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All in a week’s work

Sometimes it’s hard to quantify just where our time here goes. Every week we write a list on our whiteboard of ‘this week on Croft 3’ listing meetings, work, social stuff, things to remember to organise, job lists around the croft. Most weeks we wipe the whole lot off as it has all been done.

This week I did some extra post office / shop shifts (on Friday I got soaked in the torrential rain both walking down and then again walking back home again afterwards.)
soggy nic
Ady came down and helped at the Teashop, I learnt how to bake a new recipe loaf of bread (which I have since done twice more, once adding roasted garlic, mozzarella cheese and herbs)
happy bread, we did a castle tour (while we were waiting for people to arrive I had a go on the piano in the Great Hall, both hands and everything!)
piano

Davies, Scarlett and I went out on the Sheerwater, it was *very* rocky and aside from a very distant sighting of a couple of porpoise and some diving gannets we saw very little other than fellow shipmates looking a bit green. We found the nest that our female guinea fowl has been sitting on – 8 eggs!
guinea nest

I have been doing various crafty stuff including more string art
string artstring and learnt a new crochet scarf pattern – one for me made in some wool my Mum gave me and another almost finished in a mix of blues and greens to be part of the 2016 Croft 3 crafts for sale next year.

Ady’s been busy with his camera
river

Davies signed up for some online courses in film making and is mostly counting down the days til his birthday, Scarlett has been doing loads of painting and hanging out with her duck.

I had another article printed in the gorgeous Barefoot Diaries which came out this week barefoot – if you have not heard of the Barefoot Diaries do check out the website I am utterly delighted to have my words printed in such a beautiful piece of collaborative work for the second time.

We completed Pig Move 2015, the first since this years litter. We have kept the existing pig pen area and extended it to around double. All 8 pigs are delighted to have a whole great expanse of fresh grass, flowers, brambles and more to forage around on. Sometime in the next 6 weeks or so we will reduce the numbers from 8 to 4 and the freezer will get filled back up with delicious Croft 3 sausages, bacon and pork.

pig move

And finally we did some socialising too – invited down to dinner at the Harbour Hut BBQ Bothy, recently installed on the campsite here on Rum by one of our residents and hired out as visitor accommodation, cooking space and more. We had a lovely evening meeting lots of interesting people and eating delicious food.

barbecue bothy

Then today a group of them came up to the croft to meet the animals and have a look around. Croft 3 petting zoo opened for business and we had small children hand feeding the birds, cooing over the pigs and enjoying sploshing through the mud while the adults asked questions and learned a bit about our lives here and how we are making things work.

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FAQ

I’ve been making a start on a FAQ – frequently asked questions page for the blog. I’ve had a fair few questions that we get asked often so will try and tackle all of those so they are handily in one place.

But do you have a question that we’ve never answered? Pop it in the comment box below and we will do our best to answer it on the FAQ page.

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What a week!

I have great intentions to do a FAQ for the blog but perhaps unsurprisingly I’ve not managed to get round to it this week. It’s been a pretty busy week so far and we still have Sunday to go.

There is no such thing as a typical week here, not even a typical day really but this week has probably been a fair representation of the way life twists and turns in unexpected directions when you least expect it here.

On Monday morning we went to the village for various bits and pieces then the four of us headed out for a walk. We had an inkling that life may get a bit crazy after 9pm but no real idea what direction the crazy may take. I wanted to take some time to reflect, to get some perspective and a really clear reminder of what is actually important to us. So we walked out, into the island to a higher place where you look down on the village and the croft and see how very small our little corner of the world is. In relation to Rum, in relation to the area of the highlands and island we live in, let alone in the wider world. We walked and talked and looked back and looked forward (quite literally as well as metaphorically).

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Back at the croft we had dinner and settled down to watch the show. We watched at the same time as everyone else, although because it was on the laptop, with no adverts and plenty of buffering due to the slow internet, and because it was just us and we were concentrating more on whether we’d said anything stupid or embarrassing, or looked fat or mad or were remembering the many takes that shot took or the funny back story it didn’t quite sink in that nearly 2 million other people were watching all over the place sat on their sofas at the same time.

It started to sink in when our phones began binging and dinging with notifications of facebook messages, blog comments and emails. It sank in a bit more when we rang my parents for their reaction. Everyone else went to bed and it sank in a little bit further when I read the twitter comments which had me placed everywhere on a spectrum from inspirational and amazing to selfish, exhibitionist and (my personal favourite) disappointingly annoying. There is a reason people don’t read the comments! The reality is of course I am all of those things and many more, as are we all. The difference is that I am very happy, very secure and not particularly interested in other people’s lives other than wishing them well to get on with chasing their dreams and following their hearts without judging.

On Tuesday Ady and I were working, one of our varied occupations – this time helping move furniture about. In the afternoon Ady started working on extending the pig pen, I did copious amounts of baking and sang along loudly to music while Davies & Scarlett played outside.

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Wednesday was about being Mrs Teashop for me, chatting to visitors to the island and selling home baked goodies along with my co-Teashop host. Davies and Scarlett were down at the hall too and did their share of chatting to tourists. Ady did some work on another little job we have taken on repairing a bridge on the island and then headed back to the croft for more pig pen preparation.

Thursday was our regular whale and dolphin watching sea voyage. Except that as per so many of the trips this year we saw nothing in the way of cetaceans. We did see plenty of manx shearwaters and gannets and gulls though, which never wears thin no matter how much we might crave an orca sighting to go with them.

Friday and Saturday saw Ady doing some ghillie work – a bit of a Rum rite of passage by all accounts, leading the Rum ponies to bring back the culled deer working alongside the stalking party.

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I did the ferry run, collecting the animal feed delivery, helping with the shop delivery, driving the car across the river and hulking bags of animal feed around the croft. Davies and Scarlett helped deal with runaway pigs escaping from the pen (they are very ready for the pigpen extension to give them more foraging). This morning I did my regular Saturday morning post office shift. I’ve also been learning a new craft – string art -, watering the polytunnel, baking and bread making and responding to the wave of emails we’ve had this week. And planning a mainland trip to the dentist (queen of logistics) and dealing with various paperwork.

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And it’s been midgey!

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As seen on TV.

On Monday night our life here on Croft 3 was the subject of Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild on Channel 5. The show was filmed back in April when a crew of 8 people, plus celebrity were here with us for a week; living alongside us, learning about our day to day lives now, where we came from and quite how such contrasting lifestyles came about. The researchers for the show approached us having read this blog and despite not being the first (or even second or third) such contact from researchers and journalists after meeting with some of the team, chatting via email, phone and skype (a challenge in itself living here as we do) the four of us decided to go ahead with being filmed on this occasion.

This blog began as a way of staying in touch with family and friends while we were off travelling in 2011, initially charting the start of that adventure and all that packing up our lives to head off entailed – the planning and organising, the reasoning behind doing it in the first place. Once we moved here to Rum we had gathered a following outside of just the people who actually knew us – we met people along the way, attracted attention and interest and on a very small scale news of our adventures had spread sufficiently for this blog and our story to reach out to a wider audience. Since we’ve been here on Rum we have met several people who found us first online and came and said “hello” in person – here on Rum and back on the mainland when we’ve visited. People who are just like us, people who would love to have a similar lifestyle to ours and people who would hate every minute of living like this but are pleased to know that we’re doing it!

Four months after being filmed nearly 2 million people watched us feeding our animals, talking about our lives here, cooking dinner in our caravan, digging out the ground for our house plot. The response has been phenomenal. An overwhelming wave of support, affection and interest in what we’re doing here and why we’re doing it. We’ve had emails, facebook messages, comments on the blog, people subscribing for newsletters and making contact. Old long lost friends have been in touch, people we are in regular contact with from our old lives were finally able to get a glimpse of what our lives here are like, what a wild and amazing place we call home, how very different it is to the life they used to share with us back on the mainland.

Of course a one hour show could only ever capture a snapshot, a brief moment of our lives really, a miserable and cold week of Rum weather worthy of coats and woolly hats. If you were here earlier this week you could have been wearing a midge net and sweltering in the beautiful sunshine. The show focussed on us here on our croft so did not allow viewers to see the wild majesty of the Isle of Rum – the landscapes, wildlife, remote and rugged beauty. Our fellow islanders were mere shadows out of the corner of your eye as you watched but we are actually fully embraced by the tiny community we live in with a full social life and all of the joys and challenges that such a small group of passionate, hardy folk offer. We are realistic and honest about the prospect of self sufficiency and cover our costs here by a wide and diverse range of pursuits including shifts at the shop and hostel, castle tours, teashop and selling a wide array of our Croft 3 produce, foraged fruit preserves, baking, arts and crafts, photography, writing and more. Both Davies and Scarlett have fledgling businesses and we are constantly looking at new ways to both feed our souls and bring a little more cash to the Croft 3 coffers.

If you are reading this as a regular visitor to the blog do check out the show, if you’ve not made it across to visit us here then you will get a bit of a glimpse of our lives. If you are here because you watched the show then welcome, it’s great to know that the taster of what we are doing interested you enough to come and learn more. As I know we have had a lot of new visitors here I will post a few updates on what has changed here on the croft since the show was filmed in the spring, please bear with me on that if you have read it all before, I promise to put in some nice pictures and plenty of my usual rather rambling tangents as I go along.

us and ben

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Autumn’s hand on my shoulder…

I know it’s only August and I know that spring never seemed to arrive here this year let alone summer but the nights are drawing in, social media is filled with Back To School and having made our peace with the fact we face another winter in the caravan we’ve been making the most of being trapped indoors by the alternate rain and midges we have been planning how to make the best of that prospect.

It’s been a funny ‘season’ with low visitor numbers generally but thanks to a few shifts of castle tours, my regular Saturday morning post office duties and being Mrs Teashop on a Wednesday I have probably talked to more visitors to Rum this year than usual. Add to that the in depth dipping into our lives here which will be shared with the world tomorrow and chatting with not one, not two, but three sets of people this week who showed more than a passing interest in the prospect of starting a life of their own here on Rum plus the five volunteers who have spent time with us here on Croft 3 this summer and you have a fairly full on autobiography monologued. It’s not all about us and our lives though, there has been the usual ‘how many children in the school?’ and ‘what do you do in winter?’ and it’s definitely been a year for feeling more scrutinised than usual.

It could easily have been a year for feeling more judged than usual too – we’ve been pretty hard on our ourselves at times about what we have not achieved and perhaps not celebrated our victories as well as we should have done. I spent some time in the polytunnel this afternoon, weeding, tidying and being ruthless with tomato saplings which simply don’t have enough time left to do anything noteworthy this year. We picked enough raspberries between the wild ones walking home from the Sheerwater boat trip and what has grown in the fruit cage to make a single, sacred jar of raspberry jam, there will be sufficient peas in the raised beds to create a serving for a pixie and I think we’re on track to harvest three carrots. Which is good, as only three out of four of us like carrots! But I read on one of the various forums for self sufficiency and back yard homesteading a thread of other folk all up and down the UK talking about poor crops, struggles with weather and feeling disheartened and realised this is just a bad year. Just a Bad Year. One year, and we built our own polytunnel which works and next year we’ll be planting far earlier in the season. And we got almost all of the raised beds weeded and planted up. And the fruit cage is filled with trees and bushes which are all alive and if they don’t fruit much this year then they’ll be conserving energy for next year maybe. And we learned so much about volunteer hosting and what we’ll do better and differently next year. And the pigs are growing well and the ducks and geese all reared young and the woodshed is full.

We’ve invested in a load of vacuum bags to store all the out of season clothes, bedding, wool and material for my crafts and they are now all tidily stashed away with no risk of going moldy during the damp winter months this year. And we’ve got more room in all the cupboards and wardrobes too. We’ve ordered new curtains for the caravan, it will look nicer and be warmer and more insulated in the cold. We’re trying to make it both a nicer space to be in and a more efficient shelter. We are also investigating upgrading our wind turbine to something more able to deal with the extremes of wind here on Rum.

If autumn is coming, and it is, sure as night follows day there is no sense in mourning what didn’t happen this summer, instead we need to be mindful of what needs to happen in autumn and winter and start preparing for that instead. There are brambles to be picked, pigs to kill and process, firewood to gather, winter crafts to plan. If the summer this year didn’t bring sightings of minke whales, dolphins and orcas then autumn will compensate with the red deer rut, breath taking sunsets and the northern lights.

Life here is about taking stock, accepting, learning and moving on.

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Today I walked around the three sides of the croft that the nature trail takes in. Along the river, through the woodland, past the pigs. I gathered some wild flowers, grasses and rushes as I went to bring a little of the summer inside the caravan. I paused at the dry stone wall which marks the north border of our croft and continues across the island for miles. It’s a stunning spot, right next to the waterfall. Blue sky overhead and the sights, sounds and smells of life other than humans. The waterfall tumbling down, bees buzzing around the bramble and honeysuckle blossoms, dragonflies clumsily flying around me. A reminder that life is not all about people. Then I walked a little way up the hill and looked down – boats in the bay, Ady carrying fence posts across the croft to extend the pigs run, Scarlett running across to feed the birds, washing on the line. Life is very much about these people.

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Milestones

It’s my Dad’s birthday today (well technically today, although it won’t really be his birthday until I’ve gone to bed and had a nights sleep!). I was chatting to some visitors to the island today as I was doing the teashop who wanted to unload all their Scottish notes as ‘it’s really hard to get rid of them once we get home’. I laughed and said I didn’t want them either. We compared notes on who had come from the furthest south and realised they were from just about 15 miles along the south coast from us. They are heading back down there though, while I fully intend staying here. We discussed the differences between ‘home’ and here briefly, agreeing it was another world and much further than just the 600 miles and a ferry trip that is the geographical distance. Rum can be such a bubble, particularly living as we do without landline telephone and with patchy mobile signal. I am poor at being in a place with signal, and a fully charged phone, at the right time for family to sit and chat and me not to be either cooking or eating my dinner. This means that actual contact and the day to day being in each others lives has slipped away over the last 4 years since we left Sussex.

It means sometimes we don’t even manage to mark birthdays, it means that we are far from the days when my children knew their grandparents, both uncles, aunt and cousins and were in such regular contact it would have been unusual for a week to go by and the minute details such as wobbly teeth, new skills, what we had for dinner would all have been shared. Instead I am a distant stranger of an aunt to my younger niece and particularly my nephew, someone who they know mostly from amazon parcels arriving (more or less on time) for their birthdays and maybe stories told of me to them by my brother or sisters in law or older siblings (although my youngest niece has been here several times). In some ways it is easier to deal with the fact we are so distant by not having that constant contact – life is so very different for us here, caught up in the day to day dealings of Rum, of our croft, of local life. The conversations between folk here are so very specific to life here that they would be humdrum and boring to anyone else. Similarly we are so out of touch with the mainland life we left behind that the lives of our family all the way back down in Sussex are hard to frame over the phone and re-immerse ourselves back in.

Instead, while it likely does not help at all in terms of maintaining communication I carry them all with me around in my heart and head. Every single day I think of the family I do not see – those who have been here and walked on this island I imagine walking alongside me, commenting on the river and how high or low it is running today. I hear my Mum comment on the full moon, my Dad ask about how long until the broody duck hatches her eggs. I hear my sister in law advise on some aspect of gardening or laugh about something one of the children has done. I picture the three cousins who have been here many times running alongside Davies and Scarlett as they hurtle down the croft hill. I look at my children growing faster every day or so it seems and rather than rue and regret not being around to celebrate my little nephew growing from baby to toddler to little boy instead I imagine him clapping his hands with joy at our piglets, splashing in the muddy puddles while my brother and I share a look, remembering when we were that age and wondering quite how it happened that we got to become grown ups and parents.

I am not with my Dad today in person, raising a glass to toast him Happy Birthday, bringing out a cake laden with glowing candles while a group of his children, in laws and grandchildren gather to sing and laugh and take photos. I am not there. But he is here with me, as he is every single day. Happy Birthday Dad.

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Putting Down Roots

19830290866_906b9432b4_kAs we hurtle through our fourth year here we are having to come to terms with challenges bigger than winter and the infamous ‘Rum Factor’. Every year in the winter you slip and slide down the muddy, waterlogged croft hill and can’t quite believe it will ever dry out again and you’ll be able to leave the caravan without wellies. Then every spring it does and come June you are happily walking around the croft in your flip flops.

Except this year. When on the 1st of August we are sitting here having worn waterproofs down to work in the village this morning, having waved off our volunteer a day early yesterday as the possible winds forecast for today threatened cancelled or disrupted ferries. When at least three of the last ten days have been too rainy to work outside.

This year our Big Thing to come to terms with has been the cob project not happening ready for the winter, but not even the ground works back up to ground level. Currently we just have a big hole. Of the five volunteers so far two have not even lifted a spade on the project (they were busily employed elsewhere on the croft, but the fact remains progress on the cob build has nothing to do with cob or building at all yet). It has meant the four of us have had many conversations about how we make this work without a more stable roof over our heads. During the course of this year several houses have changed occupants down in the village which has had us questioning whether we should be rethinking how we live here. But we keep coming back to our reasons for starting this journey in the first place – to live a lower impact life, to tread more lightly on the land, to move away from being wage slaves, to live closer to nature, to do what we love and love what we do. It was never on our list of life ambitions to build a house and whilst the idea of the cob project coming literally from the ground and being built by hand speaks to us on so many deep levels we don’t necessarily have a big desire to be the ones to make that happen with our own hands. Any sort of build would struggle to be done by just four people, with no previous experience and many, many other things to do.

What we have not yet discovered is the balance somewhere between the two, but I think we are getting towards working it out. Initially we thought moving away from the usual volunteer expectation of providing all meals and accommodation by reducing the expected work load and asking people to provide more for themselves would work. And it has, to a degree, we have had a lot of interest and five very good volunteers so far this year. But we’re learning all the time, reshuffling the order of things and reforming the plan as we go along. It turns out that we’d be better investing time and attention in getting our hosting facilities as sorted as possible and then working out a more structured volunteer programme.

What we did come here to do, the big plans that drew us here in the first place need to be protected and remembered lest we get distracted too far. We also didn’t plan to move to a remote island, so while the many amazing realities of life here are to be celebrated and enjoyed we need to ensure that the challenges and logistics of that, and the overcoming of them do not become the be all and end all of our day to day lives. If all we ever wanted to do was build a house on an island then I suspect we’d have made greater progress, or at the very least found it easier to come to terms with what that dream entails. But we didn’t. We started a new life here because it ticked our boxes in the following ways: to live somewhere beautiful, to have land to grow food and keep animals and to live somewhere with a sense of community. I have never known anywhere as beautiful as Rum. I appreciate the beauty of our landscape here every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold, calm or wild, I love every single facet of Rum’s full on personality. The community both with a small and a large C brings both the greatest of joys and the deepest of lows and quite possibly has consumed more of our lives here than it should, certainly more than we ever expected but it has given back easily as much as we have given it and none of us can imagine living somewhere were everybody doesn’t know your name. And your business. And the ins and outs of your lives…

The biggest thing though is the land. Our 8 acres with which to do pretty much whatever we please. No one ever coming to inspect or check, to tell us we’ve done it wrong. Freedom to decide what goes where and how to arrange things. It’s been a three year adventure in playing camps, or a real life version of one of those simulated computer games Zoo Tycoon or The Sims. Putting things up and taking them down again, moving resources and creatures around, learning and understanding and making progress. I’ve been reading stories of people who started like us, but are a few years further along their journey. Colette at Bealtaine Cottage who started 11 years ago, The Pillars of Hercules who started out with less land than we have just over 30 years ago and are now doing pretty much everything I’d love to be one day doing (shop, cafe, volunteer hosting, veg boxes, camping etc). I try really hard to take heart from these stories, to realise that we really are just starting out and should be celebrating what we’ve already achieved while continuing to dream big and spend every day doing what we love.

Today I found this obvious

and it really made me smile and talked to me. It made me realise what we’re doing is putting down roots, building a strong foundation. Just the same way as we created a strong, loving and supportive environment for Davies and Scarlett, enabling them to grow as individuals until they are ready to reach for independence. The same as we look after our young animals or tiny seedlings here on the croft, keeping them safe and preparing them for the world. The same as we have slowly criss crossed the croft with running water, pipe buried under the grass but there ready when we need it, the same as digging out ditches to improve the drainage on the land, the same as digging out that cob project footprint to back fill with gravel and drainage pipe to ensure safe, secure foundations for our one day home. Putting down roots, probably the most important thing we could have spent these first few years doing.