Follow a family of four on our continued adventures as crofters on the Scottish Isle of Rum where we are building a new life from a bare field up. Off-grid, low-impact, self sufficient, permaculture inspired living in a wild and beautiful island with a small community with big ideas. The wandering may have stopped but we'll never lose the sense of wonder.
Before we moved to Rum we had experienced groups of co-dependent people living in close conditions with each other in several places. We WWOOFed for a couple of intentional communities on large-ish scales, several places where three generations of families or extended families lived together through choice, situations where family house shares were working and more. We have also long been part of our own community of Home Educating friends where a group of 10 or so families from all different backgrounds have spent several weeks a year together living communally, sharing budgets, food preparation, childcare and entertainment, transport and so on.
Although I knew that every set of circumstances is unique and every set of people will always come with a totally different set of rules, dreams and set ups I thought we were pretty well prepared for moving to a place like Rum with a small community of around 40 people. Everyone living their lives but all interwoven and connected and with certain common aims and shared priorities. In many ways we were very well prepared and feel we have fitted in well here on Rum, have made friends, forged connections and while we miss family and long standing friends a lot and look forward to the times ahead where we are better set up to have visitors to stay we are rarely short of company. We are sociable people and need to know there is a world outside our family unit and people on hand to mix with, socialise and share with.
In the main Rum supplies that and while getting to know people properly in such intimate circumstances can sometimes be a challenge I feel we have made friends here who are true and close and very important to us. The slightly transient nature of island living however can hit hard at times. Since we arrived just over a year ago we have waved goodbye to several people and there are a few more about to head off in the coming weeks. There are more new people coming too – the headmaster of the school and his wife arrive next week – they lived here long before we came and have spent a few years away so are actually coming home. There is a new manager at the castle and her partner is due to arrive here soon for good. A new Reserve Manager is currently being recruited and will be arriving at some fairly imminent point with the old one due to leave. Seasonal ghillies who were here for 6 months last year are both coming back, the older kids who go away to the mainland for high school are home for the summer. Added to all these comings and goings the influx of seasonal visitors – tourists, researchers, film crews, visiting family and friends of islanders, people going off on their own summer holidays and you end up rocking our boat quite violently with new faces and a different vibe around the place constantly changing. This is at times exciting and at others slightly unsettling.
We have a lot to keep us busy though – crops are doing well, animals are thriving and we have several projects on the horizon at varying stages of research and execution. But first a short break as we reconnect with each other from the routine of me working mornings to me being home again, the onset of Market Day in the village on a Wednesday and a visit from my parents at the end of this week.
Ady and I were saying earlier this week how lucky we are that all of the challenges we face are through choices we have made. I look around our friends and feel so very fortunate to have never had to deal with tragedy, bereavement or sad things happening to us. There are times when our life here feels tough but it is totally within our power to change our course and choose a different path. I’m not sure than any of our friends particularly envy our life here but I do know that the choice to come and live it even if they wanted to does not exist for some of them.
I think for us chasing our dream and finding the correct path to happiness and fulfillment at times does feel like a responsibility. As though we are doing it on behalf of those who can’t. I was explaining to someone just today that the trade off for living this very frugal, low key existence where ‘escaping to the mainland for a weekend break’ is beyond our financial reach let alone feasible on a practical level with animals, crops etc to look after is that we are free. Free to potter in the polytunnel, spend half an hour just sat on the grass in the pig pen tickling a piglets tummy, stop for another cup of tea, decide to head off to the other side of the island to watch the sunset.
Tomorrow is my last day at the school. It’s been a really hard 12 hours a week to slot into our lives and I am very relieved it’s over. It has impacted far too much on our lives and curtailed our freedoms. Davies and Scarlett have missed out on hours worth of conversations and observations and opportunities to spend time with me. Precious time that feels every more like sand slipping through our fingers as they get older and more independent. The end of term has not felt this exciting since I was about 10 or 12 myself.
Our house continues to sit unsold on the market. We have taken on another estate agent which may inject some fresh energy into selling it, or it may not. Sometimes I think there must be a reason for it not having sold yet which is part of some bigger plan. At other times I just feel incredibly frustrated that we are being disabled by something beyond our control. We are about to hit the deadline we decided at the start of this year for the house needing to be sold by in order to build something this year here on Rum. We have various possible options for getting through the coming winter, none of which are perfect, all of which need further debating and research, one of which will no doubt be what we end up doing.
We had a typical family conversation this week about what each person wants to do in the event of the house not selling and unanimously decided we want to stay here for the winter even if it means another harsh and testing season. It’s clear that each of the four of us view Rum as home and has no desire to be elsewhere. Having struck off the option of leaving for the winter we are at least able to pare down the list of possible options and fully discuss all of them. Expect to be let into this in more detail as we thrash them out ourselves.
Meanwhile in Croftland the goslings have been out and about and looking happy. They hang out with the bigger geese who seem to shepherd them around and keep them in line. We are still putting them into their enclosure at night when we feed them but hopefully in the next week or so we’ll not need to do that and can just let them roam. The wee turkeys have an increased run and are growing well. We’re keeping them under a covered run for now though as I still don’t trust those crows. Mrs Broody Duck continues to incubate her 7 eggs which are due to hatch next week. We’re worried about losing ducklings to rats or crows once they hatch but will work out whether we need to try and enclose them more once they hatch and we see how she manages them.
More strawberries from the polytunnel tonight and I have been thinning stuff out and taking out spent crops to feed to the pigs who are very grateful. I’ve left some things to go to seed so I can collect and harvest the seeds too. The chickens have discovered the herb spiral so that might need some protection but we had mint from it with our new potatoes for dinner tonight.
I’ve thought for a while that it’s slightly pointless these days protecting Dragon and Star’s real names. Back when we were traveling it felt important not to have their real names splashed about on the internet for someone to google them in 20 years and find stuff I’d written about them as children.
The trouble is when you move somewhere like Rum where there are only 40 people and are the subject of various stories in the press not to mention seasonal tourist scrutiny it doesn’t matter whether we use pseudonyms or their real names, if you google them you’ll find links to us mentioned on the Isle of Rum website, in newspaper articles and more.
The names Dragon and Star were chosen by the children as blog names when we began this blog account of our planned travels way back in 2010. Three years on they have chosen to start using their real names, not least because they are hoping to build their own brands of artwork and jewelery making along with a youtube series of ‘life as crofting kids’.
For that reason I today introduce you to Dragon as Davies and Star as Scarlett – their real names. They are not looking for X factor or Britain’s Got Talent fame and they certainly are not intending to be celebs but Davies has asked that I share his first youtube video which I am more than happy to do given how fab I think it is and I anticipate more from both of them as they continue to find their feet with starting their own businesses and life choices in the coming years.
A productive few days in Croftland. The compost loo is finally and officially open for business. It’s been a long time coming but thanks to all sorts of efforts, generosity and donations from a whole crew of people we now have a compost loo on Croft 3. The crowdfunding efforts were a massive help in… Continue reading »
This week Ady and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. 20 years of adventures, laughs, ups and downs, rollercoaster riding and muddling through life together. In lots of ways we are very different people to who we were 2 decades ago. Definitely older and greyer with a library full of stories to tell. I’m not sure that we can claim to be wiser or more grown up or less reckless and impulsive!
There were plenty of naysayers when we became a couple, people who said it would never last, we were incompatible and wouldn’t make each other happy. That we were destined not to make it together. That the age difference (10 years between us) was too great and our very different personalities would create clashes.
Our 20 years has seen us build a life together against backdrops in Sussex, Manchester, a campervan travelling the whole country and now in a field on an island. Our photo albums show us getting married in Las Vegas, proudly holding up our new born babies for the camera, standing on beaches, infront of theme parks, campsites, mountain tops, zoos. 20 years of birthdays, Christmasses, anniversaries, parties, holidays.
We are best friends, partners in crime, sharers of the same dream, shoulders to cry on, rock to rely on, co conspiritors, parents to the same two amazing children, mutual cheerleading team and each others biggest fan. If we don’t get to do it together then we don’t want to do it.
Star asked me “what sort of jubilee are you and Daddy” when we told her it was our 20th anniversary. I’m not sure but I know there is bunting and celebrating every single day!
I had a long phone conversation with my parents this evening. Like many children I am often quick to be critical of my parents rather than celebrate them, to rail against their way instead of giving credit it. But I enjoy a really good, close relationship with my Mum and Dad and although it would be fair to say our life choices do not mirror theirs I cannot deny they have been influential in our choices over the years.
My parents were self employed small business owners for my entire childhood. They both used their skills, creativity and imagination to create careers for themselves outside of the world of salaries, company pensions and paid holidays. I was always really proud of both of my parents for this, they made their own hours, fitted in their work around my brother and I and we were part of their worlds as kids. Taken to work with my Dad in the back of his van, sat on a pile of dustsheets, surrounded by paint pots, brushes and the smell of turps and putty. My first job aged 13 was not a paper round or babysitting gig but learning all of the roles within my Mum’s restaurant from waiting tables and presenting a professional front to the great British public to the washing up and tea and coffee brewing in the middle kitchen to the world of commercial deep fat fryers, bulk catering of Sunday roast for 100 people and portion control of starters in the high pressure environment of the back kitchen.
I have not followed in their footsteps in many ways – Ady and I are a generation later than them with different priorities and different ways of doing things. We have placed great importance in this period of early parenthood and by Home Educating our children have curtailed our own career prospects and availability for work, choosing family time over all else. We have been less concerned with material gain and are content enough with less work and a caravan where my parents had worked harder and had a beautiful home by our ages.
My parents have not always fully understood or agreed with the many unconventional choices we have made, perhaps they have not always had faith in us to be able to accomplish everything we have set out for but they have always been behind us, providing a safety net if not a cheerleading team. Always there to mop up tears, pick up pieces and never afraid to sit me down and tell me I am being bloody stupid! Of course I have not listened but them telling me and me ignoring them remain parent and child perogative right?!
What we have achieved in our time here so far is in no small way due to their support, financially and morally. Our long term aim is to pay them back but all the while our house remains on the market without a buyer our funds are tied up and not at our disposal so while we have been curtailed in terms of what we have achieved so far the leaps and bounds we have made have been thanks to my parents help.
In chatting to my Mum tonight I realised that the things we are finding hard just now are not to do with Rum, or us. They are to do with the tough circumstances of our house not selling and us deciding to come here and make a start regardless. We could have stuck it out, tried to find jobs to finance us while we sold our house while living in it before moving here. If we’d done that then none of what we have achieved so far would be here. No static. No animals. No crops. None of the amazing year or so we have already enjoyed. I’m happy to take the biggest share of the credit for what we have made happen but need to send a big vote of thanks to my parents for helping us do what we’ve done so far. And for helping me realise tonight that no matter where we were sleeping tonight we’d still be curtailed by our house not selling preventing us from really throwing everything at our dreams. That feels like a big step forward in positive thinking.
When we moved to Rum we knew that it was going to be an all encompassing new life. We knew we would not be making trips back to the mainland very often – cost and the ties of our animals and crops back here on the croft would mean we were effectively tied to the… Continue reading »
To be fair it’s not been all bad but it’s been a disheartening day which are always tougher to come back from when you can’t have a bubble bath to soak the cares away after dinner.
This morning we found the remains of a dead turkey in the pen when we went down to feed them. It had been almost entirely eaten and was just skeleton, wings, feet and a bit of head. Grim We deduced it must be rats and I left Ady and Star working out ways to make the pen rat proof. I headed off to school for the morning and then missed Ady coming back down as we must have crossed somewhere as he took the car down to the ferry and I walked home. I had stopped to call in and wish Happy Birthday to a fellow islander and then for a chat along the way with another one.
When I got back to the croft I stopped to check on the animals and there was a second dead turkey in the pen. This time the culprits were all still there with blood on their beaks – the hooded crows, bane of our lives and our number one enemy here on the croft. They took all seven of the chicks our hen hatched this year, stolen countless eggs, had a go at the dead piglets and now it seems are helping themselves to our wee turkeys and using Croft 3 as some kind of all you can eat buffet.
I hate them.
Having run across the croft swearing and waving my arms at them I set off back to the pier to catch up with Ady. I walked down part way with another islander, then the rest of the way with yet another one and then sat at the pier waiting for the boat bitching about the crows. At least it feels like we have a whole island on our side against them.
We’ve now netted the pen and reduced the size of it. If it is the crows then the turkeys should now be safe. If it’s rats then we have a lot more work to do. Fingers crossed for the morning. Losing 20% of our turkey stock at less than a week in is pretty rubbish. And expensive.
In other news our animal feed delivery arrived missing a bag and the kitchen window of the static got broken. Not one of our better days.
I’ve been following an online permaculture course over the last few weeks. I’ve also been reading lots of books and articles on the subject. I’m not going to attempt to describe what permaculture is here mostly because it would take more than this blog let alone one blogpost and I suspect that rather like relationships,… Continue reading »