Taming the wild

Taking stock is something we do a lot. It has been a regular way of life for us in our family since the beginning – infact I think it may have always been something I do, which goes some way to explaining my serial job hopping in my younger days – evaluate, if something is lacking do something to find a solution. Our parenting and educational provision style has always been based on checking whether what we are doing is working or not and reshaping to fill the gaps while casting out what was superfluous.

In many ways our 2 years here on Rum have been slow moving. We have not had the injection of start up cash we anticipated and we have been faced with countless unforseen challenges along the way- not least our own ignorance and naiievity at what might be done when. There have been many times over the last two years when we have looked at what we have achieved and found it lacking when compared to what we had anticipated happening.

That said we have been looking at what we have here now two years on and are feeling pretty proud of what we have done. From a bare field at the end of a very rough track across a river two years ago I sit here tonight in a static caravan which was dragged down a hill, along that rough track, across that river and up the muddy hillside. It took helpers from all over our island and the neighbouring one, equipment borrowed and begged from both islands and the helping hands, manpower, machines and collective ingenuity of many folk to make that happen. It will never move from here in one piece and has had many modifications and improvements over the two years not to mention bourne the brunt of our famous weather but it’s been our home and will hopefully house many more folk over the coming years.

That field of reeds and rushes, overgrown and boggy is now criss crossed with actual green grass – a result of grazing from our animals, strimming from us and cutting and harvesting some of the rushes for animal bedding. From a distance the croft finally looked worked and improved and green. There are paths and tracks and areas we have made good. The pigs have now worked their way across the entire bottom third of the croft from east to west leaving behind improved ground, with better drainage and trodden in compost. We have dug ditches, oh so many ditches and the land is beginning to drain.

We now have a walled (fenced) garden with 20 raised beds. They are not all planted, infact some of them are still awaiting a layer of mulch and filling with soil but some of them are growing crops – next year they all will be. There is the start of a compost heap and a tin bath for rainwater harvesting. The beds are netted with coppiced willow and hazel arches and the fence is constructed with brash gathered from the croft and surrounding woodland. All of the wood for the raised beds was repurposed, for free, from old building projects on the island and reclaimed pallets – even the nails holding them together were re-used.

We have a huge fruit cage (which is about to be extended) made from reclaimed metal panels. It houses loads of soft fruit and several fruit tress, many of which were gifts and all of which are doing really well and starting to bear fruit, leaves and blossoms. We have plans to double this space in the next month or so and plant up further fruit trees, particularly apples.

We are currently the only users of the community polytunnel which is sited on our croft. We have made full use of this, while keeping everything in containers ready to squeeze back into a smaller space should anyone want to make use of the space. It’s looking fantastically productive in there for the second year running with peas, strawberries, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, cucumbers, salad leaves galore and stacks of herbs all doing really well.

Our animals are all happy and healthy and the pigs, chickens, ducks and geese have all bred with varying degrees of success. We have eaten chicken, turkey and pork / bacon from our own animals and sold eggs from all the birds along with a couple of turkeys, bartered and swapped meat and experimented with bacon and other pork products. We’re starting small and have bigger plans for the future including goats and bees but for now are doing pretty well at the rearing and breeding.

Our infrastructure has gone from zero to a pretty impressive level, particularly given we knew nothing of such things before landing here. In our first year we sorted out a water supply to the static – we have today run piping down to the polytunnel off that supply and now have a hose with water trigger gun for watering the polytunnel.We have a compost loo installed in our horse box, various buildings and stores and animal houses, all built with cobbled together materials. We arrived with a generator but learnt as we went along by experimenting with alternative technologies and now have three solar panels, a bank of batteries, a small wind turbine, two invertors and a whole host of rechargable and solar powered gadgets and lighting. We run our electric pig fence, all our lighting, our water pump, charge all our electronic devices, watch dvds and run our internet from these. On the rare overcast, still days in the summer and the short winter days we rely on one of our 2 generators for back up – they also run our washing machine once a week. We don’t have much in the way of home comforts but it’s a pretty good set up that meets most of our needs – again done on a very small budget from scratch.

The road ahead paved with all the things we still want to do, intend to achieve and route to all our dreams, hopes and ambitions is still long and curves way out of view but it’s good to look behind every once in a while and see all we have made happen and made work.


Scarlett was looking through some of my stuff earlier today and found a locket I have in my drawer. It was a present from my parents for Christmas just before I turned 19. Later that year Ady and I became a couple and shortly after the following Christmas we bought our house. The photo inside the locket is a very old picture of Ady. Scarlett was fascinated by the fact that I first met him when I was just 16 and have been with him for over half my life.

Our 10 year age gap has never been an issue for us at all but I do recall Ady being pleased when I reached 20 because we were briefly in the same decade. For all of 4 months. It happened again 10 years later when I was 30 and he was 39, and again this year when I reached 40 and he was still 49. This week that same decade thing stopped for another 10 years as Ady was 50 on Tuesday.

If someone had told us 21 years ago that we would be celebrating our 40th and 50th birthdays living in a static caravan on top of a windy hill on a remote Scottish island we would have discounted them as crazy. It was certainly never something we had planned. For Ady’s 30th birthday I organised a large group of his friends to surprise us by arriving in the pub we were celebrating his birthday in. For his 40th I hired the pub across the road and had loads of family and friends ready and waiting when we arrived for a ‘quiet drink’. Surprises were off the agenda this time – logistics of no ferry to bring folk here on his birthday coupled with not actually having a pub to surprise him in meant it would have been a challenge!

Instead we had breakfast on the sporran in the sunshine – croissants with home made jam. Then we packed up a rucksack and drove across the island to Harris, on the south coast of Rum, a wild and rugged beach. We looked for treasure – and found loads, fish boxes for growing crops in, a dolphin skull, lots of buoys. Set a fire on which to cook lunch and toast marshmallows, had a beer and enjoyed the stunning views.

A genuine Rum Pony 🙂

Goddards on the beach

message in wood

We gave a lift back to the village to a friend who had been walking the ridge and met up with a fellow islander at Harris and caught up with another along the way making for a 3 car convoy part of the way home. I spotted a pair of sea eagles flying over one of the peaks so we all stopped to watch for a while.

Later we went to the shop for cake and singing with fellow islanders, before returning home for Ady’s requested birthday meal of pie and mash – made with Rum venison of course!

Ady tells me it was a fab birthday. He is definitely my favourite 50 year old.


The increased numbers of people coming off the ferry for day-trips has meant the resurrection of answering the usual round of questions these last few weeks. How many children in the school? What do you do in the winter? What brought you to Rum? I never really tire of answering them but I am just as desperate to gather information in return – why are you here on Rum? Where are you from? Had you heard of the island before?

I was explaining to someone recently about how the community works. About how we all have a relationship which is almost sibling-like with each other. There is greater tolerance and acceptance of people’s faults and foibles here than anywhere else I have ever lived or worked. No one is excluded or ostracised, there may be squabbles and whispers but there is a feeling of being in this together, of batting for the same team, or belonging to the same family. That is one of the great positives about life here but also one of the issues at times. In the same way that we tend to regress to our childhood or teenage self in the company of our family here on Rum there is a tendancy to become a caricature of oneself. With so few people here we find our role and fit it, often in an extreme and slightly one dimensional way. I have noticed on all the islands that folk get labelled with nicknames and almost become like sit com versions of themselves. If you are the only red head, resident teenager, birdwatcher, lesbian, rock music fan, overweight, underweight, bald, blonde, classic car fanatic then that one character trait defines you to the exclusion  of anything else you may be.

It is one of the things I find most difficult about the lack of people here. Back in our old world we all had many interests and facets to our personalities and elements to our lives. I worked part time, home educated, did some volunteer stuff looking after sheep, was very active in our local Home Ed community, helped run the kids St Johns Ambulance Badgers group, ran a kids book group and was part of an adults book group at the library, had a wide and diverse circle of friends as part of a couple, as a parent and as an individual, I went swimming every week and did two big sponsored swims for charities, had an allotment, chatted to the neighbours, spent time with famil, kept up with my circle of online friends… I am still very busy here and have two different jobs outside the croft along with my various crafty pursuits and stuff on the croft but it’s the same cast of people who I work with in every different role.

We’re off next week for a 10 day jaunt – a weekend with friends; folk who have known us for 10 years or more. Back when we lived in a house, had jobs, went on holidays, wistfully talked of a different lifestyle. People who have been there with us for a big old part of our journey. I can’t wait to sit with old friends who have known us in different times, seen our kids as toddlers rather than teens and catch up on their lives rather than mine. Then to see family and go on our cob building course – learning new skills, meeting new people in an environment where we are all new and inexperienced.

After that I have started to arrange our very first WWOOFers – I think the time has come to start getting support with the tasks on the croft, begin sharing what we have learned and teaching others what we can and gaining from the fresh eyes and new ideas of like minded people coming and seeing what we have achieved.

I have always known that the island cannot possibly provide everything, we will have to go seeking when it falls short. The time has come to start searching out opportunities and creating new ways of meeting needs. I think we are on the way to making that happen.

‘Tis the season

to be busy!

Busy with actual proper paid work – Ady and I have both been doing shifts at the castle hostel to add money to the pot for the Masterplan. It grates rather, working for ‘the man’ and anything that takes us away from the things we actually moved here for and love comes at quite a price but we are making it work for us by enjoying chatting to the folk staying at the hostel, learning a little more about the castle and limiting our hours to just a couple of four or five hour shifts a week. I am also doing my two shifts a week at the shop / post office -one morning and one evening. We are determined to move forward this year and do everything we possibly can to stay over the coming winter by getting a Rum winter proof roof over our heads.

The Honesty Larder is doing well with eggs and jam all selling, Davies has been doing a brisk trade in his postcards and the midges are back this week so I will be harvesting new supplies to get making my midges in resin bits and pieces. All is growing well in the polytunnel and I have spent time this week doing what will probably be the final sowings of various things. It is all looking very productive and we’ll soon be taking our first harvests of salad, strawberries and herbs. I have various things ready to plant out in the raised beds too and the fence around that area is only an afternoon or two away from being finished. I was out there today and have made the start of an archway entrance in and dedicated an area to be the compost heap ready to dump all used animal bedding rich in manure to rot down and feed the beds over the winter along with some collected seaweed from the beaches.

We lost all the goslings – the raven and crows simply picked them off one by one. It is very sad. Having read a little about geese as parents it seems they may get wiser with subsequent broods but I think we may also try and assist with a pen if they go broody again. We have constructed a very temporary duck run  to house the ducks over night so we can collect all their eggs.

The three wee piglets are doing really well and are very robust, curious and active. Barbara is doing a fine job of mothering them and is able to nimbly leap the low fence dividing her and Tom so she is happily spending half her time hanging out with Tom and the other half returning to her piglets to feed and sleep with them. So far that all seems to be working well.

I love this time of year, the days feel so long with daylight until 10pm and the island has a lovely buzz of busyness.

In your eyes

There is some saying, the sort you see on people’s facebook pages with pictures of sunsets and mountains about how we don’t own our children, we just get to hang out with them for a while. I agree with that – I think I have many responsibilities as a parent – to my children, to myself and to society as a whole but ultimately I am only a part of the many influences they will have – credit, or indeed blame is certainly not all mine for who they are and the path they take through life.

My relationship with Rum is a bit like that. I have been through periods here where I strongly feel that Rum belongs to the people who live here right now. That there is too much focus on the ‘back in the day brigade’, too much time spent harking back to how things used to be done, too much energy wasted on history. To an extent I still believe that but I also have come to understand that just because I am one of the 40 people who currently have Rum as my permanent address it does not give me any greater claim to stake on Rum as mine.

I have met people in the last few weeks who have been visiting this island not just since before I even knew Rum existed, but since before I was even born! People who have had a long association with the island and trodden on areas of it I likely never will. People who understand more about the geology, archaeology, wildlife, nature, history than I ever will. I have met people who experienced a Rum I will never know, long before the birth of the community trust or the creation of the croft I call home. People for whom the current electoral role of the island means nothing and us residents are just the incidental custodians of what happens during this period in the islands history but in the scheme of things are just names, just like the list of names I have heard and the photos of faces I have never met but who played a huge part in shaping the place I now live in.

I have also spent time these last few weeks talking about Our Rum – how many children live here NOW, what brought OUR family to the island and what keeps us here. I have served people in the shop, helped people at the hostel, baked cakes and made soup to feed folk visiting for the day on Saturday, been responsible for the chickens living here which laid the eggs they ate for breakfast down in the guest house they stayed at in the village, written this blog that may have shaped their very decision to visit Rum or not, been part of the decision making process for the latest employee and therefore most recent potential resident for the island.

It’s a funny experience living here – at once you feel both humbled by your smallness and insignificance whilst feeling a great sense of power and influence by virtue of being one of such a small number making such monumental decisions during this snapshot period of the islands history.

And when all of that gets too much to process…. I go and sow more seeds in the polytunnel or hang out with the piglets for a bit. The upside of this life is you don’t need to travel more than a few footsteps to get thoroughly grounded once more!

The most generous are often those with the least to give…

About 10 years ago I first heard about the notion of the Cosmic Supply Company. The basic idea (if you’ve not heard of it) is that if you have something spare you should pass it on and in turn when a need arises somehow the universe will provide.

In some ways that does a disservice to the people who have been generous enough to provide us with opportunities, skills, kindness, gifts and help by taking the act of their giving away from them and attributing it to some higher power. In others it makes even more sense as I know that there have been times when we have been able to offer something – an example being when we finally left Sussex us giving all of the contents of our old house – beds, sofas, white goods, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, telly and so on, to some friends who had just moved into an unfurnished house. I know how good it made me feel to be able to find a worthy home for something I no longer needed and to feel I was doing something good. I guess its the same feeling as donating to charity, offering your time in volunteer work, finding some lost property and returning it to it’s owner.

Back in our old lives we never really felt needy and most of the time if we wanted something we had the funds to go and buy it but when we headed off in 2011 in Willow we found that there was a never ending supply of kindness, generosity and goodwill out there being extended to us. The mechanic who did work on Willow for us at a hugely discounted rate because he had seen the address for this blog painted on the outside, checked out what we were doing and thought it was a great adventure. The chance meeting with the next door neighbour of a WWOOF host who invited us round to use their swimming pool (and is now one of our best friends and visiting us here next month!), the WWOOF hosts who sent us a compost loo when they read in the WWOOFing newsletter about how we were lacking a loo! The complete strangers who travelled to Rum armed with a pair of drakes to give us and ended up staying to help put up the community polytunnel too. The community here on Rum who have put themselves out time and again to help us here on the croft – help us push the caravan up the hill, donated materials to build animals shelters and raised beds, found a space for us to keep our freezer… the list goes on and on.

The latest example of the Cosmic Supply Company – and the huge generosity of a friend is a new vehicle. Arriving on the ferry on Friday came a car which we are only too happy to give a new home to.

Thanks Big Dave, a fantastic conduit for the wonders of the universe.

…Want to be part of this amazing phenomena? Why not advance purchase one of our rewards and help out with the Masterplan

Making Time

It’s four years ago now that a growing sense of dissatisfaction with our lives led us to start planning a year off, a soul searching, learning adventure that we hoped might lead us somewhere new. We didn’t know then where it would lead us or what might happen along the way but we had a list of objectives – of things we definitely wanted to change in our lives. High on all our lists was more time spent together, more time to smell the roses, stop and stare, just be.

Fast forward to now and although on the surface we do indeed have a simpler life it still takes quite some effort to ensure that we stay on track with our desire to snatch enough moments each day to just enjoy what is here around us. In our first and second summers here on Rum a great way of ensuring we achieved that for at least two hours every single week was the Thursday Sheerwater boat trip. Two hours off Rum, away from the croft, the village, whatever paid work we might be engaged in, voluntary roles we might have taken on. Two hours spent with each other making the absolute most of this amazing place we get to call home.

Today was the first trip of this, our third summer. Once again we fully intend taking this opportunity every week and have already written out every Thursday afternoon in the calendar between now and September as we’ll be off, sailing to Soay and back, spotting seabirds, cetaceans and admiring the breathtaking views of our island as it looms smaller and then larger once more as we sail away and back. Once upon a time adventures like this one were the reserve of a two week holiday once a year, sandwiched between weeks and months of working jobs that didn’t fulfill us in lives we didn’t enjoy. Thursday afternoon was noteable only for it’s proximity to Friday, end of the working week.

It didn’t matter that it was a choppy ride and we saw only a kittiwake and a distant shearwater. What mattered was that we were there, seaspray on our lips, ocean breezes in our hair, promise of better weather and calmer rides to come and that ever present chance and potential of just maybe seeing something amazing.