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2016 – Bad, good, learnt… and hopes for 2017

Ady
Bad
1. The health emergency at the start of this year. It really bought home how remote we are, how vulnerable. Croft 3 is almost an island on an island – we are so remote even from the village.

2. The feeling of being trapped a little bit. We now have a mainland car and the ferry prices have been reduced so in theory it should be feasible to escape for a weekend off every now and then. The reality is that we don’t have anyone we can regularly ask to look after our animals here as there are so few residents now and no crofting neighbours we can return the favour for.

3. That our infrastructure challenges on the croft have more or less ground to a halt. Despite making huge inroads to things like power and water we will never be able to drive our big deliveries onto the croft without a big financial investment on a vehicle or a bridge we will not move any further forward than we already have.

4. There are lots of big decisions on the table for the future development of the island, all of which are pretty divisive and contentious. This has meant a feeling of tension and a lack of the fun socialising that we enjoyed in our early time here.

5. The knowledge that this adventure in it’s current incarnation is finite. That we have a limited amount of time left doing this for a variety of reasons.

Good
1. I think we have come on in leaps and bounds with taming the croft. We’ve cut large areas of the reeds and grass, planted trees, have lots of livestock grazing and living. When we look at the croft it is very obvious what we have done.

2. I’ve enjoyed the working off the croft. I’ve done a fair bit of ghilly work and working for SNH on the hostel and I like that.

3. Our set up on things like power, water, gas is now working. It requires regular maintenance and sometimes things go wrong but I am confident in sorting out any issues.

4. It’s been a kind year of weather. Right up until mid December we have had a period of very calm, dry conditions. Spring and Summer were good this year and autumn stretched.

5. Hosting volunteers. We had some great WWOOFers this year, met some really interesting people and got lots done during their stays.

Learnt
1. I thought that it would be possible to live this way forever but I am realising it is not going to happen. The living space is starting to not work for us, fixtures and fittings are wearing out.

2. That despite our unique set up – island life, small community, off grid living – we are not really that different. From talking to others and really listening this year I realise that the same challenges and issues exist in so many other places. And that you can learn so much from how others do things.

3. Sheep. We’re still learning obviously, but this is a new livestock for us and as such I have been getting educated about their care, behaviour and handling.

4. Our usual philosophy is to make small considered moves forward and ensure we have researched and prepared properly. This year we made a couple of rasher decisions, all of which proved foolish. I’ve learnt that we should stick to our usual ways.

5. We need to do more to create a camping / accommodation area. We made an excellent start this year but there were parts of it lacking – a path, a better base to the bell tent, something more Rum-proof.

Hopes for 2017
1. To set up hydro power. I have done lots of reading and would really like to conquer harnessing water to provide power.

2. A way of getting across the river or at the very least brainstorming it and coming up with some ideas. Bringing up firewood, gas bottles, animal feed etc. is all so very hard and I’d like to see whether we can change that.

3. More trees! I smashed last years aim of planting 100 and we’ve planted about 500 this year. I’d like to plant even more in 2017

4. Neighbours – again!

5. Improve the camping / accommodation area on the croft.

Special bonus wish: to learn to ceilidh dance. Whenever we have ceilidhs here I always sit them out because I just can’t do it, but everyone always has so much fun I would love to be able to join in and feel confident that I know what I’m doing.

Nic
Bad:
1. The incredibly challenging start to the year and first few weeks. Technically it was still 2015 rather than 2016 when it started but the couple of hours sat in the dark waiting for the helicopter to arrive, trying to remain calm for Ady and the kids, trying to the find the balance between organising my thoughts for worst case scenarios and remaining positive while the batteries ran flat, the fire went out and we were utterly at the mercy of other people was easily the most difficult period of my entire life. The following week was also filled with challenging moments, all of which were made all the more tricky because of where we live. Back in our old lives an incident like that would have meant either a 999 call to an ambulance which would have been at our house with Ady in hospital within half an hour or more likely me just driving him there. I could then have spent time with him in hospital each day with other family and friends able to easily visit. We would not have had to put our entire lives on hold, call in countless favours in croft / pet / animal feeding duties, spent a fortune in hotel bills, car hire, fuel, food, clothing and so on. It really bought home to me the precariousness of our living situation.

2. The continued decline of resident numbers on Rum. I love Rum, I love our lives here. But I also love people, lots of different people and just now there are very few people.

3. Tom the pig dying. Infact pig stuff generally has been sad and bad this year. From Tom dying to Barbara losing a litter of piglets to Waddles also failing to birth and raise a litter to the complete debacle of introducing a couple of new pigs here which didn’t go at all well.

4. Mortality reminders. That’s a bit morbid I know but a couple of friends have lost relatives, obviously lots of high profile people have passed away during 2016 and we had a health scare within our own family unit. All of this reminds me that life is short, time with people you love is precious and finite. For me that pulls me in different directions and gives me a feeling of conflict – it makes me both want to stay close to those I love and spend as much time as I can in their company but it also makes me want to chase my dreams and pursue my own adventures even more. Those are not very compatible things to achieve!

5. Limited opportunities. 2016 has been a huge year on the world stage. Social media tells me that people feel disempowered, fractured and helpless, angry, unrepresented and just plain sad about the state of our planet, our politics and the consequences of our actions. I personally have had the least politically active year of my adult life. I have done little in the way of volunteering or actively making things I believe in happen. I have found it tricky this year to live to my own belief that we should be the change we want to see in the world. I have signed petitions, engaged with my MP on a couple of issues, contributed to various consultations and made a few charitable donations but I know that I could have done more. Part of that is lack of access to ways to make a difference, part of it was a conscious choice to focus more on us and the croft this year but I am aware of it as a lacking part of this year for me.

Good:
1. The shed. We opened our little shop at the croft gate this year with high hopes but no real idea of what level of sales we might get. It’s been great – over 300 customers (many buying more than one thing), a really good insight into what lines people do and don’t want to buy. We more than made back the cost of buying the shed and setting it up and had some lovely comments in the log book where people note what they have bought.

2. The set up on the croft. We more or less have the land on the croft set up or in progress on the way to being set up. We have clear areas for animals, crops, camping, firewood processing and storage and so on. I feel we have a good understanding of how the land works here through the seasons and while it will always be a work in progress we understand what we have to do to improve and work the croft.

3. The volunteer events – both the actual hosting of the volunteers which was great, meeting new people, sharing ideas and working together and the actual output from those events of improved camp kitchen, areas weeded and our path up the croft which is proving a real life changer during these muddy winter months.

4. Our various trips off (January helicopter chasing aside!) have all been good this year. In previous years we often begrudged the time spent on the mainland for dentist visits. This year we really made the most of the time off with careful planning. The big trip off in October with the Harris & Lewis trip for all of us and the trip south for the kids and I was brilliant, so good to catch up with family and friends.

5. Feeling blessed. This year has had a lot of soul searching but during the tough bits I have felt supported by family and friends, I have felt very fortunate to have the life partner I have, the children I have, the relations I have and the friends I have. To have the opportunities I have had and the health and freedom to make the choices I have. There were a whole host of small acts of kindness over the course of this year which made me cry (in a good way) and together definitely qualify as one of my goods this year.

Learnt
1. I had intended to learn more about basketry this year, I’d gathered the materials but the unexpected January trip meant I never got to it. Instead I ended up making a crochet blanket during those hours spent in the hospital and hotel room in January which inspired me to make a bigger blanket afterwards. A couple of books on granny square patterns and a vague notion of an end result later I had a huge kingsize bed sized blanket which is gorgeous and I love but also taught me so much about crochet – about patterns, stitches, tension and technique. That gave me the confidence to experiment with crochet and led to the 3d midges and the freeform crochet bags I have made this year. I still don’t really follow patterns but I now can if I need to and I understand about ways to do stitches and put things together.

2. Beekeeping – I really want to keep bees, have done for ages and think Rum would be a really good location. I attended a weekend course in May and spent a lot of time trying to organise bees although I didn’t get anywhere. I did learn lots on the course though and it remains a plan for the future.

3. Marketing and advertising. Despite having worked in retail and in marketing in years gone by there is always more to learn. Opening the shed shop and seeing what sold and what didn’t, what signage, labels and packaging were attractive, which were the key hotspots for displaying things and best way of showing them off in the shop. We had a huge brainwave with the welly boot trail and have made a start at selling some lines online using etsy and facebook too. Because our on-island market is so niche I have even been able to work out which lines appeal to which demographic of customer from the student groups to the yachties (people who arrive on their own boats) to the wildlife spotting day trippers.

4. Livestock stuff – from getting and keeping sheep for the first time, getting the new pigs and nursing the injured boar back to health and the massive success we’ve had this season in breeding the birds. All of these involved learning, research, advice and getting a bit of a crash course in doing things as they happened.

5. Papermaking. By chance I happened to be in the right place at the right time in February to go along to a papermaking workshop. It is one of the crafts I have never done at all before and happened to be really pertinant to us as it was making paper using reeds from boggy highland ground. Although it wouldn’t be that easy to do here as it involves a blender and a good few hours of boiling up the reeds it was definitely a new skill and something I have squirreled away as an idea for future pondering on.

Hopes for 2017:
1. A good growing season. I’ll say it again! Every year I hope for it and every year it doesn’t really happen. Every year I work out why it’s not happening and try to improve on that for the coming year. This year I realised we were lacking propogating space for the seedlings – we now have the polytunnel, four mini greenhouses and several trays of mini propogators so have massively increased the amount of space. Also this year despite buying in more pipe to create arches and netting to make covers for the raised beds crops were still got at by our own birds and the deer. Now we have the entire growing area fenced off so no creatures can get in. 2017 will see us going into the growing season with by far the best set up we have ever had plus time to condition the ground with seaweed, two water butts filled with chopped comfrey making tea to feed the crops and a real commitment from me to plan, tend and nurture. I’ll see if this is the year I succeed with it.

2. To begin to earn a real income from the croft. We have various potential income streams identified and set up now from the camping area to the shed to an online presence for our crafts. I am hoping that 2017 is the year we actually begin to make the croft a credible possibility to earn money from given we have now realised that self sufficiency in actually growing all our own food is not a feasible option.

3. To really make the most of living here on Rum. All four of us have committed to trying to find opportunities which only living here offer us. Scarlett is looking at volunteering opportunities, Davies is looking at some community radio ideas, Ady is keen to expand his photography and I am keen to do more Rum specific crafts.

4. More writing. I’ve continued to write for Barefoot Diaries in 2016 which I love doing but I have not managed to get any further with other writing projects. I would like to make 2017 the year I get some writing published and get paid for it.

5. To learn an instrument. I bought a ukelele this year and despite trying with books and online lessons I have utterly failed to make any progress. More than one person tells me that the really cheap instruments simply don’t work and that you need to spend more on one so I probably need to rethink but having done a bit of singing this year I realise how much I miss having music in my life. So a better ukelele, a different instrument or finding more opportunities to sing.

Special bonus wish for 2017 – I have realised that all four of our passports have run out this year. Adventures abroad are pretty tricky for us financially and logistically but I’d love to have a reason to need to renew those passports and travel somewhere exciting with the others.


Davies
Bad:
1. Daddy in hospital. It was stressful, we had to leave Rum in a hurry rather than a planned event. It was unexpected.

2. I had intended on working on growing a new business / line of things to sell in the shed, but I didn’t do that this year.

3. Losing my phone on our trip off island. I used my phone a lot to listen to music, watch iplayer shows and talk to my online friends. It is a real lifeline for me so to lose it was a big deal.

4. I miss the opportunity to make friends my own age. Although we’ve been off this year and had friends to visit there are very few chances to make new friends living here.

5. I have developed interests in film making, you tube videos and other online based things which I am not able to fully make happen because we don’t have 24 hour power or space to set up the equipment I would need.

Good:
1. Granny and Grandad bought us a car which means when we go off we are able to get around more and travel further. This means we can make the most of these trips.

2. Welcome to Nightvale – a podcast that an online friend introduced me to and I have introduced other people including Scarlett to. It’s been a real big thing for me this year and to go and see one of the live shows was really cool.

3. Compared to last year when we didn’t have as many visitors or go off as often this year has been good. Going off and seeing everyone all at once at a party was really good.

4. Better power this year and freedom to spend my time online has meant lots of hanging out with friends online, which is almost as good as spending time with them in real life. Being able to actually meet up with a friend I met online was interesting. I’d been chatting to them online for over a year and it was nice to meet them in real life.

5. Fishing! I remember doing fishing for the first time in Tarbet while we were WWOOFing and again while we were camping with friends and I have always enjoyed it. We’d not done it here for ages but we got new rods which are excellent and had about five sessions of fishing and caught loads.

Learnt:
1. From spending time online hanging out with kids my own age I have learned this year that I am mostly happier than a lot of other teens. I would put this down to a different outlook on the world based on my experiences and my views on those experiences. Travelling, living on a remote island apart from other people, being Home Educated all mean I have had a different life to most of my friends.

2. One of my hopes for this year when we did this last year was:

“To have an idea of what direction I’d like to take my life by the end of the year. I will be 16 and starting to think about what I want to do / learn / experience next.”

I have spent time doing that this year. I have researched and spent time doing things including film making (creating my own storyline and shooting my own video then finding music and images to put together), counselling (I did a lot of research into psychology online and chatting to friends) and broadcasting ( from listening to podcasts, to working with Scarlett on creating videos for youtube based on our surroundings which is like reporting and a trip to our local radio station to learn more about broadcasting). All of this has given me a path and a purpose to work towards. I know I have lots more to learn, to practise and will possibly look at qualifications but I know where I am going with it.

3. In spending more time with people this year I have witnessed lots of difficult areas of peoples’ lives and how they treat each other. I have learnt how much it matters how you act around other people and ways to offer support.

4. I am the leader on an online forum which I set up and manage. I also support the leaders on a couple of other forums. Although I am not actively involved with Rum I am aware of how the community works too. Between the two I have a good understanding of how communities work and how to operate leading a team. For example if there was a zombie apocalypse I feel I would be capable of leading people to keep them safe. I think I have good leadership skills and ideas.

5. From time online I have got a whole new set of skills in techy stuff. I can set up forums, sign up for user accounts, use apps, blog and navigate around the internet and social media. These are really important skills in the world we live in.

Hopes for 2017

1. Further my writing skills – spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on.

2. To have trips off island. It’s been great to go off more this year and I’d like to do more of that in 2017.

3. I have a youtube channel, in the coming year I’d like to expand that – get more views, more subscribers and make more videos and podcasts to go on it and build it into something bigger.

4. I’ll be 17 by the end of the year. I’d like to be started or ready to start driving lessons and understand how driving / a car works.

5. I’d like to come up with a line or several products that have sold in our shed.

Special bonus wish for 2017: Same as last year – I’d like to visit another country.

Scarlett

Bad:
1. More people left Rum this year. They were our friends and it’s sad to see them go.

2. The musgovy ducks didn’t work here on the croft. They can’t cope with the mud and that is sad because I like having different types of ducks.

3. Tom pig dying. He was one of the very first animals we got here and we were all quite attached to him.
4. Daddy being helicoptered off. It was very dramatic and unexpected.

5. Gunther, my pet duck died this year too which was hard.

Good:
1. Raising another duckling – this time I just had one and called him Desmond.

2. Getting Kira the cat. We really wanted a cat for getting rid of rats and mice on the croft and although Bonnie does it she digs great big holes while she does it.

3. Going to see Welcome to Nightvale. It was my first live show experience and I’m really glad we did it, it was really fun.

4. Seeing friends and family members that we have not seen in a long time was really good.

5. Seeing a polar bear! It was on my list of hopes and although I saw pandas last year I really wanted to see meat eating bears.

Learnt:
1. Not to take animals that need rehoming without researching it more. The pigs and the musgovy ducks we have taken at short notice have not been good decisions.

2. I learnt lots about cake stuff – baking cakes and cookies and lots about decorating them. I learnt that from Mummy and from watching videos on the internet.

3. I learnt more about animals. I watched lots of documentaries and had the trip to the zoo.

4. This year I have used some of our new power tools – drills, sander and the circular saw helping to make bird pens and covers for the crops.

5. From spending time with other kids my own age again that I’ve not seen in a while I learnt that I don’t really fit in with a crowd any more and that that is fine. I have made friends while we’ve been on Rum who I have lots in common with rather than just being Home Educated or our families being friends. I learned that’s its really good to be myself and that I will find people who are like me.

Hopes for 2017:
1. I’d like to help raise another type of animal. I’ve reared a few ducklings now and would like to have a different animal which is more like a pet than livestock – maybe a lamb or a piglet or some other animals we get.

2. To still be on Rum this time next year.

3. I would like to see more exotic animals but in their natural habitat. I love going to zoos but I would love to see more animals in the wild.

4. I’d like to learn more cake decorating and maybe go on a course and try more ambitious projects.

5. I would love to have more of a small business and think that I could try selling my cookies and cupcakes as I’ve helped with some of Mummy’s orders this year. Even if I don’t start selling in 2017 I would like to have a business plan to do so and increase my skills.

Special bonus wish: to go in a plane or a helicopter. Everyone else has flown and I have not.

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The Limbo

That period in between Christmas and New Year is an odd one. Kids off school, most people still off work (although when we were working in retail it was the maddest time of year of all!), a house filled with festive food like biscuits and chocolates but so often not any actual real food to cobble a meal together. No one knows what day the bins will be emptied. The TV scheduling is all messed up and there are never enough batteries in the house!

It’s not like that here on Rum of course. No retail therapy, no leftover turkey, no rubbish and recylcing collection anyway. From Monday 19th December until Tuesday 27th we didn’t have a ferry due to bad weather. I think that’s the longest we’ve been without a ferry here in all our time on the island.

It meant when the ferry finally appeared on the horizon on Tuesday it was very welcome indeed. It took eight wheelbarrow loads to empty the car of all the deliveries it bought for us – sacks of animal feed for the birds, pigs and sheep, cat food, a regular monthly bulk order of items like sugar, tea, coffee, a box of wine expected for Christmas. Fresh fruit and vegetables, two mail bags full of post including delayed Christmas cards, the last few gifts each for Davies and Scarlett, two boxes of gifts for all four of us from friends, secret santa for me from online friends.

We’ve had a few more trips across the island feeding the cattle and ponies over at Harris bay, a few trips into the village feeding a friend’s chickens while they are away, time spent outside feeding our own animals, chopping firewood and Ady has extended the pig pen as it was getting very muddy for them so he’s given them some fresh ground.

We’ve been catching up on various online tv including a fascinating two parter about people on Fair Isle which was so very similar to our lives here. Today we took down the Christmas tree which was starting to brown and drop needles. It’s now outside being enjoyed by the sheep rather unexpectedly! And for once the caravan feels almost spacious.

We’ve drafted out our masterplan for 2017 and done our bad, good, learnt roundup of the year and talked about what we hope 2017 might hold. I’ll share that once the year is finally over, I’ve definitely learned my lesson from sharing it early last year!!!

full car

ferry came

gin o clock

masterplan

warm wet and windy

calmac

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Festive Tidings

We braved both Barbara and her following on bigger brother Conor and tomorrow the ferry is scheduled to bring all sorts of delayed goodies.

Our annual Christmas jumpers outside on the croft photos were the breeziest yet!

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Today we drove across the island as Ady is on feeding the cattle and ponies duty across at Harris on the south coast of Rum. The island is very undulating generally but to be able to see the caravan and have snow on the ground around us because we were that much higher than the croft was pretty amazing.

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Merry Christmas

Storm Barbara and the winds bringing her here and blowing her away again have been responsible for three cancelled ferries. We’ve not had a boat since Monday and looking ahead at the weather forecast I think the earliest possible one to come will be next Tuesday.

Both Davies and Scarlett will have IOU’s under the Christmas tree as gifts have not arrived yet, an order of food and some bottle of fizz, a delivery of animal feed and various other bits and pieces are all sitting at the pier in Mallaig waiting. There are people on Rum who were not expecting to be and several people who had planned to be here on Rum for Christmas but are not.

If we didn’t have so many commitments here on the croft we’d probably be visiting family at Christmas. If we didn’t have such challenging living conditions making it impossible to host guests at this time of year we would probably be hosting visiting family this Christmas.

But Christmas really isn’t about the last minute supermarket dash, the stress of what you do and don’t have, what may or may not be under the tree and the pressure of just 24 hours. So none of that matters at all. The ferry will come, and when it does we will really appreciate what it brings us regardless of the date. We’re spending a week with family in a few weeks time, in a location we can all travel to and comfortably stay in so we can celebrate all of the festive occasions we’ve missed over past month (birthdays, Christmas, new year, anniversaries). We are blessed, grateful, thankful, safe, warm and have much to look forward to. We hope all our readers are able to count the same blessings this Christmas.

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Meanwhile on the mainland…

We’ve been off – Davies, Scarlett and I for three nights with Ady following behind for two nights to reduce the amount of dog sitting and animal feeding favours we needed to beg.

The kids and I left Rum on Monday as we had a couple of appointments on Tuesday – in the morning a meeting with the studio manager and breakfast show host of our local radio station here Nevis radio. Davies is interested in the idea of setting up a Small Isles radio show so I’d gotten in touch to see if they could offer any advice or ideas and we were invited along. Davies led the meeting and got lots of ideas, suggestions and possible opportunities from it to be thinking about and working on. More on that as it happens.

We then spent some time in the town doing some shopping – we split up as the kids wanted to get some secret bits and I wanted to buy boring stuff like wrapping paper. As usual I bumped into someone I know while shopping – it’s funny how a town 50 miles and a ferry trip away from where we live provides our ‘local’ shops and how many people we actually do know here despite rarely leaving Rum.

Scarlett had an orthodontist appointment in the afternoon for further work on her brace / teeth. It’s all going well but I remain in awe of the discomfort and level of putting up with she is doing in this process. She is amazing and deals with it all with such good grace, lack of complaint and her characteristic cheeriness.

Ady arrived and he and I popped out for some festive shopping. It’s been a great opportunity to get nice food and drink and small gifts for the kids. We would not usually risk or justify a mainland trip at this time of year but the dentist appointment meant 3 days off so we managed to cram all sorts of making the most of it stuff into the time.

Which brings me to the main event of the trip which was a birthday treat trip for Scarlett to the Highland Wildlife Park. Like many nature lovers Scarlett has an uneasy relationship with zoos and wildlife parks. Even in her young life she has seen a real change in the way zoo parks are run with the focus changing from animals as exhibits to places for breeding and conservation, education and enlightenment. All of that said there is still something troubling about some of the larger, wilder creatures being contained even if they have been bred in captivity and never known a wild free life. However from learning last year from a fellow Rum resident that there were polar bears in a wildlife park near us she has been desperate to go so with a mainland trip planned so close to her birthday it was the perfect opportunity.

Not for us have zoo trips ever been sunny day, picnic and ice cream type affairs. We have definitely spent more time wandering round as the only visitors at a zoo getting surprised expressions when someone actually turns up for the planned keeper talks and feeding times for years. This was no exception. I doubt there were 50 visitors to the zoo yesterday which may have meant a rather off duty feel to the place and a slightly pared down keeper talk programme (largely because many of the animals simply do not feed so much at this time of year) but the ones we did attend had limited attendees and therefore loads of opportunities to get great views and ask lots of questions.

We had a brilliant day, drove round the safari trail twice, chatted to the keepers of the snow monkeys, wildcats, tigers and polar bears and really enjoyed the whole thing.

polar bead

davies bear

nic bear

zoo

bison

pretzel pony

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polar bear nose

s and polar bear

wildlife park

polar bear

s and wolf

wolf

And today we returned home. Ready for the countdown to Christmas and getting back into the swing of life here after a brief, busy but really enjoyable break from our norm.

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Trees

Inside and out.

The last few weeks we’ve done a lot with trees. We chopped down our Christmas tree and it now stands inside the caravan all decorated and twinkling. Scarlett asked about why we have Christmas trees and both Ady and I muttered something about Germany and Queen Victoria in a fairly ignorant manner so we consulted the oracle of google and all learned some more solid history. We then had the same information re-told to us during the Rum primary school nativity a few days later.

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d and star

Meanwhile out on the croft we’ve been busy recompensing for the ‘slaughter’ of one tree chopped down to adorn the caravan in a festive manner by planting hundreds of saplings. One of Ady’s hopes for 2016 was to plant 100 trees on the croft. He has smashed that ambition many times over and I think we’ll actually hit the 500 mark thanks to various fruit trees, cuttings taken from willow around Rum and most recently over 400 trees from the Woodland Trust. We have a wetland mix of willows, birch, hazel, rowan and hawthorn and have planted most of them in a line stretching almost the entire width of the croft. We have a few left which will go into the fruit cage and the walled garden to be used to harvest for basket making and to aid with drainage in that area.

Davies and Scarlett got involved too. Tree planting is a real legacy type project – you know you are not likely to be around yourself to see the fruits of your labours as full grown trees, hence that proverb “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today”.

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Shepherding

We’ve had the sheep here on Croft 3 for over three months now and given our initial concern was merely getting them here and keeping them alive I think we can update on progress so far.

sheep

We started them off in a pen just inside the croft. The rationale for this was very simple; we were fairly confident we could tow the trailer they came in to the foot of the croft so that’s the area we penned for them. It also meant we could use two sides of the croft boundary fence for their pen and make use of the kids bike shed as their shelter. Finally we need to get them used to people generally and us specifically as sheep are pretty skittish creatures in the main. Having them there meant they were walked past countless times every day by us every time we came in and out of the croft, by everyone walking along the north side nature trail, visiting the Shed shop or coming to visit us.

It sort of worked although we did have to keep putting them back in to their pen when they escaped and it took a bit of re-education for both us and the sheep. I have learnt that in much the same way as pigs you can never really be confident you have stopped livestock escaping from where you want it to be, merely very strongly persuade it that it shouldn’t! With pigs the wisdom is to never chase, to always lead. With sheep there is a chance to either lead or herd with the added factor that they are as likely to follow each other than you which can work either in your favour or utterly against you…

After a month we treated them with the various doses of medicines for preventative health issues – here on Rum that is liver fluke, ticks and fly strike. By then they were getting more used to us and showing interest in sheep nuts as supplementary feed to grazing – really important for the winter months when there may be no food on the ground for them.

As the weather turned we built a pen higher up the croft hill for them, the bottom of the croft is slighly more sheltered from the wind and rain but is the wettest part of our land so for the winter we wanted them on higher, drier ground. That move was simple enough and brought them closer to the heart of the croft, within sight of the pigs, the birds and the caravan. It also brought them within tempting distance of the grassier areas infront of the caravan which we have strimmed, scythed and grazed with the geese and proved really tricky to deter them from escaping to explore further. We spent a lot of time luring and herding them back in to their pen.

We decided this week that now they come to us and happily go back into their pen at the end of each day for a final handful of sheep nuts before settling down in their shelter than we can let them out to graze on the croft. This was always one of the long term plans although we had debated the idea of mob grazing and keeping them on a small area frequently moved. We may return to this plan for targeted grazing in the spring / summer but for now they have joined the general melee of Croft 3 creatures, ambling over to say hello when we are out working on the croft and running over with everyone else when the feed bins are rattled, even if they are not yet entirely sure what to do!

sheep and birds feeding

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Happy Birthday Scarlett

Our wonderful brave, kind, funny, crazy, passionate, independent, loving, beautiful daughter Scarlett had her 14th birthday today.

From the moment she was born Scarlett has been a force of nature, persuading the world around her to see things from her perspective. As a feisty, spirited toddler I knew that the very characteristics which made her a tricky little girl to negotiate day to day life with would be the very ones which made me proud of her as a woman – she cares not what other people think but cares deeply about other people, has no vanity yet shows herself daily to be a person worthy of praise and admiration. That small person who struck out for independence is now capable and mature, responsible and able. That adventurous spirit and curiosity that led her to clamber on worktops and see what might happen if she tipped a full bottle of hair conditioner on her bedroom carpet carry her through her life as a young woman experimenting and learning as she goes.

There is still much of the child in Scarlett at 14 – often to be found with a soft toy, always ready for a cuddle and with no great desire to strike out on her own any time soon she is nonetheless a partner in our family unit with a big loud voice, strong views and able to be counted on, depended on and relied upon. She is thoughtful, hospitable and quietly observes what needs to be done and gets on and does it. Scarlett makes things happen, champions the underdog and would fill the caravan with all of the animals on the croft if we’d only allow them indoors!

Animals remain the big passion – as they have forever. Her first birthday trip was to a petting farm, she was a junior zoo keeper for the day aged 6, visited the Sea life centre for her 5th and 7th birthdays, the safari for her 8th and has been ticking off animal related experiences and encounters for her whole life from seeing dolphins and whales in the wild to hatching and rearing ducklings. This year is no exception and ferries and weather permitting we’ll be tying in a belated birthday treat trip to a safari next week where she is thrilled to be seeing polar bears.

The most recent addition to her interests is cake decorating. She enjoys the baking side of the craft too but it is the icing, decorating and topping which she is really keen on. So along with a few fun gifts came an array of cutters, moulds, tools and sprinkles to indulge this interest which she has spent much of the day experimenting with.

In the same way that watching our children as babies was amazing – seeing the acquisition of new skills every day, and the first steps of toddlerdom was thrilling as they learnt they were separate beings from us and started to explore just what that meant we are loving being the parents of young adults. Seeing how that amazing little girl is becoming a woman is wonderful. Happy Birthday lovely Scarlett, you are more than living up to your promises.

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scarlett 1

first scarlett

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