There is a joke often posted on social media by folk up in the wilds of the UK whenever big winds affect the lower parts of the country and mass chaos ensues. Cancelled ferries, closed bridges and shut snow gates are a part of day to day life up here so there is a tendency to sneer a little when what is barely a breeze up here creates mayhem and headlines down south. The joke is along the lines of ‘Hurricane coming. Hebridean folk use two pegs on washing on the line’. You have probably seen and heard variables of it. I have previously sniggered and agreed but when it did the rounds yesterday someone commented that actually big winds in built up areas with denser population numbers *will* cause chaos in a way that places that are used to and set up for it with smaller numbers of people, less reliant on travel or services.
We had a friend staying last weekend and it was a wild-ish night with lots of caravan wall wobbling, much like it is tonight and I realised how what we have become accustomed to in our nearly five years here is so very different to what we used to expect of the weather as we barely raise an eyebrow or pass comment when the glasses rattle on the shelves and things randomly fly by the windows. As I sit typing the bit of Doris that we have gotten (which wouldn’t be sufficient to be named if it were not already a named storm) is blowing around outside and I am merely grateful that it means the rather green wood we are burning is catching ok on the logburner thanks to the draw the wind is providing.
We had a day last week of sausage making – a total of 45kg of sausages, so that was a whole day of mincing, mixing, stuffing and linking.
My new ukulele arrived. My original was a very cheap (as in a tenner) from ebay to see whether I could master it. I did invest in upgrading the strings but everyone said a better quality one, and possibly a larger concert size would be a shrewd investment and easier to play. I resisted as I wanted to ensure I was actually going to use it. We don’t have spare storage space or cash so it needed to be a justified purchase. Scarlett and Ady set me the challenge of learning to play American Pie to prove I was serious about learning. This was a mighty challenge as it also meant learning all six verses. But I did it and so my new very lovely ukulele arrived last week and is already proving much easier to play and sings a far nicer song. So there has been plenty of ukulele-ing this week
Davies and I have been binge watching a dvd box set that arrived too, two or three episodes a day. It’s a long way from the days of spending afternoons cuddled up watching Toy Story or Peter Pan but no less lovely to sit infront of the fire and watch stuff together.
But it’s not all been indoors pursuits. The croft is getting a much needed tidy up of all that random stuff I mentioned sailing past the windows in the wind and Ady has been gathering up bits and pieces and burning rubbish when the weather allows, we’ve been working on getting the shed ready for re-opening for the season with some roof maintenance and a bit more planned re-waterproofing the walls and giving the inside a spruce up. I’ve gathered a load more outgrown wellies and cleaned them all ready to be painted up to add to the Croft 3 welly trail.
I’ve also managed a few hours outside weeding and mulching one of the large raised beds which has strawberries in it. It is now ready to be covered with plastic but having unravelled enough off the large roll to cover it this afternoon just as the wind got up and it billowed about all over the place I quickly rolled it back up and declared it a two-crofter job so will need assistance to do that on a less windy day.
Storm Doris aside though it really does feel as though spring is in the air though… buds are on the trees, daffodils are in bloom and the cockerels are starting to crow and the geese beginning to hiss once more.
The early part of the week continued with that special low hanging in a bright blue sky that only a winter sun brings, along with the promise of spring in the air and a magical kind of light. We’ve had our share of gloomy skies and rain too just for balance.
We managed to get the artichokes in – I think I had 50 in total and we planted them two or three to a pot. They were very cheap black pots I bought from a supermarket on a mainland trip a couple of years ago and have never really used because they had no drainage holes. So I sat in the sunshine with a drill for an hour on Sunday and drilled holes in the bottom of them all, carried them over to a patch of ground that the pigs had previously been on so was bare ground, beautifully broken up with manure trodden in. Scarlett and I filled the pots with some of the soil and have left them in a sunny, sheltered spot. Hopefully the fact they are black pots, in the sunshine, sheltered from the worst of the wind should mean the soil inside them warms up more than the earth and the artichokes start to grow. Once they have broken the surface soil of the pots I will transplant them into the ground and fence the area off to stop any deer or our birds or sheep nibbling.
We caught the three sheep at feeding time one afternoon, sprayed a number on each and treated them all for fluke and ticks as if the ticks the cat and dog are starting to show are any indication the weather has warmed up enough for the sheep to start suffering too. We took the opportunity to check their teeth and feet and general health while we had them penned and they are all doing well.
My ukulele-ing continues. I still have ever such a lot to learn but now at least feel that even if I took months off I would be able to pick one up and remember stuff again. My fingers are far from knowing where to head next to find a note but I can feel that it is starting to get there. I could sit and pick out a tune on a piano, it would be lovely to get to that stage with the ukulele. I have gotten way better at changing between chords and learned a few songs so my next challenge is learning some strumming patterns.
The highlight of the week though was on Tuesday – not St Valentines day, but just as filled with love we had our first visitors of the year as friends came for a couple of hours between boats. We didn’t have time to walk to the croft and back so instead walked along to the otter hide which is close to the pier where the ferry comes and goes but takes us through some woodland, past some blackhouse remains and looks out over the bay and into the open sea. It was a beautiful sunny day and while we sat chatting, drinking a glass of prosecco and enjoying the view we were treated to a heron, some oystercatchers, several seals and a porpoise. Just magical.
Even more magical though was the night before when parked up in Mallaig overlooking Rum and Eigg at sunset my friend sent me a message to say she could see a pinprick light over on Rum. We assumed it was one of the houses around the bay but when we flicked our light on and off in the caravan it turned out it was us she could see! She took a video clip and shared it online with other friends too, uniting a whole group of women who I have been friends with for over 10 years, scattered all over the world (one is in New Zealand!) all able to see our tiny light flicking on and off live. It was very special.
It’s been a week or so of mostly clear skies here on Rum. That’s meant sunshine and blue skies during the day, starry skies and moonlit nights.
Last night the moonrise was so stunning we thought a chicken house had caught fire from a spark of the rubbish we were burning until we realised it was a reflection of the moon on it’s roof. Several planets are visible in the night sky just now too and sitting watching the first star appear each night followed by a handful more, then a sudden burst of loads until you feel as though you could look up into the sky and count them forever (which I know you could) is amazing, humbling and wonderful.
Of course as my friend Helen, who we have been camping with many many times and is a very wise woman always says ‘clear skies mean bloody freezing. Socks by six!’ referring to the need to start layering up early around the campfire of an evening so you go to bed cosy rather than chilly. Socks for the gas bottle might have been wise last night as the regulator froze meaning no kettle or grill for tea and toast this morning. Plus ice on the inside of our bedroom windows. As a child of the 70s from a metal window single glazed bedroom on the shady side of the house waking up to pretty patterns sticking the net curtains to the inside of the panes was nothing unusual at this time of year and our double duvet and hot water bottles mean once we’re in bed it’s pretty cosy. Always better than a tent!
It’s been lighter later too, we even managed our last cup of tea of the day outside yesterday at nearly 6pm
After nearly five years, with the help of last summers volunteers and a final push from Ady using some off cuts of wood we were given from the old dismantled hostel building in the village we finished the footpath from the bottom of the croft up to the caravan.
It’s amazing. We can walk up and down without risking knee deep mud or slipping and sliding. To ensure it is safe to walk on I stapled chicken wire to the wooden part yesterday. Just in time for the heavy frost last night to make it perfect for this morning.
It’s very funny watching the cat, the dog and lots of of the birds all using it to avoid the mud too!
I’ve managed to get the first crops in the ground – some onions and garlic and some early potatoes already in containers. The rest are waiting to go out along with the artichokes once the ground has warmed up a little.
And I’ve been doing well with the ukulele – I got a couple of cheap songbooks and have been practising every day. I’m really enjoying it. The others are all walking around humming La Vie En Rose and American Pie from hearing them over and over again… see how I have brought music into all our lives!
February. January did feel like it dragged it’s heels a little towards the end, it’s great to have February here.
The last few years we have been away for at least some of February. For various reasons, including lack of pet / livestock /croft sitters we are not away this year which is a shame. As resident numbers on the island continue to dwindle and we remain the only people living outside of Kinloch village the favour of trekking up to the croft twice a day to feed our animals, particularly at this time of year feels like a big ask.
We are not the only ones starting to think ahead – in the last week or so we have had a real flurry of contact from family and friends wanting to arrange visits to Rum and potential volunteers offering their help. 2016 was a really good year for volunteers and we felt that we offered a good experience of both our lifestyle and Rum to the various people who came to lend a hand, while benefiting from their time and energy with help on the croft. Having set co-ordinated volunteer events worked well for us too.
This year we are taking a year off hosting volunteers though and have already added to our WWOOFing listing that we won’t be taking anyone. We don’t have any large specific projects planned and have decided to put all our hosting energy towards family and friends coming to stay instead.
Ady has been spending lots of time with the sheep getting them really tame and friendly. They now free range roam around the croft and despite early concerns about how they might mix with Bonnie they all seem to have the measure of each other and practice deliberate ignorance! This is great and we are really hoping that a final cut of the areas of the croft that we have already semi-tamed followed by grazing by the sheep will see us moving closer towards our permaculture ideals.
I have finally finished planting the last few trees. There were a few willow and hazel left over from the line we did all the way across the top of the croft and I have planted them close together in our walled garden. They should help with drainage in there and also be useful for basket weaving material. My next job is planting out the potatoes, artichokes, garlic and onions I have, along with the first sowing of early seeds. But there are very low temperatures forecast for the week ahead so I am holding off for another week or two to wait for the weather to warm up a bit more. I don’t want to bury things only for them to rot in the wet ground before they get a chance to start growing.
Last week was the AGM of the Island Community Trust so lots of talk about projects being planned to move the island forward for the future. We had a nice afternoon yesterday watching the rugby with Rum friends. I don’t really understand what’s going on at all with rugby but grasped enough to know that for yesterday at least we didn’t need to choose between our adopted homeland of Scotland or our English roots.