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2016 Masterplan

masterplan

On the way of the caravan we have a large piece of paper entitled Croft 3 2016 Masterplan (mwha ha ha!). It is the fourth or maybe even fifth such piece of paper since we arrived here. I have all the previous ones carefully stashed away. It’s a great visual reminder of what we set out to achieve at the start of the year and I regularly cast an eye over it to ensure we are on track and prompt myself to get on with anything we have not made inroads on yet.

Earlier this week a friend was visiting and asked how this years was going and our volunteers were looking at it too. I realised earlier today that if it’s July 1st tomorrow that means we are halfway through the year so actually it’s a great time to have a quick catch up with where we’re at with everything.

We split the masterplan into categories. The first is Animals. This year we had listed:

Pigs to pork The loss of Tom at the start of the year meant no piglets for us this year which was unforseen. We have managed to get a new boar and despite a rather rocky start to his time with us as he was injured in transit he has settled in really well and we will be letting him in with our girls at the end of the year ready to get started on next year’s pork supply.

Sheep for grazing and fleece We have ordered 3 ewes from a neighbouring island from this springs lambs. They should be with us by the end of the summer and will get started on the grazing for us. We should have fleeces from them next year and if they settle in well and we are confident that we are cut out for shepherding then the plan is to get a ram next year to start breeding the year after for meat.

Peacocks and runner ducks Peahens are here, peacocks and more peahens are on their way soon, as are a small group of runner ducks due to arrive in the next few weeks.

Hatching I think we can safely say we are on top of that! Plenty of young hatched so far and more on track over the next few weeks. This has definitely been our best year yet.

Eggs for sale The downside of hatching is of course that you end up with a lot less eggs – every new chick is an egg that was not for sale and each bird that goes broody takes weeks and weeks off laying (incubation of eggs is 3 weeks for chickens, 4 for ducks and turkeys, 6 for geese) plus the weeks afterwards of rearing the young during which the birds are also not laying. Nevertheless we have still been doing fairly well at collecting a steady stream of free range eggs and selling them from the shop to locals and visitors.

Breeding and rearing I’m not sure why this is separate to hatching really, but we certainly have way more of a plan for the rearing than in previous years with our nursery pen building. We also for the first time have a clear plan for the male birds we are rearing which will remain penned and get fattened for eating. We have discussed this at length and decided this is a better approach than culling the male birds as soon as they are identifiable. We will ensure they have a good life, if not to the usual full free range freedoms that our birds usually have they will certainly be better off than supermarket standard free range welfare conditions. We will grow them fairly slowly on a mix of bought food supplemented with grass and forage on the croft. The plan is to turn all the male birds into the fruit cages once they have finished harvesting where they can eat any spoilt crops, feast on the bugs and pests and do some grazing and manuring of the area for us. We need to not keep any further male stock of chickens and ducks as we run the risk of inbreeding with our current females otherwise and running too many males means the females get hassled and over-mated.

Bees Part way there at least. I have been on a course to learn the basics, read several books with a now greater understanding based on some greater knowledge. I have been offered some financial support with the setting up of the hives and have made some good contacts for advice and support. I just need the actual bees now!

Crops

Fruit cage, polytunnel, raised beds, herb spiral all of these are doing well. The herb spiral is fully stocked (too fully infact, I need to remove some rogue comfrey which has appeared in the last couple of days), the fruit cage is doing well, the polytunnel is a mass of tomatoes, the strawberry beds under plastic have done so well I have been inspired to invest in a load more plants to keep under plastic for next year. We have bought four mini greenhouses to increase our space for seedlings for next year. The asparagus took really well, the peas will be ready to harvest soon.

I have still not got the netting right despite buying some water pipe and creating hoops. Our own birds and the wind not to mention the deer keep trashing the area and the crops are not really protected plus it is really tricky to weed the beds. We are debating various options including fencing the whole area or lift on and off -able individually built frames for each bed.

Mulching We’d never really done this before but this year we managed to get sacks and sacks of seaweed around the fruit trees and bushes and a good covering on the raised beds. It has done wonders and we will definitely do it again and with an even thicker layer. We have also realised that we need to bring the pig-made manure / compost over to the raised beds and I have been reading more about soil improvement techniques to try for next year.

Foraging Too early yet – our main foraging crop is brambles although I would also like to collect rose petals and seaweed for cosmetic uses if not culinary ones.

Fodder / feed We unintentionally grow plenty of crops for our birds but this year planted a whole area of artichokes having been told they grow in any sort of soil and are ideal pig feed. We bought some and a friend gave us more and sure enough despite feeling doubtful they would work we now have a corner of healthy looking plants. We still use the cut stuff from scything as pig bedding and are getting better at taking all the weeded waste over for a green treat for the pigs too.

Infrastructure
Paths We’ve made a good start but this is very much a volunteer project and we have our first big volunteer event starting next week. I’m hoping to report some great progress on paths in the next few weeks.


Ditching
We’ve dug a ditch around the back and the side of the caravan which has made a huge difference to the ground around the area and grass is starting to grow back in places which had remained a mud patch even through the driest spells of summer. I dug a ditch along one side of the walled garden which also made a huge difference. We’ll carry on with this but have made some good progress so far this year.

Volunteer campThis has been unintentionally combined with the creation of a camping area so we now have a multi use compost loo, sink with running water, dry space shed adjacent to the bell tent which we can use for either volunteers or rent out to campers. We’ve invested in cooking kit, campbeds and bedding. There is still more to do – a campfire and a camping shelter / kitchen space to use in poor weather is the next plan.

Work on cob buildNothing this year so far and unless we have really super successful and productive volunteer events this will get pushed into next year I suspect as infrastructure such as paths are more important this year.

Animal pens We have done well with this so far this year and are getting smarter at creating pens and shelters which are move-able or easily dismantled and rebuilt.

Storage spaces We have plans for new wood stores which we’ll be building in the next few weeks. Moving the compost loo out of the horsebox means that is now incredibly spacious and we have shelves set up for storing food and tools.

Working woodlandsAdy has done some interesting forestry stuff learning about felling and processing and we have used the chainsaw more this year than in previous years. It is now the season to not be doing much with wood as the sap is rising but we plan to do more later in the year.

Energy We now have two wind turbines and two solar panels set up to the caravan and this means we regularly have sufficient power to not need the generator at all for charging things up. We are hoping that in the winter we are able to continue this way through the darker, trapped inside times to have better lighting and internet access. We are considering investing in an upgraded solar panel later in the year to help with that aim.

Business

Sales to tourists – In The Shed, market day The shed has so far been even more of a success than we first hoped and we have decided against market day for this year as it makes no sense to empty the shop of produce on the busiest day for the shop! We’re getting a good feel for what sells and are in the process of making some of the items available online to buy mail order.

WWOOFers / volunteers It’s a little early to say as so far we have only had a couple of volunteers but we have three events planned with good numbers of people booked on each of them.

Writing work I have my regular contribution in Barefoot Diaries but so far have not managed to secure any other writing work this year. The plan to have better power / internet for the winter means I am aiming to work on that more later in the year.

Crafts my aim of learning new crafts all the time is going well so far. I did not get anywhere with the basket weaving I was planning on mastering last winter due to a variety of reasons (helicoptered off husbands being the key one!) but I have managed survival paracord bracelets, lettered braided wristbands, bathbombs, feathered items including quills, hatpins, hairslides and dreamcatchers, painted glasses, crocheted midges and two very gorgeous blankets (not for sale but definitely skill honing).
PhotographyAdy’s baby this one – several of his photos have been printed as postcards and are selling really well. He still takes at least one photo a day and continues to learn new techniques in editing.
Kids’s businesses Scarlett has been very enterprising this year, getting stuck in with the bath fizzers, her candles, handpainting feathers and coming up with ideas for new crafts. Davies is working on a book but it’s still at early stages in character and storyline development.

Fun!
Edinburgh TripOur February adventure city break, Friends Visitingwe’ve had several sets of day tripping friends,plus some family and friends to stay and have lots more planned through the rest of the year Off island tripsour regular dentist trips mean we have had several trips off so far this year, all fairly local but including a trip to the Nevis Range in the snow, a cinema trip, attending a 50th birthday party, Ady and I managed a valentines day meal out, the kids and I went to the circus…The sea is alive so far it’s been pretty quiet to be honest and this year we have avoided any trips likely to result in feeling seasick so have not been out every time as in previous years. We have however seen dolphins, whales and porpoises along with the usual seabirds. No orcas or basking sharks to report as yet this year though. Red deer rut Not yet they don’t! But based on the current high numbers of deer on the croft we’ll be in the thick of the action as and when they do! Island Exploring So far this year I have been to Canna for a day trip to have lunch and all four of us have been to Eigg for the day. We have yet to get out and explore more of Rum this year so far though. Small Isles Games scheduled to be on Eigg this year, we’re planning on going, maybe even overnight if there is a boat scheduled to get us home again the next day. Community Event a month This has been a huge success so far – in January it was Burns Night, in February Curry Night, in March it was Cheese Night, April was Childhood Favourites, May was Takeaway Food and June was the Big Lunch. All events with a really good turn out of folk bringing and sharing food contributions and having a great time. We have more lined up through the rest of the year.

I’d say that’s a pretty good half time result. I can already see which things have slipped and which have gone really well, which should hopefully help to shape what happens in the coming second half of the year. As Masterplans go it’s shaping up to be a pretty good one.

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The WWOOFers lament…

Sure fire way to break that spell of dry weather number one – have people stay on Croft 3 to volunteer with tasks around the place. Obviously, living in a caravan we don’t have much in the way of indoor jobs for people. Infact the four of us struggle with a caravan-bound 24 hours. The bookcase has been tidied, the kitchen re-organised, the cat and dog swept… The polytunnel is a space that one person has to sidle in, the shop requires no input, the woodshed is a crouching only space. You get the idea, there are no indoor jobs.

The way to cement that promise of rain is to house said volunteers in a tent. And have them plan to cook outside. It also secures a side order of high winds just to ensure the poor folk not only have miserable days working outside and miserable evenings cooking and existing trapped in their tent but to ensure they get a pretty rubbish nights sleep too.

I feel bad. I would love to be in a position to offer more than we can but we are very clear about our limitations as hosts, the work folk will be doing, the conditions and the reality of life here. We ourselves live in a caravan in cramped conditions.

You can luck out on a visit to Rum and come during a period of amazing weather. See wondrous wildlife, experience all the very best of island life and go away with a skewed view of the reality of what existing on Rum is like. Indeed every single summer in our time here folk have come and done just that. Equally you can come at a bad time; be eaten alive by midges, have your tent blown away in a gale, get your ferry escape route cancelled by bad weather and feel like this is the very last place on earth you would choose to return to. Again, we have met people having just this experience every year too.

It is why we visited Rum for the very first, lasting impression making time in November. Why we have never based our love affair with this island on the snapshot glorious days. It is why we are brutally honest about what to expect with volunteers before they visit us here.

So our current volunteers arrived on a gorgeous day, had a couple of days off in mostly nice weather conditions. They have done an amazing job of the tasks we asked of them, working really hard and making a real dent in the workload here, taking on the jobs we were struggling to get round to in the non midgey, non rainy, non chicks hatching everywhere moments. They have done so in very inclement weather conditions, sleeping at night between their own tent and our bell tent but struggling with the winds flapping the tents about. It is why they may very well end up calling an early finish on their stay with us and leaving on the next ferry. I totally understand as we are able to offer nothing more than we have already provided.

It has reminded us of our own WWOOFing adventures five years ago. What our expectations and experiences were, where we felt tested, where we felt challenged. Which bits were rewarding, which bits made us simply vow never to take on that sort of task ever again. I recall hours and hours and hours of weeding, lots and lots of cleaning out chicken houses, rather a lot of carrying things up hills, I recall being served up food I didn’t really want to eat and doing a lot of washing up after meals. But only because I have been dwelling on the tough bits today in empathy with our poor soggy volunteers. In the main I recall being tested and challenged and rising to meet those challenges, finding inner reserves I had no inkling I possessed. I remember being knackered, cold, wet, tired, hungry, grumpy and questioning what the bloody hell I was doing and then meeting the eye of Ady, or a fellow WWOOFer, or one of our hosts, or the kids and grinning, exchanging a joke, a knowing look, a feeling of solidarity. I remember the joy of snuggling up in our sleeping bags in Willow – our home no matter what the view was outside, the delight of a bath every few weeks, the odd host where a glass of wine was poured with dinner or a chocolate biscuit offered at teabreak time. I remember the exhilaration of meeting someone with a likeminded philosophy, or even more exciting a new perspective which resonated and taught me something new. I remember the thrill of mastering a new skill, realising I could do something I would previously have not even attempted. I remember that pit of the tummy nervy feeling of pulling up at the home of new hosts, that teary eyed farewell a few weeks later as we drove away having shared so much more than a few meals and a few hours each day.

I hope that despite the wind and rain, the only offering lunch and the not very exciting jobs of filling a hole in the track with stones and weeding a raised bed ready to plant up strawberries we will remain one of the memories that our volunteers take away as good. That they will recall the first time they picked up a chicken (come to help while they were weeding), cuddled a duckling (resident in the house while they were eating lunch), saw an egg in the middle of hatching and heard the tale of how the caravan did get across a river, down a track and up a hill while they sit and drink tea in it four years later.

WWOOFing, volunteering in any capacity is about so much more than doing something for nothing. It’s about giving something you can afford to give just for the intrinsic reward of having given. About knowing you made a difference and were a part of something bigger than it’s components. It’s about taking something away that is not money or material offerings. About exchanging ideas, philosophies, about learning and growing.

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Hatchtastic

For the past two years we have been off this week in June at the Royal Highland Show. This year we decided not to go as it is a really busy time on the croft and our previous Bonnie sitters are no longer Rum residents, plus having done all four days in 2014 and 2015 we felt we had quite comprehensively done the show and could take a year or two off.

It’s very much turned out to be the right decision. We have had eggs hatching at a rate we are struggling to keep up with in terms of creating nursery pens and houses. We are currently at about 30 young birds – mostly chickens, with the first clutch of duck eggs hatching too. There are pens with chicks a few weeks old who are already independent of their mother (who we released, she had done her job!), five lots of chicks with their mother ranging from day old to several weeks old, one pair of mothers who have only managed to hatch one egg successfully between them and are determined to co-parent it. We have a duck with six ducklings all learning to swim.

piggyback

ducks

pens

ducklings

stapling

chicks2

chicks
This is by far our best year for hatching, and for keeping things alive. We are letting the birds incubate their eggs until hatch-point and then moving them and their babies into nursery pens. Moving them while they are still broody can break the broody trance and mean they give up on the eggs but once the young have hatched there seems to be a strong enough instinct to keep them happy to carry on raising them even if there is a brief location change. We have perfected the art of grabbing the mother (Ady does that), grabbing any young (Scarlett), any unhatched eggs and some of the nesting material they had been sitting on (Davies) and then moving them all into a newly built house within a pen. So far it has all gone very smoothly with the exception of that co-parenting couple. They rejected some of the eggs (either unfertilised or non viable), ejected one chick found dead overnight and abandoned a pipping egg this afternoon. They are very happy with their single chick. We brought the pipping egg indoors thinking we would give it a chance to hatch.

hatch

hatching

chick

Which it did, eventually. We tried to reintroduce it to it’s mother(s) and sibling but they were having none of that and attacked it, as did the other couple of hens we tried it with. So it’s in the caravan at the moment. It has splayed legs meaning it can’t stand or walk properly. We have dealt with this problem before (we had a whole clutch of incubator hatched eggs back in Sussex who were all deformed, we suspect due to inbreeding and had to intervene with culling some and splinting a few more with surgical tape. It works really well and those we treated were perfectly fine once grown). Davies and I tried to splint it’s legs this evening but it’s still a bit small to manage it really. It’s drinking, pooping and certainly very vocal so if it survives the night we will try again tomorrow and keep seeing if we are able to re-integrate it to one of the mothers outside.

Scarlett has a pet duckling -as yet un-named but very loved.

duckling

There are three more broody ducks, two broody geese, the turkey is broody somewhere and we strongly suspect there are more hens we have not spotted yet so the construction of pens continues and we are really glad that we are here this week to stay on top of all this rather than at the show.

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Meanwhile in the shop…

Croft 3 In The Shed is doing really well with very promising first year sales. It’s been so interesting to chart what works and what doesn’t, which jam flavours are most popular (bramble and rose, bramble and violet), which postcard photographs are selling best (Davies’ castle picture, Ady’s washing line full of drying laundry), which crocheted midge colour appeals to people the most (blue, by far!). My retail background is coming into play and I am spotting patterns in hot spots for display even in such a tiny space.

I’ve been moving things around, playing with signage and labelling and introducing new lines all the time. The most recent being the feather crafts – hat pins, key rings and hairslides along with hand painted quills, and painted glasses featuring midges and other wildlife.

We aim to have a variety of price points in the shop from £1 for postcards to £20 for scarves and everything inbetween. A mix of gifts for people to take away, souvenirs from their trip to Rum, quirky and fun reminders of what Rum is famous for, produce from the Croft, crafts reflecting our particular skills and above all things we would actually want to buy ourselves. Our rule is that is has to be something we actually enjoy making in the first place and something we would buy.

We’re also noticing trends in what different demographic of Rum visitors might be interested in – day trippers from some boats are looking for something to pick up to say ‘I was there’, people staying for a few nights are more likely to want eggs, jam or other produce (we’ve been doing well on freshly baked bread orders too). People visiting Rum on their own yachts seem to hang around the shop taking photos of themselves but don’t actually buy much…

dreamcatchers2

free range flights

hairslide

hatpin

keyrings

dreamcatchers

wristbands

stamps

glasses

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Off and back

On the 12th June 1991 I passed my driving test. Over the 25 years since I have always owned a vehicle – my first was a bright yellow mini and I remember being so thrilled at the independence and adventures the car and the ability to drive it afforded me. These days I rarely drive, although we have two (working) cars but this week I added another 200 miles or so to my personal tacometer as Scarlett and I had a couple of nights off the island for a brace check up for her at the dentist and we used the local car club car. The road from Mallaig to Fort William is one of the most twisty, turny roads in the UK I reckon, certainly one of the most long and winding I’ve ever driven. In the dark, particularly at dawn or dusk it is a daunting drive with deer waiting to leap out infront of you. In wet or frosty conditions it is a scary drive but in daylight, in nice dry weather it’s a very enjoyable drive. The last time we hired the car we bought a Proclaimers cd from a charity shop and on the basis that we had been delighted to find a Cher cd in the cd player once (driving through the Highlands radio signal is very patchy) we left it in the car. It was still in there so Scarlett and I enjoyed singing along to that a lot. If you have seen How I Met Your Mother you will further understand the joy of 500 miles on a road trip.

We were off Rum for less than 48 hours, spending one night at a hotel and one with local friends, watching TV, eating fast food, doing a big supermarket shop and having ice creams. We kept pace with the steam train heading back to Mallaig, having been stuck at a level crossing while it passed us and waved at some of the passengers.

Back at the croft we’ve been dismantling pallets for nursery pens for the birds – three hens with chicks already penned, another two sitting on clutches of eggs who we’ll move once they hatch, three broody ducks found on nests, two geese and the turkey. This could be the best year for rearing birds ever.

Regular strawberry harvesting, peas and currants are not far behind and the tomatoes are ready to be pinched out and need a comfrey feed.

It’s not all work though.. the trampoline has been bounced on for hours every day, we set up a hammock I bought last year and we had a lovely evening at the shop in the breezy sunshine last night with friends.

hammock

I’ve been fiddling with the shop layout, moved a few things around and added a couple of new lines including hand painted glasses. They have quite a midge heavy theme…

glasses

I taught myself how to make letters on friendship bracelets but unless I get a lot quicker that will not be a cost effective line to sell, Scarlett and I made some more bath fizzers and more parts arrived to play with feather crafts and the hot glue gun. I spent some time sitting in the sunshine with a hammer and set of stamps and made a pile of Isle of Rum stamped metal discs to use in keyrings.

stamps

Today was the 23rd anniversary of Ady and I becoming a couple. 23 years of being the Nic half of Nic & Ady. I cannot imagine finding anyone better to be the other half.

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The rain came. Sort of…

Earlier this week I posted on facebook that actually very pale skinned people who had actively chosen to live in the far north of the UK in an area with above average rainfall were really not cut out for weeks on end of dry weather, fierce sunshine and high temperatures. It was a flippant remark but garnered a bit of a response from people agreeing (mostly fellow highlanders struggling…) and giving me a hard time for moaning (mostly folk in the lower part of the UK ‘enjoying’ rather different weather…). But the reality is that much as I am able to enjoy the blue skies, the whale watching opportunities and the croft mud drying out a bit actually I prefer the colder temperatures and living as we do so close to, and at the mercy of mother nature when we start fretting about our water supply drying up and not being able to burn our cardboard incase we set fire to the fields I am liable to moan a bit. The pigs, who like me are ginger of coat and while not loving the mud are not exactly designed for sweltering heat either were miserable, I’d not slept properly for days as it was so hot, we can’t open windows because of the midges and our uninsulated metal box of a caravan which leaks heat in the winter holds it in the summer.

Anyway, on Tuesday the weather finally broke, it was a brief but glorious downpour which I was delighted to be caught outside in and thrilled to be soaked through my t shirt!

rainriver

rain

In other news the compost loo is now reinstalled in the shed, there is more to do to make it all more pleasing to the eye and more useful a space but for now there is a sink with running water which drains away and a working compost loo so we are set up with an outside WC for the bell tent, volunteers and any other campers.

More chicks have hatched – another hen hatched 7 chicks, another two hens are broody on large clutches of eggs so we have pens ready to move them into as soon as they hatch. We also have two broody ducks and two broody geese who we will probably pen in situ once they stop coming off the nests at feed time. The turkey has been heading off each day too so we strongly suspect she is back laying eggs and starting a nest although we have not found it yet.

chicks2

chicks

This week we have organised runner ducks to arrive in July and lambs to arrive in August…bees are still very much a challenging work in progress but we’ll keep on keeping on.

More midges have been added to the shop and I have finally completed a midge I had part made for Scarlett, one to head off in the post to someone special for their new grandson and one as a surprise for a friend (wonder if it will arrive with them before they read this and realise I mean them?) with another two sat beside me on the sofa waiting for eyes and wings before they head down to the shop. Unless we have another run on midges I can switch focus to brooches and hairpins this coming week as the hot glue gun arrived and we have only added a few feather based items to the stock so far. Scarlett has been doing a grand job of painting feathers to make quills and been rewarded with a few sales on those already.

patchwork midge

The netting for the fruit cage arrived and I found a not too sunny, windy, rainy or window (very niche weather conditions) to stitch it on in. 50 new strawberry plants arrived and I planted those all in compost and earmarked a raised bed to give over for a permanent strawberry bed – we’re feeding the birds on it just now in an effort to weed it and then we can fill it and build a plastic covering for it before transplanting the baby plants into it. It will be about three times the size of our current strawberry bed on the south side of our polytunnel which is currently netting us a big enough crop of strawberries for dessert for the four of us three times a week. Yum!

strawbs

On the north side of the polytunnel the comfrey (which I grew from seed last year, planted out in the herb spiral then regretted as it thrived so such a degree so one of our volunteers from last summer moved it to it’s new location where it has thrived even more) is doing well

comfrey

Inside everything is also doing well

polytunnel

All of our various projects around the croft from nursery pens and bird houses to fixing up the shed for the sink and loo have meant using up scrap wood so we asked Calmac for any spare pallets and they kindly sent a few across that had been cluttering up the pier in Mallaig. So we invested in a new tool to assist with dismantling them in a quicker and easier manner.

pallet tool

We had our weekly boat trip – another close encounter with a minke whale (not pictured because I have shared photos of minke whale fins many times before, this image of Rum in the distance and my family looking out at the water waiting for the blow is nicer!)

whales

We finally, about 6 months after it arrived here, got the second hand trampoline we bought off someone local who was moving away, out and set it up. It has been much bounced on…

bounce

And finally today we celebrated with communities all over the UK for the Big Lunch. It was our third Big Lunch on Rum. I spent yesterday morning baking cheese scones, cherry and almond cakes and peanut butter cookies. Ady used a whole load of our free range eggs to make egg mayonnaise rolls and we added them to the groaning table of foraged salad, quiches, sausage rolls, salads, cakes, cheesecake and more brought along by Rum residents and visitors. We had 27 people and 4 dogs come along over the course of about 3 hours at our village hall to eat lunch together.

big lunch 2

big lunch

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Flights of fancy and plumbing

This weeks job list between boat trips and cups of tea (and glasses of fizz!) with visitors included plumbing in the sink for the bell tent and making more crafts for the shed.

The pipe arrived for the plumbing on Friday and Ady had it up and running that very evening – this time of year it is 20 hours of daylight in every 24 but when the midges come they are so fierce you have to retreat so our working hours are rather ad hoc. It rather turns out days on their head and twice this week we have been drinking fizz at lunchtime (visiting friends and the grand opening of Rum’s newest accommodation) so it’s not unusual to be out doing stuff on the croft at 10pm. On Saturday we constructed a cradle to hold the sink, fitted it with a tap off a bath that friends had brought up for us several years ago and just happened to have a long enough reach to mean the water goes into the sink bowl as the sink really is meant for a mixer tap. With a mash up of hose fittings and actual plumbing bits Ady got it all working and we had a surreal moment outside the caravan yesterday evening when we called the kid out to turn the tap on, attached to a sink that Ady was holding and could walk about with…

portable sink

Today we set it up next to the shed which will house the compost loo. Because the pipe is black and is 100m away from the caravan and still above ground at the moment it ran a whole sink full of hand hot water before it ran through cold. We might even be able to hook up a solar shower at this rate.

sink view

sink

The next task is moving the compost loo from the horse box up to the shed, we have everything ready to do it so it should be a fairly straightforward task. Once that is done it will all be fully functioning, next we will start working on improvements such as paths and decorating everything to make it pretty as well as functional.

I have been busy trying to make a midge a day – so another two midges added to the shop this weekend – Mean Green Midge and Sunshine Yellow Midge

sunshine midge

green

If I can keep that pace up then we should stay ahead of demand…

One of the mantras of living like we do it to never walk up or down the hill empty handed. There is almost always something you could be moving around the croft but I have taken to picking up feathers if I am empty handed as I walk around the croft and have been stashing them in a bag by the front door waiting for inspiration. Last night I googled for some ideas and made a couple of quills using the ink cartridges from biros. The really white goose feathers and the turkey feathers are lovely anyway but some of the less perfectly formed goose feathers looked a bit boring so this afternoon I have been playing with painting them. We now have a jar full of various quills for sale.

quills

I’ve also ordered a hot glue gun having always secretly wanted one but never had a good enough reason. When I arrives I have some hair pins and badges to have a go at feather brooches and hair pins too. I even have the sign ready to hang in the shop and a shelf already earmarked to display them all…

free range flights of fancy sign

As ever though while the sun was shining it was never all about work (even if the work is fun!) and this afternoon was the grand opening of the Gypsy Wagon our friend Claire has brought across and set up on the coast. A stunning wee wagon made of reclaimed timber with some gorgeous design features and cute and quirky touches. So we headed down to the village to celebrate with Claire

me and kids

gypsy waggon

Home for watering the polytunnel and harvesting yet more strawberries

strawberries2

which we enjoyed after dinner. No working outside this evening though, it’s been a really, really midgey night. I’m getting alerts for northern lights activity emailed to me but as it’s already nearly midnight and still not actually dark I am not holding out much hope of seeing anything before dawn breaks in a couple of hours time.

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Inching forwards…

Our mini greenhouses have all arrived at last, after a freak north wind blew them all over we have now tethered them with a bar across so they are secure. This has doubled the under plastic space we have for sowing seeds for next year. I have just bought some more strawberry plants to put out in one of the larger raised beds and we’ll make a plastic cloche to go over them so that next year we have even more strawberries. I cherish this notion that one day we may even have excess strawberries to make jam with but based on how quickly the four of us have polished off the early crop so far this year I suspect that will remain a dream.

strabs

strawberries

All of the tomato plants are now potted on and spread out in the polytunnel, peas are all planted out, herbs are in the spiral or a few have been put into larger pots to stay in the polytunnel. I may yet do some more sowing seeds but for now it’s about watering and pondering when to feed with comfrey tea. I should make some more comfrey tea actually, the transplanted comfrey I grew from seed last year is thriving and the flowers are attracting bees while the leaves could be brewing up some wonderful liquid plant food.

I’ve been re-netting the fruit cage this week but some of the much repaired original section is now too patched together to stretch and patch again so I have ordered some new netting, The old stuff will have a new lease of life as the top for our new nursery pens – Ady and I did our finest making good use of the things that everyday folk leave behind and have been constructing chicken houses and runs with old pallet wood.

runs

chicken house

Two of the four we’ve made already have mother chickens and their offspring in them, we’ll move new hatchlings in as they arrive.

In business endeavours the shed continues to do really well, another four midges sold this week, along with a couple of scarves. I’ve been setting aside an hour each morning to crochet replacements – introducing tartan midge and rainbow midge, the latest additions.

rainbow midge

tartan midge

midges

The real life midges are making their presence felt of an evening and we’ve been collecting them up each morning ready to set in resin for keyrings. My resin was discovered all hardened into one large lump still in it’s bottle so more is on order. That bulk purchase last year to get a cheaper price proved a false economy…

The bell tent now has rainbow guy lines, bunting and solar fairy lights arrived today, as did the stove and cooking set so we’ll be getting everything set up and cosy in there. Also arrived today was the pipe to run water up to the shed where the compost loo will be so we can plumb in a sink for washing up. Ady’s already set up the water, we hope to get the loo and sink all set up over the weekend. We already have our first booking for the tent and have had plenty of interest so fingers crossed that will prove to be popular.

It’s been a busy week but we’ve still fitted in plenty of sitting in the sunshine with a beer, chatting to friends and our weekly boat trip.

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Sharing…

Living a mile out of the village, along a track which is mostly only suitable for walking on a remote Scottish island with only 30 residents means we don’t get a huge number of visitors. I remember clearly that one of our early ambitions for Croft 3 was for it to become a destination, somewhere that people actively set off to reach. This week at least we have achieved that several times.

Back in our old lives we were often hosts, we had friends and family over regularly; for tea and chats in the day time, for wine and meals in the evenings, to stay for one of our parties or get togethers. In our early days together Ady and I regularly were the house everyone came back to after an evening out, long before we had furniture in the house we had 20 people sitting on the floor! In later years we would have regularly parties – for Davies and Scarlett’s birthdays, for Halloween, just because… writing this post reminded me of one particular party when 24 of us all slept at our house and sent out for fish and chips as something to eat we didn’t need crockery for because there were not enough plates in the house!

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Living in a caravan with limited facilities and space means we have had to let go of our tendancy to call out ‘Everyone back to ours!’ quite so often and have to plan playing hosts rather better. But the recent spectacular weather has meant a return to form – last Thursday we had a group of students up for a chat, at the weekend we had a barbecue with Rum friends, on Wednesday friends visited for a day trip, today we were delighted to have a visit from Rum royalty as far as we’re concerned – ex residents of the island from long before we had even heard of Rum or anyone who lives here now was around. Names written in Rum’s history with stories to tell of the island and memories of times gone by.

barbecue

cally

wormells

Sitting infront of the caravan drinking in that amazing view and sharing it with others is simply one of the most wonderful things about our lives here.