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Good games, good games

Rum is part of the Small Isles, a collection of four islands off the west coast of Scotland, just south of the Isle of Skye. The four islands are clustered together – our island, Rum is the largest, Eigg is next largest, then Canna and finally Muck is the smallest. All four are very different in landscape, in geology and wildlife, in population and in ownership. We are clustered together for Calmac ferry timetable purposes, share a Small Isles Community Council, a doctors surgery and consider ourselves a wider community with many inter island links.

One such link is the annual Small Isles games, a sort of mini highland games crossed with a school sports day which is hosted by the islands in turn so everyone takes a turn once every four years to host. In our second year here Rum was the host and this year it was our turn again. Unfortunately we didn’t get to Eigg last year as the ferry timetable only allows for a two night stay which was too long to leave the croft during the summer and the previous years games on Canna was during weather so dreadful the return ferry which would have meant we could daytrip to the games was on amber alert for being cancelled so we didn’t risk it. We did get to Muck for their turn three years ago and it was one of the highlights of the last five years. A large group of Rum residents went, we all camped overnight on Muck, did well in the games, had a blast at the evening ceilidh and returned home inspired to offer an equally good games when it was next our turn to host.

So we’ve been heavily involved in organising the games this year on Rum, arranging afternoon and evening food, a variety of games from the sporting to the silly, getting a running order sorted of all the various games people were up for running, working out scoring and divvying up who was doing what before, on the day and afterwards. The boring stuff like clearing up, sorting out rubbish management, cajoling raffle prizes from people to raise some funds to cover the costs, getting evening entertainment sorted and so on. As usual we are more than the sum of our parts and the day was a success with people from all corners pulling out all the stops, playing to their strengths and getting involved.

Mostly though we had fun. Yelled ourselves hoarse from cheering on those who were competing, making sure everything was running as planned, catching up with friends from visiting islands, having the odd go at a game (or in the case of Davies and Scarlett wearing themselves out joining in with pretty much everything), making sure all the things and all the people were in the right place at the right time. Some of my favourite moments were the little things – the expression on a child’s face as they leapt first across the finish line with their tattie and spoon, the pure ridiculousness of four people in a bulk bag trying to co-ordinate 1, 2, 3 JUMP! Winning the tug of war, being bribed by the island coming fourth in the scores to give them an extra point in return for a beer (hey I never said I was impartial), seeing Ady atop the castle tower looking down taking aerial shots, having a ceilidh dance, getting persuaded by the various attending children to draw ever more ridiculous things on their hands with a purple pen when I was taking a turn at collecting money on the door for the evening event and marking people’s hands with a cross to show they’d paid (dinosaurs, cars, stars, flowers….) and then being persuaded by a group of adults to do the same for them as they didn’t want plain old crosses (boat, steam engine, aeroplane…) and finally getting into bed that night knowing it had gone well, it hadn’t rained, people had had lots of fun and we had lots of photos to remind us of it all.

This week I’ve been sending out lots of thank you emails to various people who helped make it all happen and looking at all those photos. Another brilliant memory made of another mad, fun, it-could-only-happen-on-Rum experience.

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July, some of the time

As in we are having days of needing suncream and midge spray closely followed by days of needing coats and even having the fire lit of an evening. Rum is forever consistent in her inconsistency!

On the sunny days – of which there have thankfully been a fair few we have been outside making the most of the summer, harvesting blackcurrants and (what will probably be the last of this years) strawberries, thinning the strawberries of runners and then building a brand new strawberry cage. Using entirely recycled materials we covered a patch of ground with black matting, constructed a cage around it complete with door and planted out around 50 of the runners and baby plants I had thinned from existing beds. There is room for another 25 or so which I plan to fill with more runners from another thriving bed. Strawberries are an amazing crop for here, doing well on our poor soil and loving the long hours of daylight.

I’ve been weeding, as my foray into the no-dig method of growing took the classic beginners error of insufficiently deep mulch. I’m learning loads this year about growing and have been delighted to realise that the croft soil which I previously considered not really worth growing directly into is actually fine for some crops and the improved soil where the pigs have been is really quite fertile and with a bit of work is far more of a resource that I had thought. Certainly the artichokes are thriving in it and the fruit trees and bushes are finally starting to do well, the mulched beds (albeit not mulched enough) are proving just fine, particularly when topped up with seaweed and my comfrey feed.

On the days when it has not been very July-like we’ve been busy indoors whipping up new crafts aplenty and restocking the shed. I’ve made more quills from various goose and turkey feathers, finally worked the stamped plates into keyrings and pendants, made a few more dreamcatchers from croft 3 willow and feathers and pretty twirls of beads and yarn. I’ve been fiddling with wire and beads and made a line of midge badges and hairslides and having stumbled upon a nail varnish and wire flowers craft idea on the internet while looking for something else I had a go at making little wire midges with colourful nail varnish wings. Not entirely worth the fiddly-ness but I have already sold one so I may revisit that idea again.

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Back to it

It feels as thought we’ve been home for much longer than just a few days. We’ve had a couple of days of rubbish weather followed by a couple of days of lovely weather so have been making the most of both with indoor and outdoor pursuits.

Ady has been busy with the grass cutter machine. The croft is slowly transforming from reeds and ragwort to grass and clover. We’ll be leaving large areas to stay as wild areas for the butterflies although actually there are far more flowers coming up on the sections we are starting to tame. The sheep and geese need the grass to graze on though and we are starting to get the ragwort under control with lots of cutting. Ady’s also been out with the strimmer in the fruit cage and walled garden to ensure the plants and bushes don’t disappear. And we’ve been out maintaining the welly trail too with a spot of cutting the overgrown undergrowth around them.

I harvested the first crop of blackcurrants and along with some lavender made a few jars of jam. Not enough for selling but it’s topped up our own supply of jam, which is good as the three jars of strawberry jam have already all been eaten. I also harvested the first crop of potatoes, was finally ruthless enough to throw out the straggler tomato plants and begin a compost heap (usually all waste goes to the pigs but I could actually do with starting to make some compost), thinned out the strawberry plants and began plotting to dramatically increase the area for strawberries as they seem to really thrive here as long as they are under plastic. I’ve sown some more herbs, salad, potatoes and peas too.

We have built a pen around the newly planted artichokes which we had started off in pots and were now large enough plants to put out direct into the ground. They need protection from the wild deer, plus our sheep and birds though so we created an area around them which hopefully will keep everyone out.

When we decided earlier this year to go off for the winter and re-evaluate we also decided we would carry on as though we were planning to come back but not do any big projects or make big investments or commitments this year to Rum or the croft. It’s quite good fun trying to come up with ways to get around some of this years challenges without spending money or getting in more resources.

All is quiet on the animal front just now. The broody goose gave up in the end and is back with the gaggle. The eggs she was sitting on came to nothing just like the turkey’s. By this time last year we had pen fulls of ducklings and chicks, I wonder why nothing is happening this year – could it be weather related? June was such a dire month that perhaps conditions just were not right for things to happen. Not sure.

The sheep are getting every more friendly – all three will now come, albeit hesitantly, to have their heads scratched.

And the indoors stuff? I came up with an idea for another new freeform crochet line to sell – notebook covers. So I bought some notebooks while we were off and have made a couple so far. I really like them and the best thing is they are re-usable – once you have filled up that notebook you can slip the cover off and put it onto a new one. Or a sketch pad, or address book (does anyone have such things any more?), diary or journal.

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A Bracing Mainland Trip

Lovely Croftsitter Jen has been back for her third Croft 3 stunt double stint – feeding animals, watering crops, checking stock in the shed and refereeing Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat (who are reluctant housemates who tolerate rather than enjoy each other’s company despite sharing a water bowl and pet bed in Scarlett’s room). We had a week of Mainland jaunts and adventures shaped around a triple dentist appointment schedule for Scarlett.

After 18 months, countless trips to the mainland, extractions, palate expander, train track braces and bands, a self-imposed near liquid / mush diet after the third accidental breakage of the expander and many hours in the dentists chair with her mouth open wide Scarlett’s braces were removed. The before and after pictures tell the story and I remain awed at Scarlett’s amazing stoic attitude to the whole process and the amazing transformation of orthodentist work.


A weekend with friends locally which was lovely. We happened to be there for the hatching of somechicks from eggs we had sent over when one of their hens went broody a month ago and were on hand to advise on a bit of early intervention with an early failing to thrive hatchling who after some help was able to be reintroduced to it’s surrogate chicken mum and siblings and is doing well. Having had so many baby birds inside being reared (mostly by Scarlett) we’ve lost count it was great to be around to help and witness a happy ending. Bet it’s a cockerel though! As a middle aged person which largely seems to now be the demographic most enjoying it, it was also nice to be around for the BBC coverage of Glastonbury as usually we’d be scraping around for sufficient internet to stream or download it onto laptops or phones so it was a real treat to watch on a telly as it happened live!

We had one night of Purple Heaven at a well known budget hotel chain in Fort William – summer season in one of the UKs top tourist destinations meant it was at premium price though so just the one night. It was nice to have baths, loads of junk TV and easy access to the supermarket for 24 hours though. Not to mention the novelty of 4g signal on our phones, which not only do we never get here on Rum but also did’t get either end of our week away being in places with no phone signal even on the mainland.

Then three nights at Acharn Farm wigwams, somewhere very special to us as it’s the place we stayed the night before we moved to Rum. One of those places where ghosts of your former selves echo around you constantly. We had a day down in Oban, Davies got a haircut, Ady got a blood test (routine but tricky to get the blood back to the testing department while fresh enough for testing from the island), we stocked up on boring toiletries and shopping like underwear.