Settling in…

It’s ten days since we were sitting on the ferry heading away from Rum. We had our cat, our dog, as many possessions as we could pack in and a whole load of hopes, wishes, frets and crossed fingers in the car on the car deck.

Ten days later we’re back in the caravan on Rum again for a few nights. On the day we left 1000 trees arrived for us, so we’re back to plant those, to check on our livestock and to collect a few more belongings.

It’s been a busy week and a half. We’ve got no mobile phone signal at the house and our landline and internet is not due to be up and running until next week so we are ironically more cut off there than we have been here at the moment. So we’ve been driving or walking out each day to get signal to check emails and messages, make contact with family and friends, keep on top of all of the arrangements that come with a house move, ensure Davies does not fall behind with his studying, stay in touch with Rum to make sure everything is OK here and start the process of setting up our new lives too.

Most of this has been done sitting in a car park about 5 miles from our house. We are almost directly between two villages, the larger of the two has two shops, a post office, fuel, a couple of craft shops, cafe, hotels, B&Bs, tourist office, school, library and community centre. By mainland standards we are still pretty remote, by Rum standards this is a sprawling metropolis! The car park is in this larger village and we can pick up 4G mobile phone signal which allows us to hook up the laptop and use our car as a sort of mobile office / classroom.

As offices go this one certainly has a good view, even if a steering wheel is an unconventional desk furniture!

Ady and Scarlett had already found work and started earning. They have a couple of cleaning jobs which is perfect. They both enjoy the work, work well together and will be looking for more of the same. Ady has registered with an online agency for more work along those lines and is hoping he can pick up enough part time hours locally to bring in the fairly modest amount we need to cover our monthly bills.

Davies has been studying lots, his course is nearly 3/4 of the way through this first module and he has had his fourth assessment back with another very high grade and good, useful feedback from his tutor. He only has one more assessment left before his final end of year assessment and is enjoying the current block of study very much. He will then have the whole summer off studying and has various plans for things he wants to do with his time.

I have been using the limited online time I’ve had so far to build up a list of possible contacts and places to sell my crafts and jams. I’ve got a list of the various craft fayres in the area and the dates that they run with a plan to visit all of them over the coming few weeks as they start up to get a feel for the pricing, the range of items and see what is selling and how people set up their tables, make some contacts and then set about attending them myself. I’ve also got a list of various places that may be interested in selling my items and will be taking a selection of what I make and do around with me over the next few weeks to see if there is any interest and if so on what terms. I also have an eye on any part time work that might be suitable for me too.

We have joined the library, met some of the neighbours, joined some of the local online groups and explored the very local area on foot and by car. We’ve been into Fort William a couple of times. FW has been our nearest town here on Rum for the last seven years and is already where we visit the dentist, optician, hospital, our nearest supermarkets and so on so is somewhere we already know well. It’s just that on Rum it is a ferry trip *and* an hour’s drive away, now Fort William is just an hour’s drive! We have a choice of three routes to town, two by road and one by road and a very short ferry trip. We have done all three and will be investing in a book of ferry tickets as that will save about 20 miles of driving each way. We will plan to make the trip to town every ten days or so once we are settled.

I’m still looking for a daily hill, although the walk up and down the track from our house to the road is nearly a mile and is fairly steep so for now walking down to put rubbish and recycling in the bins and check for post will keep me going!

It’s very early days but we’ve settled in very quickly and it feels like we can certainly build the next stage of our lives here.

The Next Chapter

I had thought I would wait until we are actually settled, but there is every chance we will be internet-less for a few weeks so better to blog now.

Last Thursday evening I spotted a house to rent on the local-ish facebook buy/ sell / swap group so I got in touch with the landlord and after a bit of chatting we arranged to go and view it on Monday evening.

Ferries do not allow for easy logistics for things like that so we had to be sure it was a real contender to justify heading off but after lots of discussion we decided Ady and I should go and view it while Davies and Scarlett stayed here on Rum to look after the Croft creatures and the pets. It meant Ady and I were able to hire a car for the evening to drive ourselves to go and view the house and then doze in the car overnight ready to catch the ferry back to Rum first thing the next morning. Cheapest option with least pet sitting favours required we thought.

So Monday afternoon saw Ady and I on the ferry, we caught up with a few friends from neighbouring islands also heading to the mainland including our WWOOF hosts from Eigg all those years ago so it felt like closing the circle somehow. We drove to the house and arrived a short time before the landlord so had time to wander round the outside of the house, take some photos to send back to Davies and Scarlett and sit and get a feel of the place. Both Ady and I felt that it was somewhere we could easily picture ourselves living.

We met the owner and had a chat, a good look around the house and further chats. The feeling of rightness continued and strengthened the longer we were there and the more we talked to the owner about the house and the surrounding area. We said goodbye and drove back to somewhere with good phone signal to call Davies and Scarlett and send videos and pictures and talk it through with them. We all agreed to take it further and so contacted the owners to say we’d like to go ahead with renting the house.

A fairly uncomfortable and cold night of sandwiches , reading my kindle and watching stuff Ady had downloaded onto his phone later we had a cup of tea on the quayside looking out across the sea towards Rum.

An hour later we were on the ferry back to Rum chatting to various friends who also happened to be on the ferry (some residents, some visiting for a meeting) and two hours later we were back with Davies and Scarlett. We arrived home to the kettle on, the fire lit and Scarlett ready and waiting for the eggs and other ingredients we had bought back with us at her request for a pancake extravaganza of various sweet and savoury options. Go Scarlett!

That was only yesterday morning, and five days ago we didn’t even know this house existed. But between then and now we have agreed the contract, ordered a phone and internet connection, paid the deposit and first months rent and booked the ferry.

On Saturday (ferry and all other variables playing fair) we will be arriving in our new home.

As usual it’s a rollercoaster with us. Nothing is ever slow but the day is for seizing!

The house is within an hour’s drive from Mallaig, where the ferry to Rum leaves from, so we’ll be commuting back at forth very regularly while we continue to work the croft for now, while setting up our new mainland life too. As I said the internet may be a barrier to sharing what’s going on for a couple of weeks but we’ll be taking plenty of photos and storing up any stories to tell ready for when we’re back online and able to post more.

For now, I’ll leave you with the list that the four of us drew up just a couple of weeks ago about our absolute wishlist for what we all wanted next….

Some of those items (proximity to a town / city / airport) are not quite so close as we might have wished for in a 100% perfect option but they would definitely still get a tick against them.

Wish us luck, we’re pulling together the words and pictures for the ‘what happens next’ bit of our story again.

Another winter done

I’ve lived here (and by here I am meaning Rum, but actually the same applies for ‘on the planet’) long enough to know that March far from signifies the end of all that winter can bring in terms of weather and temperature challenges but nonetheless March 1st does mark the start of meteorological spring and therefore the end of winter.

We arrived on Rum in spring 2012 and during that first six months we must have heard over 100 times ‘well you haven’t done a winter yet…’ and that was to our faces. We know for a fact that behind our backs people were doubting that we / our caravan / our southern softie ways would last a winter. But we did. And then another one, and another, and another…. Last year we did attempt to not do yet another winter, but then we returned to Rum in March and while winter was technically over I think our welcome home offering was the toughest weather conditions we’d encountered yet. We intended at that point to definitely not do another winter. And yet, here we are. We have had several trips off but were here for all of December and January and half of February too and now we are getting into longer days and signs of spring once more it turns out that oh look, we’ve only done yet another winter.

So what does winter here actually mean? Despite being pretty far north Rum is not actually all that cold. It is more warm, wet and windy. And dark. In the depths of winter snow is still unusual, in seven winters here we can count proper snowfalls on one hand, hard ground frosts are not that common either. With an island only 8 miles across pretty much everywhere is coastal, the ground is undulating and very, very wet and boggy so the pockets of ups and downs tend to break up the weather and temperature. That said a draughty caravan is rubbish at keeping internal temperature much different from external temperature (and indeed internal conditions generally different from external ones, if it’s rainy outside then chances are the roof might leak and the windows are certainly running with water). Our little log burner does a fine job of keeping the living area cosy while we’re awake and tending it but bedrooms, particularly Ady and I’s (which is at the far end of the caravan, furthest from the living space) are never above single figures celsius during the winter months, often plummeting very close to zero during the night. I’ve talked before about the wet and the windy. As I am typing this we are ‘enjoying’ winds of around 50mph with gusts of up to 70mph.

But this is not a complain-y post, this has been the life we have chosen and enjoyed more than enough highs from to take these lows in our stride, or at the very least offset them firmly against the good bits. And the longer days are coming. For our six hours of daylight in the depths of winter we enjoy 20 hours of daylight in the height of summer. And we are creeping back towards credit rather than debit of daylight hours with a good 10 hours, maybe more, rising daily. It’s been a curious few weeks of weather across the UK with a February heatwave, a small amount of which has even reached us here on Rum. I’ve been up my hill a couple of times in short sleeves and nature is waking up. I have both enjoyed the sun on my upturned face and nursed a dread in my heart about quite what the environmental message the planet is sending us with these unseasonal conditions is.

But as the world still turns and the calendar pages flip over to reveal the start to yet another season. There are starting to be visitors coming off the ferry wearing walking boots and heading out into the island once more. I met a man walking up my hill last weekend and stopped for a chat with him. I’ve spent time labelling up jam, have been crocheting midges to restock the shed and been posting on our Croft 3 instagram about the various crafts and produce available in our shed to whet the appetites of people planning a trip to Rum this year.

We have taken inventory of our seeds and put together a list of new ones to buy. We have another 1000 trees arriving in the next couple of weeks, the sheep’s fleeces are looking fabulous (although we are months away from shearing it’s still nice to cast an eye over them and feel pleased about having those to come) and we’ve had a few duck eggs already.

In our usual spirit of not getting stuck in our ways and trying to always think of a new way of approaching things Ady came up with the genius idea of moving our strawberry patch to create a chicken run. Our strawberry patch last year was in an adjacent area to our fruit cage and veg garden but the plastic hoop covering we used didn’t quite last the season and the black plastic we had put down had not really worked at either preventing weed growth or dealing well with the steep ness of the slope that area is on, meaning that every time we walked in the cage to do weeding or pick strawberries we were pulling the plastic covering around. So rather than our planned idea of building a new chicken cage and doing more work in the strawberry cage Ady proposed moving the strawberries somewhere more suitable and using that cage for the chickens. Perfect! The strawberries require daily attention during the peak season so we have created an area close to the caravan for them and have some readymade plastic tunnel cloches arriving. The area is paced out, has wooden paths to prevent muddy foot paths, a wind break / sheep / turkey / goose barrier errected and as soon as we have a nice weather window and our plastic tunnels have arrived we will dig up the strawberries, lay down the plastic cut to size and replant them in the new area, then let the chickens in to enjoy the weeds and stay in an enclosed area each night until they have laid eggs each morning.

You might be wondering why all this talk / work when we don’t really know what’s happening next? We are firm believers that even if you are looking for something new you should carry on making the absolute best of where you are right now at the same time. Both here on our Croft on Rum and indeed in all of life itself.