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Bees and brambles

The bramble season has begun. The season here on Rum is pretty long – a good six weeks or more with certain hot spots ripening way earlier than others. I walked to meet the ferry ahead of Ady driving on Friday and collected a bag full, out again on Saturday and Sunday around and about the croft collecting more and Ady and I both walked to the village yesterday and picked nearly a kilo more. So jam making has also begun.

A combination of deciding to change the jar shape, finding a better supplier for the jars willing to give a discount for a bulk order (of 300 jars!) and deciding to give the labels an updated look means we have a new design of jar and label. We still have jam to sell through though so the new design might not be in the shed just yet. Here’s a sneak peek though…

We sent some jam, and some crochet midges, off to Mallaig to sell in a new local arts and crafts shop that has opened up there. If we return to Rum for good next spring I definitely want to explore the idea of sending crafts and produce off to sell elsewhere.

Scarlett and I spent this afternoon making bath fizzers too – four colours / scents this year – rose, lavender, citronella & lemon and camphor and menthol. We made 120 in all and then I packed them into bags of three and labelled them all up. It took way longer than I had hoped and I was pretty bored of the process by the end of it – not to mention a bit sneezy from all the scents! I’ll take a picture tomorrow once they are in the shed – we were down to the very last two from the last batch. We’re almost out of candles too so that might well be another making session later this week.

We’ve been noticing a lot of bee action in a particular spot behind the caravan over the summer and had assumed solitary bees but today when Ady was doing some compost loo maintenance he uncovered a whole clump broken off of a nest of bee larvae. It was amazing – loads of little creatures in varying stages of hatching all contained within waxy eggs. The whole thing smelled really strongly of honey.

The ‘hive mind’ of facebook really came into it’s own as I uploaded a picture and tagged a few friends who keep bees to ask if anyone could help identify them. Within minutes the picture had been shared all over the UK with people tagging friends and friends of friends to ask for help. Half an hour and a few extra pictures from us later they had been identified as white tailed bumble bees, we had watched some brand new bees hatching and I had learned a whole load of new bee facts.

My dreams of beekeeping had still not quite come to fruition but maybe the bees have chosen us here after all! Shame we won’t be enjoying their honey but providing a home and benefiting from their pollination skills is still pretty amazing.

It’s been the start of the annual red deer cull here on Rum and Ady has already done a day’s ghillying, we have done a day of butchering and processing a beast into a well stocked freezer full of venison and on Sunday I joined Ady and another islander bringing a couple of the Rum ponies back from Harris on the southern tip of Rum back to Kinloch village ready to head out again on deer collecting duty later this week. It’s a long slow, but very beautiful walk across the island, even at a plodding pony’s pace through some dire weather.

I have to be very honest and confess that only held the pony’s reins for long enough for Ady to take the picture and Angus the pony to realise that it was me rather than Ady holding him! I am slightly scared of them and was most surprised to note looking at the photo afterwards that Angus seems nowhere near as big as he did in real life!

The hills are turning purple with the heather and the first of the deciduous trees are starting to change colour. The nights are drawing in and rumour has it people have already heard the stags begin to roar. Autumn is definitely chasing summer away.

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All Paths Lead to Somerset?

We’re heading to Somerset for our winter away from Croft 3. A place which has called us back on several occasions. Before our 2011 adventure I don’t think we knew anyone in Somerset. Now, thanks to friends we made while WWOOFing, friends we have made while on Rum, and catching up with friends from 20 years ago when we all lived in Sussex, last saw 15 years ago when we lived in Manchester and they were about to move to New Zealand who now live in Somerset we already have a thriving network of people in that corner of the world.

We are starting to work out the finer details of our time off Rum, what we want to get out of that time and how to make the most of the opportunities it will offer. I’ll be posting more about that in the coming weeks. Our current feeling is much like when we were planning our WWOOFing adventure and indeed our move to Rum – trepidation mixed with excitement. I am very much of the opinion that anything which the thought of gives you butterflies is probably exactly what you should do next.

Getting back to that catching up with old friends though… it’s funny how we collect friends throughout the various stages of our lives. The family friends who we just knew from childhood and almost inherited, the friends from school (or in the case of Davies and Scarlett from Home Education), friends from shared or common interests, friends from college or uni (if you go), friends from work, friends from the pub, friends who are local, friends who share your taste in music, games, interests. All sorts of reasons bring us together as humans, there is something mostly undefinable though about what keeps us together. What moves us from colleagues, classmates, acquaintances, neighbours to the level above – the family we choose for ourselves.

Living here with no landline phone, limited opportunities to catch up with friends in real life and pretty brief windows of time to spend online we have inevitably turned to social media like most people in the western world and certainly Davies, Scarlett and I have do a lot of our off Rum socialising on social media such as facebook. I have a couple of facebook friends (who were friends reunited friends before that) from ‘childhood’ who I have stayed in touch with. Our lives have moved in very different directions and we are not remotely in each others lives any more but the wonders of modern technology mean we have a window on each other still. More of my facebook friends are work colleagues through the years from before and after being with Ady but before children. I have a whole swathe of friends from Home Education over the years, many of whom have become my very best friends. Just like meeting at the school gates we shared the ups and downs of parenthood with each other and were there to support and commiserate through the wilderness years of newborns and toddlers, the early years and the teen challenges of parenting. I have friends who share my passions and interests in off grid living, eco conscious lifestyles, friends from WWOOFing, friends from our close and wider local community here on Rum. It’s an eclectic mix which is probably very reflective of my friendship circle in real life.

Sometimes you catch up with people who ‘knew you back when’ and find your lives have diverged to such an extent that the common thread which created the friendship has been snapped and nothing is left. Sometimes you reconnect and despite the years, despite the tangents you have headed off in from each other, despite the lack of shared memories and experiences that spark remains and you find that having led such different lives for years apart simply means you have so much more to talk about and catch up on. Such a meeting with an old work friend of mine (from 19 years ago, when I used to be the menswear and Menswear Manager and she the Restaurant Manager of a well known high street retailer) who I used to give a lift home to on a Friday night, called in once or twice for a glass of wine and met her husband, they then met Ady and a friendship outside of work was formed. All these years later despite me no longer wearing a suit to work while she still does, a move to a different hemisphere and back for them, from one end of the country, half way up, back down and then all the way to the top for us, children- some now adult some not even born back then, it was as though the years melted away and within a really short time new in jokes were formed.

And the very best thing about catching up after 15 years? It turns out they live about 10 miles away from where we’ll be spending this winter.

It’s almost like it was meant to be…

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When Plans Change

Our current plan is to head off from Rum sometime in November and return again in the spring, some time in March 2018. While this could mean only missing 7 or 8 weeks of 2017 here on the island the decision has inevitably altered what we have done here this year.

We decided fairly early on to continue as though we would be returning in terms of improving the croft and long term crops while not investing any big money and rationalising our livestock holding over the course of the year.

Our Rum future remains uncertain in as much as we are definitely going off for the winter, definitely coming back in the spring and definitely don’t know what will happen after that! If we decide as a foursome to return to Rum permanently in 2018 then we know we will need to make some changes in our finances – we will effectively be four adults by the end of 2018 and as such we will be looking to find a way to bring more money in, look again at our living spaces and consider how Rum works as a base for us all as individuals looking to further our own personal life goals. As you’d expect we are already talking about this a lot and have a whole load of ideas, possibilities to look into and things we want to learn more about, research further and give more thought and discussion to.

It has meant that the initial goals for this year which we set back at the end of 2016 have not been entirely relevant though, so we recently revisited them to see in what ways we might want to alter them accordingly. Many of our goals for this year were Rum specific and we have not thrown the necessary energy and attention at some of them in order to make them happen. Mostly because we have lost focus in some of those areas. The decision to leave the island for the winter has closed some doors and opportunities and altered our mindsets in many ways but it has also introduced new ideas and thoughts aspirations.

We’re in the throes of setting dates for heading off, finalising what we’ll be doing and where we’ll be doing it and quite what will be happening here on the croft in our absence. Fortunately packing up one life and embarking on the next one is something we’ve done once or twice before. Calendar, notepad and a whole load of logistics are looming large in my near future…

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Paying It Forward

We’ve had additional teens here on Croft 3 for the last 3 weeks. First some friends of Davies and Scarlett staying for a few nights over the Games weekend, followed by the son of some Home Educating friends from Sussex. He came last year during one of our volunteer events and got involved in our path building project. This year he came for a whole two weeks armed with a list of things he wanted to do, see, experience and encounter. I think he ticked them all off including sighting both golden and white tailed sea eagles, visiting the three other Small Isles, scaling the highest peak on Rum, visiting various places on the island and spending a night in one of the mountain bothies here. It’s not the first time we’ve hosted an intrepid young adult starting to spread their wings, searching for new experiences outside of the realm of their normal world. Infact it is not the first time we have hosted people of other ages doing the same. I know from reading back in our WWOOFing book, from conversations with the film crew here for 10 days during the Fogle show or even from chatting to visiting family and friends that spending time here has been a life changing experience.

We are now six years on from our own life changing adventure. Not our first – I’d cite parenthood, home education, moving from Sussex to Manchester, moving back there again, heading off WWOOFing, moving to Rum, saying yes to being filmed for national TV, deciding to head back to Mainlandland for a winter as just the first handful of life changing choices that spring to mind – but the one that started this blog. Every one of those life changing adventures was certainly down to our own (well okay, I admit it, mostly MY own) crazy notions and making them happen. But the biggest part of every one of them was other people. Other people being generous and giving – with their time, their hospitality, their knowledge, their wisdom, their experience, their patience, their company. None of the paths we have trodden would have been at all possible without people bring prepared to teach, share, encourage and support us. Daily we continue to grow, learn and move forward thanks to other people – whether it is reading books or online writing, listening to podcasts, watching you tube videos, reading the information that people post on forums online or asking questions and observing those around us.

There are many ways to pay back the help and support we have been shown. When we were WWOOFing we offered our willing hands, I support various bloggers and youtubers and podcasters via the Patreon website (including an alternative education blogger, a couple of ukulele teachers, podcasters who entertain, enlighten and educate me), we share and recommend to others. But perhaps more importantly we also pay it forward. We try really hard to share our resources to inspire or support others to chase their dreams, explore new ideas or have adventures and experiences. I love the idea that the generosity shown to us is carrying on flowing, through us and being passed on again.