Three Months In…

It’s three months today that we arrived here at this new address. Three months since we pulled up, signed the tenancy agreement, were handed over the keys and started the process of settling in and making this our new home.

It’s been a busy three months. We arrived not knowing anyone, with no work, having never been to this little corner of the highlands before, despite it being within 50 miles of Rum. At that point we had no phone or internet connection either.

Three months on we have started work in various jobs, made contacts (who will hopefully become friends), met the neighbours and plenty of locals, joined the library, been to the cinema and several local events and signed up for voluntary work. We have planted up a bed of strawberries and potted up some plants in the garden, made plans to bring across the chickens, hung up our clock, found furniture, had the phone and internet connected and done all of the changing your address admin. We have had several overnight guests, several more visitors for tea and cake.

We have had visits to the doctors, the dentist, the optician, the supermarket. We’ve been down to Sussex, across to Northern Ireland and to Rum for the day and overnight. All of which have had huge layers of logistical trickery removed. We have been here in rain, wind, hail, snow, sunshine and midges.

In lots of ways it is still very early days. We still have things to get properly sorted out, details to finalise and long term plans to thrash out. In other ways it feels like we’ve been here for ages, we settled in so quickly and it definitely feels like home, like the right move.

So in classic WW fashion, as we have continued to wander a bit, and wonder a lot here is the bad, good and learned from our first three months here. As none of us felt we had learnt much new (yet) we have gone with just one thing we’ve learned here and added in a new category of ‘opportunities I am going to explore’ as a prompt to help us all find the social, educational and work or voluntary lives we would like and make the most of this move.

Ady
Bad:
*Nothing is walking distance.
*It’s hard to meet people, on Rum we just went to the shop and eventually made all those connections. Here there is no central place to just hang out and meet folk
*Although the ferry to Rum is only 50 miles away we have not gotten over as much as we’d thought. The straddling two places is not as feasible as we’d hoped it might be
*Mainland expense. We are relying on spending to accumulate, the need to run a car, to have semi-decent clothes
*I’m missing the freedom of knowing the rules.
*I’ve lost a little of the pride of doing something different and living somewhere unusual.

Good:
*The security of being in a sturdy house means I sleep easier at night and I’m really happy to see Davies and Scarlett in better living conditions.
*I like being able to go out just for the day, to go to appointments and shopping or into the town.
*I am pleased that we have stayed in the same region and still have the amazing views and brilliant wildlife of the Highlands of Scotland
*The logistics of day to day life are so much easier. Next day delivery is still not quite next day but it is so much quicker than on Rum and does not involve a trek to the ferry and a wheelbarrow up to the croft.
*I am loving not having to empty the compost loo.

I have learnt:
I am working in a tearoom, assisting the chef and understanding what happens behind the scenes in a catering kitchen. I am really enjoying every aspect of it and learning a lot.

Opportunities I am going to explore:
Social: I’ve made a few possible social contacts and there are some specific men’s social opportunities here which I am going to explore more.
Educational: I like learning more about the social and cultural history of the area and have been getting books from the library and researching online.
Work / Volunteering: My work at the tearoom is likely to be really busy over the coming months so I will see how that pans out.


Scarlett:
Bad:
*There is less to do here than there was on Rum. The beach is slightly too far away to take Bonnie and do beach cleaning as I need to keep a hand free for her lead.
*There is a lot of bird life here, more than on Rum but there is not so much other wildlife (like the deer).
*I still have quite a bit of my stuff left on Rum and had hoped to be spending more time on Rum than we’ve managed.
*It feels quiet without the livestock here and I miss seeing the Croft creatures around.
*Not having as much scope for selling my baking and Mummy’s produce as we’d hoped due to the regulations around food production for sale.

Good:
*Being in a house is good. When it’s midgey or the weather is really bad you almost don’t notice it living in a house.
*With internet and electricity all the time I can spend more time chatting to my friend online without it needing to be at times when the internet is on or I have charge on my devices.
*As much as I said we don’t see the wildlife I am enjoying seeing more birds. We have a couple of woodpeckers around most of the time which I’d not seen for years.
*I really enjoyed the marine ID workshop. It was interesting to do and something I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do on Rum.
*Kayaking was really fun. It was something I would not really have had the chance to do on Rum. The whole Water Festival was good, it was nice to see some of the local community and see that stuff like that goes on here.

I have learnt:
*About strontium, which was mined above Strontian, our nearest village.

Opportunities I am going to explore further:
Social: There is a youth club once a week which I will go along to and meet some of the other teens in the area.
Educational: I will look at the courses available online or locally
Work/voluntary: Marine ID volunteering opportunities plus Mummy has made contact with the local ranger who I am going to meet and have a chat with about volunteering opportunities locally too.

Davies:
Bad:
*It is hard to still be between homes with some of my stuff over here and some of my stuff still on Rum.
*The internet took nearly a month to get installed and is not always super reliable.
*Although it is great to have unlimited power after having limited electricity on Rum, all of our power there was renewable from the wind turbine or solar panel whereas here the electricity comes at a cost, both financial and environmental.

Good:
*My bedroom is big, I have more privacy than on Rum in the caravan. I have a bigger bed, a desk, my games / TV set up and it’s a space I actually use and spend time in. I can be drawing or watching something at 4am if I want with no restrictions such as light / power/ internet / disturbing the others.
*I have not started yet but I have signed up for volunteering on a helpline and am on a course about it this coming week. This is something I would definitely not have had the opportunity to do on Rum.
*I like the location of our new house. We are able to get back to Rum so I can still enjoy the parts of that life which I liked. But we are also closer to civilisation.
*Being on the mainland makes my online friendships easier to maintain. I am able to get to the post office to send gifts, have better internet to chat and hopefully have a friend visiting later this year.
*Life feels fuller here. I have more going on. I am getting outside more with Scarlett for walks, largely because if we get wet or muddy it’s easier to get clean and dry, there are more things happening (in the last week we’ve been to the cinema, a party, a workshop, to the re-use centre, to the town for the dentist). When I am not out there is an unlimited number of things to do inside too with the internet always on.

I have learnt: while living on the mainland I am still able to maintain the positive things that I had while living on Rum 😀 such as having freedom for the cat and dog to roam, keeping livestock, being remote and rural, having access to nice walks.

Opportunities I will explore:
Social: Arranging more visits from friends coming to stay. I will attend the local youth club at least once to see whether it is likely to offer me.
Educational: I have finished the first year of my degree and am enrolled on year two starting in the autumn. I will also be attending various training courses to support me in my voluntary work.
Work / voluntary: I have set myself up as a self employed artist and have a meeting this week to register with a work coach for support on that.

Nic:
Bad:
*I would echo what Ady has said about nothing being walking distance. If I could pick this house up and move it five miles to the right that would be perfect as we could all walk to work, we’d be closer to the ferry crossing to Fort William (nearest big town for supermarket, dentist etc.) and if we ran out of milk we could nip out and get some.
*Red Tape. Which is not entirely red tape as such, just barriers that I’ve gotten used to not having. I made a couple of contacts who were up for selling my jams and Scarlett’s baking but when we looked into registering as a food producer we discovered that because we are on a private water supply we would need to have it tested annually. While I totally understand the reasoning behind this it would be a cost of several hundred pounds to us which we’d be needing to cover before making any profit, effectively putting paid to any such business even starting. This is the same private water supply that our landlord is able to let the house to us with perfectly legally as long as they take responsibility for the filters so we all know it is safe. Rum, in contrast offered none of these barriers and I’d gotten rather used to having an idea and making it happen without having to adhere to rules as long as I applied my own common sense.
*We are in a strange middle ground here of not being in such a small community as we were on Rum where everyone just knows everyone and not being in a big town where you don’t know most people but there is plenty going on to just join in with. Some of the things I’d like to do I am going to need to travel for, others I am likely to have to either accept are not there or make happen myself.
*Rum feels a long way away. Not as easy to get back to as we’d planned. Not as much a part of our lives as we’d anticipated.
*I’ve not yet found the creative outlet that meets my need for that sort of making. My crochet bits and pieces that were so well received on Rum in my little shed have not been so welcome here and so far neither of the places I’ve approached about selling them were interested, my jams and baking are a no-go thanks to the food producer regs. Rum was perfect for providing inspiration and answers and demand for me but so far I have not been struck with any such brainwaves here. I may not need to do creative crafts for cash but I don’t want to lose that side of me either.

Good:
* I am really proud of what we’ve achieved in this short space of time. I completely acknowledge that we have been very lucky in having some financial support from my parents which not everyone is so fortunate to have. We have however absolutely made the very most of that privilege and have put everything into making this move work. It is a big balancing act trying to meet the individual and collective needs of four people, ensuring we are all recognising and making the most of our opportunities, seeking out all the options and making leaps of faith to try out new and often scary challenges. As always, a lot of our path is driven and suggested by me with the odd bit of cajoling and persuading of the others at times. It’s really good to see that paying off and working out.
*People! New, interesting, fascinating, as yet not known people. Potential friends, teachers and allies. I love my little family and I have a lot of friends already but I am always, always in the market for making new friends and getting to know new people. In three months I have already made a few new actual friends, got a fair few new colleagues, quite a lot of people I know well enough to smile and say hello to when I pass them. Lack of people on Rum was one of the biggest low points for me, so it stands to reason that a village with several hundred people to start mixing and mingling with hits my lists of goods.
*The house. I love the bath. I love the kitchen. I love the two toilets. I love the washing machine and the bedroom. I love the space and light in the lounge and the views from every window. I’ve loved watching the trees come to life in the spring and I’m looking forward to seeing them change in the autumn and go to sleep in the winter.
*I love the challenge. I was restless towards the end on Rum because although life was far from easy it had become familiar and without fresh challenges. This change has offered new tests, new possibilities and new directions for all of us. I think we have celebrated more victories and achievements in our three months here than in several times that period over the last few years. Even though the other three do not actively seek out these sorts of challenges with quite the relish that I do I can see that they are getting a lot out of them too.
*The busyness. I have had to set up a google calendar for the family to keep track of all the things we are getting up to. And it’s full! We are already finding things clashing with each other or not being able to fit everything in. That’s a pretty good situation to be in after days and weeks of nothing happening at all.

One thing I have learnt: Is that every phase of life is slightly different while carrying forward aspects of what came before. I used to think that we moved wholly from one life stage to the next and maybe some people do, losing every bit of their life before when they become part of a couple, or a parent, or retired… perhaps work defines some of us more than we realise? As I move from being a Home Educator living off grid to someone with older kids doing their own thing while living in a house I find I have not much changed and lots of what I held dear and lived by carries on regardless.

Opportunities I will explore:
Social – I’ve yet to find people just to hang out with, something that I have always had in life before, wherever I’ve lived. I know from experience that they way to find that tribe is to put myself in the right places where they will be. So it’s going to be books, crafts or music that brings me to the people I probably want to spend time with. I know from Rum life and from talking to a few folk around here that this is the time of year for being busy, head down, getting on with earning money during the tourist season and that the winter is the time for the real socialising. So I’ll carry on making connections and if I find they don’t turn into what I’m looking for as the year goes by I’ll have to rethink.
Educational – My various jobs are all teaching me new things, along with learning quite how life here works in what is still a pretty small community.
Work / voluntary: I already have three new jobs (and an interview for another one) and two volunteering commitments so I think I’m sorted there!

Summer’s here and the time is right….

For doing the Midgie Dance, in the street, in the garden or wherever you happen to be in the Highlands really.

Yep, June marks meteorological summer here in the UK and the end of May / beginning of June marks the start of the midge season here on the west coast of Scotland. I have to say here on the mainland is definitely nowhere near as midgey as Rum, and here in a house is positively, definitely, markedly nowhere near as midgey as a caravan! We can shut windows and doors and create a genuinely closed-house in a way that a vented caravan with ill fitting doors and windows never managed. We can put fans on to waft away any sneaky intruders and double glazing and an extractor fan mean we don’t get that damp, humid feeling every night when we are cooking. In short summer, as I imagine winter will be when it comes, is all the easier for being here.

Before you start thinking we’ve gone all soft and namby-pamby though let me assure you we’ve done plenty of midge dancing (a unique and particular style of dancing, no music required, specific to the highlands and islands involving much waving of arms around one’s face, often accompanied by swearing, a strong smell of citronella and sometimes the last thing spotted just before everyone leaves an area). Given how happy we are here in our new house life has gotten very busy and we don’t seem to have been spending an awful lot of time in it these last few weeks.

So what have we all been up to then?

Davies has finished this academic year’s studying and submitted his end of module assessment. He is already enrolled and has funding approved for starting the next module in October but that’s him done for the summer. At which point his thoughts have turned to other things to fill his time. He is still waiting on the necessary but lengthy lead time of paperwork coming back for his volunteering to start but has been thinking about other pursuits to sit alongside his studies and volunteering. Namely something income generating. While we are more than happy to support Davies (and Scarlett!) in every area while they study he is beginning to think of things he would like to do which will involve spending money and is also keen to contribute to the ‘family pot’.

We have always operated on a family pot style financial basis with all incomings going in and all outgoings covered before collectively deciding what to spend any leftover funds on – more often than not this has been our family trips to various places, sometimes investment into things to make life easier (like solar panels or infrastructure around the croft), speculating to accumulate (livestock, tools, growing props, seeds or plants), materials for crafts or hobbies, books or other leisure pursuits. Sometimes they benefit the whole family, sometimes just one or two of us if the others are supportive of that. When we moved to the mainland it was with an awareness that the family pot was going to have a lot more outgoings demanded of it, so we’d need to up the incomings accordingly, with everyone doing their bit.

So, Davies is hoping to fund some long term travel plans, have some cash for various smaller things like cinema or theatre trips, build up some savings and contribute to general living costs and we’ve been having chats about ways in which he could do that. Life here, while offering more opportunities than Rum for employment is still limited by transport and we are currently a two driver, one vehicle family. Our long term plan over the next year is to become a four driver, two vehicle family (with an eye always on limiting car use, combining travel and only going as far as we have to) which rather curtails the usual ‘starter’ jobs in retail or hospitality. He is also keen to continue the family tradition of doing what you love and loving what you do. On that basis his passion, his talent and his natural calling is to art. While not always his chosen subject matter we do live in a beautiful location and Davies is talented at landscapes, which it just so happens living in a renowned tourist location there is quite a call for.

We started the ball rolling with Davies selling his art early on in part of our croft 3 business development so he already has a grasp of profit and loss, costings, marketing and business planning, market research and so on. So we’ve been exploring that further here in our new local area, checking out the couple of art galleries and studios nearby, the range of art sold in the couple of art and craft venues in the area as well as similar art styles sold online. The next step is an online presence, some real life networking and of course lots and lots of collecting inspiration and creating the actual art. Luckily he has a summer off to get cracking with it!

Fridge art by Davies, indicative of his sense of humour and recreation of his childhood art style rather than his current talent levels. You put magnets on a fridge and it’s only a mater of time before your child sticks a ‘my family’ portrait on it, even when that child is now 18!

Scarlett is working with Ady and I on the holiday cottage cleaning which we’ve been doing loads of the last few weeks, as many as six or seven cottages a week. The early (for her!) starts are not ideal but the methodical, fairly mindless but organised work suits her well as she drifts off into her own head while dusting, cleaning and polishing. Scarlett is loving having a great big kitchen to bake in and has been sending parcels of her beautifully decorated cookies to her friend in Ireland. She is also enjoying plenty of time outside, litter picking on the local beaches of the loch and returning with a camera full of pictures of flowers (her particular passion in photography) and stories of encounters with wildlife.

Sometimes she also returns with the wildlife… in the last few weeks we’ve had a fledgling wagtail resident with us overnight after she rescued it from a river where it had gotten waterlogged late in the afternoon. It was returned back where it had come from the following morning, just as chirpy and reunited with it’s parents and siblings who were hanging around calling for it still.

Little wagtail overnight guest – no rating on trip advisor from it as yet…

We have all signed up for a Shoreline surveying scheme running locally this summer but it is Scarlett who is most excited about it. Having met staff from the local marine community organisation at the water festival we attended a marine identification workshop yesterday and will be participating in various shoreline surveys over the next few months, logging survey results on the plant and animal life on the shores of the lochs. Scarlett adored the very hands on session.

We’ve also been looking at other wildlife and nature related voluntary opportunities for Scarlett locally and I was chatting with the local ranger just yesterday about ideas. I’ve also been tipped off about the many local shows with produce competitions over the summer with baking categories so I think a summer of being either outside in nature or inside with ingredients is on the cards for Scarlett.

Ady has been busy working too. Along with the holiday cottage cleaning he and I have also been doing some shifts at the local tearoom. It’s Ady’s favourite sort of work – varied, with lots of interesting people, plenty of opportunities to clean, tidy, sweep and mop and best of all he is learning new things. The job is mostly kitchen based washing up but also assisting the chef and serving tables when it’s busy. It’s a family run enterprise of tearoom, bunkhouse, crafts centre, events venue and more. Three generations of the family are all local and some are our next door neighbours (if you can call them next door neighbours when neither of us can see the other’s house, but they are our geographically closest neighbours). I met the owner when I went along to introduce myself and find out more about the crafting courses they run (which include spinning and dyeing wool) and it all went from there. So far Ady has done the majority of the shifts we’ve been offered as they have managed to coincide with me working on one of my other jobs, which is perfect as it goes back to that car sharing plan. But I’ve also made a valuable contact who is up for teaching me to spin on a wheel – hurrah!

Ady has also been foraging to build up our winter firewood supplies and planning the design and build of a chicken house as we are bringing over some of our flock of chickens next time we visit Rum. He has got a few longer term plans on the boil too, but more about them if and when they come to fruition.

We’d done the most northerly, southerly and easterly years ago, but despite living to close to it all this time the west had eluded us… until yesterday.

And what about me? Well since our last blog post I’ve started two jobs – the one mentioned above at the tea room and the one previously mentioned as a youth worker. I’ve done four shifts in the youth worker post, so still very much finding my feet, learning where everything is and starting to get to grips with people’s names and faces. Bearing in mind the usual session has many more people present than the entire population of Rum I think I’m doing pretty well at matching a fair few names to faces, places and connections. In a small town like this everyone knows everyone else and the same people keep popping up in different places – myself included! I’m enjoying it a lot though and starting to see how things could develop over time and I can start to add in more bits of me. There is possibly more work at the same place (the local community centre, library, high school and primary school, school hostel for some residential students, library, leisure centre and events venue is all housed in one place) coming up soon which I’ve been approached about and expressed an interest in so watch this space for that. And finally I’ve also got a meeting in a couple of weeks with the editor of the local newspaper group about some freelance reporting / writing work. So I’m certainly being kept busy too.

I’ve started to make some local connections and am hoping some of these new contacts become friends over time and that once we’ve properly found our feet in terms of working out what our regular commitments are going to be I can either find stuff already happening or maybe be the person who makes it happen in terms of things like social opportunities.

One social opportunity we all made the most of last weekend was celebrating the birthday of one of our friends with a lovely overnight stay at their house. We ate, drank and made music, the teens stayed up all night talking, we stayed up very late singing and it was a brilliant, sociable weekend. It’s one of the events we’d have still managed to attend even if we’d been on Rum but driving for under an hour and being able to head back home the following day without having a ferry to catch made it all the more easy to attend, and bring plenty of home baked contributions to the table without fretting about how to get them there!

It’s just not a party without carbs!

Plenty of the afternoon and evening was spent outside, with quite a lot of midgey dancing taking place. Which brings me tidily back to where I started.