New Lives in the Mild

Ady and I visited Rum for the day on Saturday.

It was a really long day. We had been on a family visit to a local sand mine for a tour on Friday afternoon as I was writing an article about it, then both Ady and I had been working on Friday evening so it was 11pm before we were home and eating dinner, long past midnight when we were in bed and then a 5am start on Saturday to catch the 730am ferry to Rum.

The ferry back left Rum at 730pm, arriving in Mallaig at 9pm which meant it was nearly 11pm before we were home again that night.

In our 10 hours or so on Rum we packed in so much. It was almost like our whole lives of 7 years there in just one day.

We came off the ferry and greeted various friends, most of whom were getting on the ferry as we got off as the neighbouring Small Isle of Canna was hosting this years Small Isles games so Team Rum were off to compete. (We had intended going ourselves but had so much to do on the Croft and so few opportunities to get to Rum in the next few weeks that we had to prioritise.) So that was a speedy hello, goodbye, hug in passing with people who were such big parts of our lives there.

Next we had to reconnect the battery and pump up the tyres on our Rum car. Two of the tyres have slow punctures so that is always the first job when we arrive on the island. We drove into the village to collect the small amount of post which we have not redirected to our new address and then headed towards the Croft. The car gets left half a mile or so away from the actual croft and then it’s a walk the rest of the way up the hill. As usual we are carrying things, although this time it was mostly just our food supplies for the day.

Once on the Croft I checked over the Shed, collecting cash from some of the sales, topping up the jam shelf and reading the messages in the visitor book from people who have bought things or just stopped by to say hello.

Ady went to deal with the water supply which had stopped. Without being on island to deal with the regular maintenance of our plumbing set up it usually requires a bit of attention when we first arrive, as does the boiler. The gas supply needs reconnecting so he dealt with all of that. Later he also had to scramble under the caravan to sort out a blocked drain pipe.

We were on Rum with two main goals. One was to dispatch the sheep. We lost one of them a month or so ago and so after much discussion we had decided that we would be better with a freezer full of mutton and more fleece for spinning than a continued sheep feed bill, long distance fretting about them and the favour being asked of our friend who has been looking after them for us. The original aim of sheep keeping was for grazing, for fleece and to breed them for a continued stock of meat so this would have always been their fate anyway.

A happy and good life lived on Rum.

The other task was fruit picking. The soft fruit bushes of redcurrants, blackcurrants, whitecurrants, blue berries, raspberries, strawberries, tayberries and loganberries, strawberries and gooseberries were laden with ripe and ready fruit. While again Rum friends have been picking some I really wanted to get part of the crop for jam making.

So while Ady and a friend dealt with the sheep, in a respectful, calm and humane way, quickly skinning them and then butchering into cuts of mutton before getting it into the freezer I picked fruit.

and then made jam – 29 jars to be precise!

We did stop for a quick lunch break, thanks to a friend for making food and ensuring we did have a rest in the middle of our day.

Then I spent time clipping the fleece off the sheep skins, another two sacks of fleece ready for spinning.

By which time it was late afternoon and time to start packing up ready to catch the ferry back. We realised that two wheelbarrows on the Croft is probably one wheelbarrow more than is required and that actually a wheelbarrow here on the mainland might be very useful. So we packed one up and brought it back with us, along with a camping stove (we had a power cut here last week and were rendered helpless as everything in the house is electric including the water pump and all the cooking facilities. We were able to collect water from the river to flush the toilets but had no way of boiling a kettle! Funny to be more inconvenienced here with no power than our entire off grid life on Rum!), some of the mutton and a stash of jam.

The wheelbarrow is the one that the New Lives in the Wild crew bought with them for us, so that Ben Fogle could help us move animal feed around the Croft. It felt appropriate to bring it with us for a new life in the mild. Our other wheelbarrow is a big yellow one and was bought to Rum by the couple who originally had the croft next door to ours. When they left they passed it on to the couple who ran the castle and when they left they passed it on to us. It feels right that it stays on Rum and is maybe passed on again at some point.

We chatted to friends at the pier, greeted the returning games participants as they came off the ferry and we got on. We also talked with the ferry crew, the staff at the ferry terminal and friends from another island who were on the ferry.

As I say, most of Rum life in just one day.

A friend asked on facebook if we missed our life in the wild. The answer is yes, in many ways we do. Both Ady and I felt really quite sad on Saturday. The Croft is returning to the wild without us there taming it. The trees we planted are thriving, the fruit bushes if not food for us are at least providing food for the wild birds. We only have geese left on the croft now and they require no attention at all. Our walled garden is overgrown, there are some nails loose in the shed panels and the path to the croft is no longer tidily trimmed. The gate is a bit loose and needs fixing. Maybe it is not obvious to anyone else but to us it is really clear that we are no longer there.

I used to walk around the croft and feel proud of what we had achieved. Against all the odds we had created something on that wild and beautiful island, something that was all our own. Seven years of our lives, all our hopes and dreams; the naive, the grand, the foolish were all there to see. I could chart what had and hadn’t worked, every victory and every challenge. There are echoes and memories and whispers in every corner of our days there. On Saturday when I walked round it was harder to see the wins; the losses and the battles felt more present and instead I found myself dwelling on what we had not managed to do, the places we had fallen short.

I was very, very tired. Although we kept animals because we eat animals we have always cared deeply about their welfare and the day that we kill them for food is always an emotional one for us. Alongside the lovely bits of our Rum life being present in that one day all of the tougher bits that we had been only too pleased to leave behind were also there. We heard about island politics and stresses, about fallings out and life being hard. We left with blood on our jeans, mud on our boots and a lack of decent cups of tea because the long life milk had expired even it’s own very long life.

While we were away Davies and Scarlett had been dealing with chaos at home. What we had thought to be a pine marten had killed two of the chickens. Scarlett had found one body but while she was recovering that a second chicken was taken. She was keeping me updated and dealing with it all superbly well including offering to pluck the bird she had found and making sure she wrapped it up ready for us to eat. They kept the rest of the flock safe and made sure they were all put away securely.

The following day I cooked roast mutton for dinner, served with yorkshire puddings from our chickens eggs and mint sauce made with the mint we’re growing in pots here. We missed the start of the season but next year we’ll be growing the potatoes, carrots and peas to be serving with our Sunday dinner too, because the soil here is so much better that than on Rum and the growing conditions so much kinder than the croft.

I do miss a lot about that wild life. But it was never forever, it didn’t quite offer enough. But we are carrying that wilderness with us. It’s in my daughter who knows how to deal with animals in a calm and confident way and copes with mishaps and unexpected happenings with common sense and a level head. It’s in my son who creates amazing art of the landscapes around him and is volunteering for a mental health charity because he understands the challenges of being human and how we should support each other when we can. It’s in my husband who can kill a sheep one day and be working in a restaurant kitchen the following day cooking local meat and fish. It’s in me as I spent my days supporting my family or turning my hand to one of four different jobs. That is what we learned on Rum, that is what we took from the wild.

We have a five year leave of absence from the Croft. We still need to visit regularly, I think we all want to anyway. We still need to be working the land in some way, again I think that’s what we want to do. We have trees and crops, we have the shed selling items. I don’t really know what the future holds or whether it will be one of the four of us who returns to Rum and Croft 3 in the future or whether we will pass that legacy on, just like the yellow wheelbarrow, to the next guardian of that space. But I do know we started something very special and even if it’s hidden away for a while as nature takes back over it’s still there in all the places that really matter.

Mainland of Opportunities

We are well into our fourth month here now and have settled in very well. Life is a good blend of busy and enjoyable and all those various opportunities we left Rum in search of are certainly here for the taking.

Ady is now working most evenings at a local tearoom where the owner is ‘over the moon with him’ as she told my parents when they were up visiting us recently. He is learning loads, really enjoying the feeling of being part of a team, meeting lots of people and despite the working hours being a bit on the unsociable side is finding it a positive and fun experience.

Davies is now fully trained and volunteering a couple of shifts a week for the helpline of a local charity. He had his results of his first year’s study just today and achieved a distinction. His next module starts in the autumn so he still has a couple of months away from his studies and is focusing on launching his art business. He is hoping to get sales locally and online. Please do check out his various places to see and buy his wonderful art and give him a follow / like. He’s on facebook instagram and etsy.

Scarlett is also working on a lot of art, alongside continuing to litter pick and of course her fantastic baking and cake decorating. Fortunately we have plenty of eggs now so she has been venturing into cooking too and perfecting her egg fried rice among other dishes. She has been taste testing her ideas for entering the local show in a few weeks getting us to rate the flavours, textures, decorations and appearance. It’s a tough job but we’re just about managing!

I’m pretty busy too, although I am making sure I still find plenty of time for the things that make me happy – crafty things like crochet and decorating some pots for our lavender plants, tending the strawberries, hanging out with the chickens, playing my ukulele, baking and of course taking lovely long bubble baths.

But when I’m not ‘messing about’ with things like that I’ve also been doing my youth work, holiday cottage cleaning, working as a supervisor at the local community centre where I’m going to be running some events in months to come as well as helping out at regular music and film events. Perhaps most excitingly though I have been doing lots of writing for the local paper – Oban and Lochaber Times where I have been contributing as a freelance reporter. I’ve had two articles published already and have another couple due in this weeks paper with more interviews and stories lined up to cover this week.

I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I hope this doesn’t mean I am a grown up now though!

We had a lovely visit from my parents. It’s still a very, very long way from Sussex to come and see us but at least the ferry trip now is a 5 minute one running every half an hour and you can drive all the way to our front door! They also get their own bedroom instead of evicting us from ours to sleep on the floor of the caravan and even have a toilet and shower room to themselves here.

We managed to show them plenty of the locations they are hearing about in our new lives and also finally get my Mum to the Isle of Skye, which has been on her list of destinations to visit for many more years than we’ve been living here in Scotland.

Life is good. Filled with opportunities that we are making the absolute most of every day.