Thank You

Only 8 days to go to raise the money for our crowdfunded compost loo. Still over £1000 to go to hit the target or we get none of the funds that have been pledged so far.

That sounds pretty daunting to me. I’ve been putting out the word to family, friends, friends of friends and possibly even their friends too on facebook and twitter and our blog. I’m starting to feel that maybe I am getting close to resembling tinned meat (spam!).
So, why should you help fund our compost loo project? Let’s think about what we will get out of it:

  • A toilet. Currently our family of four create a fair bit of human waste which we dig regular holes to bury. This is time consuming (we’d love to be doing more productive things on the croft instead), a bit of a grim job (I have to be honest, it is mostly Ady who does the hole digging and loo emptying, but I do always make him a nice cup of coffee and praise him lots for doing it) and with winter on the way will either be a wetter, muddier job (if it rains) or a cold and lonely job (if it doesn’t). A compost loo will mean we can just nip outside to do our business rather than store it in a portapotty or walk down to the village, a mile away.
  • Improved facilities for guests / visitors / volunteers. Until we have decent toilet facilities we are not able to offer camping on the croft, play host to the people we’d love to invite to stay or start getting volunteers to come and stay on the croft and work with us. We spent last year traveling the UK as WWOOF (willing workers on organic farms) volunteers on a scheme where in exchange for food and lodgings you work an agreed number of hours per day for your host. An excellent scheme where everyone wins – except without a toilet we are not able to accept volunteers.
  • A feeling that we are indeed doing something that people support and believe in. It would be fantastic to know that even though our chosen lifestyle is not for everyone there is still a lot of support for a simpler life, a less consumer driven existance and a return to the basics.

What you get:

  • The chance to make all of the above happen – yay you! Feels good to have a magic wand eh?!
  • Rewards – you can choose to come and visit or camp on the croft, you can have a piece of the toilet wall to do what you wish with – post a message, advertise something, do some graffiti, whatever you like,
  • An interesting fact about yourself to talk about at dinner parties, at work tomorrow, to add to your facebook status or tweet about. You can add it to your CV and tell anyone you like about how you helped fund a compost loo for a family of crazies who upped and left the world they knew to go and live in a field on an island!

I believe that’s what they call win:win!

But you know what, if we don’t do it this time, if we hit the end date for the crowdfunder website next Monday then I still want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has pledged money so far. We launched the crowdfunding idea with reservations as to whether it would work. It felt odd asking people to send money for a loo they’d probably never use themselves. It’s been overwhelming to have the levels of support from family, friends, friends of friends and complete strangers in this project. I’m still believing we could make it happen this time, this way and it’s you out there sharing this on twitter, facebook and blogs aswell as pledging money that gives me that belief. So thankyou 🙂

Pick it up as you go

We’ve been blessed with some unseasonably warm weather this week, I think much of the UK has been the same. It’s odd being pretty much out of contact with the rest of the world. We listen to the radio every day so hear the news headlines and keep up to date with friends online but we are really out of the loop. This year we won’t be able to nod to each other and say ‘Now it’s Christmas!’ when we see the Famous Grouse ad for the first time that year, or roll our eyes when advent calendars appear in the shops in August. It’s nice though, I like feeling the turning of the seasons by judging how many layers to wear and gauging how low in the sky the sun is sitting and feeling the first tingling of festive excitement about Christmas because of the smell of bonfire smoke and fireworks in the air and getting dark at 5pm means it is on it’s way.

We’ve gone to the winter ferry timetable this week, it’s getting darker quicker every day and of course the clocks go back this weekend. There is talk on the island of the firework party on the beach, of a Christmas Fayre and of course Hogmanay. Jinty’s shop is changing opening hours for the winter and we’re seeing a whole new set of wildlife as birds migrate and animals enter the next phase of their calendars. The deer rut is coming to a close, our chickens and ducks are coming off lay with the shortening daylight hours and even Bonnie the dog is happy to lay around sleeping of an evening now it’s dark and cold outside. I’m missing a cat curled up on my lap even more now than ever before…(and not just because it’s cold and cats make excellent hot water bottles!).

But while the sun has shone we’ve had a good and productive week. We have got all our winter gas bottle supply up to the static while the river has been running low enough to drive across and the croft has been just about dry enough to drive up the hill. With sensible use we should have enough gas to power our boiler for hot water, our cooker and our gas fire until the spring. We also have a portable gas fire with a full gas bottle too. We have done an inventory on animal feed and our own tinned food store in the horse box and made lists of what we have. We are hoping to get a chest freezer sometime in the next couple of weeks which will mean we are able to stash meat, fish and dairy produce when it is on special offer at the CoOp and we can batch cook when the oven is on to get some dinners in the oven. Cooking in the evening creates lots of condensation, particularly when cooking on the hob rather than in the oven so any advance cooking we can do will help ease that.

We have taken to having our first and last cups of tea of the day out on the sporran. It’s lovely watching the sky change colour twice a day as the sun climbs up, staggers across the sky and then drops back down the other side again, like a really big tennis ball in slow motion chucking out rainbows of colour behind it as it goes.

Dragon and Star have spent most of their week outside, training the dog to do various tricks, playing in the river, messing about with the chickens, ducks and geese. They spent some time inside today with the lego and we found a stash of books in the horsebox yesterday that Star and I had only been talking about the day before so we’ve read some of them and have the rest lined up ready to go. We’re all looking forward to cosy afternoons under a blanket reading aloud this winter. They did some more bird ringing assisting on Tuesday with Ranger Mike  and were witness to the ringing of various birds including songthrush, redwing, blackbird, robin, dunnock, great tits and chaffinch.

What else have we been up to this week? Soup, we’ve eaten a lot of soup and we made soda bread for the first time yesterday which I really liked but no one else was quite so keen on. And we’ve had lots of bonfires – plenty of burning rubbish to be done, which Dragon and Star are always up for.

We’ve watched lots of films this week too – Labyrinth, Jumanji, Parent Trap, Holes. And we did some youtubing of some music videos that I had been telling the kids about – Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel, I’m Still Standing – Elton John. Dragon has been learning about playlists on Ady’s old mp3 player and creating various favourite track playlists. Like the teenager in training he is at 12 he often repeats a track 3 or 4 times in a playlist though. Currently he and Star have been listening to Puppy Love, Copacobana and various hits by Queen. Their taste is nothing if not eclectic! All this interspersed with DSing and playing Angry Birds on Ady’s phone, drawing endless pictures and Star’s current favourite activity of counting down the days until her birthday (still well over a month away).

We’ve been doing lots of star gazing too, the sporran is perfect for standing out on and looking upward. It’s been a very bright moon this week which means the contrast is less and the skyline of the cuillins is still very visible even in the middle of the night but we’ve been picking out various planets and constellations and looking out for shooting stars. We listened to a play on the radio this week about what might have happened if the moon landing in 1969 had not been a success which was really interesting and sparked off all sorts of conversations. Dragon, Star and I also had a slightly surreal conversation about what would be the most fun thing to do if we scooped up all the fallen leaves on Rum into one big pile.

Cutting it fine.

There are 11 days to go to raise our total of £2000 for our compost loo using the Crowdfunder website. If we don’t raise the money via that method then we will continue raising money via the donate button but it would be fantastic if we achieved it this time and could get work started on the making the compost loo happen.

I can’t edit the rewards to include the newly added ones but if you have already donated I will get in touch once we reach the goal to offer you these options too.

  • Visits to the croft – day trips, camping visits all offered as part of the funding rewards. If you help us fund our compost loo you get to come and use it. Can’t say fairer than that!
  • Space to have your say inside the loo – graffiti, wall art, advertise – you name it, you get to put it up inside our loo if you help us raise the cash to raise the walls in the first place.
  • Donate in someone else’s name as a gift idea. Anniversary, birthday or very efficient Christmas shopping – help fund the loo and Dragon and Star will design you a gift notification to wrap up and present to your chosen recipient to tell them that people can have a poo in their name here on Croft 3!
  • We can name a bit of the loo after you. Someone has already asked for the lock on the door to bear their name but still up for grabs is the loo seat, the lid, the loo roll holder, a peg for the back of the door, the floor, the roof, the antibacterial handwash dispenser, the solar powered lighting. You name it, you can name it!

For want of a better turn of phrase it’s the final push now, please help if you can and spread the word too!

Six months in

Last Saturday marked our 6 month anniversary of arriving on the Isle of Rum. Half a year already.

In many ways it has flown, days whizz by, weeks seem to hurtle past us in a blur. For people who don’t actually have jobs any more we never seem to have a spare moment. I am still to be found biting my lip and fretting over what we have not yet done and desperately writing myself job lists to get on with and deadlines to meet.

But, I want to take stock. To celebrate and congratulate. It has certainly not been six months without challenges and frustrations, this is no easy ride and with every victory and success will come another hurdle to overcome. We are learning all the time and very honest about our lack of experience, knowledge and skills in some areas. We are also very realistic about our strengths, our passion, enthusiasm, vision and eagerness to learn, to take risks and put up with the downs in order to experience the highs.

Let’s look at what have made happen in our first six months:

Setting up our home. 

The arrival of the static to the island – 25th April 2011

Moving the static after 6 weeks cited along the nature trail with daily passers by peering in at us and a twice daily walk to the croft to see to the animals

our lowest ebb

On the croft, with kilt, insulated, bolted down, safe

Power comes by way of two solar panels, water from two water butts collecting rain off the roof. There is more to do and I hope by this time next year to be sitting in a permanent dwelling with the static being used as holiday accommodation, WWOOFers housing , somewhere for family and friends to stay. But it’s a victory to be here at all, certainly many a person declared it an impossibility to get it here at all.

We had very much hoped to have crops in but had not taken into consideration the condition of the soil here. Currently if we were to plant stuff in the ground it would rot in it rather than growing. We need to tackle drainage, consider raised beds, polytunnels, soil improvement measures. We have some fruit bushes in, come the spring we will be ready to launch ourselves at a whole fresh start of growing season and hope to be eating our own harvest come next October.

But what we didn’t sort out in crops we have achieved in livestock: Getting livestock here is not straightforward either. We ordered our birds from Donald ‘the hen’ on Skye. They arrived in crates, on the ferry. When we first ordered them we expected to have been here for about six weeks before they came, in the end due to various nothing-to-do-with-us delays we were only here for a fortnight before the birds came. Not only that but instead of being on the croft ourselves as we’d anticipated we were still stuck halfway down the nature trail track.Cue hurried bird housing construction using foraged and donated materials and lots of creative thinking.

We now have laying chickens and ducks and a very lovely pair of geese – only the cockerel – Davy Cockerel and the geese – Margo and Jerry are named. We did have two chicks hatch already but sadly lost them both to an unknown predator – probably either bird of prey or maybe even otter! Next year we’ll isolate any new hatchlings for a while until they are bigger and safer. Next on our list is a drake for our ducks, another couple of pairs (or trios) of geese and turkeys – lots of turkeys. We’re debating getting young birds to bring on or investing in an incubator and hatching bought in fertilised eggs. We still want goats and I’d really keen to keep bees, but all in good time.

Bonnie, we arrived with her having collected her on our way, the day before we came to Rum. She’s grown a lot and is learning many new tricks and spends lot of her day rounding up ducks and geese

this little girl cites having birds as one of her favourite things about our life here

love a duck!

taking pigs for a walk!

eggs, eggs for sale

she loves geese too

Tom and Barbara pig – hoping they are parents by this time next year

We moved here to be crofters, to use our eight acres for all sorts of different things – we want to build a home, grow our own food and some extra to sell, rear livestock for meat and produce. We want to spend time making, baking, preserving and crafting and have already done lots of bartering produce with other islanders, selling eggs to the castle and the shop, selling crafts and baking at the Market Day to tourists or through the Craft Shop. We have short and long term plans for the croft including getting ourselves ready to take WWOOFers next year, offer camping on the croft and start building a home and developing the land to grow food. In order to do this we need to get a compost loo installed and then work on improving the facilities as and when manpower and funding allows. We have various creative ideas for raising money to do this including our current crowdfunder pitch for our compost loo  but we have other plans for the future including setting up residential training workshops for green buildings, alternative technologies and other permanent fixtures for the croft, getting an expert in to run the workshop and selling places to cover the cost of materials and paying the expert. The plan is to share the croft with as many people as possible, creating a place where people come to learn, be inspired, enlightened and share skills, ideas and creativity.

This is the view from the front door this morning

and this evening

Doesn’t it look like a place where dreams can come true?

Our biggest draw in coming to Rum though was to be part of a community. We wanted to go where everybody knows our name (spot the TV theme tune!). We wanted to be somewhere where we could make a difference, have a voice, influence, shape and have greater control over decisions that affect us. We wanted to be somewhere where we can make a difference. We can’t change the world, but we can change our world. We stayed last year in intentional communities where people had chosen to live with others and created their own vision of what a community should be. We stayed in places where there were many families or just a couple, where decisions were made by consensus, democracy, majority vote, elected council or just heavy handed dictatorship. This model of a community, a society appealed to us most of all we witnessed. An eclectic mix of people, all here for different reasons but by active choice. Not all with the same agenda or vision but with a common goal. Not living every day in perfect harmony rather more like an orchestra still warming up at the beginning – with discord and sometimes jarring notes, a lack of perfect timing and clarity but with the potential to all come together and be amazing, breathtaking, for brief periods maybe even perfect.

When we were interviewed by some of the people who are now our fellow Rumics for the croft we were asked what we could bring to the community. Our answer was that if we moved here we would be expecting Rum to be our everything – our home, livelihood, meet all our social, cultural, educational, emotional needs. In order to expect that of Rum we needed to be prepared to take our share of responsibility in helping it to become all of the above.  We’d need to be putting in just as much as we were getting back (yes, I did filch a large part of that from Mrs Grayling’s welcome speech to the girls joining Malory Towers. It moved me aged 9 or 10 when I first read it and it stayed with me ever since!).

Six months in Rum is indeed our home, it is where we earn our living (or are certainly starting to) and it is our community, filled with our friends. We participate in events, celebrations, commiserations, meetings, consultations. We volunteer our time for various moving-things-forward and developing initiatives. We help with ideas and making things happen.

Blasda food festival communal meal, September

Climbing to the top of Hallival, June

party in the static, May

Midgefest, August

Mike’s birthday, May

Concert at the hall, June

the day the static reached the croft, June

Pimms O’clock Jubilee party, May

celebrating birthdays, July

Midgefest again, August

last Sheerwater trip of the year, September

sunset barbecue at Harris, June

Eagle walk, July

And in true Wondering Wanderer fashion, we have a bad, good, learnt from everyone summing up the first six months on Rum.

Star –
Bad – the condensation in the static is hard. It gets on my toys and books and can make them mouldy if we don’t clean it off. It’s pretty muddy and marshy on the croft (I should point out that mud is not actually a problem for Star, it’s a problem for us but she gets nagged about getting too muddy!).

Good – There are beautiful views and I love having animals. I love watching the seasons change, the hills and trees are all changing colour. I love making models on the croft with the mud and clay (see I told you she didn’t actually mind the mud!) I really like meeting lots of new people – people who live on Rum all the time like us and people who visit like tourists. I’m really excited about our first Chrismas and I think it will be really cosy in the static this winter.

Learnt – lots of different types of birds on Rum, learnt about bird ringing, learnt a bit about venison processing from Mumma and Daddy. I know more about how to look after pigs and I have also learnt a bit more about chickens, ducks and geese.

I asked Star to sum up our first six months in one sentence. She replied

“It is totally wicked!”

Bad Moving the static was stressful. I miss my Xbox (it is only in the horsebox but we have no electricity or screen to hook it up to so he can’t play it) and I do miss family and sometimes friends.

Good I think we fit into the community really well. We did get the static up here although it was hard. I enjoying spending time with the different people here and learning from them. I am really looking forward to the winter, snuggling up in the static doing indoor stuff. I like having my own bedroom again and it is bigger than I thought it would be.

Learnt – From Ranger Mike I have learnt about bird ringing, bird identification and lots of scientific names for birds. From Claire I have learnt some magic tricks and bookbinding. From Jinty I have learnt about shopkeeping, from Steve I have learnt about game design and modelling. From Sandy I have learnt a bit about making stuff from wood.

One sentence:

“Good, epic, fantastic, brilliant!”

Bad –  I worry about the weather and the static, particularly the wind. I do worry about our home getting damaged by the wind. There is a lot of frustration in getting things from A to B here, everything is challenging, getting things up hills, having to carry stuff by hand. The toilet and water situations make life harder than I’d like it to be. These things are more challenging than bad though really.

Good The unity of the community. When things are bad everyone really pulls together to offer support – morale and actual physical support. The views are amazing. I love the freedom to do what we want on the croft. The bareland croft is a challenge but it is also a truly blank canvas to do things our own way.

Learnt – a whole new way of life. We’re getting used to listening to the world around us – we need to get dinner sorted before it’s dark or we’re cooking by candlight, we need to ensure everything is strapped down when wind is forecast, to get stuff in the car across the river before it rises when it rains. I have learnt that people really do still help each other and go out of their way for others here, not like back in the mainland where we are from where although we talked to our neighbours we never offered to lend a hand or just mucked in because we knew what was going on in each others lives.

One sentence?

“Leo Sayer.”

I need to explain this – Ady has a default answer to Popmaster if he ever doesn’t know the real answer of just saying ‘Leo Sayer’. He says he now gives it as an answer to anything if he feels under pressure and doesn’t know what to say! He then came back with:

“This is a pioneering lifestyle in an epic way. To come from suburbia to this is the opposite of what generations before us have been doing.”

Which just leaves me.

Bad – I’m struggling here really because even the frustrations and challenges mean that when you do achieve something it feels all the more of a victory so I’d not want to wave a wand and make it all too easy. Although we do have plenty of friends here and I feel very comfortable in the company of various people here I do miss friends and family. It’s hard being 600 miles away from my Mum, Dad and brother (particularly when he is expecting his first baby very soon and I’d love to be closer to share in that), my sister in law, brother in law, nieces and nephew. I have local friends down in Sussex who I miss and we are out of the loop of getting together as regularly as we used to with other friends too, really relying on them to come and visit us instead of us attending parties, camps, shared holidays and get togethers.

Good I think this blog has pretty much been a tribute to how much I love Rum for the last six months so I’ll not bore anyone with it all again, simply echo what the others have said. It is beautiful, I love the freedom, the sense of adventure, the endless opportunities and possibilities. I am loving building not only our home but also helping to build our community. I love the group events and celebrations and the feeling that we are part of something bigger than us. A real magical moment for me was Dragon’s birthday when so many of the community came out to share his birthday came, sing Happy Birthday to him and give him gifts. It demonstrated to me that in such a short time to feel so much at home and a part of everything meant we are in the right place. Seeing Dragon and Star so free and happy and full of wonder at their world also warms my heart and assures me we have made the right choice to come here.

Learnt I have also learnt lots from Ranger Mike about wildlife. I can identify lots of birds and sealife. I’ve learnt also from Ali and Martyn on the deer project, from Lesley on the Rum ponies. I’ve learnt something from pretty much every person here about island life, the history of Rum. I’m learning all the time about crofting, living in a static, keeping pigs and geese, compost loos, rainwater harvesting. I’m mostly learning about how much I still have to learn!

My one sentence – hmm brevity is not my strong point!

“Rum is everything I hoped, nothing I imagined and more than I dreamed. It’s home.”

Skirting round the issue

We’re another massive step further in the right direction – the static now has it’s skirt on. Actually as we are in Scotland we’ve decided to call it a kilt, albeit one with invisible tartan and nothing very interesting underneath!

Not only does the static have a kilt though it also has a veranda, or platform, or decking… or maybe we should start calling that our sporran!

It is going to make a massive difference having it done for lots of reasons: it should be warmer, we have insulated underneath and now we have blocked the air flow too it is already noiceably warmer underfoot with no pocket of cold air constantly circulating under there. It should be much more secure now too against wind – it cannot now howl and whistle underneath. The framework around the kilt and the sporran means it is also heavier and more secure generally, there is definitely less wobble to the whole thing as you walk from one end of the static to the other. Finally it just looks sooooo much nicer now.

As with so many of the things we have achieved here we could not have done this alone, infact we can take barely any credit at all. A massive amount of the wood was given to us by Billy the builder – the same Billy the builder who lent us his mats to get the static up here and has generally been a source of comfort and support to us ever since we moved here. A load more of the wood is reclaimed pallets that come off the ferry when deliveries arrive on the island. We have been very lucky to have plenty of them shoved our way as people know we make use of them. The biggest thanks though has to go to Sandy who not only gave us various bits of wood but also spent three days up here with us directing, coaching, cutting, measuring and generally making it all happen. The practical and moral support that Sandy and Fliss have offered us since we arrived on Rum has been huge and we feel very lucky to have arrived somewhere and made such amazing friends so quickly.

It’s been a gorgeous week on Rum with cold, crisp, clear skies and autumn colours getting prettier by the hour. I looked out of the window yesterday and saw our chickens, ducks and geese scratching about outside, the kids and dog running around down by the river and it brought a tear to my eye to think how lucky we are. I commented to Ady that we this was someone else’s life I had been given a glimpse of I would be envious beyond belief. Throughout all our dreaming last year and lists of what would make a perfect place to settle down I don’t think we ever dared hope we’d find everything we have here.

Our compost loo fund is growing daily with a couple of very generous donations just in. We are going to be pushing it to meet the deadline and raise all the money though so I am continuing to think of creative ways to persuade people to join in and support us with it. If you have any cunning plans please do let me know – time is running out! every penny helps!

50 things…

Eagle eyed readers may have spotted a little green box newly appeared on the blog in the last week or so. It’s because we have joined the UK Home Families blogring. Once upon a lifetime ago (it seems) when we first started our Home Ed adventure and blogging was still something most people had never heard of we were members of an early years blogring and the support and friendships that crossed over from cyberspace into real life are ones we still hold today. Infact, three of the families who have already visited us here on Rum were also members of that blogring, nearly 10 years ago now, which just goes to show how vital those links were to us.

This blog began as a documentation of our travelling adventure in 2011, has morphed into a diary of our new life here as crofters on Rum but is also a representation of one of the many different ways to home educate in the UK, even if it only represents our unique family’s journey. I know how much comfort, support and inspiration I took in our early days as home educators in reading the daily, weekly, monthly accounts and musings of other Home Educators. I know that being able to peek into other people’s worlds, celebrate and commiserate alongside them on their ups and downs was the equivalent of the school gates chit chat for me. I did keep a specifically Home Ed related blog for a few years, which can be seen at and covers some of the earlier stuff (way back when Dragon was Monster and Star was Teeny) but when Jax at Making it Up started up a new blogring and Merry at Patch of Puddles (another two fellow blogring members from 10 years ago now very much real life friends even if they’ve not made it to Rum – yet 😉 ) assured me as a family who Home Educate we qualify to join with this blog I was persuaded to jump in and add the little box to the blog.

If you have arrived here by clicking on that box from someone else’s blog then welcome, it’s good to have you here. We have Home Educated our children from the very beginning, never using school or nursery. Dragon is 12, Star is nearly 10 and we follow a very autonomous, learning through life type philosophy. Our children have a lot of freedom, very big voices (literally as anyone who comes close enough to hear will know and in terms of being listened to, taken seriously and having a equal say in what happens in our family) and in our opinion a pretty perfect childhood, learning what they need to know, as and when they need to learn it.

If you arrived here by different means then bear with me while I blog the odd post here and there related to Home Education – it’s very much a part of who we are as a family and underpins a lot of our choices and directions in life. We are by no means a definitive example of how people Home Educate and if you 3/4are interested in learning more or finding out about other approaches then clicking on that little box and having a read of other Home Ed family blogs would be a great place to do so.

Some of the bloggers on the ring have been talking about the National Trusts 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4 which is a really interesting challenge. Helen at Petits Haricots did a fab post inlcuding many pictures. Another of those now real life friends, infact I was peering closely at her pics as I am fairly sure we’ve done a fair few of the 50 things alongside their family and Anni at T Bird Anni Rides Again (yet another, infact the first fellow Home Educator we ever met way back when…) has also gone through the list. I think that as I was intending a specifically Home Ed slanted blog post to celebrate being part of the blogring it is a great way of showing just how Home Ed works for us here at Wondering Wanderers, so here goes…

Climb a tree.
Hard to believe there is a child around who hasn’t really. Dragon and Star have been doing it since they could walk!

appropriate footwear not essential!
that’s Star at the very top there, Ady can’t bear to look!

Roll down a really big hill 
I’m going with the same really big hill as lots of my friends rolled down because we all rolled down it together. We’ve done hill rolling in other places too but I think this was the most fun!

At our friends, Stepping Off The Path, *the* best hill for rolling down, ever.

Camp out in the wild 
We have done a lot of camping. In tents, in official campsites, in friends gardens and fields aswell as on our own croftland. In our campervan in all sorts of places and Dragon and I spent a night under a tarp on a campcraft weekend for his tenth birthday present.   

very tiny, I think our first camping trip.
what’s that in her hands?

proper wild camping – Dragon and I slept under this tarp for a night

Skim a stone – Aside from our couple of years living in Manchester we have never lived more than a mile or so from a beach. Skimming stones is something Ady takes very seriously as a skill to be passed on to his offpspring. I meanwhile have still to master the art! We’ve also skimmed stones on lochs too!

banks of a Scottish loch – stone skimming is not just for seasides

finding the perfect skimmer can become something of an art form!

Run around in the rain  – so we live in the UK!, Currently we even live in one of the rainiest places in the UK. My children rarely stop running around, therefore running around in the rain is something they do a fair bit of! I put ‘rain’ into my flickr stream as a search and it turned up over a thousand pictures, all featuring Dragon and Star getting wet. Here are just a few…

open air concert in the rain (running around happened afterwards)

nature spotting whatever the weather

not her real hands!

Fly a kite – ah yes! When we lived in Sussex we would try and get to the kite festival in Brighton every year. It was a fab day out and always had the best examples of extreme kites. We participated in a couple of kite making workshops (infact we ran one at Home Ed camp one year) and Dragon got kites for this birthday and his previous birthday.

on holiday in Cornwall

Brighton Kite Festival

Rosemarkie beach, flying his birthday gift stunt kite

Catch a fish with a net  – Star spent ages when we first arrived on Rum standing on the river bank catching fish with her net. We’ve also caught fish with rods and eaten them too but that’s another story!

Kinloch river, Isle of Rum

Eat an apple straight from a tree – these are two children who definitely never believed apples came from Tescos! 

PYO, Sussex

sometimes the best ones are just out of reach…

Play conkers They certainly gather them every year – they already have an impressive haul from the Rum horsechestnut trees this autumn. I don’t think they have ever done the threading them on string and bashing them together… 

looking for the perfect conker

Throw some snow – given we have never really lived in a snow-rich part of the country this is still something Dragon and Star have managed to do. From full scale snowball fights with lots of friends to a rather memorable indoor / outdoor snowball fight one year through downstairs windows in the house they have certainly lobbed their fair share of the white stuff!

pink cheeked and full of fun

nothing makes kids smile like a snowball fight!

Hunt for treasure on the beach – beaches – see earlier comment re beaches. Treasure? Well come and see Dragon and Star’s bedrooms, filled to bursting with ‘treasures’ many of which washed up on sandy and rocky shores. Sea glass, precious shells, interesting stones and of course seaweed, creatures and other such things I refused to allow them to bring home with them!

serious treasure hunting!

note the armfuls of ‘treasure’

Make a mud pie – Dragon and Star not only make mud pies they have created a whole mud world! Down on the river bank next to the croft exists GloopaLoopa world, a whole kingdom created from mud with monarchy, parliament, shopkeepers, farmsteads and a whole micro society. Pies are apparently for mud amateurs!

mud, mud, glorious mud

Dam a stream – yep! An example of their early work on a very small drainage ditch, they have since moved on to changing the flow of rivers!

Hoover dam standard yet to be reached

Go sledging – We do have sledges and there are grand plans to be heading down our rather steep hill on the croft should the weather cooperate this winter but we have yet to manage sledging, due only to weather conditions never proving suitable. They have slid down all sorts of other things, just not snow!
 Bury someone in the sand – again I refer you to earlier comments on beaches, buried others, been buried, never lost the car like in that famous vehicle recover advert of my childhood! 

where exactly did you bury the Star?

Set up a snail race – complete with proper finish line and nail varnish dots on shells to mark who was who!

see the ambition in his eyes to race this monster!

Balance on a fallen tree – you betcha!

with the aid of a trusty stick!

playing with perspective too

Swing on a rope swing   – many a rope swing. The sort of activity that parents either can’t bear to watch or queue up to join in with. I’ll let you guess which of those Ady and I might be…

some pictures of a halcyon childhood can only be shot in sepia!

Make a mud slide – Oh yes! Now we live on a ready made one!

look out below!
but someone has to wash all those muddy bottomed trousers!

Eat blackberries growing in the wild – no photographic evidence but stained purple fingertips are enough to incriminate them!
Take a look inside a tree – living and dead  

we could live in there!

Visit an island – the Isle of Wight by ferry, Anglesey via bridge, St Michaels Mount by walking the path and little boat back when it got cut off, wee islands in the middle of large lakes by rowing boat. The isle of Eigg last year, Canna very recently and of course we now live on a remote Scottish island ourselves. I think we can tick that one off!

rowing to an island
Feel like you’re flying in the wind – and these are two children with perfect flowing locks to capture great photos of it too!  
Glastonbury Tor

Great Orme, North Wales

Make a grass trumpet –another one Ady has done with them because while they managed it before 11 3/4 I have reached 38 3/4 without being able to do it!

Hunt for fossils and bones – various visits to famous fossiling haunts such as Lyme Regis on the Jurassic coast and a very exciting fossil huntingworkshop session with paleontologist on Hastings beach including smashing rocks open to find the treasures within. 

Watch the sun wake up – more than once! Most memorably up on Devils Dyke with a promenading storyteller telling the story of how the devil tried to stop the sunrise while we watched dawn break and the sun climb into the sky while drinking hot chocolate.

Climb a huge hill – Hmmm, that feels like a daily occurance. We’ve scaled a hill or two in our time, probably most recently Hallival here on Rum.

atop Hallival with Vikki

Get behind a waterfall – yes, can’t think where but I know they’ve done it because I remember it being in an Enid Blyton story we read and them being excited because they’d done that themselves.
Feed a bird from your hand  – Oh indeed. Chickens, ducks, geese, quails and bantams that belong to us and a whole host of other birds that didn’t.

Star with Lucky, one of the ducklings she hatched.

feeding geese at a sanctuary before we kept our own!

Hunt for bugs –  Most definitely. Hunted for, found, identified, photographed, named and written biographies for bugs and beasties of all descriptions!

bug hunting in the back garden
a cool find

Find some frogspawn – we’ve found frogspawn in ponds and rivers and rescued some from grandad’s fish pond before it all became fish food. We bought the frogspawn on from tadpoles to froglets. We also created a nature pond at our allotment back in Sussex and hoped for frogspawn.

searching for frog spawn

Catch a butterfly in a net  – and moths too. Most recently as part of a ranger event here on Rum infact. 

Track wild animals – We have often been out armed with spotted books looking at footprints, poo and other tracks and trails of animals. Our most rewarding remains finding otter footprints and spraints along a river bank and then being treated to a glimpse of one. We also spent hours this summer aboard the Shearwater boat trailing dolphins, whales and seabirds and were treated to all sorts of sealife spotting experiences.

Discover what’s in a pond – from garden ponds to dew ponds, organised pond dipping events at nature reserves to simply dipping in their toes and seeing what nibbles them there is no shortage of pondlife discovery here.  

Grandad’s pond – haven for introduced fish

Organised pond dipping event

Call an owl– many times while camping we have listened to owls calling and called back to them. Both children have also experienced wearing a gauntlet and calling an owl to land on their arm with some food.

Longleat, Barn owl


Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool – rockpooling is a family favourite activity – I think we’ve explored north, south, east and west coasts of UK rockpools now along with some of the surrounding islands. Crabs, anenomies, wee fish, limpets and barnacles all seen, identified and marvelled at.

spot the starfish

rockpool gold!

serious rockpooling!

Bring up a butterfly – we’ve done this a few times. Once with an official set from Insect Lore with a pop up butterfly garden and a pot of little caterpillars and then several further times with caterpillars we collected from the garden along with a few of whatever leaf they were on. We’ve hatched painted ladies and cabbage whites. One of those amazing things to witness along with collecting frogspawn and incubating eggs.

Catch a crab – Very comprehensively! From rockpooling to setting out crab lines off the side at Weymouth, to going out with Uncle Ian in his boat to collect creels and bringing them home to cook and prepare them for eating. I’m not sure that is quite as far as the 50 things list is meaning but never let it be said we are not thorough!

crabbing with lines at Weymouth

a find!

another one!

more crabs

preparing it for dinner

cooking the catch

admiring the beauty

Go on a nature walk at night – again we’ve done various nature reserve organised events – bat walks, badger walks, moth trapping etc. Plus lots of being out at night when camping, or just going for a walk in the dark, armed with torches left off for as long as possible. We’ve gazed at stars, listened to owls and spotted bats. Star has a night vision monocular which we have taken out for better vision at night too.

night time does not make for the best photos! This was pretending to be bats on a bat detecting walk.

and here is a toad discovered while on a nighttime nature walk when we were camping.

Plant it, grow it, eat it – yep, at home in the garden, up on our old allotment and hopefully for many years to come here on the croft. While WWOOFing last year they also did plenty of every step of sowing, growing, harvesting and eating but of course moving on so frequently they only got to do one bit of the cycle at any one place.

Go wild swimming – Yep, in rivers, seas, lakes and lochs. 
Go rafting – I’m not sure they have actually. Rowing boats certainly and canoes but maybe not rafting.
Light a fire without matches – both have had their own firesteel for years having attended Forest School, bushcraft sessions and other such firelighting activities. They have also managed to light by sparking iron pyrite against flint and had a go at friction fire lighting with bow saws and old fashioned rubbing two sticks together! Oh and of course magifying glass and sunlight!

Find your way with a map and compass – they have also been taught how to use stars or the sun to navigate. Something we’d like to do more of and live in the perfect place to learn more about with our rugged landscape and off the beaten track places to explore.
Try bouldering– I didn’t actually know what bouldering was I have to confess. But I’ve looked it up and it turns out they have! I’ve found a few definitions including low level rock climbing without ropes and the climbing wall type stuff using harnesses too.

Cook on a campfire – marshmallows and bannock bread to full on dinners cooked over the fire.

Try abseiling – No! Star is actually quite scared of heights so this would certainly not be one for her. The opportunity to try has never come up.
Find a geocache – I should probably get out of the way here and now that I personally HATE geocaching. I hate the idea that in order to have a walk you need to be lured with the promise of ‘treasure’ or something to find. I hate the competitiveness of the last minute scramble to be the one to find the cache if you are doing it with a group and I hate even more the exchange of plastic tat. For that reason I stand very aloof with geocaches. However lots of our friends are really into it so actually we have done loads of them, mostly with me at the back of the group flatly refusing to look and moaning loudly! Dragon and Star quite enjoy it though so it can certainly be ticked as done, many times over.

Canoe down a river – Dragon has done this with Badgers when at camp. Both have been out to sea in canoes and on lakes and replicated the experience on numerous theme park rides!

I make no apology for the photo heavy post – I’ve really enjoy trawling back through years worth of pictures and reliving memories of holidays, day trips, adventures and times with friends. In searching through my flickrstream I was amazed at how many photos are tagged with things like ‘beach’, ‘rockpool’, ‘nature’ and ‘river’. Dragon and Star are certainly not out of touch with the natural world, adventures out of doors or an education in all things nature and wildlife based.

We are very fortunate to have such a diverse landscape here on Rum with rivers, lochs and miles of coastline, peaks and valleys, woodland and moorland, miles of empty countryside occupied only by wildlife and our own little version of urban with Kinloch village. We have on hand so many wildlife and natural world experts – Ranger Mike, two members (and one ex member) of the red deer research team, the SNH team with huge knowledge of the wildlife here on Rum and many other passionate and knowledable people to help us continue our learning and love of nature and the world outside our home. This means that far from preventing us from continuing with our outdoor adventures we now have a whole new world to explore and a plenty of help in discovering and decoding it on hand too.

Deer as punctuation marks

And potential toilet walls as advertising space!

We stepped out of the static this morning and as I put my wellies on I noticed I was not alone – a majestic stag was sharing my air space looking for all the world as though this was his croft rather than ours!

not even on zoom!

What was really amusing was that I was looking across the croft at a herd of about five hinds in the distance and didn’t even notice the stag right next to me!

We were up early this morning as Dragon and Star were off to spend time with Ranger Mike for the J Ranger programme. J Ranger aka junior ranger is something the three of them have come up with together and are happily spending a morning a week on. So far they have covered biomes, continents, latin names for various Rum birds, tree identification, Darwin’s tree of life, rangering around the world. They have participated in events including Changing Seasons, red deer rut, biodiversity challenge and Rum bird identification and more. Today was a really special treat though as Mike was doing some  bird ringing and Dragon and Star got to observe and assist in that. I stayed around for a while as it was really cool and we learnt about setting the nets, how birds are ringed and the various information gathered and looked at Mike’s books with all the necessary reference information to work out the age and gender of captured birds.

It’s a really exciting time of year for birders as we are in a good geographic location for lots of migratory birds who stop off here for a while on their way to their winter homes. We also have lots of fledged young heading off and this is a very busy time of year for birds with populations at their peak as young have hatched but none have yet failed to survive a winter. Just last week we saw our first swan here on Rum and we have been watched large skeins of geese fly across the sky for a few weeks now.

Today we were priviledged to have close encounters with robin, dunnock and great tit while I was there and the further encounters for Mike and the children of goldcrest (the UKs smallest bird) and more tits after I left them to it. Bird ringers have to be 14 and there is full training and guidance required before you can get fully involved but we were very fortunate to be able to assist and watch and learn from Mike as he ringed the birds.

recording details – ring number, sex and age, weight and wing measurements

I went back up to the croft to do some helping where I could on the Grand Decking and Skirt Project that has been undertaken this week. Sandy has been up helping us create a skirt around the static. This has various purposes; it looks a million times better, it stops the wind getting underneath and lifting the static, it helps keep warmth in rather than a constant draft under there and it just give a rather more permanent feel to the place. Sandy, master joiner / carpenter / wood worker has also built us some decking between the two doors on the static so we now have a veranda. We shall be taking cocktails, watching the stars (and maybe even the northern lights), the wildlife and the rising and setting sun from our veranda – I very much look forward to inviting people to sit on it and calling the ‘darhling’ 🙂

My role in helping largely involved making tea it has be to said. I also made soup and rolls for lunch and I did remove all the nails from a large pile of reclaimed wood. I was also very important in supporting Sandy in his role of taking the mickey out of Ady who is a wonderful man but will never be a carpenter when he grows up! He should probably also cross off carpenters apprentice from his list of potential careers too!

Dragon and Star appeared back at lunchtime, rather like the Bisto kids – having told them to come home when they were hungry I suspect their noses led them this way as sweet potatoe and red onion soup served with fresh from the oven crusty rolls smelt very good indeed in the cold autumnal afternoon if I do say so myself.

I finished off a story we’d been reading – the kids and I spent most of yesterday snuggled up together while I read it’s been ages since we read a story together and we finished this in two days and loved it. Definitely need to stock up on good books on the kindle for more of that over the coming months.

The day ended with a delicious venison pasta bolognaise and the introduction to Dragon and Star of Fawlty Towers. They were not convinced despite Ady and I roaring with laughter – surely this is timeless comedy…

And finally following the suggestion of a friend our latest way of securing funders for the compost loo is offering space within it’s walls to post something up – advertise, declare undying love, write a poem, place a work of art.. I can’t think of more captive an audience than someone using the loo. Your chance to be a piece of our toilet wall.., who could resist!

Hunkering down. And then getting back up again to enjoy the sunshine.

Warm, wet and windy. That’s what we’ve been promised here on Rum. Frankly I’d prefer dry, crisp and still – a bloody good frost or eight would harden the ground up beautifully, we could do without the drama of high winds and if it would only stop raining then maybe the croft would stop being more of an agricultural 8 acres of land and less of a large water feature.

But it is, what it is. Without the water I would not be moved to taking daily photographs of the river – sometimes it runs so low I can wade across in ankle height wellies and pick out individual rocks on the river bed, just hours later it can be running so fiercely and high that I’m calling Bonnie and the kids away from the edges for fear they will be washed away. It stopped raining for five full days last week  by day three I was actually doing sneaky little raindances behind the static when no one was looking because actually I’d rather put a coat and waterproof trousers on that walk across the croft to gather rainwater and carry it back in 20 litre containers. Plus my hair can carry off greasy and unwashed far better when everyone else also looks bedraggled thanks to the rain!

It’s still far too early to be starting to think about what we’re finding hard, mostly because as yet we are not really struggling with anything but whenever we try and say that there is always someone ready to tell us how we’ve not even *started* with the tough times yet, so we tend not to say it now. We’ll just wait til February and we can either start being smug then, or leave!

We’ve all spent a large amount of today outside. The sun shone pretty much all day and we had all the doors and windows open on the static to give it a good airing. The kids spent hours playing down beside the river including a game which involved making the car really muddy and then cleaning it off again. At one point Star was pointing some odd shaped cloud out to us and said ‘over there, by that eagle…’ It made me realise once again how we must never take this forgranted – kids playing down beside the river, spotting eagles flying overhead. We are living our dream and must savor every moment.

Ady and I have been moving wood about. We were lucky enough to have some leftover wood scraps donated from the builders who have just finished working on Kinloch Castle and spent a couple of hours on Friday bringing it up as far as the river and then another few hours today loading it in to the car, bringing it across the river, up as far as we could get it and then unloading it. Lots of walking up and down a very muddy hill carrying heavy loads of wood – rather like WWOOFing again! My knees are telling me I have worked today, always a satisfying feeling when curled up on the sofa by candlelight at the end of a day.

We’ve collected a punnet of the very last of the brambles for the very last few jars of jam this year. I’ve baked bread, we’ve had a lovely roast dinner. Friends came up for a cup of tea and some home made cakes and we talked about crochet club, reading group and other events to see us through the darker colder weeks ahead.

Ady and I have been projecting ahead, wondering where we’ll be this time next year, discussing the small incremental changes that always feel so monumental in terms of the difference to our day to day lives they make. After our year on the road in our van, living with people in all sorts of off-grid situations we never assume toilets will flush, taps will deliver running water, there will even be a plug socket to charge a phone let alone one that works. It’s interesting to read on facebook of how friends are turning their heating on for the first time while our nod to the changing season this year is an extra jumper and hot water bottles at night. Yet, when we arrived here not even six months ago it was a bare field and we came off the ferry with a car and a horse box towing all we owned. We sit here less than half a year on with our candles, our roast dinner, me checking facebook and the kids watching iplayer. It’s thanks to low tech, alternative technologies certainly and we still rely heavily on nature and the elements to provide but it’s living out our dreams that is keeping us warm at night, hopefully a few extra layers and the glow of being part of something fantastic here on Rum will continue to keep us cosy as winter creeps ever closer.

Where it’s at

Bring on the autumn! It is utterly stunning this time of year. We didn’t notice the season changing anywhere near as dramatically from spring to summer but the last week it has felt as though every morning when we step outside the front door nature has marched along another few steps. I’ve been taking photos but have realised I probably need to be creating a plinth or something to be standing on to ensure I am in the exact same place to be taking a photo a day to properly record it.

We have waved good bye to the last of our visitors for this year with a sense of sadness, particularly as this was a run of family visiting, but also a sense of normality returning. Visitors are lovely to have but add to the burden of our day to day existance. Rainwater has been a precious commodity this last week as Rum experienced an unexpected dry spell for five days running which meant Ady and I were staggering across the croft with 20 litre jerry cans in each hand gathering river water instead of rainwater harvesting which is usually a very reliable water source. The increased visitor have also meant more gas used in cooking and kettles boiled and of course more toilet emptying duties.

I don’t really hold with squeamishness over toiletetting – as a mother I have wiped more bottoms and dealt with the disposal of more nappy contents than I can count. I still deal with washable sanitary protection and mooncup emptying and feel very strongly that we have gone way too far down the line from our ancestors who used to lob chamber pot contents out of upstairs windows. There is a line somewhere between responsible disposal of human waste and creating a problem that we could all deal with perfectly well ourselves without using drinking water to flush our waste away.

Currently our method of dealing with waste is digging holes and burying our collected few days at a time wast. A perfectly acceptable, if rather time consuming method. Our dream is to make use of a compost loo instead so we can be getting on with other things. We are hoping to hit our fundraising target to achieve this in just under a month so please excuse the shameless plug to the place to assist with that if you are able.

Venison Processing

I’m aware I have lots of posts to catch up on but first wanted to answer a couple of questions about the venison processing and having not actually blogged about that properly I thought I’d do a whole post rather than just reply to comments.

When we went off WWOOFing last year one of the things Ady and I were keen to learn more about was butchery and processing and we did a little bit of that at Evergreen. When we arrived on Rum and discovered there was a chance to get involved in venison processing we were really excited and leapt at the opportunity. One of the other islanders had written an application and been successful in getting a lottery grant to set up a Community Interest Company. The grant will cover the start up costs involved in getting the business off the ground which include: training, tools, processing and packaging costs, insurance and various other equipment. Any profit not ploughed back into reinvesting in developing and growing the company will be passed to the community trust to be spend on further community development projects.

There are two directors (one is me!), a secretary and a further four islanders attended the training course (including Ady) to be self employed workers doing the processing and packing. We have an agreement with SNH to purchase culled deer from that at the same rate as they sell to game dealers and use the on-island deer larder to process them for a set fee per animal. We will then need to package, store and sell the meat.

There are about 1000 red deer on the Isle of Rum, a percentage of which are culled every year. More on SNH policy on deer management can be found on their website. As a meat eater myself I feel very strongly that we have a big responsibility to ensure the animals we eat have had a good life with high welfare standards, opportunity to act naturally and a humane death. I can’t think of a better example than the red deer here on Rum who are wild animals killed while out on the reserve.

Our training course was really good – Barry who came to train us is a master butcher with many years experience in both butchery and training to pass on his skills. Six of us from Rum Venison attended along with two of the seasonal ghillies currently assisting the SNH stalker in the red deer cull. Between the eight of us we had varying levels of previous experience but we all felt we learnt loads over the three day course.

I won’t post up pictures of the more graphic parts of skinning and butchering the deer – due to the red deer research project on the island parts of the culled animal go straight to the project so we are passed headless, footless, innardless animals which makes for a slightly less messy butchering experience than I was expecting.

We learnt how to quarter the animals, create various cuts and put aside the rest for processing. We spent time cutting steaks and other prime pieces, diced other meat into casserole and stewing meat and then learnt about mincing, mixing with pork fat and rusk and seasoning to make sausage mix and then filling and stringing sausages – a real art which some of us took to quicker than others!

We also did plenty of theory, about labelling and marketing, advice from Barry about what equipment we need and where we are likely to make the most money from the meat.

The stag cull is about to end and with the hind (female red deer) season about to start in just a couple of weeks and us waiting on delivery of freezers, packaging, knives and so on we have decided to start with our first three beasts then. Until then we are already doing well in sales of the meat we trained with and I think plenty of islanders have already sampled our sausages! We certainly enjoyed them for dinner the other night and are planning on venison curry, a venison roast and some delicious venison steaks in weeks to come.