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Word heavy, picture light

So time to even up the balance a little….

Here are some April images.

Ady feeding the birds. We have a broody turkey sitting on 11 eggs, three broody geese on well over 20 eggs between them and a feisty bantam on an unknown number of eggs (as in she is too pecky for us to manage to count them!)
ady and birds

We have ordered a little polytunnel to be put up for seasonal use as we are already out of room in the one Ady made and not everything will get planted on outside. Tomatoes, chillies, peppers and some of the herbs will stay inside so we need more under cover space. In the meantime I have been staying true to my reuse and repurpose ideals and using some washed up on the beach fish boxes, filled with old emergency light units as mini proppgators to start off the next round of seedlings.
emergency lighting

propogator

Which means I really have to share this photo. My basil had not germinated this year, which is unusual, as in previous years I have done really well with it and even had excess plants to gift to friends.
I always have music on to sing along to when I am in the polytunnel and my most recent playlists this year have all been cheery happy songs. I read somewhere recently that you should swear at basil seeds while planting them though. Now last years playlist contained some of my more sweary songs, infact I deliberately changed the playlist after being caught singing along rather loudly to something by Alanis Morisette when someone was walking by… Always happy to try a crazy idea out I sowed some more and helped them along with the odd cuss… the results speak for themselves.
basil

Two mainland trips in as many weeks – one planned one for all four of us to the dentist, enabling us to take full advantage of advance booking and railcards. One rather less planned in advance just for Scarlett and I for a brace fixing appointment. Two nights off, train and ferry travel, accommodation etc all not budgeted for in advance. We drowned our sorrows by going out for hot chocolate!

morningy

hot choc

I also had a rather decadent but very lovely day trip yesterday to our neighbouring Isle of Canna. A Rum friend and I decided to make the most of the summer ferry timetable meaning a day trip *somewhere* is possible so we went over for lunch. We sat in the sunshine, chatted to people, enjoyed a glass of wine with Rum and a sea eagle in the distance and then came home to Rum again.

canna daventyres

Rum weather plus it being April meant every single possible weather thrown at us, often in the course of just one day. As I type I sit here with sore lips and a slightly sunburnt nose from being outside last week in a t shirt having been taking photos of blizzarding snow for the last two days and checking the temperature in our bedroom just now to find it is 4 degrees!

snow in april

We are by turns being delighted by the red deer – a hind and (nearly a) yearling calf meandered slowly past the caravan last night

evening deer

They are likely part of the same group who have managed to kill five young but established (as in older than our time here on Rum) trees on the croft by ring barking or girdling them so they died. They have also munched on all the young willow we have planted in various places around the croft, to aid with drainage, to create shelter or structures and for use as craft material in basketry. We manage to protect most of our crops from them in cages but they have also knocked down a fence.

Meanwhile the shop continues to do well with very promising early in the season sales and yet more lines of items being added for sale as we come up with them.

midges

open

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A week of everything

It’s been one of those weeks.

A mainland trip and a home coming.

A friend to visit and stay with us.

An anniversary celebration for us and a birthday celebration for a Rum friend. A surprise party, a community meal, a crafternoon gathering and friends up to Goddard Heights to visit. A couple of residents from our neighbouring Small Isle popping over to catch up, bumping into fellow locals on the mainland.

Sales in the Shed Shop, visitors to the island stopping to chat, emails from five potential volunteers wanting to come and work with us.

A broody turkey, broody chicken, three broody geese. Bob the pig finally getting up the croft hill and into the pen with the rest of the pigs, acquainting himself with Barbara and her daughters.

Sowing seeds, potting on, planting out. Fixing raised beds, putting up new fencing. Ordering a new mini polytunnel which we will put up during the summer each year.

Ady and I both catching the sun while working outside in t shirts, sitting on the sporran eating lunch, drinking G&Ts and having a barbecue and then snow falling today.

The first cuckoo heard, the first swallow spotted.

News from family and friends on the mainland putting on island politics into perspective and reminding us once more of how precious life and love are and how we should cherish, protect and appreciate everything we have.

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A Fourth Rumiversary

On the anniversary of our first year here on Rum Barbara Pig had her first litter of piglets. On our second anniversary she also delivered another litter of piglets. On our third anniversary we arrived back on Rum ourselves after a weekend off, along with two volunteers and a TV film crew. Yesterday on our fourth anniversary Scarlett and I arrived back on the ferry after a brief mainland trip to the dentist.

It was, as all previous 20th April’s seem to have been a glorious sunny day, a smooth ferry crossing and that feeling of home-coming, the butterflies in my tummy as I caught my first glimpse of Rum across the sea from the mainland as the train pulled into Mallaig and then Rum looming ever larger from the ferry as we approached.

Four years. Four years worth of celebrations, challenges, friendships, adventures and excitements. Four winters worth of winds, rain and mud. Four springs worth of cuckoos, primroses and hatching baby birds, four summers worth of midges, dolphin and whale spotting trips, four autumns of red deer roaring and rutting, the hills turning purple and bramble picking. Four tourist seasons of visitors coming to the island, four years of the endless daylight hours of summer and four years of the short dark days of winter. Four years of That View, of starry, starry nights and Northern Lights, of sunsets and eagles soaring.

In these four years Davies and Scarlett have grown from children to teenagers – aged just 9 and 11 when we arrived here they are now 13 and 15, formative years spent living as islanders. Ady and I have celebrated ‘big’ birthdays here turning 40 and 50.

I have lost count of the visitors we have had here staying with us – family, friends, volunteers. Some from our old lives, some we have only met because we’re here.

We have learned, so, so much since we arrived here. New practical skills, new ways of approaching things, new ideas and philosophies. We have learnt about Rum, about our own way of life, about people, about ourselves. We have become immersed in nature, in wilderness, in the seasons, the weather, the landscape, the wildlife, the elements. We have tamed and conquered, we have been put back in our place.

We have been on TV, on radio, written about in newspapers, in magazines and online. We have reached people all over the world with our story and people have come to Rum just to meet us.

In four years we have changed our bare field to a home, a business, a working croft. We have harnessed water, solar and wind, laid paths, built infrastructure, animal shelters, wood stores, fruit cages, walled garden of raised beds, polytunnel, bike shed. We dragged a caravan down hills, across river and up the croft. We have grown food, bred and reared livestock, killed and processed meat.

We have set up a business, with many different branches, created a brand, marketed, advertised, found our niche and built an outlet. We are now a destination with many visitors coming just to buy from our shop.

We have volunteered and given our time, participated and taken part, helped move things forward, done our bit for community development. We are part of Rum and it’s story. We have seen people come and go.

It’s been an amazing four years. We are so proud of all we have achieved so far. Life is a short and precious thing with many unexpected plot twists around each corner. We set out to make the most of every opportunity and I feel we have made every little bit of these last four years count. Who knows what the next four years may bring…

PicMonkey Collage (4)

Reading back the blog posts just before we arrived here four years ago I found this poem which had inspired me. It’s inspired me all over again now.

I read of a man who stood to speak,
At the funeral of a Friend.
He referred to the dates on this tombstone,
From beginning ….to the end.
He noted that first, came his date of birth,
And spoke the following tears.
But he said what mattered most of all,
Was the dash in between those years.
For the dash represents,
All the time he spent alive on earth.
And how only those who loved him,
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters most is how we live and love,
And how we spend our dash …
So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough,
To consider what is true and real.
And always try to understand,
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more,
And love the people in our lives,
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile …
Remembering that this special dash,
Might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read,
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
And how your spent your dash?

Linda Ellis

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Treatment for itchy feet

I am very easily bored and not very good at sticking at things. It was probably something my parents noticed about me when I was very little and almost certainly something teachers would have written in my school report. As a young adult it meant I had a CV as long as my arm as I was a serial job hopper. I have long since lost count of the number of jobs I applied for an interviews I attended but searching for the next challenge was almost like a hobby. I would always give everything my absolute best, I just got bored easily and wanted to move on frequently, always after a new challenge, ready for the next adventure.

The only things I have ever stuck with in my whole life are my relationship with Ady (23 years in a few months) and Home Educating Davies and Scarlett (13 years and quite literally a lifetime ago). I attribute this both to the general fabulousness of Ady, Davies and Scarlett and to the fact that these relationships and dynamics are ever changing and they are as up for adventures and excitement as I am. They are along for the ride holding my hand, exchanging delighted glances with me at every step of the way.

It is this itchy feet syndrome which has led me to persuade the others to come along with me on our various rather mad gallivants. It has been the catalyst for various friendships and associations which have taken us on tangents in our life journey. It is definitely what sparked the WWOOFing adventure and subsequent move here to Rum. It is what has sustained us though the last four years of life here, made me sign up for so many volunteering posts, get involved in so many projects, agree to be on TV.

This year I have stopped doing so many distracting things which take me away from the croft. I have scaled right back in the things I stick my hand up and volunteer for and vowed to focus on what we’re doing here, to direct all my energy into Croft 3 and making things work here. With such a spotlight on our lives it is leading me to question whether this is the right path, whether there is sufficient here to keep me interested, whether the grass is green elsewhere, if the time has come to move on to the next challenge. I think this is healthy, if rather unsettling for those around me.

For now though I am trying really hard to find the new challenge right here instead of looking for it elsewhere. There are opportunities everywhere here on Rum, pretty much nothing you can’t have a spark of an idea about and not follow through almost straight away. The lack of barriers can almost be the very thing which stunts you and prevents you from getting on with things somehow.

My current big project is the shed, the more diverse and unusual the ideas I am having for products to sell in there the better. Clearly butterfly brain is good for creativity. Extending the range of things we sell is ticking loads of my boxes – research, learning new skills, being creative and imaginative with ideas, displays, packaging and the actual making of various items, the opportunity to buy a book or two and some materials and tools, the thrill of positive feedback and sales.

This week has been about crocheted midges and bath bombs. Who knows what next week might bring!

fizzer2

fizzer1

fizzers

midgeblue

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Mainland and back…

Before we headed off to Mainlandland on Monday we all talked about what we were most looking forward to: responses ranged from ‘popcorn’ (Davies, who eats his own bodyweight in salted popcorn daily when we are off, I do make popcorn here but simply can’t recreate that air popped style in a pan), ’24 hour wifi’ (Davies again! He does do more than eat popcorn and go online I promise!), ‘ice cream’ (Scarlett – living a mile from our freezer and with a 90 minute ferry trip to get ice cream delivered anyway it is in short supply here. This time she had bubblegum flavour in a waffle cone), ‘baths’ (me, obviously – I had two very satisfying bubble baths with a glass of wine and the kindle. And Ady who went for quantity over quality and fitted in SEVEN baths during our 36 hours stay!) to ‘coming home again’. Which is always true. Very nearly four years in we feel like locals these days when we head to Fort William and always, always bump into someone we know (no exception this visit, we saw someone on the High Street and friends in Poundstretcher), chat away to the ferry staff (on board and in the office), see someone from a neighbouring Small Isle on board (this time it was Canna), are greeted like old friends by the Premier Inn staff and thanks to Ben Fogle all the dentists and nurses know what it looks like on the croft and in our caravan. But the very best bit of leaving Rum is always the moment when the ferry pulls back in to the pier on Rum, we are greeted with ‘welcome home’ from fellow residents as we walk up the slip, the car starts, Bonnie is delighted to see us and we get the kettle on and sit down with the first cup of tea at home, in our own mugs.

The trip was for dentist check ups for all four of us and a brace check with the orthodontist for Scarlett. All of our dental check ups were fine, Scarlett’s brace had broken a few days before we went off and unfortunately needed to sent away for repair. It is apparently fairly common and not a big deal. Unless of course a trip to the dentist involves 2 nights accommodation, 2 ferry trips, 100 miles of train or car journey and all the associated financial and logistical costs that entails… The perfect smile will be worth it, I will not actually tot it up. Next week it will be me and Scarlett hitting the bright lights of Fort William while Ady and Davies do Lad and Dad stuff at home on the croft. Ady had an eye test while we were off too as he’d missed his appointment last time we were on the mainland due to coming home a day early, so we are all fully MOT checked.

Not many photos from the mainland trip, infact I think I only took three. This one showing how one of our number is at his best in the mornings
morning
This one showing how some of us are less perky first thing
not morning
And the lack of Nic image telling it’s own story about what sort of morning persona I display… The third is the new camping pods, destined for Canna coming off the ferry at Rum to let the delivery van with our post and parcels come off as it was parked behind the pods.

canna campsite

Since I’ve been home I seem to have taken endless snaps though. A stunning welcome back sunset last night, viewed in triple aspect – the upside of living in a caravan!

triple aspect

We’re all on the mend after our cold so today was back in the swing of things. Ady spent the morning doing some maintenance on the log burner chimney which has taken a battering with the winter storms so needed some attention now it is not constantly light during every waking hour. In the afternoon he fitted some vents in the polytunnel as it was in desperate need of a through draught during the hot days and to alleviate the condensation which builds up in there and can create mould and mildew. He also build a chicken proof screen with some repurposed mesh which means I can close myself in and we can have the door off to help with draught without fearing the chickens invading and eating everything.

comfrey

chicken door

polytunnel

Really pleased to note that while the inside is doing well both the raised bed under cloches at the south facing side filled with strawberries is thriving two patches of comfrey on the north facing side have already started to come back this year.

My morning was all about weeding beds, using my new tiller and ably assisted by a whole gang of chickens there to beg the worms, planting out peas and beans and netting the beds. I was sad to notice that five young trees on the croft had died. We don’t have many trees on the croft, all young, mostly alder but precious. These had been ring barked or girdled by deer, their footrpints were all around and all of them had the distinctive stripped bark all the way around. We took them down and they will be firewood, so not gone to waste. They all five had some new growth coming from the lowest part of the trunk, so hopefully will come back as coppiced trunks. Pesky deer though.
tiller

girdling

In the afternoon I walked down to the village IN SHOES, for the first time this year. Rather prematurely as it turned out as the croft was still a little too wet for such adventures but never mind.
shoes

My afternoon was tea drinking, chatting and crocheting, all very enjoyable.

crafternoon

And very pleased to introduce Blue Midge who is now properly finished with legs and everything! And the start of Disco Midge who is still at ‘what is it going to be?’ stage.

midgeblue

blue midge

legsdisco midhe

And because it was not my turn to cook dinner I even had time to sneak back into the polytunnel when I got home and do the watering and plant up another tray of peas and beans.

It’s definitely the time of year for falling in love with Rum all over again.

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Mainland Germ Invasion

Since we moved to Rum we’re the healthiest we’ve ever been. Despite getting our water direct from the river, living in a damp caravan and excepting Ady’s helicopter ride we are all really thriving. Part of it is the more active lifestyle of course and the lack of access to junk food. We have cooked from scratch for years and probably have access to far less fresh fruit and veg these days but a lot of it must be down to lack of exposure to germs I reckon.

Of course this falls apart in the visitors season, or when we go off to the mainland ourselves. Lack of exposure means lack of building up resistance and immunity to all those germs so a cold tends to sweep the whole island with everyone falling like dominoes.

This week has seen our first cold of the year, fortunately we have all mostly had it together although Scarlett was a few days infront of the rest of us (meaning we looked after her and now she is returning the favour), so coughs, sneezes and plenty of groaning abound here at Goddard Heights this weekend. We are off tomorrow for a mainland trip to the dentist so Ady is already compiling a shopping list of cold and flu remedies, I am looking forward to fresh orange juice and a bubble bath with something menthol in it.

I planted out the first peas earlier this week. Of course there was a fall of snow that very evening on the high peaks, so we’ll see how they fare but I needed the room in the polytunnel to get the next lot of sowing done.

snowy peaks

raised beds

peas

The raised beds seem to have done well for the seaweed mulch over winter. We now have 2 beds of garlic, asparagus, strawberries, peas and leeks. I have more peas and stuff like cabbage, kale and broccoli ready to plant out too. All the herbs have germinated so our herb spiral should be nice and productive this year – Ady is planning a herbs in oil produce line to sell, so they will be put to good use if we have any excess.

While incapacitated (yes I’ve made the most of being coldy!) I’ve been playing with crochet and needle felting to increase the midge range of bits and pieces for sale. Needle felting still needs some work but the fiddly amigurumi crochet midge is coming along well…

midge

wings

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A day off, April in earnest, new crafts and FRIENDS!

After the day of digging on Tuesday it was most fortuitous timing to have a day off on Wednesday to meet visiting friends. With insufficient car space to drive all 10 of us to and from the pier we all walked from the boat to the caravan and back, with the exception of Scarlett who has a cold on the way there and Davies, Scarlett and Current Resident Friend on the way back. Bonnie came along for the walk on the second relay too.

Utterly fabulous to have friends here. It was their fourth visit to Rum and this time they left behind their son for a few days, Davies’ best friend since they were 4 – over a decade of friendship.

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Scarlett had a lovely few hours with her friend R too and for our part we really enjoyed hanging out with our friends. These are important people to us – they opened their home to us when we were quite literally homeless in the time before we moved to Rum, Barbara was the witness who signed our croft tenancy legal documents.

babs

It is proper April weather this week, by which I mean it is proper Rum weather but for this brief few weeks we get to excuse the constant round of sunshine and showers on it being April. Rainbows a go-go!

In other news while the ferry did not bring my new wellies – maybe tomorrow? It did bring the first batch of craft supplies for The Shed. On the same day as we have run out of the first flavour of jam – no more bramble and violet available until bramble picking season much later in the year (and bramble and cinnamon looks set to be not far behind!) we have introduced our survival wristbands for the adventurous visitors to Rum. 2 metres of paracord (suitable for replacement bootlace, fixing tent guyropes, splitting down into the thinner, longer inside cords) complete with a whistle, blade and firesteel. All hand knotted by me! First sales already made online and in person, I think this might be another winning product line.

paracord2

paracord

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Mud slinging!

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had a few enforced indoor days thanks to heavy rain and winds. Always keen to make the most of whatever Rum throws at us Ady and I have been working on ideas for a wider range of produce and crafts to sell in the shed and researching and brainstorming ways to improve the croft land. More on the crafts and produce as that happens.

The land improvement is one of those simple in theory, bloody hard work in practice type scenarios. The land here is very, very wet and very poorly drained. Poor quality top soil, fairly shallow sitting on bedrock in most places in a location with way above average rainfall, halfway up a steep hill makes for a boggy piece of ground. The impact of the four of us and all our livestock living on the land for the last 4 years means in various places it is very compacted and has created puddles of really deep, stagnating mud. The three places this poses the biggest and most problematic issues are around the caravan, the most used pathway up the croft and in the walled garden around the raised beds.

The pathway will be dealt with over the course of this year, it is high on the list of projects to enlist volunteer help with on our volunteer events over the summer and requires stones to be brought up the hill and laid on a fabric base to create an actual path. topped with finer grade gravel which hardens to create an actual footpath, suitable to walking up and down without slipping over and pushing a wheelbarrow up and down without the wheel simply sinking into the mud and refusing to go any further.

The area around the caravan has been gradually improved with small ditches we have dug over the time we’ve been here but it is time to do a better job of that so Ady has begun scraping away the liquid mud and moving it to a different area, where it will create a bank or mound and eventually grow over with grass out of the way. The resultant ditch will meet up with other ditches on the croft and lead eventually down to the river to take all the water away. There is more to do but the initial long ditch parallel to the caravan has been created and is running away nicely. At the moment it all looks rather muddy and like a building site but we know that in time it will begin to dry out, grass will come back and it will improve.

The walled garden had been done in the same design as a permaculture idea we had seen while WWOOFing. A very successful series of raised beds where any weeding was done direct out of the beds and onto the paths between them (aside from very invasive weeds which were lobbed further away onto the track which cars drove up and down to be baked by the sun and squashed by the cars to death!) to begin composting down. Every other year the resulting compost would be dug back on to the beds creating newly dug paths once more. It was genius, real permaculture in action, probably the first time I had truly understood quite what the idea meant and I was keen to replicate it here. Except that here I have been chucking the weeds which are mostly reeds onto an already muddy surface which has just created bogs between each raised bed. The result has been that the raised beds are sodden and waterlogged meaning the soil is losing nutrients and taking way longer to warm up than it should, not to mention not being the nice well drained soil which most crops wish to be planted into to thrive.

So today I dug a drainage ditch all down one side of the walled garden , under the fence and meeting up with a naturally occurring ditch which leads into the river. I cleared the ditch we dug last year along the top which had gotten overgrown too. Now it is running and draining. I need to do more ditches to meet up with that one but the most used beds which had the worst, most slippy paths inbetween are now starting to dry out. I also weeded two beds, planted asparagus into one and have the other earmarked for peas which are ready to plant out from the polytunnel to make space for the next sowing.

Tasks like this are hard work, tend to look worse than when you began in the early stages and mean you spend a lot of time splashing yourself, swearing at chickens who utterly fail to get out of your way while you wield your spade and have aches to tell you just how hard you have worked the following morning. But they are a great way of investing in the future and knowing you are improving things. The feeling of elation when you join up one ditch to another and water suddenly starts to flow is victorious.

And if the ferry tomorrow brings my new wellies so that I am not wearing a plastic bag over my socks inside each one to prevent getting soaking wet feet I will be even happier!

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Social

It is no secret that the single biggest aspect missing from our lives here is friends. While we have made some really good friends here on Rum and obviously have plenty in common with them on a day to day basis by virtue of sharing our lives we all four miss the wider social circle we were used to back on the mainland. We are all pretty outgoing, gregarious people and have always spent much of our time in the company of others, actively seeking out social opportunities with like minded folk. Ady and I have remained in touch with friends from school and work over the years and both have friendships which have endured from our teenage years. Through our lives we have added more friends to our circle and being in the company of people who know us well, who share our passions and interests and understand us is something we both miss. For Davies and Scarlett there are simply no other teenagers around so their socialising with same age kids is almost entirely done online.

One of the greatest joys of the spring for us is not just the improvement in weather and start to the tourist season for more customers for our shed, it is also the opportunity for more visitors to come to the island. New people to talk to, new ideas and conversations, a world outside of Rum opens back up again! So far we have already had family visiting and tomorrow’s ferry will bring friends, another friend is due later this month and we have several more visitors booked in over the summer. People who knew us before we were crofters, islanders, caravan-dwellers.

Davies and Scarlett have been spending time hanging out with some visiting teens this last week which they have enjoyed a lot and we are hoping to see plenty of their closest mainland dwelling friends over the summer as they may well come over for weekend or even day trip visits.

Rather coincidentally over the last 10 days I have heard from four separate old friends online, some we had been out of touch with for over 20 years. Summing up our lives here now in just a quick paragraph reminds me that real friendships endure way past the details, whereas other more fleeting friendships are only about the details.

Bring on the people – we’ve missed them over the winter!