Experiences, not things

I’ve been busy setting the ball rolling for the big build next year. A few facebook posts, some emails, catching up with people who have expressed an interest in being part of the project to give them a heads up that it is happening. I’ve written an update for the WWOOFing newsletter and am very excited at the prospect of a group of very close friends making it up here next year to join in.

I was reading an article on the Tiny House movement earlier which had a lovely quote:

People would rather have experiences than things

This has been something I have believed for a very long time – in summing up a day, a week, a year, a life it is never the stuff accumulated which makes it count, but the memories – the what you did not the what you had.

We have been so pleased to have such a great first response to our plans for next year – it’s been raining pretty much non stop since we first posted about it last week so we have yet to translate our own enthusiasm into the first breaking ground on the house plot clearing the site but hopefully by the end of this week we will have some pictures to share of the actual location looking like the start of something exciting rather than just an untamed corner of the croft.

Draw a house

When I was a child I drew hundreds and hundreds of houses. Early depictions would have been of the square topped by a triangle variety, that would have been followed by 3d versions and I distinctly recall more sophisticated illustrations with a garden wall, goldfish pond and a few trees and flower beds.

What I probably never drew was a home. Over the last few months all four of us have been drawing homes. Davies and Scarlett have done this exercise many times over the last few years. We have had very elaborate interiors including helter skelter staircases, laundry chutes, trapdoors and skylight windows to see the moon, the stars and the northern lights. Drawing a home is a whole lot more fun than drawing a house I think.

We have a few very inspirational books on cob and other green buildings which we have been referring to for help at this stage

Thanks to advice from these books we started thinking more like Davies and Scarlett and less like the junior version of me and began planning a home rather than a house. There is a difference. We don’t need to be constrained by square building materials and straight edges – we can create a home that is more like clothing – comfortable, designed to fit around us and our shapes. Specific to us and our needs and our rhythm and our lives.  
We began with an exercise to get us thinking about the pattern of our days. We all started with a blank circle and marked the 24 hours of the day around the edge, then wrote around the outside what we were doing during those hours – we all did it and it gave us a blueprint of when we are apart, when we come together and what sort of space and light we require at different times of the day and night.
It showed when we are sleeping, eating, hanging out, watching a film, listening to the radio, having a bath (clearly this was a little bit of an aspirational project rather than simply the reality of life in a caravan just now!). We then spent some time talking about specific spaces that we need, the things that we sometimes struggle to find a home for in our current living space and that it would be good to consider before planning a home. We came up with:
  • room for Bonnie’s crate – somewhere near the door so that she doesn’t walk mud all through the place when she comes in wet or dirty. Bonnie sleeps in her crate but only really goes in when we are either not home or in bed so it doesn’t need to be in the main space.
  • space for coats and boots – we need a ‘decontamination zone’ for wet and muddy clothes when we come in from outside.
  • Power hub – we need a space outside to house our generator, inside for the batteries and invertors and controls for our off grid power sources.
  • Boiler room and water tank – a space for storing and heating water.
  • Clock – my 21st birthday present from Ady was a giant pine framed clock. Nearly 20 years later it is still the focal point of every home we have and will require a flat bit of wall to hang on – we need to factor that into our plans.
  • Bath space – we really miss a bath and need to ensure there is a space for one with a nice view, it doesn’t need to be fully enclosed in a room, just screened off from the main living space.
  • Loo room – this does need to be enclosed and would be best near the door so you can just nip in from outside without going all through the house.
  • Cooking, eating and hanging out – this is the main focus of any indoor space for us and makes sense to be all in one place rather than sectioned into separate rooms.
  • Cosy place – for a child to sit with a book or drawing materials, for an adult to sit and drink a coffee or write or check emails.
  • Christmas tree – you can laugh! We tend to have our Christmas tree up for the best part of a month and so something which is around for 1/12 of the year deserves a space planned for it even if the other 11/12 of the year that space is given over to something else.
  • Sleeping, personal space, storage for clothes, toys.
We then translated those circles into a physical space orientated towards north, south, east and west taking into account where the sun rises and sets – beds to be on the eastern side of the home so the rising sun wakes you of a morning, living space on the south side for maximum light, bath space on the western side for sunset views, water tank and larder on the north facing wall to keep it cool. After several drafts – and a lot of discussion and pacing things out and looking at spaces with tape measures we came up with a plan.

Three bedrooms, a cupboard for a loo, a screened off space for the bath and a nice big living space to fit everything else into. The interior will shape itself with obvious places for the things we listed above showing themselves to us as we go.
One of the errors we have made in life here so far is orientating our caravan the wrong way – it had to go east/west as that makes it most resistant to most of the wind and weather we get here but we should have spun it round 180 degrees so that what is currently north would be south. That would mean the fridge and main kitchen area which currently overheats facing south in the summer would benefit from the constant shade of being north facing, and the bedrooms and bulk of the clothes storage space which suffers from damp along the north wall would all be south facing and get light even during the winter months. It was an easy rookie error to make when we moved here having never even thought about such things in our previous life – you just don’t get to decide which doors and windows and rooms face in which direction in a normal house. Getting to know our land so very well over the last 2 and a half years has offered us the luxury of knowing which bits of the croft are in shade at certain times of year, which areas flood, where the prevailing weather comes from and precisely where to sit to get the best views at different times of year, of day, of night. 
You will notice so far the only drawing of our home is a floor plan, we have more to do in terms of looking at elevations and other dimensions. There are technical bits to work out, doors and windows to site. More on that later.

Cob, cob, glorious cob….

We’re going to build a cob house.

We’re going to build it next year. Here on Croft 3, using clay dug from the croft. We know roughly where we are going to build it, we have an approximate timeline, we’ve done some critical path analysis, we have an agreed design.

I remember announcing something pretty similar in just a few lines four years ago.

We’re going to go off traveling around the UK in a campervan. We’ll do WWOOFing

I also remember the reality of what that plan took to organise, to make happen, to convince all the interested parties that this was a good idea and we hadn’t completely taken leave of our senses. It was not without challenges – both the planning and the execution of that plan. There were times when I think everyone concerned secretly – and sometimes not so secretly – thought actually it would be better to not be doing any such thing. But we did it, we made it happen.

Then a year later we came up with another plan.

We’re going to move a remote Scottish island with just 30 odd people and be crofters. There is nothing there at all yet except a bare field but we’ll keep animals, grow food, find a way of making a life there

Turns out that we did that too. We’re still doing it, it’s still a work in progress so I guess this latest announcement is more of a sub heading underneath. But it is pretty similar in many ways. There will be schedules, people to talk to, communicate with, help and support to be garnered, people shaking their heads and thinking we are crazies to be proved wrong.

All of the most amazing adventures I have ever been on have started life as a slightly random thought that struck me one day, snowballed in my own mind into an idea and then I took to Ady to persuaded him to join me with. Latterly I have taken them to Davies and Scarlett too. Sometimes when they are properly crazy or ambitious we take them to other people too and with a mad glint in our eyes, a passionate tone of voice and an air of excitement about us we ask

We’re going to do something a bit out of the ordinary. It might go wrong at times, it certainly won’t go completely according to plan.  There will be surprises and adventures along the way. We will try hard and plan as much as possible but we will need to be prepared to change our plans, sometimes at the last minute when things crop up that we didn’t anticipate or expect. It won’t always be easy but it will be a lot of fun. We will laugh a lot, sing a lot, build lots of memories together and take lots of photos. It will definitely be hard work but then anything worth doing always is. Do you want to join in?

How does that make you feel?

Are you shaking your head? Did you even read to the end? Is it the sort of question you turn away from and assume was not actually being asked of you?

Or does it make a little cartwheel spin down in the pit of your tummy? Does it make you a bit restless in your chair? A bit twitchy? A bit inclined to type something in the comments box about how yes, you’d like to join in?

At this stage we are working out what help we need and when. We will want people to come and move heavy things around, get muddy, make cob, make tea and big pots of soup to feed hungry workers, we will need people to sing, take photos, make everyone laugh. To hand round midge spray or hold umbrellas. We also need people to watch from afar and cheer us on, to celebrate with us and commiserate with us. People to read the blog and smile and feel proud to have commented and been a part of it.

What does this post make you want to do?



As I type the wind is howling around the caravan. Ferries have been disrupted today, already cancelled for tomorrow and the wind turbine is tied up against forecast gales.

My reaction to this – to my Mum on the phone last night, and to a random tourist I was chatting to in the shop this evening as he insisted ‘There has to be a boat on Wednesday, I need to get home’ tells me that heading into our third winter I am now, officially An Islander. I know that this is what you expect at this time of year; this is normal, commonplace, unexceptional. We got our visit to the mainland for a dentist visit out of the way, have got plenty of milk and butter in the freezer, good stocks of tins, jars, rice, pasta and flour and will make sure we order any Christmas presents to arrive in early December just in case.

It is easy to push lots of things to the foot of your to do list living here – during the spring, summer and autumn you are a fool if you don’t head out on weekly Sheerwater boat trips to spot dolphins, go clambering up mountains in the dark to listen to manx shearwaters coming in to feed their chicks, walk to Kilmory to witness the red deer rut, celebrate a non midgey day of sunshine by going swimming in the river. So you file a whole lot of things under ‘for the winter’ and forget about them. During our first winter we were just focussing on survival – collecting firewood and water daily, struggling to make sense of this new life. During our second winter we found a better rhythm and were able to do crafts, read books, watch films, catch up with each other. This year we have plenty of that scheduled in, along with lots of planning for next year’s big build project. I have some writing work lined up and plans to try and get more. I am organising a secret santa for interested islanders and we have been talking about various social things to keep us all going through the shorter days.

In other news we made our Christmas cake this week – yes Scarlett is wearing the same T shirt as in the Christmas cake picture from 2 years ago 🙂

and the guinea fowl are settling in well and running with the pack

The ‘Oh look, it’s a whole new masterplan Masterplan’

I think we might be on v3. Or maybe even v3.1

Never be afraid to upgrade, enhance or completely change your masterplan.

In our case I think we may be doing a little bit of all of the above. The current Masterplan is a cob house build in 2015. We’re starting small – permaculture principles suggest small steps make for small mistakes, cob house builds suggest small houses make for smaller amounts of cob mix required. But we hope to have something suitable for next winter built by next winter. If that works we can progress more in the following year for the following winter.

So we are finalising designs for something with a living / cooking / eating space, a place for a bath, three separate rooms for a bedroom each for us, Davies and Scarlett and an indoor loo. We have worked a lot on the design plotting the shape of our days, working out best use of space, deciding what we do and don’t need room for and looking at seasonal changes, sunrise and sunset, views, weather and the general knowledge of our land which two and a half years of living it has afforded us.

We have decided on a plot and marked out the rough size. The next stage is clearing that plot of grass and starting to dig out the footprint. Over the winter Ady and I will aim to dig it out, put in drainage and build the low wall that a cob building sits on. That is the practical side.

The planning side is rather more complex – we will get planning permission for a structure on the croft of the relevant size and shape. We will organise a large volunteer project to come and assist at the key points we will need help for, sort out the logistics of the materials we will need to buy in and work out the finer details.

I have been spending time on a Masterplan master plan brainstroming all the required things to organise and sort out, listing them, prioritising them and creating a timeline. This has then broken down into monthly targets and will then fit into weekly lists of things to do. Divided into indoor and outdoor, practical and planning sections. It’s all quite complicated! It reminds me of the 9 months of planning that went into our WWOOFing adventure and how we went about organising that.

Everyone is feeling quite enthused and excited about this and it’s great to be heading into winter feeling empowered and in control as we face the most unknown and out of our hands season of life here on Rum. I can’t control the weather, the fate of the caravan or many of the other variables of our lives here. We can seize the reins of at least knowing which direction we’d like to be headed in and doing all we can to be moving in the right way.

And then there were four…

I know it is only October but there is a real ‘end of season’ feeling here. The winter ferry timetable kicks in in the next week or so, the hostel is closed for the winter, the teashop is only open for limited times. We have turned round our ‘produce this way’ signs leading people to the croft.

We have had our last planned visit of the year to the mainland for food shopping and dentist check-ups. We waved off our last visitors of the year – my parents – on the ferry yesterday.

Today has been a day of planning – the start of the planning for the cob house build next year, a winter plan for general indoors and outdoors croft going forward stuff, a month-by-month timetable for the coming six months. We have some possible work opportunities, next years livestock and crops to bear in mind, investments of time and money in the coming year, an evaluation of what worked and didn’t work, what can be improved and enhanced for next year.

The cupboards are full of pickles and preserves, the freezer is stocked up, we have craft materials ready to be turned into sale-able items, to do lists, ideas and inspiration.

But first, just for a few days, we’re going to do not much. To spread out in our own space, catch up on watching films and downloaded tv shows, luxuriate in the end of one part of our year and our life here and just catch our breath before throwing ourselves into the next bit.

In your own time

I tend not to focus on the can nots. On the things we are not able to do. Mostly because I do believe that in the main it is what we can’t do yet rather than what we can’t do. That if we actually wanted to do something then we could.

I think that what we don’t have or can’t do is mostly to do with having chosen a different path.

I can’t have a bath tonight or pop to the 24 hour supermarket or ring for a takeaway because I have chosen to live somewhere where I get to see the red deer rut from my lounge window, the evening sky catch fire with breathtaking sunsets and my children have seen the northern lights from their beds.

Having chosen the path of Home Education there are various things Davies and Scarlett can’t do. There will be milestones they have not hit, areas in which they are not level with their peers, gaps in their knowledge, spaces in their skills. I believe this is because they have been far too busy getting up to other things instead, things which may or may not rank above or below in importance in the scheme of things but at the time were precisely the right thing for them to be doing. And that if at some future point those gaps and spaces become an issue they will address them then and there and fill them up accordingly.

Learning to ride a bike has been one of those gaps. They had the toddler trikes, they had scooters. But somewhere along the way when other children their age were learning how to ride bikes we were busy doing something else instead. I’m not even sure what now -I cannot cite the moments when instead of loading up the car with bikes on a rack and heading to the park we went off and did something else instead. The day when we didn’t ceremoniously remove the stabilisers from the back wheel of their bike and push them across the lawn promising not to let go but letting go anyway. Maybe we were off at the zoo, or the beach, or camping, or at a museum, or the theatre or cinema instead. Perhaps we were reading, or drawing, or hanging out with friends.

Whatever. It didn’t happen. We did buy Davies a bike once. We took him to the beach which had a very good cycle path. We talked to him about it in our usual honest fashion  – Ady said ‘Now you will fall off, it will hurt. But that is part of riding a bike’. To which Davies looked at me, shook his head at Ady’s stupidity and firmly announced that if he didn’t get on the bike and attempt to ride it then no, he would not fall off and no he would not get hurt. So why on earth should he try?

For at least the last four years though Davies has added ‘learn to ride a bike’ to his list of things he wants to achieve this year. Each year it has not happened. Again I can list what we did instead. He has certainly not sat waiting with a hopeful look on his face for the day that year that he learns to ride a bike. Life has simply gotten in the way.

But this year, this year we decided it was definitely going to happen. My parents birthday present to each of them has been a bike (Scarlett’s is an early present – having a December birthday means you either get the best presents early, late or combined with your Christmas present!) and today was the day.

We practised on the croft first, down hill, on grass, got all the falling off and working out what height the saddle should be at on nice soft ground. Then we took them down to the village and used the smooth track infront of the castle. Our children have very different approaches to learning new skills – both in line with their personality and both work for them personally. Davies needs a bit of goading, some challenging, some prodding and poking and inciting to actually really truly give his best. He needs to get a little bit pissed off and angry – with me, with the bike, with himself. He needs to have something to prove to someone.

Scarlett needs an audience for her own personal commentary as she psyches herself up and cheerleads all by herself. She compares herself and needs to be reminded that it is not a competition. She never loses heart and just needs reassuring that if we are still there trying by moonlight then that is fine.

Within an hour they had both cycled for a fair distance and cracked it. More practice is needed, more confidence and more skill in combining looking, listening, steering, pedalling and braking all at the same time. But today was the day and it happened, they did it, they can.

Autumn watching

It’s stunning on Rum just now. The colours are fantastic, photos don’t do it justice and words fall way short. There is a smell of woodsmoke in the air and the sun (which continues to keep putting in an almost daily appearance) is hanging low in the sky giving a fantastic quality to the light.

Today we headed off over to Kilmory – the north side of Rum with a white sandy beach, views across to the Isle of Skye and panoramic ocean views. And home to the Kilmory Deer Research project. We are fortunate for so many reasons living here on Rum but one which we never anticipated is the experts we have access to. The people who make up our fragile community have come to Rum for a variety of reasons but high on the list is research science. We count among our residents here two of the worlds leading experts in red deer research – able to glance at a deer and tell you who they are, their parentage, their offspring and their success rate at breeding.

As we headed off away from the croft there were two stags parallel walking in the area just above the croft and stags roaring all around which did make us rather question why we were off five miles away but Kilmory is always worth the effort and today was no exception.

We drove part way today – there are repairs and improvements being made to the track at the moment and our car would not have managed the rough ride all the way there so we did 2 miles by car and walked the final 3 but it reduced our journey time from two hours to just one. Once there we settled into the hide and sat for a good couple of hours watching as the stag right infront of us with a large harem (we counted 24 at the peak while we were there although several wondered off during the course of our stay) defending against incomers and challengers. We saw a couple of parallel walks, roaring aplenty and lots of interesting behaviour. We also had a chat with one of the researchers who showed us the census information he was collecting and ID’d the main players infront of us. Davies was most interested to note that two of the key stags were 2000 births the same as him. Scarlett was mostly just falling in love with the little spotted calf who was a late birth this season and very cute.

Then home again – an hours walk to the car, past more stags and hinds, then a drive back to the croft. There is plenty more roaring out on the croft tonight – it’s a noisy time of year.

The skies tonight were amazing – as though the hills were on fire.

Thrust into autumn

With the autumn equinox so we have been thrust straight into the changed season. Our usual Calmac ferry is off for it’s annual time in drydock so we have had a combination of various other vessels bringing our freight and visitors. That makes for a fair level of disruption generally to the timetable as one of the replacement boats travels at a much slower rate than our usual boat, the Loch Nevis, and the other travels much faster. Add to that a fair level of poor weather, gale force winds, sea swells and general October-ness and you end up with rather a lottery of ferry services.

We have had friends and family coming and going during all of this, and we went off for a dentist trip too. We have also had our usual animal feed deliveries, post and other bits and pieces arriving (or not as the case may be) including our latest addition to the Croft creatures of some guinea fowl.

We have had a full quota of visitors this summer which has been lovely and it’s been great to show off Rum, the Croft and our progress here and have some great feedback on what we have achieved from people who have visited before and can see the difference. It’s been lovely for Davies and Scarlett to have plenty of time with friends too, we all feel nicely topped up ready to face the winter and relax into being a foursome again – although we have one last visit of the year from my parents this coming weekend.

The changing weather means a change in our routine too – earlier evening feeds for the animals as the nights draw in, earlier dinners for us for the same reason – if we can cook in daylight it saves on lighting. More time spend on indoor pursuits such as crafts, drawing, reading, catching up on planning, watching films and indoor playing. Davies got a new mini dvd player for his birthday and we invested in an external disc drive to store plenty of films on so we have a whole new library of things to watch including wildlife documentaries. While we were off on the mainland we splashed out on a set of throws (all of £30 in total from one of the cheap shops!) and a couple of rugs so the lounge area of the static is looking all made over and cosy ready for the winter. We might look at making some heavier weight curtains too. I’ve been turning old pillows into cushions and crocheting some cushion covers with some wool scraps to make it look even nicer.

It’s still a work in progress and we won’t be spending any more cash on it – all of what we have bought comes to under £50 and will move into our new build eventually anyway but it feels time to make the static feel a little more personal as we face a third winter it in.

This week we plan to tidy up the polytunnel as pretty much all the crops are over or close to over. I harvested the last of the tomatoes last week and what had not ripened and been snaffled as raw tomatoes was made into about 10 more jars of chutney. We are also planning a walk to Kilmory as the red deer rut is in full swing – as I type I can hear stags roaring outside. I do wonder if the vibration of the straps in the wind, holding the caravan roof on are at the same pitch and some poor stag thinks he is being roared back at by them!