Traffic and travel

It is crazily hot here as I type. Inside the caravan it is currently over 30 degrees. The sun has shone day in day out (for over 18 hours a day) for at least two weeks maybe more. The midges have returned with an absolute vengeance and I am envious of friends moaning about rain storms or posting pictures of them enjoying leisurely evenings sitting outside. No pleasing me is there? Complaining in the winter about the wind and mud-causing rain and whinging in the summer about the sunshine and insect life! Along with the midges we are playing unintentional host to bees, wasps and beetles. All of which are interesting to photograph and identify (we have several bug ID books) although we do have to evict any who show intentions to share our home long term – a very persistent wasp has finally been dissuaded from creating a wasps nest in the shed after several removals of it’s groundwork!

A close existence to nature has it’s very definite ups and downs. For me the ups are the spring and autumn and the downs are high summer and deepest winter. I have not the complexion, build or temperament for being too hot and fortunately for me it is usually a blip rather than the norm living here in the Highlands to have prolonged high temperatures and still, sunny days like these.

It’s far from all bad though,  I have to admit that walking around the croft in normal shoes (and sometimes even barefoot, which would always be the preference for both Scarlett and I), along with it being perfect conditions for the young chicks and the broody ducks (two) and geese (four) all sitting on nests, along with ideal for ripening strawberries, currants and bringing along the peas and tomatoes in the polytunnel very nicely.

We’ve had two glorious Thursday afternoon boat trips – no sea life to speak of spotted in the way of cetaceans but the shearwaters and puffins are back.

We had a weekend off Rum catching up with friends – a quick overnight trip to Inverness for me (city break!) with a coffee shop visit and a meal out in a restaurant, a mad 100 mile round dash to Fort William to do a supermarket stock up of essentials for Ady and I and some midnight trips to the beach for the teens with their friends, along with some stressy car driving in our own vehicle, some stress free driving in a car club car and an unplanned but very lovely evening of sitting with musicians singing. The car issue is now perfectly resolved by us once again not having a mainland vehicle and instead just booking the car club car(s) as and when we need to drive on the mainland. The relief – both mental and financial – is huge.

It seems if we’re not off visiting then we are here being visited. This weekend just passed we had a lovely visit from our very first WWOOFing volunteer who was first here with us nearly four years ago. It was great to catch up with him and see through his eyes how much things have changed and progressed here on the croft in the last four years too. When he was last here it happened to be an islanders birthday so there was a big party with musicians and late night drama of the air ambulance taking someone away. We assured him then that both were fairly unusual so it was ironic that he returned on a weekend that fellow islanders had arranged a mini festival with a whole crew of visiting musicians and the helicopter coming to airlift someone injured out walking….

The bank holiday, amazing weather and huge influx of visitors have meant loads of customers for us. The shed has been doing fantastically with several large sales of clocks, cuddly midges, eggs and jam and I’ve had several special orders for bread and cakes. The most recent order for cheesecakes proved especially challenging in this heat but the glowing feedback made it worthwhile.

Our crafts and produce will be displayed at the Royal Highland show in June at the Scottish Crofting Federation stand as we now have the Scottish Crofting Produce mark for our jams, eggs, photography and crafts. If you have not looked before please do check out our etsy shop .It really feels as though our work towards setting up the Croft 3 brand and finding ways to use all our different skills is starting to slowly pay off.

On a similar note we had our annual visit from a student group who visit Rum each year on a field trip and meet with various islanders doing various things. We chat to them on the croft about our lives here, what we have done to set up and improve the croft since we arrived and what challenges and impediments we have faced. It’s always interesting to be faced with a sea of people watching and listening to you start to tell your crazy life story and see whether they are engaging with you and interested or whether you are failing to reach them at all.

A tour of the croft and a chat about island life is something we have been approached to offer before and have done for various groups of students and school children. We often wonder whether there would be a demand for it on a wider basis for visitors to Rum.

Davies and I have finished our studies and submitted our final assessments. We will get our marks back in about 6 weeks or so but Davies is already signed up to continue studying in October with the OU for a degree in Psychology. He is enjoying the freedom to pursue his other passions for the summer but is looking forward to that in the autumn. I have decided not to continue studying at this stage. I like the idea of committing a set period of time each week to something though and have a few ideas of other things I could focus on myself come the autumn. I’m very proud of us both though – a middle aged woman who left education some 25 years ago and a never-been-to-school Home Educated teen. We both really enjoyed the content, learned plenty of new skills, had some amazing conversations and spin-off learning spilling out to Ady and Scarlett too and completed our studies over an academic year filled with all sort of distractions including living in three different countries and a largely off-grid life with limited internet access.

Our poor sheep are suffering from the heat – we are in the throes of sourcing some shears and will be shearing them again in the next week or so. In the meantime I have been gathering the shed pieces of fleece around the croft as they scratch themselves on posts and buildings and spinning it very slowly by hand to make a tiny ball of wool. I am on the look out for a rented spinning wheel or saving up for one of my own but in the meantime this is a nicely meditative and zen activity while sitting in the shade!

Birthday and birth days

I seem to report on the weather rather a lot here. We do live very closely with nature and so tend to both notice and be affected by the weather and of course so much of what we do on a day to day basis is influenced by and impacted on by the weather in terms of livestock and crops, choosing to do laundry or collect firewood, wear sunscreen or waterproofs. And indeed head down to meet a ferry to send stuff off or collect it, or not bother as in the case during this last week the ferry was cancelled due to poor weather. Which meant a friend arrived for a visit a day late, the annual ceilidh celebrating community land ownership (nine years this year) didn’t happen as the band and many of the intended ceilidh-goers couldn’t get here and our very first etsy sale did not leave the island as intended on it’s way to it’s new owner.

In the last week we have had all of the above – sunscreen and sitting outside, cancelled boats and howling winds. We’ve also had plenty of days of perfect alternative energy with both the wind turbine and the solar panels giving us oodles of power.

We had a meeting with Marine Harvest – the company who are building a fish farm off the coast of Rum along with a shore base and housing development on the island, creating new jobs, new houses and new opportunities for existing and prospective islanders. To welcome or not welcome them was a much debated and considered topic for the islanders over the last couple of years and after a lot of serious thought we have gone ahead and will hopefully secure a more sustainable future for generations to come here on Rum with employment and investment in our little island. On a day to day basis this is likely to have little affect on us here on Croft 3 although it is great to see the island population numbers boosted and new faces calling Rum home, along with offers of help with island infrastructure and issues with transport and logistics. Several of the issues which scuppered island plans over the last week or so may well prove to be issues of the past once Marine Harvest are set up here with their two all weather boats heading back and forth to the mainland on a regular basis.

Ady and I got the strawberries all moved across to their new area and covered with plastic hoops. We have plenty of strawberry flowers so are very hopeful of good crops this year. We also have promising blossoms on our apple and cherry tree and our currant bushes so it could be a good year all round. Early jam sale mean some currant and berry crops helping to bolster our stocks before the bramble season begins would be very welcome. This years new lines in the shed are starting to sell well with a cuddly pony, several badges and keyrings all selling. It’s really great to see new ideas proving popular and worth the investment of time and money on materials paying off.

Mrs Turkey finally returned home to the croft having been away sitting on eggs for weeks. Sadly she returned alone; we did find her nest but it was empty. There were a few smashed egg shells around so she had laid eggs but whether they were infertile and she gave them up to the crows and ravens or she did manage to hatch chicks which were taken we just don’t know. Mr Turkey is very pleased to have her company once more though and has stopped his almost incessant calling for her.

The broody hens have been slightly more successful hatching a few chicks between them. They are not all making it but we are not intervening and leaving them to see how they do left alone. At least we know our single cockerel is fertile.

The biggest birthday on the croft though was Ady’s this weekend just passed. We celebrated with an evening at Rum shop with island friends, a whisky club night which is a Rum tradition and a barbecue with friends on the croft with our own sausages and lovely brownies. The sun shone for all of the above and Ady declared it one of his favourite birthdays ever.


A wet week

It’s been a soggy start to May along with plenty of winds. The Sheerwater boat which does runs from Arisaig on the mainland to the Small Isles during the summer should have started it’s twice weekly visits to Rum this week but both days it would have come have been wild weather. Our plastic has arrived to create new strawberry covers but it’s been too windy to be outside trying to wrangle plastic sheeting. Fortunately none of the broody birds have hatched any chicks yet although we are due both chicken and turkey chicks any day now.

Instead we’ve spent a lot of time indoors dashing out between showers, or sometimes just putting on waterproofs and braving the elements. Inspired by the bramble baskets I read some of my bush craft and countryside craft books to find out which materials can be harvested to craft with at this time of year and spent some time experimenting with reeds / rushes – an incredibly plentiful resource here. We have far fewer on Croft 3 these days thanks to regular cutting and grazing but we still have clumps in the wilder areas of the croft and a handy supply of very green and verdant ones inside the polytunnel. I cut some and made some cordage or twine with them.

I have made a small bracelet with it to see how it fares with changing temperatures. So far it is holding up well and is still pretty strong.

Ady and I had a victorious afternoon of replacing a broken part on our chainsaw. Getting the part in the first place proved trickier than expected with our original source failing to get it to us after several weeks so we had to resort to an online purchase which finally arrived this week. In theory it should have been a straightforward like for like swap with just a couple of screws to remove the friendly looking casing to reveal the scarier innards of the machine but this also released a tightly wound spring coil which we then had to re-wind and re-insert. You tube helped with that – hurrah for the internet! But the final hurdle was something we couldn’t find help with online so after some feeling the fear and doing it anyway we worked out a theory and went with it. And we were right! Our greatest triumphs since we’ve been on Rum – and quite possibly in our whole lives – have been in having faith in ourselves and being up for trying something that feels right even though common sense (as in what everyone else might caution you to do!) tells you to not to incase you get it wrong.

Half an hour afterwards I was not needing that jumper anymore as Ady had chopped up a load of firewood and we’ve been cosy ever since!

Continuing in the vein of lifelong learning Ady has followed in my footsteps as I followed in our teens and joined instagram – home of pretty pictures online. So there has been much talk of hashtags and @-ing people, which ties in rather nicely with some of what Davies and I have been learning of the impact of globalisation on individuals, culture and language development.  The north side nature trail on Rum borders three sides of our Croft and we recently put up some signs at the top of Croft 3 encouraging people to stop, look up, down and around, listen and pause giving some suggestions of things to look and listen out for. Today we added some seasonal tips such as listening out for the cuckoo (who we’ve started hearing again in the last week) and asking people to share their photos online. We also added a sign at the Shed for people to check in there on facebook or instagram.

Sometimes though you just have to brave the rubbish weather. I remember when I was at primary school and we would have days when it was too rainy to go outside at playtime / lunchtime. A double bell would be rung instead of just one to signify we should stay in our classrooms. The teachers would still get to leg it to the staff room for their coffee fix and older kids would be sent to monitor the younger kids classrooms. The lack of running around outside fresh air time would kick in pretty quickly though with kids squirming in their chairs and being rowdy in class, unable to concentrate. Despite never having done ‘sitting down structured learning’ with Davies and Scarlett we would still sometimes get ‘wet play syndrome’ if we’d been indoors for too long so we’d don wellies and head off to splash in puddles and find raindrops on spider webs, or wait for the smallest break in the rain and get outside to smell the wet pavements and see how the colours changed from wet to dry and back again.

It’s not practical to work in heavy waterproof clothing here, we don’t have much room to dry wet clothes and when it’s as windy as it has been this week you can’t do much anyway outside without risk of things blowing away. But we still have to feed animals, collect eggs and pop down to the village to collect the post, fetch food supplies from the freezer or deliver eggs to the shop and so just as when Davies and Scarlett were little we have been deliberately slowing down and deciding if we are already soggy we may as well linger and enjoy the difference to the landscape that a downpour brings about. Rivers running faster and wider, the colour changed to dark and peaty as the water gathers debris from the land, the spring colours of the shrubs, trees and flowers in brighter relief against the low mist than the blue skies.

Beauty everywhere. I can’t deny a bit of sunshine would be nice now though!