Barefoot Crofting

The weather here (as everywhere else in the UK I think) has been amazing for the last few days. Suncream, sunhats and sunglasses the order of the day.

Yesterday I spent the whole day on the croft walking barefoot everywhere, something I wasn’t even sure I’d ever manage after the rains turning the land to bog!

What else have we been up to?

The Thursday trip on the Shearwater has become a weekly event for us, we are still to see any cetaceans although I did spot a dorsal fin this week, but the boat trip itself is lovely, we have seen all sorts of seabirds and can now fairly reliably identify shearwaters, razorbills and guillemots, gannets, kittiwakes, divers (red throated, black throated, great northern) and more. Dolphins, whales and sharks have all been spotted in our waters the last couple of weeks so we hope it is just a matter of time until we are lucky and see something.

We’ve had more people around for dinner or evenings at the static which feels more like home every day. We are still loving the novelty of beds, sofas, shower and cupboard space after all that time in Willow and getting back into the groove of baking bread, making delicious dinners from scratch and I have also been doing some knitting and crochet with an eye to maybe putting some items for sale in Rum Crafts.

We have enjoyed chatting to visitors, tourists, researchers and students coming to the island for various reasons. This included attending a couple of events hosted by Dr Kevin Butt, Earthworm Expert Extraordinaire! We also hosted a chat up on our croft when 30 plus students came to learn a bit about us and our story and talked to fellow wildlife spotters on the Shearwater who had been reading a press cutting about us and our plans to move to Rum.

Up on the croft the chickens and ducks are properly settled in now, we had our first egg today 🙂

Bonnie is doing well, has more or less learnt sit, come, stay and paw. I feel with four different ‘masters’ she may be a work in progress for quite some time before she reaches One Man And His Dog standards but she’s getting there 🙂

Hopefully a kitten is arriving this coming week. Squee!

Oh, and we have some new faces up at the croft at last. Tom and Barbara, our pigs! They are our breeding pair, just 9 months old at the moment and Gloucester Old Spot Kune Kune cross. Tom is very friendly, cheery and spotty. Barbara is ginger, a little more reserved but still very tame. We’re already totally in love with them and safely so as we will be keeping them for breeding from and just eating their babies rather than them!

They are (as most pigs seem to be) expert escapologists but on the advice of Shiona who sold them to us (and brought them across on the ferry in the back of her landrover) we are NEVER chasing, always leading them and so far they return very happily every time.

They did however follow Dragon and Star down to the river yesterday where they enjoyed cooling off with a good splash and wallow, so maybe we’re leading them a bit astray!

a very common sight – Dragon and Star heading off somewhere on yet another adventure.

sorting out the horsebox. we have finally moved it from the area just inside the croft gate and it now rests further up out of the way.

here! this is our planned camping area and tonight we’ll be taking sausages and marshmallows to cook on the campfire and testing it out along with some beers and the radio to listen to Eurovision!

Tom and Barbara having a dip!

and being led back to their pen again.

Internet access (and indeed electricity) is tricky and in short supply hence the lack of updates. Suffice to say for now we are loving life here and keep pinching ourselves that this view, this place, this life is really ours. We became WWOOF hosts this week and are counting down the days until first family and friends arrive for visits. We can’t wait to share this with people.

Livin’ on an island

Even out here in wildest west coast inner hebrides we have technology you know! Most of the parcels that arrive for us come via (other online retailers are available!). The island has a very fantastic website – you may recognise some of the faces in the ‘news’ section. Various of our fellow islanders have blogs:
Check out Ranger Mike, fellow new arrivals from the Tattie House, and along with a blog you can look at the wonderful range of stuff available at Rum crafts on Fliss’ website.

I remember watching a TV programme as a very small girl about people who lived on a Scottish island. I wish I knew which island it was or could remember more about it but it stayed with me all these years and I can still recall the clip showing the whole population of the island turning out to greet a small rowing boat arriving with the post and some provisions on a rough, wet, windy day. I remember it looking exciting and romantic. Clearly the huge inconvenience of such a lifestyle didn’t strike me as a child, just the sense of adventure, of community and of it being a really interesting looking existance.

Funny how all these years on, with life on a remote island never factoring in my life plan at all until about 6 months ago I find myself here doing just that.

In so many ways the world is a smaller place now, internet and phone makes everything so much easier, when we want groceries or petrol or pretty much anything else you can think of we just get online or make a phonecall and order it. Sure there will be times when the ferries are disrupted and stuff doesn’t arrive (I had the very funny reply to a chased up delivery today from a company that ‘it is showing as dispatched on 10th May, please check with your neighbours incase someone else took it in for you’ – I soon put them straight!) but there is very little out of our reach with a little forethought and planning.

Having registered our address and made enquiries as to how to get on the electoral roll we have obviously alerted some sort of triggers and this mornings post brought a letter from the TV licencing people (no, we’ll not be needing a licence what with not having electricity let alone a TV!) and one from the council tax assessor team (yes we do live here, no we don’t have water, sewerage, mains electric, street lighting, refuse collection… yes we’ll probably still have to pay, which is fine, I want my right to vote and am happy to contribute to secure it). We’re in an odd sort of middle ground of spending £40 to renew our driving licences with our new address but running a car on red diesel with no tax, insurance or MOT because we’re on private roads so don’t need them. As fairly upstanding citizens we have full intentions of paying whatever we should be whilst saving loads of money by not needing other things. An odd sort of halfway house really.

We’ve had some really interesting converations between the four of us as to just what ‘community’ is – what does it mean, who is the community, what are our responsibilities collectively and individually? What are our priorities? Should we support each other, take advantage, lead or follow. What is ‘the greater good’? It’s a fascinating place to be as observers, as participants and as community members. Our opinions are constantly being reformed, shaken up and tipped upside down. We are thriving on the challenges, the learning and the opportunities it presents.

It takes a village to raise a child….

Or is it that a village needs children, along with every other sector of society to be a village in the first place?

I’m not sure, but I am very confident in the ability of this village, our village, to help us raise our children.

I’ve talked here before about how we Home Educate Dragon and Star and touched on our reasons for doing so. Our educational philosophy does not sit tidily within traditional education methods, formal or curriculum based learning or indeed institutionalised education. It relies on passions and interests, flights of fancy and going off on tangents, conversation (lots and lots of conversation), walking round experiencing the most we can from all our senses, constant questions, meeting a wide variety of people and staying alert, curious and interested for every single one of our waking hours. Not putting education into a tidy box with specific folders for various subjects and only opening it for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week during term times.

Friends and family have mentioned their concerns that this style of education worked well for us when we lived near to a couple of cities, had access to many resources and workshops and other Home Educating families but may prove harder to pull off on a remote island. They expressed concerns at the lack of other children (Dragon and Star are two of only five children who live on the island full time – another two commute fortnightly from the local school on the mainland, coming home for weekends and holidays.) and mentioned the potential lack of opportunity for socialising and learning.

As ever we employ a ‘suck it and see’ approach to education – and life in general, open to almost constant reevaluation and discussion. Our lives are still in a state of flux and although I believe there is much to be gained from going with the flow and seeing where it takes you I also like to have a nod towards a bit of a plan too so we have been talking and plotting and deciding on a bit of a rhythm to our lives for now and we’ll see how it goes from here.

Ady is the early riser in our family, always has been (we have larks and owls and all inbetween) so he is the one who gets up, takes Bonnie and wanders up to the croft to let the chickens and ducks out first thing. He enjoys that hour or so to himself (animals excepting) and often returns with tales and photos of deer and other wildlife spotted as he surveys the land. Meanwhile the rest of us get up, breakfast and get dressed. Ady returns and we have some dedicated one to one time – one parent and one child, swapping over each day. The idea is that Dragon and Star drive this time to get help with whatever project they are currently working on. At the moment Dragon is creating two books – one is a ‘write your own story book’ he spotted and asked for, the other a totally made up story he is writing and illustrating for a friend. He has all the plans in his head, he needs a little assistance getting them down onto paper so he is using his one to one time with either parent to cover that. He is also keen to improve his handwriting, spelling and grammar so has been working on that alongside it. Star is keeping a River Diary documenting what she has seen and caught in the river near our croft complete with illustrations. She is also working on her reading and writing so spends some time practising that with help from us.

Everything stops for Popmaster at 1030am – a Wondering Wanderers Institution (Monday to Friday anyway!).

After that it all depends on the day of the week, the weather and what mood we are in. If it’s a ferry day (summer timetable means Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday) we meet the ferry to check for any deliveries, frequently there are at the moment, be it tools, livestock, food (for us or livestock), stuff like fencing. It’s like Christmas four times a week as the whole island turns out to check what has come. If we have stuff to do on the croft then we head up there – so far that has included making bird housing, putting up a fence, erecting a washing line, starting to mark out where we plan to put things. Once our bushcutter arrives (hopefully this week) we’ll be up there strimming and making paths, we have drainage ditches that need digging back out to get them running again and we have pig fencing to put up ready for our pigs to arrive. Once the land registry forms have all come back complete we’ll be able to start applying for grants for half the cost of larger projects such as a polytunnel, shed, compost loo etc.

We have general stuff to be doing in the village too – laundry and shopping, checking in with the IRCT to check for any Odd Job work (we are the Odd Job Person for the trust and do stuff like change over gas bottles for the campsite showers).

We are making the most of all the wonderful events laid on the the islands Ranger Service and so far have attended a couple of walks and talks (we’re off to another one first thing tomorrow morning – rocky shore biodiversity) and intend to make the Shearwater Rum Dolphin & Seabird experience a weekly diary date having been on the last two. A two hour boat trip between Rum and Soay with our own ranger, supplying binoculars, spotter books AND all his expertise in identifying and spotting wildlife along with the amazing skills of Ronnie the skipper on the Shearwater.

We have a little library on the island, housed in the old dairy building but with an impressive stash of books. It is in need of a little love and attention, some cleaning and some alphabetising of titles, maybe a stock take and a freshen up of the stock but what an amazing resource here just a stroll into the village away. My initial contact with the main branch library included an offer to send across relevant material if we let them know the sort of authors and books we like to read so I’m looking forward to a very tailored bookstock sometime soon.

We have a very rich and diverse island here – wildlife inlcudes otters, seals, whales, dolphins, orcas, sharks all coming close enough to the shore to be seen from land, let alone out on boat trips. We have colonies of rare birds including shearwaters, red throated divers, great northern divers, guillemots, razorbills, golden eagles, sea eagles and more. Not to mention the red deer, subject to years of research and with two resident researchers living on the island and happy to share their knowledge with us we’ve already learnt more about these huge mammals in the last three weeks than any book or documentary could teach us. We have Rum ponies, lizards, bats, butterflies and many, many midges ;).

The island is geographically and historically interesting and we have plenty of knowledgable residents here to share what they know along with an almost constant stream of visitors coming to spend time on the island. If rocks and fossil or history and pre-history of mankind is of interest then this is a living museum with a lifetime supply of finding out beneath our feet, out of our windows and beyond. We also have the folly of a museum that is Kinloch castle – subject to many a book, TV programme and speculative tale of excesses, eccentricity and fabulousness and venue of daily tours to show off the faded splendour that exists within it’s walls. People travel across the sea to see it, we live here and can wander round whenever we wish.

Rum is home to a small but very vibrant and diverse group of people. We count within our fellow residents postmistress and shopkeeper, bakers, butchers, stalkers and hunters, rangers and researchers, artists, painters, writers, musicians, carpenters, mechanics, gardeners, poets, crofters, farmers, scientists. We have people here from all over the UK and the rest of the world. So far Dragon and Star have learnt how to bind a book, identify a kittiwake, spot a goose nest, find carnivorous plants, stock the shelves in the shop. They have heard tales of swimming with sharks, training dogs, canoeing round the island, exploring the mountain bothies, where to find the best beaches and uncover the rarest stones. They have been to their first ceilidh, explored secret camps, paddled in the rivers, spotted wildlife, engaged in a full on water pistol fight and welcomed livestock onto our land.

In three weeks Dragon and Star have made 30 odd new friends, with a further several thousand due to come across on the ferries over the coming months. They are learning from every single one of them, far, far more than any classroom or book could ever teach them. There are no limits to the educational value this island and this community can offer them – it’s persuading them to slow down, stop and eat, drink and sleep that is posing me the biggest challenge so far!

Celebrate good times

Today is Ady’s birthday 🙂 He was the first of us to celebrate a WWOOFing birthday last year and the first of us to celebrate a Rum birthday. The challenges of getting stuff here and living as money-less an existance as possible mean his gifts are a collection of handmade and small tokens – cards made by us depicting things that mean something only really to the four of us, a table full of gifts this morning including chocolate muffins (labelled ‘for breakfast’), a tin of biscuits (labelled ‘for snaffling’), a four pack of cans (‘for beer o’clock’) and a sherbert fountain (‘for reliving your childhood’).

We are in the middle of a family ‘Come Dine With Me’ competition – we all take it in turns to cook a three course dinner for the rest of the family and mark each other out of 10. The grand prize is a large bar of chocolate so competition is stiff! Tonight is Dragon’s turn so his dessert will be a home made birthday cake. Star went first and did potato chips with dips for starter, pizza for main and profiteroles for dessert – very impressed with her making the pizza dough and then for her first attempt at pastry pulling off choux (and doing it very well). Ady replicated the potato chips, did a pork in peanut and veg sauce with rice and noodles followed by treacle sponge for dessert. So far Star is winning! Dragon is planning a full roast chicken dinner tonight though so she is by no means secure in her lead! We are loving having a kitchen 🙂

We’ve also been celebrating the third anniversary of IRCT (Isle of Rum Community Trust) being handed over the village of Kinloch from SNH with a ceilidh on Friday night. Our first Rum ceilidh with a fab band, plenty of dancing, a barbecue, a bonfire and lots of happy people. It was lovely to feel so much a part of the community already and we’re looking forward to many more celebrations here to come.

Spoiling you!

Because it’s raining and I don’t fancy walking back up the hill in the rain so I’ll hang out here with internet a wee while longer.

We have livestock!

We spent a couple of days up on the croft cobbling together a duck hut and a chicken coop. After various agonising about just how to house our birds including looking at very expensive housing online, being offered a temporary home in someone else’s chicken coop and clearing out the front section of our horse box just incase we got out out John Seymour book and found inspiration!

Our chicken coop is built from mostly wood. We nailed (using rock tent pegs, the only thing long enough!) two long pieces together to create ends, braced them with smaller bits and dug the poles into the ground a little to give it stability. We then nailed more wood in various places to create a frame and put a pole across the top then made a floor with two pieces of heavy duty plastic and a roof with black plastic sheeting. The ends were cut to size plastic sheeting too and the door closes with string fixed. It doesn’t need to be fox proof and hopefully rats won’t bother climbing up so this should do our flock.

Our duck hut is a wheelie bin! Laid on it’s side with holes drilled in the base (and the door never fully sealed closed). We have covered it with dug out peat and reeds which will hopefully continue to grow to give it a living roof, it also helps give it stability and strength. The door has a bit of a woven twig thing going on although it needs a bit of work.

The whole area has been fenced with stock fencing (about 10 m square area) and they have their feeders, a water tray and plenty of wood to perch on. Eventually we plan to include a portion of the drainage ditch that runs through the land and has free flowing water so the ducks have places to splash and bath.

The birds arrived on the Saturday ferry – ten hens, all rhode island reds, some have names but I forget them all aside from the one I named, Mrs Nesbitt, a cockerel (he’s sort of black and white speckledy with a very floppy comb) called Dave and five ducks who are still squeaky rather than quacky and have fluff instead of feathers in places.

love the way the delivery arrived on the ferry – after a five hour round trip of the islands they were a bit smelly!

we carried them down from the static, a box of birds gets pretty heavy!

This girl was VERY excited about chickens and ducks arriving 🙂
oh yes, very excited 🙂

clipping wings – the ducks had already been done but we did the chickens ourselves to prevent escapees

Dave 🙂 and Ady.

And a quick view of the housing and fenced area. It’s starting to look more like a croft and less like an unused field. Well a bit anyway!

It’s our croft!

Next on the list, pig preparation (we have two ready to make the trip across the water as soon as we’re ready for them), compost heap building and getting the paperwork side of things moving so we are ready to start applying for grants to assist with bigger stuff such as polytunnel, maybe some machinery, laying a track for access and getting our orchard up and running.

Come and see where we live

The static is currently sited along the track, about half a mile from the croft. This is a short term spot but has stunning views so we’re not complaining!

in comes the static, arriving on the ferry
off the lorry and now at the mercy of landrovers and pushing by hand
ready to move further down the track soon
we look like a two car family!
not where it should be but stunning just the same
this is our shower – water heated by gas and currently from a large plastic container which we fill four of each day from down in the village. Feels odd to be paying water rates on filled up containers but it’s considerably less than we paid back down south! Long term we’ll take water from the river and collect rainwater too.
our toilet arrangement – the sink works (hot and cold water), the toilet doesn’t so we are using two camping loos. One for pee and one for poo. The pee gets poured away at the moment but will eventually be used as a compost activator (compost heap one of the top things on this weeks to do list) and fertlizer. It is also good for use for detering deer so may get sprinkled around our crops and young trees on the croft land. The poo one currently gets emptied when we collect water from the campsite. Long term we will have a compost loo set up. The bag contains dirty washing, currently being dealt with at the castle which is used by islanders as a laundrette. Washing line also on job list for this week on the croft so we can make the most of our gorgeous un-typical weather!
Bedrooms! This is Star’s, which she shares with her hamster, Humphrey (his real name, I have briefly debated giving him an online persona too but I didn’t bother for Bonnie and I certainly don;t plan to for the rest of the named livestock so if you are planning on stalking us we really do have a hamster called Humphrey!) Star’s room has a cabin style bed one way, which she is using as a shelf but will be for friends staying,  her bed running under the window (from which she can currently see the river and a heron which fishes there regularly), a folding door wardrobe and a couple of drawers. There is more storage under her bed too.

our bedroom – double bed, triple wardrobe with shelves, drawer unit, two windows, shelf above the bed, little shelves next to each side of the bed. We worked out this weekend that 12v bulbs in normal table lamps work off the sockets so I even have a proper bedside lamp to read with 🙂

Dragon’s room – complete with Dragon in this picture as he was tidying it up a bit. He did have twin beds but we’ve taken one out as the space was more important, it can go back in when friends some to stay. He has a tall wardrobe and a large cupboard and we also moved in the unit behind him which was in the lounge as a TV unit but we don’t have a tv! He also has storage under his bed.
The kitchen area. We have a cooker with four rings and grill (gas), a fridge (also gas) with a little ice box, kitchen sink (hot and cold running water) and many, many cupboards. Three areas of workspace – this is probably a bigger kitchen area than our house in Sussex, let alone in Willow!

This would be the other door but we have blocked it off to make it Bonnie’s space. Her crate fits beautifully in the gap. The blue bag on top is the recycling, bottles and tins go along to the pier to be recycled in the large skips there. There is another skip for general rubbish but if it’s food and can be fed to our livestock we will, if it can be composted we will and if it’s cardboard we’ll mulch with it so hopefully our contribution to landfill will be very small. We’ll also burn anything we can too.

The living space. Table, shelves, gas heater, lots of windows and mirrors make it light and airy. Sofas go around all three walls and there is either storage underneath them or a fold out double bed so we can easily sleep another 3 / 4 people in here.

So there you are, welcome to our home 🙂

Are we home yet?

I rather think we are 🙂

Two weeks tomorrow since we landed, one week yesterday since the static arrived, two weeks today since we collected Bonnie. When I look at the numbers like that I realise just how new and shiny it all still is.

So what have we been up to? We’ve been:

  • Making friends. Learning names and faces, working out where people live, what they do. We’ve been round to visit a few people at their homes and had our first guest round for dinner too.
  • Getting to know the island. This is something I suspect we’ll never fully manage -the island is over 40 square miles, much of it mountainous. It has a rich history both in terms of human habitation (it has some of the earliest proof of human settlers in Scotland, loads of Norse / Viking history, was a large crofting area going way back and then home to an eccentric millionaire before becomming a national nature reserve and is now in the process of a handover to a community owned area.), geological interest and diverse and fascinating wildlife and nature (red deer, sea eagles, manx shearwaters, otters, red throated divers not to mention the marine life sighted just off the coast). There is woodland, scrub, rivers and waterfalls, lochs and more and it all changes with the seasons, the weather and the time of day. The stars are amazing with so little light pollution, the clouds loom in interesting shapes over the peaks and the beaches go from tropical blue to angry grey. We’ve made a great start though with an evening talk, a guided ranger walk to look at flowers, a wildlife spotting boat trip, a beach clean up and plenty of rambles around the village so far.
  • Making a start on getting our home where it needs to be. The static arrived safely last week and is well over half the way from the pier to the croft. Unfortunately the second half will be challenging and tricky. We have the help of one of the islanders in planning and plotting to get it there though and remain hopeful that it will be days rather than weeks rather than months before we are going ‘home’ to a place that is actually on our land. Talking of which we do actually now have official notification of the croft being ours. A paperwork hold-up rather than any particular issue with us meant we have been here with fingers still crossed rather than brows wiped with relief. That is at least all now signed and sealed.
  • Making plans for the croft.  We have chickens and ducks arriving this weekend, pigs in the next couple of weeks and geese following in a couple of months. Now we have the tenancy sorted we are able to start working the croft. First plan is to cut back some of the reeds to create some obvious areas for things: animals, crops etc. We are trying to find ways of building animal housing with reclaimed / recycled materials where possible, obviously we are rather lacking such resources just yet but have been reading our John Seymour and are all inspired by plans using willow and grain sacks – photos to follow (or an admission of defeat and pictures of fancy chicken housing purchased online instead!). We have taken a plot in the community polytunnel and will be starting to cobble together plans for the layout of the croft soon.
  • Enjoying the amazing weather! While the rest of the UK, particularly the south coast is making a mockery of the ‘drout’ status we have been wearing t shirts, getting freckles on our noses and generally basking in a gorgeous spring with blue skies, sunny days and fluffy white clouds.

Definitely more to say – I want to show you around our static with some photos, talk about our plans for livestock and more but for now I’ll leave you with some photos of our first couple of weeks on Rum.

looking out over Loch Scresort

the static arrives

our new home, palatial to us but no castle!

sending postcards to friends

sitting in the river hide the kids built – with Bonnie the dog



goose nest inspection

learning all the time – know your heathers!