This week saw the eleventh month anniversary of our arrival slip by. It’s been a Rum sort of week – lots happening and nothing happening. The weather has been our usual little micro climate of extremes with no real correlation between us and what is happening on the mainland. Still no snow, no rain either but plenty of wind and a real chill to the air. The boats have been disrupted to the other Small Isles although we have had all of our boats this week.

The community polytunnel is another step closer to being put up. It has been a saga of epic proportions to get even as far as it has with it’s location changing countless times even down to us being around for three lots of measuring out where holes were to be dug and digging a fair few of them. Last weekend had some people bringing pieces of it to the croft, others lending tools and a few of us getting hands on with the putting up the frame. We also had help from various people who will never actually have a plot in it but wanted to help including a visiting fellow WWOOF host who had come for the weekend to deliver some drakes to us and volunteered his time to lend a hand. It was in turns frustrating – several tools got broken, there were at times too many chiefs AND too many indians, the instructions were treated as more of a rough guideline than a bible and we were making constant modifications due to the mud, the hill and the mistakes we’d made in not reading the instructions from four steps previously. Yes it probably should have been up last summer, or last autumn or even last month and it’s still not at grand opening with visiting celeb cutting ribbons with oversized scissors but progress is being made and when it one day yields the very first edible leaf or delicate flower it will all have been worth it.

We have finally sorted out our water so instead of trekking up the hill and gathering it in 20ltr jerry cans it is now piped down to a standpipe right next to the static. This will save about an hour a day and means showers are no longer a speedy endurance test to see who can use the least water but an almost luxurious experience. We have a footpath up the croft made of pallets so the final thing on my list of stuff we should have sorted out during our first year is the toilet – we have a composting toilet parcelled up ready to get to us once we can find a courier to get it from Argyll to here – we’ve been making phonecalls this week to no avail but hopefully have another couple to try next week. As it goes the road to the loo is currently closed due to snow anyway.

Our new drakes arrived and very beautiful they are too. They led our five ducks far away (just like in the song, over the hill and far away) and on day one we all had a go at rounding them back up – Bonnie swam way out of her depth around in the river chasing them for ages until we had to call her out and get her home to dry off and warm up, Ady went thigh deep into boggy ground to try and grab them, Dragon and Star tried luring them home with food, Star caught two of the five and I carried them all the way home only for them to get back onto the river and swim back downstream again. We were convinced they were too far from the croft to make it back home again but they have proved us wrong and the next morning I looked out of the window to see a duck parade all waddling along the path towards the croft! The geese continue to provide two eggs some days which leads us to speculate that both Margo and Jerry are geese and we don’t have a gander at all. I’ve been in touch with a poultry supplier that advertises as delivering to the highlands and islands about some more geese and some turkeys – our other big plan for this year.

I think Barbara Pig is in season. Tom pig seems to agree.

Monday was work at the school in the morning for me and a meeting of the Visitor Management Group in the afternoon. We’re planning some Open Day familiarisation visits to Rum for local tourist trade people to come and see for themselves what we have here so they can help us spread the word to their customers and encourage them to visit Rum. We’re gearing up for a full season of events, new business ventures, crafts, produce and activities for this year aswell as thinking ahead longer term.

Tuesdays’ boat brought our new neighbours for Croft 2 and the islands latest residents -we’re all really excited about their arrival including Bonnie as they bring with them a boy collie pup who is already Bonnie’s new best friend. The two of them have spent many happy playtimes chasing each other all over the crofts and we forsee many happy hours ahead for them. This is perfect timing as Bonnie is responding really well to our training and various focussed attention but nothing can quite take the place of proper puppy play with a fellow pup and now she has that too. It’s great getting to know new folk and we are really looking foward to living next to, working alongside and sharing lives with Gav and Laura.

Wednesday saw the scary sight and sound of the medical helicopter hovering and landing which is never, ever a good sign. Sure enough it was coming to take one of the contractors working on the castle temporary accommodation away having suffered a heart attack. Those who were on the scene were very shaken by the whole experience and it rocked our small community not least because he is a fellow islander with family and links to next door Eigg. He’s doing well and we’re looking forward to seeing him back on his feet before too long but it was a real reminder of how remote and vulnerable we can be here on our island.

On Thursday we had a Venison processing company get together to plan our strategy for the coming year and work out what we’ll invest the remainder of our grant money on. We have some plans for marketing and promoting aswell as finely tuning our packaging and labelling. I’m working on a website to help promote the venison and give a bit of background on the red deer and venison meat. If you’re visiting Rum be sure to take some venison home with you or sample some while you’re here!

Inbetween all of the above I’ve been knitting whenever I can to add to my very small stash of crafty bits ready to sell – my plans to spend the winter making came to nothing due to lack of light, lack of time and lack of urgency – I’ve always operated best at the eleventh hour, or indeed the eleventh month! Dragon has been designing a range of Rum postcards he hopes to sell and I’ve been giving further thought as to just how best to capture the midges when they come to set in resin.

Tonight we turned off the lights for Earth Hour and we’ve been listening to the news reports of places without electricity due to the weather. It makes you realise that having something and relying on it leaves you far more vulnerable than simply not having it in the first place…

What last week looked like

I left Rum for the third time since we arrived last week for a three night trip to Skye, Harris and Lewis. I was joining Vikki the Development Officer and Mike the Ranger on a research trip to other visitor centres to get some ideas, learn about how others have done things and start collecting information to help form our community vision for a visitor centre on Rum which we hope to make happen at some point in the next few years. We have big plans for converting a steading building into the heart of the village with all sorts of exciting facilities based around a Visitor Centre. Very early stages and as so often happens the more you learn the more you give yourself to think about but it was a great opportunity to go off with grown ups, see a wee bit more of the surrounding islands and so something for the community. It was a pretty full on few days with six ferry trips, 300 miles of driving (I actually did 400 as I did a quick dash along to Fort William on the Monday to stock up on supermarket shopping, adding another 100 miles to my driving total), and a different bed in a different place every night.

Waving goodbye. Leaving the other three in each others’ capable hands. I missed them all loads.

standing in a dinosaur’s footprints on Skye

Flora McDonald’s grave, Skye

Over the sea from Skye

Isle of Harris

The standing stones at Callenish

At Callenish

Skye felt very familiar having spent so much time driving round it in 2011 although it was a little different being the driver rather than the passenger and sitting in a car rather than high up going slow in Willow the campervan. I like Skye a lot and still think it could have offered our family a lot if we’d settled there with greater opportunities and facilties not to mention access to the mainland. It would have been a different life to what we have here though and without the freedom and pioneering feel to our current set up.

We didn’t see much of Harris at all really as we were on a tight schedule so I didn’t get a real feel for the flavour of it but I did manage to purchase a few small scraps of Harris tweed and some Harris wool to make myself something with so I brought a bit of the place home with me. We saw slightly more of Lewis and it felt a lot like Rum landscape wise although of course larger, loch-ier (not sure that’s a word!) and with the added landmarks of electricity pylons which for me just stand out so stark against nature. One of the things I love most about Rum is that it is still mostly claimed by nature rather than humans, that balance felt a little tipped the other way on Lewis. Heading to the Outer Hebrides really brought it home to me how remote we are on Rum actually – so very far from family and friends all the way down in Sussex both literally and metaphorically. It’s a different world we inhabit up here and somewhere there is a balance between bringing a little of our previous mainland world with us to add and enhance and leaving a lot of it behind to liberate and lighten.

As ever, it was good to be home.

Small steps in all directions

This week has been lots of meetings. Someone from DTAS came to visit Rum and showed a short film and talked about what membership of their organisation could offer the Rum Community Trust. We had our monthly Resident Association meeting with a lot of stuff on the agenda including Dragon and Star presenting some of their ideas for a playpark for the islands resident and visiting children. We’re hoping to get some funding for something to be installed so as key ‘stakeholders’ Dragon and Star are involved in consultation, design ideas and hopefully at some future point testing out the end results. Some of us stayed behind after that meeting to discuss housing – our biggest issue here on Rum by far. We’d had a visit from the local council planning department which was far from helpful and reassuring so a letter had been written expressing our disappointment and we’d had a reply which needed looking at and further action being planned. Finally there was a meeting of the Visitor Management Group which I sit on and meets to implement the visitor services plan designed to ensure all day trippers, holiday makers, visiting groups for education, walks, family holidays – in short anyone who steps foot on Rum – get the best possible experience. In between all this I have been collecting, editing and arranging all the content for the second issue of the residents newsletter which will be printed and distributed tomorrow. 

I’ve also worked at the school four mornings where this week in nursery they were learning about dinosaurs, a topic I had my own small four year old very interested in once upon a long time ago so was lured in at least once during the week to natter about fossils, stegosaurus, triceratops and pterdactyls, the Natural History Museum in London and how we don’t really know what colour dinosaurs would have been. I also brought back the pine cones we collected the week before which were all closed but are now all open after a few days in the warm office. I’ve put up some pictures of Dragon and Star next to my desk and done some rearranging to make it all feel more like my space.

All of which meant there was far less time for crofting than I’d have hoped! But I did manage to create one raised bed.

it is a start and starts are good.

I’ve spent some time with Bonnie doing training – clickers arrived this week in the post so we’ve been getting her used to that and teaching what is probably her most important command – COME BACK! We have not cracked it every time just yet but we’re making definite progress.

Today was Mothers Day and I was presented with two fabulous home made cards and a bunch of flowers.

And very excitingly we spent some time marking out our potential house plot with stakes and tape. We stood in the space that may one day be our bedroom, lounge, kitchen and got very excited at such prospects.

Tomorrow I am off on the ferry for a very busy few days looking at visitor centres on Skye and the Western Isles. Lots of driving, lots of ferries, lots of soaking up information to bring back and relay to the others. And to think I used to consider myself busy in my old life….

What I didn’t know yesterday I can learn today

This week we have mostly been learning about dog training, being a clerical support person at the primary school, stuff about green building and how that might stack up alongside planning permission. I sometimes wish I could plug part of my brain in somewhere else while I get on with things and have it uploaded with all the new information I want to process to let me get on with the next thing I want to be doing.

Prioritising what we learn about first and next can be tricky. Right now we have a short term pressing need to be working out what we’ll be living in come the winter. Given we are barely out of this winter yet that could seem a little premature to be worrying about but I think it is essential that we give headspace to next winter while we are still experiencing the tail end of this one. The struggles need to be fresh in our minds otherwise we run the very real risk of getting to July and deciding the winter wasn’t *that* bad and resigning ourselves to another year in the static.

But first come living creatures and we’ve realised that Bonnie is in need of more stimulation, training and time and attention. So armed with google and a newly arrived book on brain training tricks for dogs we’ve been doing indoor and outdoor training. We’ve covered ‘leave’, ‘over’, ‘weave’ and ‘touch’ in the last few days mixing a healthy dose of indoor calm and concentrating with outdoor crazy running about. She seems to be thriving on it and we’re all quite excited at the prospect of a trained, obedient and fulfilled dog having realised that we were falling short on giving her enough direction. Rookie dog owners we may be but we’re learning as we go along and making sure we do the best by everyone.

reading the theory first – trying not to be distracted by that view.

and then the practise!

Looks like we made it…

Two years ago we set off in our campervan which had been condemned to being unlikely to get out of Sussex on an adventure. We had no savings, our mortgage was being covered (we hoped) by renting out our house to possibly the least reliable tenants ever along with their pet ferret. We were planning to stay with a selection of people we had never met but made contact with by email on the basis that if we did a few hours work for them each day they would feed us and we didn’t quite know what we wanted to happen to us at the end of it all.

When I put it like that I can understand why people who loved us were actually pretty worried about what would become of us!

The fact is those same people could choose to frame their thoughts about us now in several different ways. They could be horrified that the flight of fancy which carried us off two years ago has led to us living on top of a muddy hill on a remote Scottish island with only 40 people, with just one 12 hour a week job between us, no electricity, running water or toilets.

Or they could be mightily proud of where we’re at just now. We did indeed escape the rat race, the traffic jams and the wage slave mentality. We totally found the place where we get to be pioneers, write our own destinies, fix our own futures and make up our own rules. We do live off grid, somewhere beautiful and spend our days meeting our basic needs and following our dreams. We are in touch with the land, nature, the seasons, the world around us. We have heads and hearts full of memories, experiences and adventures, stories to tell, anecdotes to share and photos to show.

We got to John o Groats, saw out out WWOOFing, lasted the challenging hosts and learnt all those lessons. We scraped together the coppers and stretched our budgets thanks to reduced to clear bargains, finding fun in the free stuff and meeting some amazing people along the way. We could have stayed in our jobs and our house but we’d never have met that bloke who was walking100 miles and needed a tent peg we were able to give him, that woman climbing a mountain on Skye who I shared my philosophy of those who need to reach the top of peaks and those who are happy to pause midway and appreciate how far they have come. We’d not have met the people who are sending us a compost loo, or who told us about the croft on Rum, inspired us with their amazing organic veg box business or their microholding on just 1 acre. We’d never have spent time with that community who live off grid and taught us their mantra of ‘love the hill’ or the family who live so remotely in Wales that their kids didn’t know what a zoo was. We’d not have learnt – and taught – in all those places to all those people.

And so to Rum, where a mix of blind naiivity and foolhardy optimism led us to believe we can make it. Despite so many people looking at us and either wrongly assuming we had an inkling what we were doing or merely expecting us to fail. To not make it. Yet, we got through that first summer, survived the midges. We faced those autumn equinox winds, took down the clock from the wall and sat up watching the walls flex and the roof rattle. We lasted that winter, wiped down those windows, wrung out those chamois and threw out the belongings which were claimed by mould. The static not only reached Rum it eventually reached the croft. We have light, heat, power. Sure we run a generator most days but we are also taking solar power, gathering our water from the river or harvested rainwater. We still buy in animal feed and have not even scraped the surface of starting our self sufficient journey but we are far from just talking the talk these days.

I think those who love us will be looking at us now and feeling proud. Proud of our children for making this their island; for packing their rucksacks and heading off with their dog on adventures. For viewing every day as an opportunity to learn, to explore and to discover. Star told me today that when she grows up and has children she is *definitely* taking them off travelling in a campervan and home educating them in the exact same was as she has been home educated. Dragon told me that no matter what happens he will always feel his home is here on Rum and while he intends going off to see loads more of the world this is where he’ll always come back to.

I think they will be proud of Ady and I for changing our lives. From being overweight, unfit consumers to fairly hardy survivors, doing whatever it takes to carry on providing for our family. Chopping firewood to keep them warm and collecting water from the river rather than going out to work in meaningless jobs to pay the electricity bill and the water rates. Proud of us for not sitting moaning about local council policies and government directives but instead being vocal members of our own community and helping to decide structure, policy, charges, priorities. Taking charge of our world and being the change we want to see in it. Spending our time not sitting infront of meaningless TV shows or reading other people’s news in tabloid papers but writing our own newsletter and helping to manage the community website, sitting on steering groups and being voluntary directors of the boards taking new ideas and enterprises forwards.

We’re not getting it right every day, we’re still a full ten years (maybe even eleven!) from where I’d like to be in ten years time but we’re making every day count, every week worthwhile and every month one to remember. I hope you are proud of us, because we’re pretty proud of ourselves and where we’ve got to so far. And as the daffodils push through the grass and the met office claims it to be the first day of spring the knowledge that we did indeed do that first winter will keep us warm through any cold nights the spring has to throw at us!