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Longer days…

It’s been a busy week or so – a friend visited, both cars were briefly not running and sorting that out took three days we had not accounted for. There has been some house plot digging, plenty of firewood processing, various surviving type stuff as always in winter on Rum.

There has been wind, rain, hail, a smattering of snow (although I think we are forecast more), lots more wind. The first chicken of the year has begun laying and is a reliable egg every day type of hen, when we are over run with eggs in a month or so I will try to recall these January days when there is a squabble for the single sacred egg to have pancakes, bake cookies, scramble or fry.

We celebrated Bonnie’s third birthday – not a puppy any more. This will be the year we finally improve our dog training, we have all agreed, particularly given her nervousness and tendency to be snappy around people other than us.

It was Burns night, celebrated in usual Rum style with a traditional Burns Supper – cullen skink, Balmoral chicken, haggis, neeps and tatties, many a dram, followed with a whiskey jelly. There were the traditional poems, piping in the haggis, man in kilt with knife to stab it, Ady and I did the toast to the lassies and the toast to the laddies in reply. The Rum band played, some people joined them on stage for singing…. (yes, yes, it was me! I love a good sing, or even a bad prosecco fired sing!).

We had a visiting professor give a couple of fascinating lectures on the archaeology of Rum and the other Small Isles, followed by a more gruesome but incredibly interesting one on forensic science used in murder investigations.

So, clearly blogging fell off the bottom of my to do list!

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Bright Lights

Everyone else is in bed – not asleep mind you. Ady is watching some downloaded telly on his phone, Scarlett is listening to an audiobook and drawing, Davies is working on a story he is writing. I meanwhile have been outside on the sporran in my big boots and ‘jamas trying to catch a photo of the northern light which are active tonight according to all my apps, alerts, email notifications and facebook groups which are filled with pictures from Shetland, Orkney and Aberdeen. I didn’t capture anything but the stars are amazing so it was worth braving the cold for ten minutes.

We still have lot of snow up on the peaks here and it is very still with no wind. You almost miss it when it finally drops, it’s eerily quiet. Not complaining though, we had sufficient wind in the first two weeks of this year to last for months and months.

Ady spent yesterday afternoon digging on the houseplot while the kids and I went down to the village to join the Ranger on a Tree ID walk. It was very soggy and quite cold as it was raining but we all learnt something new about trees – I think I learnt the most actually, particularly about how much Davies and Scarlett already knew about trees!

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In other news today Ady and I were processing firewood and pimped the chopping area to create the Goddard Wood Processing Station 2000. We secured the two logs, made a post to bash perforated wood on to split it and earlier on I had made a template of the length of the log burner as we keep bringing in wood which turns out to be too long to fit in it (somehow a small bit of wood looks so much smaller outside in the world than when it is held next to our wee burner in the caravan! Perspective!). It is winning and made us laugh a lot, while also being very useful and practical.

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11th Hour

Right at the very end of the week we finally got out and did some digging on the house plot.

It was very slippery and I fell over – cue much hilarity from Ady at the time and delayed hilarity from Davies and Scarlett when we came in for coffee later and I was sporting a muddy bum on my jeans.

Three residents walked past as we were digging and paused for a chat. This, coupled with the stunning views and sound of the river running by and the sun shining down on us reminded me anew of why this is the perfect spot.

It’s very hard to visualise what might be there this time next year standing on that spot just now. The build is such an organic, making it up as we go along process that I can’t even sketch what the finished house will look like. We know the floor plan and the size but so much of the rest is as yet uncertain. We have contingency plans for worst case scenarios of unfinished build, no interest in people wanting to come and help, mad weather or plagues of midges or locusts or toads…

For me that is what is so exciting – everyone who comes and gets involved will place their own stamp on the build. It will symbolise what a group of people can come together and create. It will carry the mark of every single person and their creativity, ideas and vision. If we were not the ones here making it happen it is definitely the sort of project the four of us would be signing up to go and be a part of. We got such a kick out of being part of something bigger than us when we were WWOOFing in 2011. We love knowing that the things we do here on Rum today will live on much longer than we will survive to see – planting trees that will outlive us, contributing to village plans for the island which hopefully will create the framework for generations of people in Rum’s future.

Does that put a little tingle in your tummy at all? If so then get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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It’s oh so quiet

The wind has dropped, the snow is muffling noise.

The boat came – its been awhile. It brought fresh milk, fruit, vegetables, meat (and very importantly) a new hot water bottle for me.

Sledging fun was had.

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A bacardi sort of day….

Not for drinking – as in white Rum. Because we woke up this morning to SNOW!

Coming from the south coast of England snow is quite a novelty to us – we used to see it so infrequently it still has us pressing our noses against the window, shrieking with delight and dashing round finding extra socks, gloves and woolly hats to get outside and play in it as soon as possible!

The other source of happiness today was another egg from the chickens. We collected the first of the year yesterday and there was another waiting in one of the chicken houses this morning. Pancakes for breakfast to celebrate.

Davies and Scarlett made a snowman and then finally got to use the sledges that we bought them for Christmas back in 2011, when we were still just hoping to move to Rum rather than actually living here. Back then we foolishly thought living on top of a steep hill on an island in the Scottish Highlands would present many sledging opportunities. It doesn’t. Rum is coastal, warm, wet and windy but almost never snowy.

Ady and I took Bonnie for a long walk and captured lots of photos of the snow. Ady’s were better than mine, obviously!
Bacardi - other white Rum is available!

snowy path

Extreme off grid living

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Words and pictures, arts and crafts

Also entitled ‘Do what you love, love what you do’.

There are reasons we live the life we do. Whilst we have some pretty idealistic eco views we are far from purists and we make some pretty big compromises in our current lifestyle in order to preserve some of the things we hold dear and consider more important than others.

The key one is time spent together. Ady and I chose each other as life partners, we didn’t get married for any other reason than because we love each other and there is no one else we would rather spend time in the company of. Which meant that however much we enjoyed the company of work mates over the years we still missed being with each other. The same applies to Davies and Scarlett. They are not just our children, a responsibility, the continuation of our genes. They are also people we genuinely enjoy the company of and want to spend as much time as possible with. In years gone by we used to aim for quality rather than quantity – we have photo albums filled with pictures of the four of us at the zoo, on camping trips, at the beach, on holiday. Then one day we realised that maybe quantity is just as important. These days we are together all the time, life lived alongside each other.

Another really important thing for us is following your passions. Indulging yourself in doing what makes you happy, knowing that if it makes you happy you will probably do it well. The basis of our Home Educating philosophy is in doing what makes you happy, what interests you, what you do well. It is true that we cannot live an entirely moneyless existence but we do believe that if you do something meaningful and soul feeding and do it well then the chances are it will be something that can sustain you too. This could be rearing animals, growing food, foraging etc in order to feed ourselves or barter for the other things we need. Or it may be by some creative output which is marketable to sell to others.

Rum has offered all four of us the opportunity to follow our passions, learn new skills and find ways of transferring our passion for our surroundings into something which can bring in a trickle of income. For Davies that has been inspiring him in his art – using the landscape, wildlife and architecture of Rum as the subject matter for his postcards, cards and artwork. For Scarlett the colours of Rum through the seasons, different parts of the island and different times of day have given her a colour palette to create candles, for me the blog, writing about our lifestyle and the lessons we have learnt here have given me a fantastic subject matter for my words – selling articles and finding ways to draw in people to support us and work with us to follow our dreams. Now Ady has found a way of using his skills too. For a long time I have been posting his photographs up on the blog, on facebook and showing them to friends and several people have shown interest in buying copies. Now we have set up a place to do just that. You can click on the photo in the sidebar to be taken to his gallery or click on the photo below.

Before winter washed the colour away

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Survival

This week we have given ourselves a pretty under ambitious to do list and even though it is only Wednesday we have already done most of it. Still left on this list is ‘surviving wind!’ so we can’t consider that done until the week is out. But tax returns have been done, blog newsletters sent out, Rum community newsletter compiled, edited and sent to print, polytunnel plastic removed and general area tidied up – we pulled some of the plastic across the strawberries and lavender in there – fingers crossed that is sufficient. The kiwi has been brought into the caravan, we’ll see if it survives or not. Lots of firewood processing – cutting, chopping, splitting, lugging about.

Inside we have been reading, catching up on downloaded iplayer things, some crochet (I made a hat!), moving paperwork about into different piles, signing up to Lovefilm after a long break and excitedly adding lots of films and tv series to our rental lists. Intermittent internet gives it an even greater novelty value than usual!

Meanwhile we have had pretty much every weather possible – wind, rain, hail, snow, sunshine… as yet there have been no locusts, frogs or fish falling from the sky. But Rum has surprised us before and is likely to continue to do so!

For now though, all challenges aside why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

snowy day

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Power Cuts, Bridges Closed, Phone lines Down

Of course none of these things affect us in our off grid way but the cause of the widespread disruption in our area certainly still affects us massively. The weather. Cancelled boats, intermittent internet and of course the havoc that the wind here can wreak.

We have gotten off very lightly I think. All livestock is fine, repairs to various housing in the crazy weather conditions were required but that’s fine. The caravan remains still standing, in one piece and with most of the weather still on the outside. Phew. There is more wind to come and I suspect the nights lying awake wondering if this will be the gust which blows the roof off at 3am are not over just yet but we’ll count our blessings while we have them.

The community polytunnel which we were the only users of last year is now almost entirely without polythene. We tried to do a fix up on it after the storms last week but the wind never died down sufficiently for us to get close enough without the high risk of getting hurt by flapping polythene, plus we were pretty darn busy just surviving in gathering firewood, feeding the animals and keeping ourselves together. Never mind, it is just a piece of plastic. We have had plenty of offers of help to get a replacement fitted in the spring and just as soon as the wind does drop sufficiently (maybe tomorrow) we will go and preform a tidy up operation and restore some order to the area.

So, no house plot digging this week, or indeed this year so far. Instead we have been busy with admin, paperwork and organisation stuff and starting to co-ordinate the volunteer plan for the spring. We have sent out the first subscribers newsletter of the year (want to sign up for those? click here) and are really excited at the prospect of filling Croft 3 with people, productivity and fun this year.

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Weather Warnings

There is a certain irony that having survived polar vortexes and arctic weather bombs (we actually do have the t shirts thanks to a parcel that arrived last week from friends!) the worst winds we have experienced so far on Rum came without a name.

For the first time in our caravan on an exposed hill on a wind whipped Scottish island we overcame our habitual bravado and accepted one of the (four!) offers of beds for the night down in the village. In the past there have been at least two occasions where Ady and I have laid awake in the middle of a mad storm regretting staying put but knowing that we are safer staying in the caravan at that stage than wondering around in the dark while debris whistles past our ears. This time we decided to take our que sera sera attitude down to the village with us and let it sleep in a real bed with a roof and solid walls.

Neither of us slept well even so, it turns out that we are used to the noises in the caravan and while we are roused from sleep by them we do at least have a sort of spectrum as to what they mean in terms of risk, potential damage and scariness. In a house surrounded by trees the moans and groans and creaks are unknown and there were a lot of them last night. Along with thunder and lightning. And a gnawing worry that maybe not knowing what was happening up on the croft was almost as bad as experiencing it.

So this morning we walked back home, passing several Rum folk with stories to tell of their evenings of lying awake for various reasons. The internet was out, but it was back on later – not sure whether that was a fellow islander doing a fix or the power coming back on on the mainland where we get our signal from. A chicken house had been overturned on one of the other crofts and a hen lost, some roofing had come off on a house and the paths, woodland and tracks were strewn with huge branches. As we walked towards the croft it was with an increasing sense of doom and when Ady asked if I was scared what we might find I was lying when I said no.

The polytunnel was the first discovery – ripped in three places, flapping wildly and with four of the five salamis lying broken on the floor. Thankfully we have little in the way of crops in there but until the winds drop (sometime next week is the forecast for that) there is little we can do to fix it.
polytunnel
Depending on how much further damage it sustains (it’s currently blowing another, smaller than last night but certainly fair sized hooley out there!) we may have a plan to patch it up.

Next the honesty larder fridge, on it’s side with the door open and contents spilt across the path, bird feed bin also over but thanks to a bungee fix on the lid it was still intact.

fridge

That was merely a case of picking it up and righting it – we must tie it to the fence somehow, although I guess it probably does less damage simply blowing over. The bird feed bin was quickly picked up and birds flocked to be fed. All present and correct although the slightly ailing duck which keeps getting better and then going downhill again was looking pretty bedraggled so we have put her back in a cage with food and water to have some recovery time, I guess she found the storm pretty tough going.

Then up to the static, we could see it still had it’s roof, one of the solar panels was knocked askew but was not damaged. Amazingly, astonishingly all was well. All windows intact, all roof panels in place, all connections still connected. We could tell which direction the winds had hit it from things inside being knocked off shelves and a very minor leak of rainwater through a window where it must have been driving against it and found the poor seal but all still in one piece. Phew.

The horse box had taken a beating and some of the contents had been blown outside so that took a bit of dealing with. The wind turbine had remained tethered and during a quiet period this afternoon we untied it to check it was still ok. It is now tied up again against tonights storm.

A bit of the pig pen roof had come adrift so Ady spent the morning fixing things outside while the kids and I sorted out inside and breathed massive signs of relief. A slew of texts had come through from friends worried about us so we replied to those and then the internet came back on and I was able to update to the wider world that we are okay.

It was a scary one though – the grass ripped from the ground and then blown onto the fence, the washing line and the wind turbine guylines shows a little of the force of the gales.

turbine

fence

Howling wind outside and rattling walls inside or not, I think we’ll sleep well tonight.

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The Timeline Post

January:
Practical – Finish clearing the site, digging out the deeper trench for the stem wall to sit on, clearing the topsoil from the whole area.
Planning – Create volunteer / work plan.
Purchasing – Drainage pipe

Febuary:
Practical – Fill in back to ground level with gravel and drainage pipe.
Planning – Organise volunteer logistics.
Purchasing – Barrows, tripods / pulley system

March:
Practical – Build stem wall
Planning – windows, doors, timbers, roofing.
Purchasing – Tarps, spades

April:
Practical – gathering materials for cob
Planning – Volunteer coordination, food, facilities, briefing.
Purchasing Doors, windows, timbers

May, June, July, August
The Big Cob Adventure!
Practical mixing cob, building with cob, putting on the roof
Planning – interior details
Purchasing replacement tools (inevitable!), food for willing helpers!

September, October, beyond…
Turning the cob shell into a home. Floors, furniture etc.