Autumnal Vibes

It’s autumn. Both astronomical and meteorological. The calendar tells us it’s autumn, the drawing in of the evenings and the latening of the evenings tells us it’s autumn. The dropping temperature, the changing colours of the landscape around us. The heather in bloom, the brambles ripening, the increasing alerts to the presence of aurora on my phone app. The pick up of the winds speeds, the absence of the summer migratory birds. The roaring of the red stags, the changing behaviour of the croft creatures – the ducks and chickens are no longer laying eggs, the ganders have stopped hissing at us as we walk past. The crops are over, the trees are changing colour and dropping their leaves. The way we open the door and stand outside for a moment to gauge whether another layer of clothing would be prudent (it often is, I seldom bother, that will change!). Bringing in firewood is back on the list of daily tasks, the window vacuum is back in regular use as the condensation levels rise within the caravan but at least the midges have gone. It’s almost time to eat soup!

Jam making is temporarily on hold while I await a delivery of jam jars but bramble picking continues apace with the harvest waiting in the freezer for now. I’ve been taking stock of what has sold well this season in the shed and planning stock for next year. I’m still working on the big blanket commission just now but coming to the end of that and will be embarking on crochet midges as soon as that is done. I think the current jam total so far is at about 150 jars with hopefully the same again still to be made.

Last week I ran a resin key ring and pendant workshop for a group staying at the bunkhouse on a walking retreat. Their trip was hampered by poor weather preventing them from getting out into the wilds of the island as they had planned and preventing some of them from leaving Rum when they had intended to as ferries have been disrupted. The workshop was fun, I really enjoy sharing skills, meeting new people and talking about Rum and our lives here. We have various future plans being tossed about here at Goddard Heights just now and workshops of various types are definitely on the list of possible ideas. Watch this space.

We do have a job list to be working through once the bramble /jam season has finished which includes tasks like pruning the fruit bushes, moving the chickens and mulching the raised beds with seaweed over winter, clearing the polytunnel and planting the next batch of 500 trees which are due to arrive sometime in November. Ady is doing lots of path maintenance and ditch clearing in our ever increasing bid to improve the Croft infrastructure and ground quality.

Congratulations and celebrations

September sees us celebrating both Ady and I’s wedding anniversary and Davies’ birthday each year. Ady and I also celebrate the anniversary of being a couple in June – this year it was 25 years. Our wedding came six years after we’d first gotten together, we already had a mortgage, joint bank account and many other grown up relationship commitments together but decided making it official would be a good thing to do so we went off to Vegas and on 9/9/99 we became Mr & Mrs. It was a fantastic day and one well worth celebrating the anniversary of each day even if we consider our relationship far more than just sharing the surname. We had a fabulously American Las Vegas wedding chapel style preacher man pronouncing us man and wife and as we put each others wedding rings on he told us ‘Never let these rings only mean you’re married. Remember the symbolism of what being married actually means’. We’ve come a long way from the couple walking around Las Vegas looking at each other and laughing as we reminded each other we were married now.

We celebrated our anniversary with a meal out with my parents, who had been there with us 19 years ago in Vegas, and Davies and Scarlett, who have come along since. We were able to be with Mum & Dad and go out for a meal because we were off island again – this time for a week in Aviemore. We had a holiday cottage so that the six of us, along with Bonnie the dog, could relax, spend some time enjoying celebrating and explore a corner of Scotland that we’ve spent a fair bit of time in but Mum and Dad had not visited before. Our anniversary was on our first full day there. During the rest of the week we visited Inverness, went to Loch Ness, walked into Aviemore several times for a mooch around the shops or to visit the very lovely gelato parlour¬†or the sweet shop, failed to complete an enormous 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle, went to the pub for a live music night and bumped into a friend from Rum, cooked nice food and enjoyed the bath.

Ady, Davies, Scarlett and I spent a day at Landmark Adventure Park, a very charming low tech theme park. It has just one traditional rollercoaster but no lack of thrills. There is a range of rope adventures from the family friendly to the white knuckle. We started with the Ropeworx trail, secured with harnesses we walked tight ropes, rope ladders and bridges all high up. Our resident daredevil Scarlett scampered up the Skydive pole twice – a 50 foot high telegraph pole with a tiny platform at the top that you simply step off and freefall down from to the ground. The rest of us looked on with no desire to join in but my own inner daredevil finally gave in and I did it too.

The rest of the park includes a triple water ‘coaster’ – three high high slides that you come down in a dinghy. Davies and Scarlett did them all multiple times, Ady and I were put off rather by needing to climb all the way up the steps to the top, so just did them all once!

We did all climb the Fire Tower though, for spectacular 360 degree views around the area.

There was also a butterfly house, including parakeets and painted quails, which we walked round several times admiring the stunning tropical butterflies. A large woodland area with interesting sculptures and a topsy turvy cottage in the woods with skewed perspective and wonky floors and the Bamboozalium, a fantastic walk through with optical illusions, neon and electric interactive displays and a vortex tunnel. We had an excellent day and pretty much had the park to ourselves in the sunshine. Perfect.

The real reason for the holiday though was on our last full day there when it was Davies’ 18th birthday. A landmark celebration as our wonderful first born becomes an adult. As is traditional in our family the birthday person gets to choose food and activities. Davies chose bacon rolls for breakfast, pizza for lunch, a return trip to the Gelato parlour in the afternoon and a meal out for steak and chips in the evening. Having access to a huge TV for his games along with some more games and controller among his birthday gifts he was more than happy to hole up with Scarlett and enjoy the technology for a large part of the day, but we walked to the town for ice cream and a ‘you’re never too old for a sweet shop’ visit to the sweet shop. In the evening we returned to the restaurant we’d enjoyed earlier in the week for dinner before retiring to the bar downstairs so that Davies could buy Ady and I a drink at the bar. Davies is a resolute tee totaller but was happy to produce his ID and prove his age to get me a gin and tonic and Ady a pint. Another landmark moment in parenting!

As a very good friend who has known Davies since he was a small boy said – the world really needs more adults like Davies. We’re very proud and honoured to have shared his childhood and look forward to being the proud parents of the amazing young man he is now.

More lovely happy memories made, a brilliant week of adventures and fun and it was back on the replacement ferry for us returning home to Rum. Our usual large ferry is off for it’s annual servicing which always means something of a lottery of ferry services as the freight / vehicle service runs alongside a passenger service on a smaller faster boat and all of this seems to coincide every year with the equinoctial gales (fact or fiction? much debated but our time here certainly bares out the theory!) blowing in. We had a fairly rough and rather wet crossing as the boat was full for the first part of the trip so we had to sit outside and got splashed by the waves. We moved inside once the boat had emptied out at Eigg but were already cold and wet by then so it was a slightly shivery journey home.

Despite that, and the extreme weather forecast for the week ahead meaning some disturbed nights sleep ahead it’s good to be home and back picking brambles, making jam and planning the season ahead.


The very last Not Back to School

13 years ago more or less today it would have been the very first September that we didn’t go back to school because instead of starting school Davies became officially Home Educated. That sounds far more of an event than it actually was because all that really happened was that we carried on doing exactly what we’d been doing already. Living and learning. We’d made the decision to Home Educate, at least for the early days a couple of years previously and were already part of the local Home Ed community where we lived in Sussex, attending regular group meet ups and workshops. Building a life that was not so very different to most families with young children with after school clubs, swimming lessons, Rainbows and Beaver Scouts, the St Johns Ambulance Badgers, try outs for various musical instrument lessons, sports and gymnastics and dance classes, RSPB Wildlife Explorers, Young Archaeologists Club, Magic Lantern Film club… the list goes on. With the glaring exception of going to school, which our children never did.

While Davies and Scarlett were young we were incredibly active in the local and national Home Education world, we were on TV, radio and the newspapers talking about it, locally and nationally. I set up Home Ed groups where we lived, talked to hundreds of new and considering it as an option Home Educators, I organised group trips, countless Home Education residential camps, talked to politicians, the local education authority and people in supermarkets about why our children were not in school and how it worked. There is no question that our decision to not send our children to school has shaped our lives and set us on the path we have trodden. At every step of the way the option to try school was available to Davies and Scarlett and while neither of them considered it plenty of their friends and Home Educated peers tried school and many stayed in school. For many years we attended (and often organised) an annual Not Back to School picnic around the time that local children were heading back to the classroom for the start of the school year.

Since moving to Rum our connection to school and the parallels between a school life and a Home Ed life have drifted ever further apart. No longer do we see schooled children walking past in their uniforms, no longer do we notice a quietening of the parks, the museums and the beach at this time of year. Here in Scotland the school term times are very different anyway and schools went back a week or two ago back in August. Back to School or Not Back to School feels quite removed from us. And in fact I realised today that this would be our very last Not Back to School anyway as Scarlett is 16 in a few months, official school leaving age in Scotland.

Both are continuing their education at home for now – Davies begins his PhD with the Open University in a few weeks having completed the access course with a very high pass. Scarlett is doing a series of short courses with the OpenLearn department of the OU with a view to researching her next steps. Whilst I am proud of them for these academic steps forward it is the rest of the stories they have to tell about what they have done instead of school that we celebrate the most. The adventures they have had, the opportunities, the knowledge and experiences they have gained from a life already out living in the world.

This is not necessarily the right way, certainly not right for everyone. Most definitely, completely and absolutely the right way for us.



Crofters On Tour

We had a very sociable second half of August, something we always enjoy.

Friends from Sussex were having a holiday touring Scotland and had managed to squeeze in a night on Rum to their very hectic schedule. Due to our ferry schedule and their adventures being by way of public transport their original plan to spend a whole day and night on Rum and see some of our island home didn’t work out and they ended up spending just 15 hours on Rum, most of them asleep! In order to maximise the time with them I hopped aboard the ferry on it’s outward journey from Rum first thing on the Saturday morning, touring all four Small Isles before calling back to Mallaig and then doing the islands again in reverse finally arriving back on Rum 10 hours later. It was an epic day at sea, much of it in rather stormy waters as it was a windy day, but well worth it for half of the trip being in the company of our lovely friends.

I did some crochet, read some of my book, spent some time chatting to various people on board and did a bit of wildlife spotting although it was mostly too choppy to see anything. There was a period of about 90 minutes when I felt as though I was part of a zombie movie as everyone else on board was staggering about and groaning. I think the only non-seasick people were me and a woman from Switzerland who I’d been chatting to earlier about ‘over-tourism’ and that was because she was asleep and snoring loudly. I am very glad to be in position of pretty good sea legs, particularly as neither my mother or daughter have them so it clearly doesn’t run in my family.

The rest of the family joined us for an evening meal and a condensed socialising time together before wishing our friends well on their continuing travels around Scotland. At least the prolonged ferry trip all around the Small Isles meant they saw Rum from all angles at sea even if they didn’t get to explore much of the island itself. Haste ye back, we’d love to show you more of our home.

A few days later we were off adventuring ourselves. Croftsitter Jen was here for what must surely be edging close to double figures of visits and we were off with stuffed rucksacks on a 12 hour journey to Northern Ireland. A ferry, a car club drive (with a swap over from me driving to Ady driving way later than I’d planned as I’d wanted to swap before the scary bit through Glasgow!), a second ferry across the Irish Sea and a drive to our friends’ house, arriving in the early hours. Fortunately the early hours is peak awake time for teens so Davies and Scarlett were straight into their socialising. We managed tea and toast before retiring for the night like proper middle aged people.

We were staying with friends who we manage to spend a fair amount of time with despite two ferry trips and several hundred miles between us. Our family friendship began about 15 years ago between C and myself on an early-days-of-the-internet message chat forum and has changed to a real life friendship with our children – then just infants, now approaching adulthood themselves now firm friends too. Our lives are very different to each others and in the same way as a visit to Rum is an escape from the rat race and work pressures for them when they come here we had a fantastic time stepping back into all of the delights of a busy town within easy distance of a city has to offer.

Ady and Davies finally got to see the Giants Causeway, a trip which had been put off earlier in the year due to bad weather. Their experience of the Carrick Reid rope bridge will have to wait til another time though as it closed due to high winds while we were actually standing next to it waiting for our chance to cross. Scarlett and I (having already done it last year) are determined we will get them across it one day though. We visited the cinema (Incredibles 2), 2 iconic Belfast city pubs (McHughs  for the Irish music session and the Crown, where we were fortunate to get a snug) for Guinness and Baileys and Irish whiskey and Irish gin, we had a day trip to the beach for ice creams, a takeaway pizza dinner and went ice skating. A full couple of months worth of excitement and treats in just a week.

It was a fabulous trip and a really memorable return visit to Northern Ireland which we have now been to in both summer and winter. An equally epic return trip saw us leave our friends at 10pm for the midnight sailing to Scotland, drive up the country via the supermarkets of Fort William to meet the afternoon sailing to Rum from Mallaig arriving home at 2pm. The teens managed to nap part of the way in the car but Ady and I barely snatched half an hour sleep while we pulled over just after sun rise in Glen Coe. It was an early night all round back on Rum.

This weekend we’ve seen August out and September in with Croftsitter Jen able to stay a couple of extra nights as a friend rather than a croftsitter – lovely to be able to cook dinner for her and spend time hanging out hearing about her planned adventures. And to get a helping hand from from her on catching up on bramble picking too after a week away at the start of the bramble season. We did sterling work and this afternoon Scarlett and I made 52 jars of jam which are all now labelled up and ready to go on sale in the shed, nicely topping up the rather depleted stocks after a very good season.

It’s good to be home, even if (as you’ll soon be reading) it’s not for long as we’re off again on continued adventures very, very soon.