Last year I had in my head a vision of what the winter would be like. I scoffed at all the people (oh so many people) who sneered at us ‘well you’ve not done a winter yet’ during the summer of 2012 when we were filled with fresh new optimism and the first flush of love for Rum. I knew that winter here would be like winter anywhere. We’d wear more clothes, go outside less, sleep more.
In some ways we were over prepared last winter – we stocked up massively on tinned goods in anticipation of cancelled ferries, we had four gas bottles up the hill plus we’d bought a portable gas heater too. In so many other ways we had not anticipated lots of the challenges we’d face at all.
On New Years Day 2013 Ady and I climbed the hill behind the croft and stood looking down on our land, our home and the sum total of all we’d achieved since we arrived on Rum. It was the things we saw missing which shaped some of what we have worked hard to make happen this year and which mean that despite going into a second winter still in temporary accommodation we are a million times more set up and ready to face it this year than we were last year.
Last year we began the winter with gas fires, briefly warm but very fume-y and creators of even more condensation. This year we are keeping our wee log burner going 18 hours a day burning the wood we spent August and September up the hill, split and into our log store we built next to the static. We could probably be frugal and survive on the wood we already have but we are instead continuing to collect, carry up and split wood whenever the river is low enough to get the car across thanks to our wagon, new axe, dry space to store it and system of staying on top of things. Massive leap forward. We’re warm, condensation is reduced, it’s way lower cost than burning gas. We’ve just bought a stove top fan to direct some of the heat further throughout the static too to see if we can reduce the damp and condensation further. We also use the log burner to cook on whenever possible, prove bread dough, dry out wet clothes and bring bedding into the lounge each morning to air through out of the damper bedrooms.
Last year we spent a lot of time carrying leisure batteries down to the village to charge them up so we could use the water pump and lighting in the static. We burnt candles for light or used battery lanterns and relied heavily on our petrol generator for power to charge up batteries, phones, laptop, run the internet for an hour or so a day and have better electric lighting to cook dinner by. This year we have two large solar panels which are still generating charge during the 6 hours or so of daylight each day plus our wind turbine. We have internet on all day, are able to charge everything up, have lights on whenever we need them and not have to ration showers or washing up for fear of running down the water pump battery. We still have our generator as a back up for the (rare) still days but today we spent the whole day listening to radio, watching films and catching up online thanks to the power of the wind.
Last year we were still collecting water from the river in 20litre jerry cans daily. This was actually quite a dangerous business when the river was running high and while Ady built up very fine arm muscles carrying 40l of water twice a day I could only manage two half full containers and it meant showers, washing and even cooking things like rice and pasta were all done very cautiously for want of not wasting a drop. Now we are ‘plumbed in’ to the river with buried pipe and have a header tank to ensure decent water pressure even when the river runs low, there is no more recycling the water from last nights hot water bottles to use it again and filling the kettle with bits of green rubber!
Last year we were using two camping toilets in our bathroom and then digging a hole twice a week to bury our waste. This year we have the compost loo in the horse box which requires minimal maintenance plus a camping loo for wees and an emergency luggable loo which is a cinch to tip into the compost loo the next morning if a late night need to use it has arisen.
Other small logistical steps forward have been made – we bulk buy various things, have a freezer down in the village and an insulated cool box just outside our front door to overspill from the wee fridge, we are smarter about cooking condensation producing foods earlier in the day, we know that opening every window every day should be done whenever possible.
We are still more at the mercy of the elements than we have ever been before, I am going to reinstate the emergency clothes bag packed incase we need to evacuate in a hurry. The static is not weatherproof in terms of us being confident it can stand up to the wind and rain that Rum chucks at it or in terms of keeping all the weather on the outside rather than letting some of it in. We are far from cocky or self congratulatory or thinking that we have conquered this harsh land but a day like today when we felt cosy, warm and with many luxuries around us is a welcome reminder of how far we have come and the positives we can lay claim to.