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Leaves are brown, skies are grey

Well not quite, but heading that way. And as ever the skies are a rainbow of colours from greys, to blues to stunning sunsets and of course actual rainbows too.

September, or the start of autumn always feels like the time to make a change for me, much more so than January and an actual new year. It’s obviously the back to school feeling leftover from my own school days with new pencil cases, slightly too large and stiff from being brand new school uniform, new classrooms, timetables and new teachers. Brand new exercise books filled with blank pages and the feeling of all that new learning ahead. Five times in my childhood / teens September would have meant a whole new school or college. A quick count up finds at least three new jobs started in September in my adult life. We got married in September so a whole new name, became parents for the first time in September. Obviously we didn’t do school but Davies and Scarlett attended scouts, guides, St Johns Ambulance, RSPB wildlife explorers, swimming lessons, Forest School sessions all of which ran termly and re-started after a summer off with a timetable of four or five evenings a week hitting the rush hour traffic to get them there and ensuring they had the relevant uniform and termly subs.

Meanwhile nature sounds, looks and smells different. I think the change from summer to autumn is definitely one of the more dramatic seasonal changes – leaves changing colour and dropping, altering from shiny and soft, to crunchy and crispy underfoot before becoming soggy to walk through. The air becomes cooler and the smell of bonfires or people lighting their fires fills the air. Morning dew, maybe even the first frosts sparkle on the spiders webs that are suddenly everywhere. Nights draw in and we dig out a warmer pair of socks or cosier jumper. Even when we lived in a town I noticed wildlife changing at this time of year – birdsong is different – no longer the mating or rearing young type calls. The cast of your garden birds may change as migrations to and forth begin. Spiders start coming in, drunken drowsy wasps buzz around. Here on Rum we notice our own livestock altering – the pigs begin to thicken their fur in advance of the winter, the geese are no longer so feisty, the cockerels happily stand side by side rather than preparing to duel. The hills have gone from green to purple.

In previous years autumn here heralded the start of preparing for another harsh winter. Of starting the winter stockpile of tins and dried food, of long life milk in case of cancelled ferries. Of ensuring the firewood stash would see us through. Aside from these practical tasks also came the need for the mental preparation of another winter here. That got both easier in some ways and harder in others as we learnt exactly what to expect of the months ahead. None of us really struggle with the darker days and lack of sunlight. All of us struggled with days of endless rain, nights of howling winds shaking the caravan, condensation and damp. We’ve come a very long way from our first winter where we were still carrying water across from the often raging burn, lighting our long evenings with candles, collecting firewood daily as we’d not had time to prepare in advance. We’ve put measures in place to help with the more testing aspects of life here over winter which have included both the practical and also the soul feeding self care things like regular events to look forward to, at least one trip off over winter to top up on the comforts of warm, comfortable accommodation and access to mainland treats.

This year though autumn marks the start of our next adventure – leaving Rum. Certainly for now, possibly for the longer term. Autumn is the start of Davies’ next chapter in life of beginning an Open University course. It’s the start of a new location for all of us, building a whole new set of memories, a whole new list of skills and experiences and a brand new blank page. We’ll likely need different uniforms and tools just like starting a new school or job, we’ll meet new people and learn new ways, our status will change once more.

This is massively daunting and thrilling in equal measures, just like it was starting a new school, new job, new marriage, new life every other time we’ve done it. I clearly remember that wobble of wanting to run back to my old classroom with the teacher I knew, not wanting to be the littlest kids at senior school after having been the biggest kids at primary school. Remembering the ease of knowing everything about my old job – where the staff room was, the best place to park, which tasks were boring and which were fun instead of being the new girl who didn’t know anyone’s names yet and felt awkward and uncomfortable. That last second feeling of finality in saying ‘I do’ and signing my new name rather than my old one. The realisation with the first contraction of childbirth that life would never, ever, ever be the same again. Big steps and big changes are always scary, the people staying on the ground watching the roller coaster climb up and up towards the inevitable plunge back down always look briefly like the sensible ones when you are in the carriage heading towards the sky while your tummy is turning somersaults and your hands are gripping the bar in front of you. But the big moments – the photographic evidence, the life affirming stuff, the moments you know you are alive are the ones where you are pronounced husband and wife, where you hold your tiny born and look into their eyes while they grasp your finger tight. The day you realise you know which floor the English class is on, a newer colleague than you starts work and you are the one showing them around. The grainy digital picture of you screaming with equal measures of joy and sheer excitement as the roller coaster swings you round and you feel sorry for those people back on the ground who haven’t felt what you have.

More than all this though, we have reached a point where our current life feels like the safe option. It will take more courage to step on the ferry and leave this behind than to stay here and carry on with it. This life, on a remote island, miles from family and friends, living with no mains power, where our existence relies on wheelbarrows and clambering up muddy hills, where every forecast gale has us climbing up ladders to tie up wind turbines and wondering if this will be the one that destroys the caravan. A life so unusual that is is worthy of TV shows, this blog, articles in magazines and visitors every year taking photographs. If this life has become the safe option then we know our perspective is skewed. We know we need to remind ourselves of what else is out there – both the good and bad, the rough and the smooth. Staying in the same place should only feel right if it continues to offer enough highs to balance to lows and enough thrills to remind you you’re alive.

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Bees and brambles

The bramble season has begun. The season here on Rum is pretty long – a good six weeks or more with certain hot spots ripening way earlier than others. I walked to meet the ferry ahead of Ady driving on Friday and collected a bag full, out again on Saturday and Sunday around and about the croft collecting more and Ady and I both walked to the village yesterday and picked nearly a kilo more. So jam making has also begun.

A combination of deciding to change the jar shape, finding a better supplier for the jars willing to give a discount for a bulk order (of 300 jars!) and deciding to give the labels an updated look means we have a new design of jar and label. We still have jam to sell through though so the new design might not be in the shed just yet. Here’s a sneak peek though…

We sent some jam, and some crochet midges, off to Mallaig to sell in a new local arts and crafts shop that has opened up there. If we return to Rum for good next spring I definitely want to explore the idea of sending crafts and produce off to sell elsewhere.

Scarlett and I spent this afternoon making bath fizzers too – four colours / scents this year – rose, lavender, citronella & lemon and camphor and menthol. We made 120 in all and then I packed them into bags of three and labelled them all up. It took way longer than I had hoped and I was pretty bored of the process by the end of it – not to mention a bit sneezy from all the scents! I’ll take a picture tomorrow once they are in the shed – we were down to the very last two from the last batch. We’re almost out of candles too so that might well be another making session later this week.

We’ve been noticing a lot of bee action in a particular spot behind the caravan over the summer and had assumed solitary bees but today when Ady was doing some compost loo maintenance he uncovered a whole clump broken off of a nest of bee larvae. It was amazing – loads of little creatures in varying stages of hatching all contained within waxy eggs. The whole thing smelled really strongly of honey.

The ‘hive mind’ of facebook really came into it’s own as I uploaded a picture and tagged a few friends who keep bees to ask if anyone could help identify them. Within minutes the picture had been shared all over the UK with people tagging friends and friends of friends to ask for help. Half an hour and a few extra pictures from us later they had been identified as white tailed bumble bees, we had watched some brand new bees hatching and I had learned a whole load of new bee facts.

My dreams of beekeeping had still not quite come to fruition but maybe the bees have chosen us here after all! Shame we won’t be enjoying their honey but providing a home and benefiting from their pollination skills is still pretty amazing.

It’s been the start of the annual red deer cull here on Rum and Ady has already done a day’s ghillying, we have done a day of butchering and processing a beast into a well stocked freezer full of venison and on Sunday I joined Ady and another islander bringing a couple of the Rum ponies back from Harris on the southern tip of Rum back to Kinloch village ready to head out again on deer collecting duty later this week. It’s a long slow, but very beautiful walk across the island, even at a plodding pony’s pace through some dire weather.

I have to be very honest and confess that only held the pony’s reins for long enough for Ady to take the picture and Angus the pony to realise that it was me rather than Ady holding him! I am slightly scared of them and was most surprised to note looking at the photo afterwards that Angus seems nowhere near as big as he did in real life!

The hills are turning purple with the heather and the first of the deciduous trees are starting to change colour. The nights are drawing in and rumour has it people have already heard the stags begin to roar. Autumn is definitely chasing summer away.

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All Paths Lead to Somerset?

We’re heading to Somerset for our winter away from Croft 3. A place which has called us back on several occasions. Before our 2011 adventure I don’t think we knew anyone in Somerset. Now, thanks to friends we made while WWOOFing, friends we have made while on Rum, and catching up with friends from 20 years ago when we all lived in Sussex, last saw 15 years ago when we lived in Manchester and they were about to move to New Zealand who now live in Somerset we already have a thriving network of people in that corner of the world.

We are starting to work out the finer details of our time off Rum, what we want to get out of that time and how to make the most of the opportunities it will offer. I’ll be posting more about that in the coming weeks. Our current feeling is much like when we were planning our WWOOFing adventure and indeed our move to Rum – trepidation mixed with excitement. I am very much of the opinion that anything which the thought of gives you butterflies is probably exactly what you should do next.

Getting back to that catching up with old friends though… it’s funny how we collect friends throughout the various stages of our lives. The family friends who we just knew from childhood and almost inherited, the friends from school (or in the case of Davies and Scarlett from Home Education), friends from shared or common interests, friends from college or uni (if you go), friends from work, friends from the pub, friends who are local, friends who share your taste in music, games, interests. All sorts of reasons bring us together as humans, there is something mostly undefinable though about what keeps us together. What moves us from colleagues, classmates, acquaintances, neighbours to the level above – the family we choose for ourselves.

Living here with no landline phone, limited opportunities to catch up with friends in real life and pretty brief windows of time to spend online we have inevitably turned to social media like most people in the western world and certainly Davies, Scarlett and I have do a lot of our off Rum socialising on social media such as facebook. I have a couple of facebook friends (who were friends reunited friends before that) from ‘childhood’ who I have stayed in touch with. Our lives have moved in very different directions and we are not remotely in each others lives any more but the wonders of modern technology mean we have a window on each other still. More of my facebook friends are work colleagues through the years from before and after being with Ady but before children. I have a whole swathe of friends from Home Education over the years, many of whom have become my very best friends. Just like meeting at the school gates we shared the ups and downs of parenthood with each other and were there to support and commiserate through the wilderness years of newborns and toddlers, the early years and the teen challenges of parenting. I have friends who share my passions and interests in off grid living, eco conscious lifestyles, friends from WWOOFing, friends from our close and wider local community here on Rum. It’s an eclectic mix which is probably very reflective of my friendship circle in real life.

Sometimes you catch up with people who ‘knew you back when’ and find your lives have diverged to such an extent that the common thread which created the friendship has been snapped and nothing is left. Sometimes you reconnect and despite the years, despite the tangents you have headed off in from each other, despite the lack of shared memories and experiences that spark remains and you find that having led such different lives for years apart simply means you have so much more to talk about and catch up on. Such a meeting with an old work friend of mine (from 19 years ago, when I used to be the menswear and Menswear Manager and she the Restaurant Manager of a well known high street retailer) who I used to give a lift home to on a Friday night, called in once or twice for a glass of wine and met her husband, they then met Ady and a friendship outside of work was formed. All these years later despite me no longer wearing a suit to work while she still does, a move to a different hemisphere and back for them, from one end of the country, half way up, back down and then all the way to the top for us, children- some now adult some not even born back then, it was as though the years melted away and within a really short time new in jokes were formed.

And the very best thing about catching up after 15 years? It turns out they live about 10 miles away from where we’ll be spending this winter.

It’s almost like it was meant to be…

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When Plans Change

Our current plan is to head off from Rum sometime in November and return again in the spring, some time in March 2018. While this could mean only missing 7 or 8 weeks of 2017 here on the island the decision has inevitably altered what we have done here this year.

We decided fairly early on to continue as though we would be returning in terms of improving the croft and long term crops while not investing any big money and rationalising our livestock holding over the course of the year.

Our Rum future remains uncertain in as much as we are definitely going off for the winter, definitely coming back in the spring and definitely don’t know what will happen after that! If we decide as a foursome to return to Rum permanently in 2018 then we know we will need to make some changes in our finances – we will effectively be four adults by the end of 2018 and as such we will be looking to find a way to bring more money in, look again at our living spaces and consider how Rum works as a base for us all as individuals looking to further our own personal life goals. As you’d expect we are already talking about this a lot and have a whole load of ideas, possibilities to look into and things we want to learn more about, research further and give more thought and discussion to.

It has meant that the initial goals for this year which we set back at the end of 2016 have not been entirely relevant though, so we recently revisited them to see in what ways we might want to alter them accordingly. Many of our goals for this year were Rum specific and we have not thrown the necessary energy and attention at some of them in order to make them happen. Mostly because we have lost focus in some of those areas. The decision to leave the island for the winter has closed some doors and opportunities and altered our mindsets in many ways but it has also introduced new ideas and thoughts aspirations.

We’re in the throes of setting dates for heading off, finalising what we’ll be doing and where we’ll be doing it and quite what will be happening here on the croft in our absence. Fortunately packing up one life and embarking on the next one is something we’ve done once or twice before. Calendar, notepad and a whole load of logistics are looming large in my near future…

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Paying It Forward

We’ve had additional teens here on Croft 3 for the last 3 weeks. First some friends of Davies and Scarlett staying for a few nights over the Games weekend, followed by the son of some Home Educating friends from Sussex. He came last year during one of our volunteer events and got involved in our path building project. This year he came for a whole two weeks armed with a list of things he wanted to do, see, experience and encounter. I think he ticked them all off including sighting both golden and white tailed sea eagles, visiting the three other Small Isles, scaling the highest peak on Rum, visiting various places on the island and spending a night in one of the mountain bothies here. It’s not the first time we’ve hosted an intrepid young adult starting to spread their wings, searching for new experiences outside of the realm of their normal world. Infact it is not the first time we have hosted people of other ages doing the same. I know from reading back in our WWOOFing book, from conversations with the film crew here for 10 days during the Fogle show or even from chatting to visiting family and friends that spending time here has been a life changing experience.

We are now six years on from our own life changing adventure. Not our first – I’d cite parenthood, home education, moving from Sussex to Manchester, moving back there again, heading off WWOOFing, moving to Rum, saying yes to being filmed for national TV, deciding to head back to Mainlandland for a winter as just the first handful of life changing choices that spring to mind – but the one that started this blog. Every one of those life changing adventures was certainly down to our own (well okay, I admit it, mostly MY own) crazy notions and making them happen. But the biggest part of every one of them was other people. Other people being generous and giving – with their time, their hospitality, their knowledge, their wisdom, their experience, their patience, their company. None of the paths we have trodden would have been at all possible without people bring prepared to teach, share, encourage and support us. Daily we continue to grow, learn and move forward thanks to other people – whether it is reading books or online writing, listening to podcasts, watching you tube videos, reading the information that people post on forums online or asking questions and observing those around us.

There are many ways to pay back the help and support we have been shown. When we were WWOOFing we offered our willing hands, I support various bloggers and youtubers and podcasters via the Patreon website (including an alternative education blogger, a couple of ukulele teachers, podcasters who entertain, enlighten and educate me), we share and recommend to others. But perhaps more importantly we also pay it forward. We try really hard to share our resources to inspire or support others to chase their dreams, explore new ideas or have adventures and experiences. I love the idea that the generosity shown to us is carrying on flowing, through us and being passed on again.

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Good games, good games

Rum is part of the Small Isles, a collection of four islands off the west coast of Scotland, just south of the Isle of Skye. The four islands are clustered together – our island, Rum is the largest, Eigg is next largest, then Canna and finally Muck is the smallest. All four are very different in landscape, in geology and wildlife, in population and in ownership. We are clustered together for Calmac ferry timetable purposes, share a Small Isles Community Council, a doctors surgery and consider ourselves a wider community with many inter island links.

One such link is the annual Small Isles games, a sort of mini highland games crossed with a school sports day which is hosted by the islands in turn so everyone takes a turn once every four years to host. In our second year here Rum was the host and this year it was our turn again. Unfortunately we didn’t get to Eigg last year as the ferry timetable only allows for a two night stay which was too long to leave the croft during the summer and the previous years games on Canna was during weather so dreadful the return ferry which would have meant we could daytrip to the games was on amber alert for being cancelled so we didn’t risk it. We did get to Muck for their turn three years ago and it was one of the highlights of the last five years. A large group of Rum residents went, we all camped overnight on Muck, did well in the games, had a blast at the evening ceilidh and returned home inspired to offer an equally good games when it was next our turn to host.

So we’ve been heavily involved in organising the games this year on Rum, arranging afternoon and evening food, a variety of games from the sporting to the silly, getting a running order sorted of all the various games people were up for running, working out scoring and divvying up who was doing what before, on the day and afterwards. The boring stuff like clearing up, sorting out rubbish management, cajoling raffle prizes from people to raise some funds to cover the costs, getting evening entertainment sorted and so on. As usual we are more than the sum of our parts and the day was a success with people from all corners pulling out all the stops, playing to their strengths and getting involved.

Mostly though we had fun. Yelled ourselves hoarse from cheering on those who were competing, making sure everything was running as planned, catching up with friends from visiting islands, having the odd go at a game (or in the case of Davies and Scarlett wearing themselves out joining in with pretty much everything), making sure all the things and all the people were in the right place at the right time. Some of my favourite moments were the little things – the expression on a child’s face as they leapt first across the finish line with their tattie and spoon, the pure ridiculousness of four people in a bulk bag trying to co-ordinate 1, 2, 3 JUMP! Winning the tug of war, being bribed by the island coming fourth in the scores to give them an extra point in return for a beer (hey I never said I was impartial), seeing Ady atop the castle tower looking down taking aerial shots, having a ceilidh dance, getting persuaded by the various attending children to draw ever more ridiculous things on their hands with a purple pen when I was taking a turn at collecting money on the door for the evening event and marking people’s hands with a cross to show they’d paid (dinosaurs, cars, stars, flowers….) and then being persuaded by a group of adults to do the same for them as they didn’t want plain old crosses (boat, steam engine, aeroplane…) and finally getting into bed that night knowing it had gone well, it hadn’t rained, people had had lots of fun and we had lots of photos to remind us of it all.

This week I’ve been sending out lots of thank you emails to various people who helped make it all happen and looking at all those photos. Another brilliant memory made of another mad, fun, it-could-only-happen-on-Rum experience.

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July, some of the time

As in we are having days of needing suncream and midge spray closely followed by days of needing coats and even having the fire lit of an evening. Rum is forever consistent in her inconsistency!

On the sunny days – of which there have thankfully been a fair few we have been outside making the most of the summer, harvesting blackcurrants and (what will probably be the last of this years) strawberries, thinning the strawberries of runners and then building a brand new strawberry cage. Using entirely recycled materials we covered a patch of ground with black matting, constructed a cage around it complete with door and planted out around 50 of the runners and baby plants I had thinned from existing beds. There is room for another 25 or so which I plan to fill with more runners from another thriving bed. Strawberries are an amazing crop for here, doing well on our poor soil and loving the long hours of daylight.

I’ve been weeding, as my foray into the no-dig method of growing took the classic beginners error of insufficiently deep mulch. I’m learning loads this year about growing and have been delighted to realise that the croft soil which I previously considered not really worth growing directly into is actually fine for some crops and the improved soil where the pigs have been is really quite fertile and with a bit of work is far more of a resource that I had thought. Certainly the artichokes are thriving in it and the fruit trees and bushes are finally starting to do well, the mulched beds (albeit not mulched enough) are proving just fine, particularly when topped up with seaweed and my comfrey feed.

On the days when it has not been very July-like we’ve been busy indoors whipping up new crafts aplenty and restocking the shed. I’ve made more quills from various goose and turkey feathers, finally worked the stamped plates into keyrings and pendants, made a few more dreamcatchers from croft 3 willow and feathers and pretty twirls of beads and yarn. I’ve been fiddling with wire and beads and made a line of midge badges and hairslides and having stumbled upon a nail varnish and wire flowers craft idea on the internet while looking for something else I had a go at making little wire midges with colourful nail varnish wings. Not entirely worth the fiddly-ness but I have already sold one so I may revisit that idea again.

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Back to it

It feels as thought we’ve been home for much longer than just a few days. We’ve had a couple of days of rubbish weather followed by a couple of days of lovely weather so have been making the most of both with indoor and outdoor pursuits.

Ady has been busy with the grass cutter machine. The croft is slowly transforming from reeds and ragwort to grass and clover. We’ll be leaving large areas to stay as wild areas for the butterflies although actually there are far more flowers coming up on the sections we are starting to tame. The sheep and geese need the grass to graze on though and we are starting to get the ragwort under control with lots of cutting. Ady’s also been out with the strimmer in the fruit cage and walled garden to ensure the plants and bushes don’t disappear. And we’ve been out maintaining the welly trail too with a spot of cutting the overgrown undergrowth around them.

I harvested the first crop of blackcurrants and along with some lavender made a few jars of jam. Not enough for selling but it’s topped up our own supply of jam, which is good as the three jars of strawberry jam have already all been eaten. I also harvested the first crop of potatoes, was finally ruthless enough to throw out the straggler tomato plants and begin a compost heap (usually all waste goes to the pigs but I could actually do with starting to make some compost), thinned out the strawberry plants and began plotting to dramatically increase the area for strawberries as they seem to really thrive here as long as they are under plastic. I’ve sown some more herbs, salad, potatoes and peas too.

We have built a pen around the newly planted artichokes which we had started off in pots and were now large enough plants to put out direct into the ground. They need protection from the wild deer, plus our sheep and birds though so we created an area around them which hopefully will keep everyone out.

When we decided earlier this year to go off for the winter and re-evaluate we also decided we would carry on as though we were planning to come back but not do any big projects or make big investments or commitments this year to Rum or the croft. It’s quite good fun trying to come up with ways to get around some of this years challenges without spending money or getting in more resources.

All is quiet on the animal front just now. The broody goose gave up in the end and is back with the gaggle. The eggs she was sitting on came to nothing just like the turkey’s. By this time last year we had pen fulls of ducklings and chicks, I wonder why nothing is happening this year – could it be weather related? June was such a dire month that perhaps conditions just were not right for things to happen. Not sure.

The sheep are getting every more friendly – all three will now come, albeit hesitantly, to have their heads scratched.

And the indoors stuff? I came up with an idea for another new freeform crochet line to sell – notebook covers. So I bought some notebooks while we were off and have made a couple so far. I really like them and the best thing is they are re-usable – once you have filled up that notebook you can slip the cover off and put it onto a new one. Or a sketch pad, or address book (does anyone have such things any more?), diary or journal.

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A Bracing Mainland Trip

Lovely Croftsitter Jen has been back for her third Croft 3 stunt double stint – feeding animals, watering crops, checking stock in the shed and refereeing Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat (who are reluctant housemates who tolerate rather than enjoy each other’s company despite sharing a water bowl and pet bed in Scarlett’s room). We had a week of Mainland jaunts and adventures shaped around a triple dentist appointment schedule for Scarlett.

After 18 months, countless trips to the mainland, extractions, palate expander, train track braces and bands, a self-imposed near liquid / mush diet after the third accidental breakage of the expander and many hours in the dentists chair with her mouth open wide Scarlett’s braces were removed. The before and after pictures tell the story and I remain awed at Scarlett’s amazing stoic attitude to the whole process and the amazing transformation of orthodentist work.


A weekend with friends locally which was lovely. We happened to be there for the hatching of somechicks from eggs we had sent over when one of their hens went broody a month ago and were on hand to advise on a bit of early intervention with an early failing to thrive hatchling who after some help was able to be reintroduced to it’s surrogate chicken mum and siblings and is doing well. Having had so many baby birds inside being reared (mostly by Scarlett) we’ve lost count it was great to be around to help and witness a happy ending. Bet it’s a cockerel though! As a middle aged person which largely seems to now be the demographic most enjoying it, it was also nice to be around for the BBC coverage of Glastonbury as usually we’d be scraping around for sufficient internet to stream or download it onto laptops or phones so it was a real treat to watch on a telly as it happened live!

We had one night of Purple Heaven at a well known budget hotel chain in Fort William – summer season in one of the UKs top tourist destinations meant it was at premium price though so just the one night. It was nice to have baths, loads of junk TV and easy access to the supermarket for 24 hours though. Not to mention the novelty of 4g signal on our phones, which not only do we never get here on Rum but also did’t get either end of our week away being in places with no phone signal even on the mainland.

Then three nights at Acharn Farm wigwams, somewhere very special to us as it’s the place we stayed the night before we moved to Rum. One of those places where ghosts of your former selves echo around you constantly. We had a day down in Oban, Davies got a haircut, Ady got a blood test (routine but tricky to get the blood back to the testing department while fresh enough for testing from the island), we stocked up on boring toiletries and shopping like underwear.

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The June Lull

While most of the rest of the UK has been enjoying / suffering a heat wave depending on your take on warm temperatures (I would be in the moaning about melting camp personally, I do not function well in the heat) it’s been cold and wet here on Rum. The cold is fine, wind has been keeping midges at bay and the wet has at least meant no concerns about drinking water drying up, having to water the crops constantly or feeling sorry for dehydrated animals. It has kept us indoors more than we’d usually be at this time of year though.

The crops are mostly doing ok – the raised beds look full and healthy, probably the best so far and we have had kilos and kilos of strawberries. Enough infact to have actually made some strawberry jam for the first time ever here, usually we just eat them all fresh. Only two precious jars for our own consumption but strawberries are definitely a winning crop to continue with here. They tolerate the poor soil well, enjoy the long daylight hours and seem adept at grabbing the sunshine when they can get it to ripen fast. Peas, beans, onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflowers are all seeming to be growing well although the actual harvesting is a fair way off yet. The asparagus is over for another year. The herbs have not done so well on first sowing so I’ll be doing another lot, probably direct in the ground now and all of my salad has bolted and gone to seed so I need to get sowing some more of that too. I’ve been feeding crops with concentrated comfrey feed from last years crops of comfrey leaves chopped up and floated in net bags within water butts of rainwater. Having all the raised beds contained within a fenced area has been fantastic – no more losing things to the deer or our birds and so far my mulching has not created too many slug related problems. I would like to find a better mulch than cut grass though if I can – not least because hopefully next year it will be sheep grazing rather than Ady cutting the grass, plus Rum is really a bit wet for grass cuttings to be the idea mulch. I’ve potted on the best looking tomatoes and moved them into the outside mini greenhouses. I’ve still got the rejects – they are no good to feed to the pigs and there is something slightly murderous about chucking them out. Every year I plan to just sow fewer seeds and every year I don’t!

The sheared sheep are doing well. One was a bit limpy on her front leg for a day or two – the first sheep ailment we’ve had. Ady has them so relaxed around him they will come for a scratch under the chin so inspecting her leg and foot was a stress free task for all concerned. There were no wounds, no swelling or heat and her foot was showing no signs of foot rot or other nasties so we just kept a close eye on her and within a day or two she was fine again. We assume she twisted or sprained it.

We are yet to see our first hatchlings this year, which is very late but not unwelcome given our intentions to downsize the flock in advance of going off for the winter and uncertainty about our plans next year. Mrs Turkey returned to the croft having given up on her nest. We had a few days of concern about Mr Turkey who had lost condition and perkiness during her absence and didn’t cheer up as we’d expected once she came back. We penned him for a few days and ensured he was eating lots, gave him a tonic of apple cider vinegar and within about 48 hours he was back on form and is now strutting around and displaying again as usual.

Sadly we lost a goose this week. She appeared struggling to breath and ailing. We caught her and inspected her, tried to give her water and having decided she was either choking or taking her final breaths so swung her to try and clear her airways. Sadly she died. We did autopsy her though and our conclusion was that she was egg bound, a condition which affects lots of female poultry and is very hard to diagnose / treat. As the cause of death is poisoning from the unformed / unlaid egg she was not suitable for eating either.

We also lost my favourite cockerel. He was the prettiest we had but the main reason I liked him was his crow. Having kept chickens for about 10 years I’ve learned that all cockerels have their own crow. They vary from 3 to about 6 or even 7 syllables, some short, some long but are always the same for each bird. This particular bird actually had the traditional cock-a-doodle-doo as his crow and was the first cockerel we’ve had that did. Every spring when the ganders start getting all feisty the cocks start scrapping with each other with any dominant ones deciding they need to fight it out. We always separate them to try and prevent this but sadly this year we had a casualty.

Of course the main reason we keep animals here at all is for food. The last two weeks we have also been busy processing some meat for ourselves. We killed several cockerels and drakes and one of the pigs. The chickens were the best we’ve reared for the table yet – we did pen and fatten them for the final couple of weeks. The drakes were the first of our ducks we have killed to eat and were delicious. The pig was the eleventh we have done here and probably the final one – it leaves us with just two, who have become pets really.

It has meant that for the last two whole weeks all of our meat has been of Rum origin – either venison we processed ourselves or our own pork, chicken or duck.

In other news The Shed has been doing a roaring trade. Mostly in jam and eggs but we’ve sold candles, bath fizzers, paracord midges, friendship bracelets and a glasses case. So while the wet weather has been keeping me indoors I’ve been busily replenishing stocks.

When I read all that back perhaps it’s not quite the lull I imagined!