Autumnal Vibes

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

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

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

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

Congratulations and celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The very last Not Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Crofters On Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time marching on

It’s August. When I was a child August was the summer really, the whole of the month was school holidays. My parents were both self employed and so school holidays were often spent going to work with one or other of them – with Dad that meant riding in the back of his van (in the days before seat belts, let alone child car seats), wedged between paint pots and brushes, sat on a pile of dustsheets. The smell of turpentine or white spirit, linseed putty or a freshly prised open tin of gloss paint takes me back. With Mum that meant going to first a snack bar /cafe in early school days where my brother and I would mostly join in with the gang of local school kids in that town (not our own, but we had a crew of friends there in that way that kids fall in with each other based on being more or less the same size as each other and in the vicinity to play together!), so days at the local park or playing elaborate games in the car park behind the cafe. In later school days it was a restaurant where I might actually be helpful. We also spent time at friends’ houses or sometimes at home looked after by a ‘babysitter’. School holidays were times of adventure, of freedom and of endless days of long hot summers or so it feels looking back with those rose tinted glasses of nostalgia.

The August of my teens was of summer jobs rather than college – far better to be working for cash than grades and far better to clock off at 5pm or even 8pm but be done for the day without homework. I think that comparison of term time to holidays was what tipped me towards not carrying on with education back then. I remember distinctly a summer where I spent my lunch breaks lying in the garden strategically topping up a sun tan.

The Augusts of my young adulthood meant driving to work in daylight rather than darkness and leaving work in daylight rather than darkness. It meant evenings after work in the pub beer garden, barbecues and a different stock on the shelves of whichever retailer I happened to be working for or a different sort of staff need to recruit for when I worked in recruitment. The Augusts of early parenthood meant paddling pools, sticky children in hot cars, trips to the beach and sand everywhere, ice creams and camping, sun cream and shopping trips to Clarkes for Doodles.

Here on Rum August does not mean summer, instead it heralds the start of autumn. The nights start to draw in, slowly at the start of the month but by the end noticeably almost each day. We are still at peak visitor numbers but residents are starting to talk about ‘winter jobs’ and look weary of the feeling of being on show. Birds have fledged, wasps are drowsy and the hills are starting to turn from bright green to golden as the purple of the heather takes over and the brambles ripen, the fungus springs up and the stalking season of the red stags is here.

Today I spent the morning picking brambles, the first of the year. It was slow, they are only at the start but I checked my usual picking haunts, noted where looks promising for this year and gathered sufficient for the first four jars of bramble jam of the season. Added to the mix were dried lavender flowers from the croft harvested and dried a few weeks ago.

Very excitingly the seas around Rum have been host to a large number of basking sharks these last couple of weeks. They are regular visitors to the waters at this time of year but have been very absent these last few years and we have previously never seen one despite tales from locals of them coming close to the shore and one of the previous residents even swimming with one a few years back. Lured by tales of encounters and photos of them we went out on Monday in search of them and were rewarded by a tail and fin spotting! No photographic evidence to support it and it was a fleeting sighting but an exciting one nonetheless. Scarlett and I went out again on Friday in search of them but despite it being a nicer day to be out on a boat for a couple of hours we didn’t see any more.

Meanwhile back on the croft the last few crops are doing their thing. Our chillies have done very well this year and we are enjoying picking one or two for dinners several times a week.

My experimental sweetcorn which probably took up more room in the polytunnel than the small harvest will justify but were fun to try are getting close to ready, not quite yet though….

 

 

 

There are still some soft fruit to come – autumn rapsberries, loganberries and tayberries are still cropping but the rest are over for this year. We will do a hard prune later in the year. We have plans to start gathering seaweed to mulch the raised beds in the next month or so ready to leave them over winter for spring planting next year. Our salad crops came to nothing this year really – I think the extreme early heat followed by a fairly chilly July meant things bolted too early or were stunted too late. A great crop of strawberries and peas again though and the currants did really well.

We had a group of Scouts staying on the island who almost cleared us out of stocks of paracord wristbands and midges so I took delivery of more cord this week and spent a morning making up more of both to restock the shed.

When not knotting paracord I’ve been knotting wool carrying on with squares for the big blanket project too which is coming along nicely.

I’m getting short of the handspun white though. so may need to take a crochet break and do some spinning this coming week.

August is also the month of the perseid meteor showers each year here in the UK, known in our social circle as ‘percy-wotsits’. A name coined about 12 years ago on a group camping trip when we saw round the campfire star gazing together looking out for them. Over the years we have spent many August nights in the company of some or all of those friends either in real life looking up an the skies together in a field, or online sharing stories about how many we’ve spotted. Last night Ady and I spent a happy half an hour on the bench outside, whisky laced hot chocolates in hand looking up at the heavens, watching meteors shoot across the sky and reminiscing about years gone by and dreaming about years to come.

Decades from now I could well be pondering on how during this stage of my life August meant brambles and basking sharks…

Fun & Games

Every summer there is an inter-island Small Isles games between Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. We take it in turns to host – so every isle gets a go once every four years. Just as the four islands each have their own ‘personality’ and feel, so do the games depending on which island is hosting.

The largest of the Small Isles geographically is Rum – we are wider, longer, taller and wilder. We are the third in population size though. Rum is partially owned by Scottish Natural Heritage and partly by the Isle of Rum Community Trust. Our wildlife is pretty diverse but very red deer heavy, oh and midge heavy too! Eigg is the second bigger island and by far the largest population of the four islands with over 100 people. Eigg is community owned and is a really thriving and diverse mix of people, properties, businesses and endeavours. Canna is owned by National Trust for Scotland and has the smallest population of the four islands. Muck is privately owned with a similar sized population to Rum. This year the games were hosted by Muck.

Muck is the sort of tiny Scottish island you might imagine if you have been reading Katie Morag books. It is pretty, everyone has a place and a job and it all runs very efficiently. There are generations of the same families living there and people who visit the island year in year out. It has a lovely feeling and is tamed and organised. There is a healthy diversity in ages across the island with plenty of young folk from toddlers to teens. They are fit and active and certainly for as long as we’ve lived in the Small Isles they win the games every year in a whitewash of victory! This year was no exception. The games were a great mix of fun and creative but with a heavy emphasis on sporting achievement, something the rest of the isles are not quite a match for Muck on, either by lack of resident numbers, lack of sporting prowess or the lure of the beer tent! Either way we were all very happy to compete, have plenty of fun and be very gracious runners up (Eigg came second, Rum came third and Canna came fourth) and cheer on the victorious Muck once more. Before retiring to the village hall for food, drink, dancing and quite possibly the longest raffle I have ever witnessed (seriously it went on for nearly an hour!)

Very excitingly Davies and Scarlett returned to Rum on the ferry on the same day – they were happy to miss the evening in favour of a film watching marathon and their first ‘home alone’ experience. So they came back to feed animals, deal with the cat and the dog and tie up the wind turbine as the high winds which had been moving around the long term weather forecast all week had finally settled during the early hours of Sunday morning. Ady and I stayed on Muck for the evening celebrations and caught a lift with the remainder of Team Rum back on the Marine Harvest fish farm boat on Sunday morning.

It was a rough, but super speedy trip back and we were home before sleepy teens were even awake.

Thanks Muck for another memorable Small Isles games.

The Process

“If life’s about the journey and not the destination
Then maybe we should all take time to do more procrastination
Eat the cake, smell the roses, take time to stop and stare
Walk along that sunset beach, be the tortoise, not the hare”

So penned a wise woman I know in a song she wrote and sings (spoiler, it’s me with my ukulele!)

It’s a cliche-ridden verse in a clique-ridden song, but cliches are cliches for a reason ie they are true, relevant, pertinent. Davies, Scarlett and I have been chatting about next steps for them recently. Davies got his results for his access course this week- a very high scoring pass which we are all delighted with. He will begin his BSc in October and is looking forward to that. Scarlett reaches official school leaving age in Scotland at the end of this year and having had a taste of online distance learning and how it works we have been looking at interesting short courses that she can work through over the winter – to have some varied options to maybe spark her interest in studying more in depth and to build her CV. These conversations have included talking about ‘the process’ with different types of activity.

My pre-parenthood employment was a mix of retail management and recruitment, while Davies and Scarlett were little I did various bits and pieces including freelance CV writing. Over the years I have used the terms self-motivated and goal-orientated countless times but in recent pondering I have come to realise I possibly never fully understood what they meant in terms of being neither positive or negative character traits particularly, just different types of personality. I’ve talked about methodical approaches, being ‘super organised’ and looking back at teams of people I have worked with or managed I can see that it was more often than not whether a person was goal or process driven that made them more or less suitable for certain tasks than anything else, including their actual skill in that task. I can tell you which of the members of our family is process driven and which are goal oriented. Neither is better or worse, just better suited for certain tasks, motivated and rewarded in different ways.

It will surprise no one I suspect that I am about the journey, the process, finding if not joy then at least fulfilment in every step. I’m happy to stop halfway up a mountain and enjoy the view just where I sit (another song lyric) without feeling the need to reach the top. And I realise that most of what I have constructed around me as my day to day life, way of making money, long term plans are all about the details, the process, the unhurried finding joy in the details and every step of the path. From my jam making where I love the growing the fruit, harvesting the fruit and planning jam flavours, the actual making of the jam itself and then the making the labels for the jars and displaying them in the shed, to my crochet which has the additional pre-step now of having sheared the sheep and spun the wool to choosing colours and textures, crocheting component parts and constructing a blanket, a soft toy, or other project.

I’ve been walking up one of the steep Rum tracks for the last month, not every day; I took a break while my parents were visiting and if I can’t fit the 90 minutes or so it takes into my day then that’s fine. It is partially about being active, for the health benefits that brings but also just as much about the views across Rum and out to sea, to Skye and the mainland, over to the Croft, the portfolio of pictures of me sat at the point I walk to each time with different backdrops of weather, of plant foliage and of wildlife, about the people I sometimes meet and sometimes stop to chat with. It’s about the headspace, the chance to listen to a podcast or some music, or enjoy the sounds of Rum – the crunch or splosh of my footsteps, the river running or trickling, the wild flights of fancy or new ideas that occur to me when my mind is empty of other things, or as my friend Joyce calls it the ‘mental tupperware sorting’ of organising your chaotic brain into tidy compartmentalised thoughts and the sense of peace that that can bring.

Learning new things is a fantastic gift that I think one should strive to enjoy every day, at every stage of life. Learning new things about oneself along the way is really interesting and probably goes a long way to explaining some of the choices in life I have made and why I am most happy in certain situations. I am so lucky to be able to live in a way which embraces these traits and to be able to share that life with people who are also celebrating their natural inclinations instead of working against them.

Harvesting

We deliberately have not done much in the way of crops this year. I sowed some herbs which are now in the herb spiral, some flowers, many of which have been cut and bought into the caravan to enjoy, some peas, most of which we have already eaten, some tomatoes which are just starting to flower, some chillies and peppers also just starting to flower, some sweetcorn which are monsters and already touching the top of the polytunnel but actually have some small cobs on and some salad which all bolted and went to seed. Keeping it small scale and mostly successful has rekindled the passion for me after a few years of serious losses of crops and allowed the raised beds a year to build soil quality with seaweed mulches and the chickens in the area enhancing the soil with their manure. I’m looking forward to starting again next year after more seaweed mulches on the soil over the winter. I’d really recommend the rest year, it’s worked well for me and hopefully also for the soil.

We bought some more lavender plants – they are my favourite flower, good for the bees but also really useful as an ingredient in both things like bath bombs but also in baking (lavender shortbread – yum!) and in my artisan jams. We have a trough on the front of the caravan decking with lavender and a whole load in containers which live in the polytunnel over winter and outside in the summer which I have been collecting flowers from to use fresh and drying to store.

We’ve had our biggest strawberry crop ever, all still from the original 10 plants we bought years ago and have taken runners from every year. I’ve thinned the plants already twice this year and have at least one more taking runners and planting them in the new big strawberry area ahead. Hopefully next year’s crop will be even bigger but we’ve had so many bowls of strawberries and for the first time ever had sufficient excess to make jam with too.

This is planted up runners waiting to be moved into the main strawberry area on a non-midgey day.

The blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries, raspberries, tayberries and loganberries have all had / are still having a bumper year too. I’ve been picking every couple of days for several weeks and making jam as I go – summer fruit medley, blackcurrant and vanilla, blackcurrant and lavender, redcurrant and rose jams all now in the shed and already selling well.

There are a few of the very first apples finally on our apple trees which we planted about 4 years ago and of course we are only a short while away from the start of the bramble season – if the blossoms on the bramble bushes are any sort of indicator it’s going to be a bumper year for the brambles too.

 

Spinning Around

I’ve been working on mastering my spinning these last few weeks, putting hours and hours into it. My original little drop spindle (which I am not entirely sure of the origins of, it may well have been from a kit bought when I very first had a go at drop spinning years ago at Butser Ancient Farm but has definitely been ‘improved’ by me screwing a cup hook into the top and then ‘fixed’ with duct tape more than once) has been semi retired with the arrival of a new bobbin and drop spindle kit handmade in Cornwall. The maker does not have a website but if you are interested then search for Treneyn Crafts, I highly recommend this kit, it is such a clever design and beautifully made, just the sort of purchase and small business I love to support. So I’ve been alternately carding the sheared fleece, spinning onto one bobbin, spinning onto another bobbin and then spinning the wool from both of those onto a third bobbin, removing the wool from the bobbin onto my arm to form a skein and then thrice washing to remove the lanolin and set the twist before pegging out on the washing line. It’s a lovely process, really calming and zen (aside from brief swearing bouts when I drop the drop spindle!), my hands are beautifully moisturised from the lanolin and I have a basket filled with balls of wool and even made my first thing – as requested a long time ago when we first got our sheep Ady now has a hat!

I’ve made a few test squares with it too – it’s nice to work with but quite heavy so I’ve been trying to decide what to make as a first big project with it while I carry on perfecting my spinning to create yarns of different weights. Very excitingly my Mum has bought some more pure wool in complimentary colours (purple and green, my favourites, which added to the white will create a lovely suffragette colour palette) which will arrive next week and I can start working on a blanket – wool from our sheep spun by me, added to wool from my Mum, made into a blanket with hours of my time crocheted into it to create a very special family heirloom. I can’t wait to get started, but in the meantime you’ll find me spinning….

Woolly Fun

Another busy week here. We’ve had mixed weather – plenty of sunshine and showers, enough wind to put us off heading out to sea for the weekly wildlife watching boat trip and cancel a trip to a neighbouring island for me for a (routine) doctors visit. It’s meant virtually no midges though, which is always a blessing worth celebrating at this time of year.

Outside we are still waiting for hatchling news from the broody ducks. We’re not quite sure what’s going on really as we are well past the due date for the first clutch of eggs but the broody duck continues to sit. We’ll see. More strawberries have been turned into jam and the fruit cage is looking very promising indeed with redcurrants and blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries all ripening and changing colour in there. We also have several tiny apples growing on a few of the trees for the first time ever.

Ady has been mostly cutting grass – for money, working cutting the grass around the castle, and here on Croft too. We have massively reduced the ragwort on the croft by cutting the grass regularly in certain areas and are seeing a real increase in the wild birds and butterflies on the croft along with the wildflowers and grasses on the land.

I spent a few hours with my trusty paint pens branding up our car. It now sports adverts for our crafts and produce at the shed and the fact that we take orders for freshly baked bread, cakes, pies and quiches and all of our various contact details and social media information. I think I will go over the paint pens at some point with some enamel paint to make it longer lasting and brighter but for now it looks pretty good and will advertise our various offerings as we drive around the island.

I have been mostly turning fleece into wool. I have now spent hours and hours using the drop spindle to create spun yarn, then plying two balls of spun yarn into one length, winding it on my arm into skeins and then washing and drying it to create balls and balls of soft, fluffy white wool. It’s amazing! Like a superpower!

And today Ady and I decided the conditions were right to shear the sheep this year. We were slightly off in that we had a very midgey second half of shearing the first sheep and the cleggs (a sort of horsefly type creature that bites hard enough to draw blood) were also out in force so there was a lot of slapping ourselves as we went. But shear all three sheep we did and with an acceptable level of leaving only a tiny amount of fleece on but not cutting the sheep. They won’t win any prizes for speed or technique but it was a stress free experience for us and most importantly for them. The result was three happy sheep who are now frolicking around like spring lambs again freed from their very heavy winter coats, two happy crofters who have done yet another new thing all by ourselves and a HUGE sack of fleece which will represent hundreds if not thousands of hours of spinning activity over the coming year.

A crofters life’s a very diverse one!