerves, anticipation. Lots of logistical details – back then we had the packing up of one life: clearing belongings, finding tenants for our house, leaving jobs, and sorting out what would happen next – finding the campervan, planning a route and finding hosts. Practical stuff: what to do with our car, where to re-direct our post, how to stay in touch with family and friends, what clothes would we need, what special things would we take to bring a bit of home with us, what was essential in the van in terms of crockery, food supplies, entertainment.

We did it again when we moved to Rum – that time the details were different but still a lurch into the unknown. Moving house is tricky enough, moving the actual house too as we did with the caravan is even trickier! Re-directing post when the address doesn’t even exist and registering at the doctor and dentist when you don’t have a landline and mobile signal is pretty patchy can prove a challenge.

It’s good to remind myself that I have done all of this before when it feels a bit overwhelming. Living here can add an additional layer of complication to many aspects of the next steps. One of the things I have gotten much better in over the last 7 years though is asking for and accepting help. Not to remotely belittle the assistance we’ve been offered and taken from family and friends but what feels like a small favour for them can be massively helpful for us. For example we realised that we need a bigger car for the next part of our adventure – my Dad bought us a little car last year for our regular trips to the dentist with Scarlett last year and it’s been fantastic for those short journeys but is not remotely suitable for four adults and a dog. Finding, viewing and buying a bigger car is all pretty difficult to organise from Rum but a lovely friend did all of that for us and is even driving it part way up to us. We have had countless offers from friends to visit / stay and are hoping to catch up with as many people.

Our current plan, as ever subject to change, tweaking or abandoning completely if we change our minds! is as follows:

Leave Rum 16th November, spent a weekend with family in Sussex before arriving in Glastonbury on 20th November. We’ll be staying at a friends’ holiday cottage complex and exchanging our time / work / skills for accommodation. Somerset is the perfect place – it was a very early destination in our WWOOFing adventure, somewhere we returned to several times during that year and also just before coming to Rum. We have many friends in Somerset – some we made during the WWOOFing year, some bizarrely that we have made while living here on Rum who have relocated there and at least two sets of old friends including the friends who came to visit us here on Rum last month and the friend who Ady and I lived with when we were first together. It all feels very meant to be. We are there until just before Christmas when we’ll be returning to Sussex for a very long awaited, first in six years family Christmas with my parents, my brother and his family and some time with Ady’s brother and his children too. We have tentative new year plans and a couple of possible options for early January but are hoping to find either a house sitting or WWOOF style option for January and February if at all possible. We’d like to spend some time in Wales and explore possibilities for either bringing new ideas back to Rum next year or possibly for what we do next.

That leaves us with several things still to sort out – packing up our lives here on Rum. Drastically reducing our livestock holding and arranging care / feeding for the tiny numbers we’ll be leaving behind (more favours!). Sealing up and shutting down the caravan for a few months including the gas and water and any potential leaks for rain or rodents. Finding the balance in our usual habit of ensuring we have stores of tinned and dried food incase of ferry cancellations and not leaving loads of food here, shutting down the wind and solar power set up, making sure we top up the power for our freezer, sealing up the shed and the polytunnel, putting away things like tools securely and weatherproofing as much as we can. We’ll be leaving as though we will be coming back to start back up our lives here while also knowing there is a chance we may be coming back to pack up. There are certain precious things we will take with us, certain things which won’t be practical to take off this time but we need to keep safe, certain things which are only really useful here in our Rum life but we’ll need to hang on to for now.

Just as I did before I am making endless lists and plans and mind maps, working out the chain of events for sorting things out, the order of organising, what can wait or be left open, what has to be pinned down and sorted out, what has to be left on the huge list of last minute tasks and what can be got out of the way now. It’s all coming together, I need to carry on playing to my strengths, trusting the process and accepting the help when it’s offered.


Leaves are brown, skies are grey

Well not quite, but heading that way. And as ever the skies are a rainbow of colours from greys, to blues to stunning sunsets and of course actual rainbows too.

September, or the start of autumn always feels like the time to make a change for me, much more so than January and an actual new year. It’s obviously the back to school feeling leftover from my own school days with new pencil cases, slightly too large and stiff from being brand new school uniform, new classrooms, timetables and new teachers. Brand new exercise books filled with blank pages and the feeling of all that new learning ahead. Five times in my childhood / teens September would have meant a whole new school or college. A quick count up finds at least three new jobs started in September in my adult life. We got married in September so a whole new name, became parents for the first time in September. Obviously we didn’t do school but Davies and Scarlett attended scouts, guides, St Johns Ambulance, RSPB wildlife explorers, swimming lessons, Forest School sessions all of which ran termly and re-started after a summer off with a timetable of four or five evenings a week hitting the rush hour traffic to get them there and ensuring they had the relevant uniform and termly subs.

Meanwhile nature sounds, looks and smells different. I think the change from summer to autumn is definitely one of the more dramatic seasonal changes – leaves changing colour and dropping, altering from shiny and soft, to crunchy and crispy underfoot before becoming soggy to walk through. The air becomes cooler and the smell of bonfires or people lighting their fires fills the air. Morning dew, maybe even the first frosts sparkle on the spiders webs that are suddenly everywhere. Nights draw in and we dig out a warmer pair of socks or cosier jumper. Even when we lived in a town I noticed wildlife changing at this time of year – birdsong is different – no longer the mating or rearing young type calls. The cast of your garden birds may change as migrations to and forth begin. Spiders start coming in, drunken drowsy wasps buzz around. Here on Rum we notice our own livestock altering – the pigs begin to thicken their fur in advance of the winter, the geese are no longer so feisty, the cockerels happily stand side by side rather than preparing to duel. The hills have gone from green to purple.

In previous years autumn here heralded the start of preparing for another harsh winter. Of starting the winter stockpile of tins and dried food, of long life milk in case of cancelled ferries. Of ensuring the firewood stash would see us through. Aside from these practical tasks also came the need for the mental preparation of another winter here. That got both easier in some ways and harder in others as we learnt exactly what to expect of the months ahead. None of us really struggle with the darker days and lack of sunlight. All of us struggled with days of endless rain, nights of howling winds shaking the caravan, condensation and damp. We’ve come a very long way from our first winter where we were still carrying water across from the often raging burn, lighting our long evenings with candles, collecting firewood daily as we’d not had time to prepare in advance. We’ve put measures in place to help with the more testing aspects of life here over winter which have included both the practical and also the soul feeding self care things like regular events to look forward to, at least one trip off over winter to top up on the comforts of warm, comfortable accommodation and access to mainland treats.

This year though autumn marks the start of our next adventure – leaving Rum. Certainly for now, possibly for the longer term. Autumn is the start of Davies’ next chapter in life of beginning an Open University course. It’s the start of a new location for all of us, building a whole new set of memories, a whole new list of skills and experiences and a brand new blank page. We’ll likely need different uniforms and tools just like starting a new school or job, we’ll meet new people and learn new ways, our status will change once more.

This is massively daunting and thrilling in equal measures, just like it was starting a new school, new job, new marriage, new life every other time we’ve done it. I clearly remember that wobble of wanting to run back to my old classroom with the teacher I knew, not wanting to be the littlest kids at senior school after having been the biggest kids at primary school. Remembering the ease of knowing everything about my old job – where the staff room was, the best place to park, which tasks were boring and which were fun instead of being the new girl who didn’t know anyone’s names yet and felt awkward and uncomfortable. That last second feeling of finality in saying ‘I do’ and signing my new name rather than my old one. The realisation with the first contraction of childbirth that life would never, ever, ever be the same again. Big steps and big changes are always scary, the people staying on the ground watching the roller coaster climb up and up towards the inevitable plunge back down always look briefly like the sensible ones when you are in the carriage heading towards the sky while your tummy is turning somersaults and your hands are gripping the bar in front of you. But the big moments – the photographic evidence, the life affirming stuff, the moments you know you are alive are the ones where you are pronounced husband and wife, where you hold your tiny born and look into their eyes while they grasp your finger tight. The day you realise you know which floor the English class is on, a newer colleague than you starts work and you are the one showing them around. The grainy digital picture of you screaming with equal measures of joy and sheer excitement as the roller coaster swings you round and you feel sorry for those people back on the ground who haven’t felt what you have.

More than all this though, we have reached a point where our current life feels like the safe option. It will take more courage to step on the ferry and leave this behind than to stay here and carry on with it. This life, on a remote island, miles from family and friends, living with no mains power, where our existence relies on wheelbarrows and clambering up muddy hills, where every forecast gale has us climbing up ladders to tie up wind turbines and wondering if this will be the one that destroys the caravan. A life so unusual that is is worthy of TV shows, this blog, articles in magazines and visitors every year taking photographs. If this life has become the safe option then we know our perspective is skewed. We know we need to remind ourselves of what else is out there – both the good and bad, the rough and the smooth. Staying in the same place should only feel right if it continues to offer enough highs to balance to lows and enough thrills to remind you you’re alive.


Bees and brambles

The bramble season has begun. The season here on Rum is pretty long – a good six weeks or more with certain hot spots ripening way earlier than others. I walked to meet the ferry ahead of Ady driving on Friday and collected a bag full, out again on Saturday and Sunday around and about the croft collecting more and Ady and I both walked to the village yesterday and picked nearly a kilo more. So jam making has also begun.

A combination of deciding to change the jar shape, finding a better supplier for the jars willing to give a discount for a bulk order (of 300 jars!) and deciding to give the labels an updated look means we have a new design of jar and label. We still have jam to sell through though so the new design might not be in the shed just yet. Here’s a sneak peek though…

We sent some jam, and some crochet midges, off to Mallaig to sell in a new local arts and crafts shop that has opened up there. If we return to Rum for good next spring I definitely want to explore the idea of sending crafts and produce off to sell elsewhere.

Scarlett and I spent this afternoon making bath fizzers too – four colours / scents this year – rose, lavender, citronella & lemon and camphor and menthol. We made 120 in all and then I packed them into bags of three and labelled them all up. It took way longer than I had hoped and I was pretty bored of the process by the end of it – not to mention a bit sneezy from all the scents! I’ll take a picture tomorrow once they are in the shed – we were down to the very last two from the last batch. We’re almost out of candles too so that might well be another making session later this week.

We’ve been noticing a lot of bee action in a particular spot behind the caravan over the summer and had assumed solitary bees but today when Ady was doing some compost loo maintenance he uncovered a whole clump broken off of a nest of bee larvae. It was amazing – loads of little creatures in varying stages of hatching all contained within waxy eggs. The whole thing smelled really strongly of honey.

The ‘hive mind’ of facebook really came into it’s own as I uploaded a picture and tagged a few friends who keep bees to ask if anyone could help identify them. Within minutes the picture had been shared all over the UK with people tagging friends and friends of friends to ask for help. Half an hour and a few extra pictures from us later they had been identified as white tailed bumble bees, we had watched some brand new bees hatching and I had learned a whole load of new bee facts.

My dreams of beekeeping had still not quite come to fruition but maybe the bees have chosen us here after all! Shame we won’t be enjoying their honey but providing a home and benefiting from their pollination skills is still pretty amazing.

It’s been the start of the annual red deer cull here on Rum and Ady has already done a day’s ghillying, we have done a day of butchering and processing a beast into a well stocked freezer full of venison and on Sunday I joined Ady and another islander bringing a couple of the Rum ponies back from Harris on the southern tip of Rum back to Kinloch village ready to head out again on deer collecting duty later this week. It’s a long slow, but very beautiful walk across the island, even at a plodding pony’s pace through some dire weather.

I have to be very honest and confess that only held the pony’s reins for long enough for Ady to take the picture and Angus the pony to realise that it was me rather than Ady holding him! I am slightly scared of them and was most surprised to note looking at the photo afterwards that Angus seems nowhere near as big as he did in real life!

The hills are turning purple with the heather and the first of the deciduous trees are starting to change colour. The nights are drawing in and rumour has it people have already heard the stags begin to roar. Autumn is definitely chasing summer away.


All Paths Lead to Somerset?

We’re heading to Somerset for our winter away from Croft 3. A place which has called us back on several occasions. Before our 2011 adventure I don’t think we knew anyone in Somerset. Now, thanks to friends we made while WWOOFing, friends we have made while on Rum, and catching up with friends from 20 years ago when we all lived in Sussex, last saw 15 years ago when we lived in Manchester and they were about to move to New Zealand who now live in Somerset we already have a thriving network of people in that corner of the world.

We are starting to work out the finer details of our time off Rum, what we want to get out of that time and how to make the most of the opportunities it will offer. I’ll be posting more about that in the coming weeks. Our current feeling is much like when we were planning our WWOOFing adventure and indeed our move to Rum – trepidation mixed with excitement. I am very much of the opinion that anything which the thought of gives you butterflies is probably exactly what you should do next.

Getting back to that catching up with old friends though… it’s funny how we collect friends throughout the various stages of our lives. The family friends who we just knew from childhood and almost inherited, the friends from school (or in the case of Davies and Scarlett from Home Education), friends from shared or common interests, friends from college or uni (if you go), friends from work, friends from the pub, friends who are local, friends who share your taste in music, games, interests. All sorts of reasons bring us together as humans, there is something mostly undefinable though about what keeps us together. What moves us from colleagues, classmates, acquaintances, neighbours to the level above – the family we choose for ourselves.

Living here with no landline phone, limited opportunities to catch up with friends in real life and pretty brief windows of time to spend online we have inevitably turned to social media like most people in the western world and certainly Davies, Scarlett and I have do a lot of our off Rum socialising on social media such as facebook. I have a couple of facebook friends (who were friends reunited friends before that) from ‘childhood’ who I have stayed in touch with. Our lives have moved in very different directions and we are not remotely in each others lives any more but the wonders of modern technology mean we have a window on each other still. More of my facebook friends are work colleagues through the years from before and after being with Ady but before children. I have a whole swathe of friends from Home Education over the years, many of whom have become my very best friends. Just like meeting at the school gates we shared the ups and downs of parenthood with each other and were there to support and commiserate through the wilderness years of newborns and toddlers, the early years and the teen challenges of parenting. I have friends who share my passions and interests in off grid living, eco conscious lifestyles, friends from WWOOFing, friends from our close and wider local community here on Rum. It’s an eclectic mix which is probably very reflective of my friendship circle in real life.

Sometimes you catch up with people who ‘knew you back when’ and find your lives have diverged to such an extent that the common thread which created the friendship has been snapped and nothing is left. Sometimes you reconnect and despite the years, despite the tangents you have headed off in from each other, despite the lack of shared memories and experiences that spark remains and you find that having led such different lives for years apart simply means you have so much more to talk about and catch up on. Such a meeting with an old work friend of mine (from 19 years ago, when I used to be the menswear and Menswear Manager and she the Restaurant Manager of a well known high street retailer) who I used to give a lift home to on a Friday night, called in once or twice for a glass of wine and met her husband, they then met Ady and a friendship outside of work was formed. All these years later despite me no longer wearing a suit to work while she still does, a move to a different hemisphere and back for them, from one end of the country, half way up, back down and then all the way to the top for us, children- some now adult some not even born back then, it was as though the years melted away and within a really short time new in jokes were formed.

And the very best thing about catching up after 15 years? It turns out they live about 10 miles away from where we’ll be spending this winter.

It’s almost like it was meant to be…


When Plans Change

Our current plan is to head off from Rum sometime in November and return again in the spring, some time in March 2018. While this could mean only missing 7 or 8 weeks of 2017 here on the island the decision has inevitably altered what we have done here this year.

We decided fairly early on to continue as though we would be returning in terms of improving the croft and long term crops while not investing any big money and rationalising our livestock holding over the course of the year.

Our Rum future remains uncertain in as much as we are definitely going off for the winter, definitely coming back in the spring and definitely don’t know what will happen after that! If we decide as a foursome to return to Rum permanently in 2018 then we know we will need to make some changes in our finances – we will effectively be four adults by the end of 2018 and as such we will be looking to find a way to bring more money in, look again at our living spaces and consider how Rum works as a base for us all as individuals looking to further our own personal life goals. As you’d expect we are already talking about this a lot and have a whole load of ideas, possibilities to look into and things we want to learn more about, research further and give more thought and discussion to.

It has meant that the initial goals for this year which we set back at the end of 2016 have not been entirely relevant though, so we recently revisited them to see in what ways we might want to alter them accordingly. Many of our goals for this year were Rum specific and we have not thrown the necessary energy and attention at some of them in order to make them happen. Mostly because we have lost focus in some of those areas. The decision to leave the island for the winter has closed some doors and opportunities and altered our mindsets in many ways but it has also introduced new ideas and thoughts aspirations.

We’re in the throes of setting dates for heading off, finalising what we’ll be doing and where we’ll be doing it and quite what will be happening here on the croft in our absence. Fortunately packing up one life and embarking on the next one is something we’ve done once or twice before. Calendar, notepad and a whole load of logistics are looming large in my near future…