0

Live and learn

As previously mentioned this was a knee jerk, impetuous decision for three months. We left Rum in November with a few goals to achieve – to work out what we wanted to do next, to see what the mainland and a more conventional life had to offer, to experience some of the stuff we had been missing out on by living on a remote island for the last five and a half years. We wanted to catch up with family and friends, escape the worst months of the weather on Rum, finish off Davies and my studying and enjoy a cosy winter with a few home comforts after five harsh winters battling the elements.

Somerset was great – a lovely, busy reintroduction to mainland life. We spent loads of time with friends, enjoyed the run up to Christmas in style and thanks to the generosity of our lovely friends Jill & Johnny were treated to many experiences. We had a cosy cottage with dishwasher, washing machine, fridge and freezer, bath and central heating. But we knew it was not where were supposed to stay and settle. We have connections in Glastonbury which will always call us back, even more connections were made this visit with more friends and memories.

Sussex is comfortable and familiar, filled with memories at every turn – here is where I grew up, went to school and college, learned to drive. Where I fell in love for the first, second, third time. There is the pub I used to drink in, the houses of friends I used to know, that is where I had my first job, used to go shopping, pushed my children in pushchairs, took them to the park, played on the beach. It’s where family live, where many friends still are. We will come back there again and again but it’s definitely, 100% no longer home.

It was so illuminating to spend time in those places at the end of last year. So interesting to live a different life, albeit briefly to the one we have lived for the last five years. To remind ourselves of how things used to be, how they could be again if we chose. I certainly expected to feel as though we had barely been away and as though we could slip back in, almost unchanged as though we had barely been away. After all we had left and returned to Glastonbury several times during our WWOOFing year, at the very start, midway through and again at the end. We had left Sussex for several years in the early 2000s and come back and re-settled.

It turns out though we have changed more than we realised. In ways we could not have imagined. Sitting at a Christmas party table with more people around it than live on the whole of our island did not excite and delight as we might have imagined it would. Instead it reminded us of those friends we usually live alongside and know so well that many of the conversations around that table, indeed the fun game we played after dinner to test how well we all knew each other (it was a staff party, many of those attending work together day in, day out and have done for years) would have been a flop on Rum as we all know each other so well it would have been redundant.

So to Ireland – what started as the calling across the miles of a beautiful house turned into a real option for another few months. An opportunity to explore another country, live somewhere we have never spent much time but wondered about after friends moved here more than a decade ago to start a new life. Land and property are cheap, the climate not unlike what we are used to. Transport links better than the Inner Hebrides and closer proximity to a town for resources, shopping, social opportunities. A house with a bath, washing machine, freezer, electricity. A house we can drive right up to to unload shopping. Land for the cat and dog to roam free once more. A bigger space for us to fill, more privacy and larger bedrooms for Davies and Scarlett. If not a permanent solution it could well offer another alternative to consider in working out what we do want next.

So far – just over two weeks in – we are learning every day. Learning how to operate a very different house to any we’ve lived in before. One with cooking, heating and hot water fuelled by a wood burning clay oven and a peat fuelled range. One in a different country with a different currency and different rules and ways of doing things. There are frustrations, things to get used to, things to learn and things to understand. While we’re here we are working through a list of ‘places to see in Ireland’ – some are revisiting from a previous trip, some are new. Some are experiences, some are destinations.

We are also doing a whole lot of talking, planning and working out what happens next and how we go about making it happen. A new plan is forming just as we hoped it might.

In the meantime though, Davies and I are back to studying, Scarlett is back to baking, Ady is back to photographing and we’re all getting on with living, learning and making the most of wherever we happen to be right now.

0

Off island, on Ireland birthday

It’s a week ago now but last Saturday, a few days after we arrived here in Mayo was my birthday. I am 44.

I had an absolutely lovely day. I started it with a bubble bath, while drinking a huge mug of tea and listening to the radio. My favourite radio presenter is Graham Norton and despite having tried a few times before to get a mention on his show I’ve never managed it before. This year though I did! And not just a mention but a birthday greeting and a general chat from Graham about how to celebrate my birthday and a ‘good for you’ comment about our Irish adventure. Made my day!

We had a full Irish breakfast cooked on the range / clay oven which we are getting to grips with mastering. Sausages, bacon, eggs and bread all locally sourced from County Mayo.

Then we headed off for a walk. There is a peat bog at the bottom of the farm and we’d been told a good circular walk heading that way so off we set. Bonnie was delighted to be walking off the lead with all of us, the sun shone, the air was filled with the smell of peat fires and it was just lovely.

We saw donkeys, horses and sheep along the way which delighted Scarlett who adores donkeys.

Later we had Irish steak for dinner followed by some fancy desserts which we stuck matches in as the birthday candles are in a bag I left behind in Sussex (fool!) and has not made it here to us yet.


I’ve had some amazing birthdays over the years. This one was another happy memory to add to the list of lovely ways to celebrate another journey around the sun. Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday – family, friends and of course Graham Norton!

1

So where have we wondered off to?

For the last two years I have been haunted by a house. On at least three facebook groups I belong to a house which has been for sale has kept appearing. I’ve clicked on the for sale link many times and looked at the countless pictures of the property online. I think I first found it because it has been rebuilt with natural materials – cob and clay, recycled glass bottles and hand carved wood. Another time I clicked because the pictures of the bath – freestanding with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside – caught my eye. We all know I love a bath. Last year after Scarlett and I returned from our brief trip to Northern Ireland I looked at it again and showed it to Ady because, it happens to be a house in Ireland. I never really looked at it with an intention of buying it, Ireland was never on our list of places we considered living but something about that house kept calling me.

In August when we were firming up our plans for coming off Rum over the winter the house turned up again. This time it was being advertised for sale or rent. At the time we were considering house sitting or short term rental options along with other possibilities so I got in touch with the seller. The monthly rent was fairly affordable but they were looking for at least 6 months worth of lease which definitely didn’t work for us. We had a few online exchanges but it felt like it wasn’t going to work out so we left it. In December when we decided that Somerset and Sussex were not giving us quite what we were wanting from our time away from Rum we got back in touch and discovered that actually our short term renting ideal would now also suit the owner of the house. We pondered for a day or two – as ever this was a rather impetuous and impulsive idea, not entirely thought out and rather whimsical. But it felt right. I sat in the bath in Somerset having just finished reading a particularly moving novel about life being just too short and grabbing all the opportunities that show themselves to you. And that was that. We signed a lease, paid the deposit and organised the travel plans.

I’d be lying if I said it has all fallen smoothly into place. It has been expensive, time consuming, not without all sorts of angst and hiccups and logistical problems. As with so many of the decisions we have made, OK, I have made, there have been moments where in retrospect if I’d known then what I know now I may have made different choices but surely that is what life is all about? Taking the risk, learning from the lessons and knowing that the rollercoaster always has a longer queue than the monorail for a reason!

So here we are. In County Mayo for 3 months. We’re staying in rebuilt barn with a peat-fuelled range and a clay oven providing the heating, hot water and cooking. I’m learning how to bake bread and cook meals at low temperatures. We’re on about 5 acres of farmland so Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat are free to roam once more after weeks and weeks of being cooped up inside (Kira) and walked on the lead (Bonnie). We have electricity, a washing machine and freezer (although the freezer is outside in a separate building, not quite so far away as the freezer on Rum) and a bath.

We’re getting used to euros and kilometres.

We’re making a list of things to do / see / experience while we’re here. Today we went to Galway, watched a street performer, mooched around the shops, headed to Galway bay and saw the west coast. We’re having lots of walks, talking lots about next steps (we’ll be back on Rum for the spring and summer at least), getting back into studying (Davies and I), playing cards (Ady and Scarlett), getting the crochet hook back out (me), flexing the camera button in a different location (Ady) and enjoying being in something rather more stable and secure than the caravan when the January wind and rain rages outside.

0

Bad, Good, Learned in 2017 and hopes for 2018

We’re slightly late with it this year, but we have good excuses and notes from our mum and everything so please let us off!

I also have a round up of the year with pictures post planned and will definitely get that up in the next few days. But for now, here is the list of what was bad and good and what we learned last year and what our hopes and dreams are for the year ahead.

Ady
Bad:

1.Things starting to wear out. After five years the generator is starting to struggle with regular use and the wind turbine is needing lots of repairs and careful tending. We obviously expect to have routine maintenance but there are nagging worries about some of the things we rely heavily on lasting.
2. Getting rid of the pigs, Barbara in particular was very sad.
3. The caravan is ever more tired. We have a couple of places which leak in the rain, again five years living in a space designed for occasional use is taking it’s toll.
4. The novelty has worn off rather – what seemed charming and worthwhile sometimes feels like a massive effort in our lifestyle on Rum – carrying things up the hill is more of a chore than ever.
5. The sense of community on Rum continues to dwindle and attendance at meetings and social events is at an all time low. I am as guilty as everyone else of wondering what the point is in bothering at times which is sad.

Good:
1. Working with Internet Ian on hebent stuff. I did quite a lot of that in 2017 and it was interesting and rewarding, I learned loads and earned some good money too!
2. More tree planting. Another 500 trees planted on Croft 3. I love tree planting, it feels like such a legacy project, a real investment in the future.
3. Finishing having pigs. Although it was sad to say goodbye to the individual animals it was also a relief in terms of cost of food and worrying about their welfare over the winter.
4. The family Christmas. I have been planning having a Christmas with our family back on the mainland for the whole year and was so looking forward to it. It was just as I hoped it would be, a real highlight.
5. The sanitation set up – our flushing toilet set up works so well and I have maintaining it down to a fine art. It’s very rewarding to have designed and set something up that works and makes life so much more comfortable.

Learnt:
1. Shearing the sheep was a real new skill and one I loved doing.
2. Car maintenance – more tinkering with the vehicles and other machines this year. One of those things I would never have tried before and feel a real sense of achievement in doing and making things work.
3. We’ve not done it yet but this year I realised that keeping chickens without some type of penning them, even if just overnight is a pointless exercise as you simply get no eggs. We’ve been feeding chickens who them mostly run off all the food by free ranging over such a huge area, laying eggs for the crows to eat!
4. That I don’t miss the mainland as much as I thought I did. It’s been lovely having some longer time off Rum but the novelty of the things I thought I missed quickly wore off.
5. Some new approaches to life and what we have which I’ll be taking back to Rum. Stuff about making the caravan work better for us and using the resources we have on the croft.

Ady’s Hopes for 2018:
1. To earn a living from the Croft or at the very least create a credible business plan.
2. To make our Rum life a bit easier, maybe with some sort of vehicular or mechanical help with getting resources like food / gas / firewood in the right places.
3. Create a plan for the extended areas of the Croft. We now have a chunk of woodland and an extra area above the river and I’d like to create an area for the ducks next to the river and really make the most of the wood resource.
4. Learn more about working with chainsaws.
5. Build a bathhouse on Croft 3. We have plenty of water, several options for heating it, no end of space and a bath – I want to find a way to bring them all together!

Special bonus wish – To find out about setting up a community radio station

Scarlett
Bad:

1. Saying goodbye to the pigs.
2. It was hard leaving Rum and the Croft. For me Rum will always be home in the same way as people think of their childhood home as their ‘home’ or ‘hometown’. For me no matter where I live Rum will always be my first real home. I know I was 8 when we arrived there but it’s definitely where I grew up.
3. I didn’t spend as much time outside adventuring or exploring this year as in previous years.
4. Saying goodbye to the livestock for the winter – the turkeys and chickens who are with new owners and my duck Desmond.
5. Leaving stuff behind on Rum was hard. We only had a small amount of space in the car and it was tough deciding what to bring.

Good:
1. The Welcome To Nightvale life show which we went to in 2017 with a friend was amazing.
2. My friendship with E – this year we have seen each other twice -once in Ireland and once on Rum and had loads of online chats.
3. The trip to Bristol Zoo on my birthday – I’ve wanted to see a naked mole rat for years and there was one there which was so cool.
4. Our cousin Maisie visiting – she came to Rum twice and we saw her in Sussex over Christmas too.
5. The Small Isles Games on Rum were brilliant and it was really lovely to have friends visiting while they were on too.
6. (Scarlett couldn’t narrow it down to 5 so we decided she shouldn’t have to and we should celebrate her having such a long list of ‘goods’!) My trip to Ireland with Mummy – going on a plane, seeing all the stuff like Giant’s Causeway.
7. Having my braces off.

Learned:
1. More cake decorating skills
2. Lots of tech skills, using different devices and learning to use various things.
3. The possibility of a fish farm on Rum has meant learning lots about fish farms and how they work but also lots about sealife, aquaculture and the impact of them. I learned loads when we did the sweep netting and caught fish in the bay to check for weight, health and sealice.
4. Art skills – I have really improved my painting and drawing, tried new styles such as manga and watercolours.
5. How full on airport security is. I was really surprised at the security between Glasgow and Belfast and how we were frisked, Mummy had to take her boots off and our liquids were dip tested to check what they were. I had no idea it was so intense.

Scarlett’s hopes for 2018:
1. To return to Rum this spring.
2. To further improve my cake decorating skills. I am good at making pretty cupcakes but I’d like to try a more ambitious project like a large cake looking like something like a watermelon or something like that.
3. Develop a business from my baking and cake decorating.
4. A donkey! I know it might not work on Rum but I’d like to research it more. I’d like to rehome a resuce donkey.
5. I really enjoyed my horseriding lesson in Glastonbury so would like to try and do more horse or pony riding.

Special Bonus Wish: I’d like to visit Canada. I’d love to see the landscape and see the amazing wildlife like bears, wolves, moose and beavers.

Davies:
Bad:

1. I didn’t accomplish many of my hopes for last year. Some of them were just not as feasible as I thought and I changed my focus on others.
2. Realising that there is a chunk of life that I missed out on. The transition from being a little kids playing to being a teen hanging out with other teens. Because I have not had same age friends or peers around I have just not done this life stage. I know that there are other things I have done instead so on balance it’s not a regret as such but something I am aware of missing out on.
3. Lack of power / internet access on Rum means less contact online with friends or time to follow some of my other interests.
4. A disappointing year of Sheerwater boat trips (again) with no real noteable sightings.
5. My score on my first marked assignment for the OU. I achieved a pass and it does not go towards the end result. My feedback was good but it would have been nice to have had a higher score.

Good:
1. The Welcome To Nightvale trip was good. It was fun to go with a friend and it was an all round good experience.
2. Studying with the OU. It’s reassuring to have a long term plan now and I am really enjoying the subjects.
3. I’ve made some online friends this past year who are really important to me. Some are deepening friendships with people I already knew, some are brand new friends. Several are mutual friends who other friends have introduced me to.
4. Watching Hannibal with Mummy. It’s a really good show and it was really good to watch it together and share it.
5. Anime – Scarlett and I have gotten really into anime in 2017. It’s a shared interest with Scarlett and it’s not to share a fandom. We watch shows together, do art challenges and recommend stuff to each other.

Learned:
1. Study skills with the OU. Writing in an academic style, reading, researching and interpreting data. All of these are new skills to me.
2. My art has improved this year with me learning new styles and techniques and trying different materials.
3. My reading, writing and spelling is continuing to improve.
4. I’ve learned this year who I am a lot more. Scarlett was always passionate about animals but I never really had a big ‘thing’. From studying, chatting to people online and reading back over online chats I have a far better sense of self.
5. Language skills. I have learned a fair bit about languages this year. I have two friends who do not have English as their first language (one is Finnish, one Turkish) and have also had a lot of contact with Japanese from watching anime. I have learned about foreign alphabets and pronunciation. As a relatively late reader myself I recall learning those things in English and it means this is a skill I remember developing and have found it interesting and easy to pick up.

Davies’ hopes for 2018
1. To finish my access course and begin a degree course with the OU
2. To further improve my literacy skills.
3. To improve my drawing / art skills.
4. To make some youtube videos and increase the number of subscriptions to my channel.
5. To progress with my keyboard playing / learning to read music
(Davies had quite a list so we wrote them all down)
6. Start planning some travel adventures for 2019
7. Get a full driving licence.

Davies’ special bonus wish for 2018: To meet my online friend from Finland in real life.

Nic:
Bad:

1. Saying goodbye to the pigs, particularly Barbara. It was one of the tougher decisions we have made in our time on Rum. It was the right one, for several reasons but no less sad for all that.
2. Leaving Rum for the winter. It has meant so many good and lovely things, continued adventures, new experiences and really helped with making decisions about what happens next but standing on the open deck of the ferry waving goodbye to Rum and to my special friends was a wrench and a tough things to do. Under different circumstances perhaps Rum could have met all of our needs without us needing to take time away, that is a definite source of sadness for me about 2016 – realising that our current life was no longer quite enough.
3. Following on from that point is that most of the highlights of 2016 were times we were off island, with the noteworthy highs on Rum getting less every year. We’ve worked really hard to try and make our every day life so special that we didn’t need to take a break from it but this last year it has not been so often the case.
4. Car hassles. In stepping back into the mainland life for a bit we have also had to step back into mainland responsibilities and running a car is as expensive and hassle-worthy as it ever was. Quite aside from the costs of taxing and insuring a car (which have rocketed with the increase in size from our little black car to a much larger MPV) we have had problems with an exhaust, suspension and a broken window mechanism. All of these are outside our ability to fix which is something we had gotten used to on Rum.
5. The end of an era. I have always welcomed Davies and Scarlett growing up, Ady and I growing older, life marching on and the passage of time. I look back fondly at old photos and cherish memories of the past but have always felt excited about the next steps and the future. I am still feeling like that but this year has definitely marked the end of a phase of our lives which has been amazing. Davies is no longer Home Educated or even of school age (he remains studying at home with the OU but it’s a shift), both teens have increasing interests and pursuits that we don’t share from chatting online to friends to watching shows that we are not interested in. Ady and I are feeling less inclined to take on challenging long term physical projects. I know that the end of one phase in life marks the start of another and am confident that whatever happens next will be amazing too but I am pausing to take a breath in the tiny gap between the two chapters and feeling a sadness at the closing of the one which is now in the past.

Good:
1. The sheep. We are really enjoying having the sheep on the croft. They are fairly low maintenance, very low cost, easy going creatures to have around. Learning to shear them this year was a real highlight, and doing a bit of spinning and some crochet with the fleece was a very lovely thing.
2. Ukulele – I spent the first part of the year struggling and practising and feeling as though I really wasn’t getting very far but then, just as people said would happen I suddenly got it. I am still a long way from anything other than a beginner but I have really enjoyed learning songs, singing and getting to grips with the ukulele. I recently managed to transpose a song into a more suitable key for my voice and now find my half an hour or so each day strumming, picking and singing to be a pleasure rather than an effort.
3. Adventures off island. We have had a fair few trips off Rum in 2016 – small ones for dentist trips or to see local-ish friends and some fairly epic ones including Northern Ireland for Scarlett and I in the spring, Manchester for all four of us in the autumn and Somerset & Sussex for the end of the year. I’ve ticked a few ‘bucket list’ type experiences off my personal list this year including seeing the Giants Causeway and had some amazing experiences such as Bath Spa.
4. The shed – another really good year for the shed in 2016. I introduced a few new lines and had some great sales. Jam as always is a big seller and I found an outlet on the mainland who started stocking my jams and sold out. I have still not found the right outlet for my freeform crochet but had some excellent feedback on it and some of the smaller items have sold well.
5. The Small Isles Games – I had quite a big role in organising the games which took place on Rum in 2016. I’d be lying if I said it was done without getting frustrated or irritated, or that the effort I and a few others put in was universally recognised and appreciated, however looking back on the photos, watching the races being run, the wellies wanged, the barbecue eaten, the ceilidh danced at, the raffle prizes claimed reminds me what a great day it was and how well we did to make it happen.

Learned:
1. Over the course of 2016 I think all four of us had begun to lose sight of what was right with our life on Rum. The compromises, of which they are undoubtedly many, in our day to day lives there were starting to feel too big, the rewards too small. We knew that we needed to come off the island to gain some perspective and re-evaluate just what we wanted. That period off the island is not over yet, but 2016 is and it took me only a short while to get enough of an idea of what we gain and lose on Rum in contrast to a more conventional mainland life. I thought that living a fairly mainstream life for nearly 40 years, spending the year WWOOFing, then moving to a remote and extreme lifestyle like we have on Croft 3 meant I had already learned all I needed to know to compare the two. It turns out that the lesson was not quite complete and I needed to return again to be able to really see the differences. I learned a lot in the last six weeks of 2016. I’m still processing and reflecting on it but I definitely learned in what ways we are rich and in what ways we are poor and the true cost of things.
2. Social media stuff. I learned a bit about SEO, affiliate links and monetising blogs from my friend Kirsty who is an expert at it during their visit to us on Rum in April and our visit to them in September. I learned more while in Somerset and doing some facebook and blogging work for the place we were staying. My sister in law has a very successful business making jewellery and selling it online, making use of various social media and Davies is fast becoming an expert on various platforms too (as you would expect from a 17 year old!). As a writer and crafter I can see the potential of this for some of my skills and have a few ideas bubbling which have come about from learning more this year.
3. More about compromise. I would previously have considered myself rather an idealist, more likely to chose a side of the fence that best suited me and stayed there. Just as I mentioned earlier about realising the compromises and costs of the choices we make in our overall lives this year has also seen lots of compromises on Rum – community votes about the direction various things take – do we want a phone mast in our village? It means better signal but an ugly mast. Do we want a fish farm off the coast of our island? It means a visual and environmental impact but also investment in island infrastructure, employment opportunities and attracting new residents.
4. More about no-dig gardening and continued learning about the ground on Croft 3 and how best to make use of it. It continues to be a work in progress but as every year before I end with more knowledge than I started with about what does and doesn’t work and what is and isn’t worth doing again.
5. Alongside Davies I have also been studying with the OU doing an access course. It was to support Davies but also because I am interested in the subject matter (psychology, sociology, childhood studies, law and management) and because I had long wondered whether I would like to do a degree myself. I am enjoying the study and the subject but have learned that I do not want to study further, certainly just now. I am always learning new things, reading, researching and just doing and am better carrying on doing just that than studying additional things which are not as interesting to me for the sake of a qualification.

Hopes for 2018:
1. To return to Rum with a new improved plan for the future.
2. To support Davies and Scarlett in the next phase of their lives, I anticipate the coming year holding changes for them both and I hope they find the right balance for them as individuals for what they want, what they need and where they are headed.
3. To continue my creative pursuits: writing, craft, music. To improve, maybe to make some money but mostly to continue to get joy from them.
4. To work with Ady, Davies and Scarlett to find the path ahead which most suits us all as individuals and as a family. To try and meet the inevitable compromises and challenges with good grace and encourage and support the others to do the same, while continuing to have adventures, new experiences and lots of fun.
5. To make the most out of wherever we happen to find ourselves and live another year to the full.

Special bonus wish for 2018: To see an orca.

1

Six weeks in Somerset and Sussex

I’ve not blogged much since we left Rum. Not because not much has happened – far from it, we’ve been ridiculously busy but it’s not felt blog-worthy as it’s every day, mainlandy stuff. Certainly it’s been several years worth of mainlandy stuff crammed in to a few weeks and definitely exceptional from our point of view but then walking round a supermarket or getting a takeaway is exceptional for us.

Since leaving Rum we have:
Celebrated a birthday, celebrated Christmas, seen the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Been to a staff Christmas party, had a day trip to the zoo (Bristol), been to Bath Spa (just me), had fast food, takeaways and food delivered, been out to dinner, out to lunch, out for coffee and cake, taken my crochet to a craft fayre, been Christmas shopping, helped open a farm shop, visited a pub turned into a gingerbread house for Christmas, seen the starlings murmuration over Somerset levels, attended a solstice bonfire and eaten food cooked on it, seen a zombie flashmob along Glastonbury high street, been horseriding (Scarlett and Ady), been to the cinema (Ady, Davies and Scarlett) to see the Star Wars film on it’s opening day, watched the darts final on TV, caught up with friends we’ve not seen for years, spent precious time with family, had a go at double glazing, cooked dinners and baked bread in various kitchens, made a Christmas cake in one county then decorated and ate it in another, gatecrashed a Christmas cocktail party (which we were really not appropriately dressed up for), sat drinking in a beer garden, been to many pubs, talked to complete strangers (a lot! Turns out we are very friendly these days!), taken Bonnie the dog for many, many walks (not something we ever have to do on Rum), decorated Christmas trees (two), finally met an internet friend after years of ‘knowing’ each other online, managed to hug people in real life we have really missed hugging for the last six years, queued in traffic jams, queued in post offices, queued in shops and supermarkets, had many, many baths, played Trivial Pursuit with Amazon Alexa, dashed out of the house at 1150pm on New Years Eve to dash up the hill opposite and watch the new year fireworks, walked along the seafront and marvelled at the wind turbines out at sea, bumped into an old friend in Marks & Spencers, been to Christmas markets, played bingo in Glastonbury town hall.

It has been fantastic, we all feel very topped up on family, friends and all that the south of England has to offer.

We have also really missed Rum. We’ve missed the croft, the way of life, our friends, the views, the calm. It has been fantastic to utterly immerse ourselves back in this way of life, to revisit our old haunts, catch up with the things we have missed. It means we have had a really good taste of the contrast of our old lives to our current life which is what we really wanted to experience once more to help us make decisions about what happens next. We needed perspective; time away from Rum and a reminder of what life would be like somewhere less extreme in some ways and far more extreme in others. It’s been a perfect snapshot for us of mainland life – filled with opportunities, people, busyness, all of the things you can imagine accessing at pretty much whatever time you want them. It was also a really good reminder of the cost of these things – in terms of time, money and commitment from us. It’s been both a fantastic six weeks of soul filling time with family and friends and a research project, gathering information and experiences to squirrel away and bring back out in the coming weeks as we start to consider our next options.

Which is the next step in our adventure – a period of consideration and contemplation. As soon as we arrive in the very special place we have chosen to do that and settled in I will share some more details of what that might look like. For now though we are on a different edge of the mainland to the south coast one we have been inhabiting for the last few weeks, poised ready to head off once more.

0

Off island birthday

We’ve celebrated a lot of birthdays on Rum between the four of us including a couple of ‘big number’ birthdays. This week Scarlett turned 15 , the first non-Rum birthday in our family since my 38th birthday just before we arrived on the island in 2012.

We retained a fair few of our birthday traditions – Scarlett had her usual birthday breakfast of cinnamon French toast but thanks to the joys of the mainland we were able to have a day out on her actual birthday rather than scheduling it for our closest mainland trip. As ever though it was a zoo trip she chose. This time Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Our rather eccentric satnav which tends to lead us in all sorts of curious directions gave us a tour of some country lanes along the way which was scenic if rather non-direct and gave us a real taste of the landscapes of the South West.

We had a lovely day wandering around the zoo, visiting various animals more than once. The zoo is a pretty small one which was perfect for feeling like we’d really seen everything. I think my favourite animal was the giant tortoises which are just magnificent creatures. Scarlett’s best was the naked mole rat, a creature she has long admired but never seen in real life before. I love the randomness of the creatures Scarlett adores.

Davies tolerated silly photos – I keep telling him he will be grateful they all exist when he is older, I’m not sure he believes me!

On the way home we drove over the Clifton Suspension bridge – another first for all of us, unplanned but it was there so we did it!

Mainland birthdays mean fast food opportunities for dinner so that’s what we did, followed by birthday tiffin and birthday fizz.

Happy birthday darling girl. May 15 be as filled with adventures, fun and laughter as all of the previous years.

0

Not normal…

You live for over five years in a caravan, that you dragged – with assistance from fellow islanders and a tractor down a bank, along a bumpy track, over a river and up a muddy hill. You create an address yourself because no one has previously lived in that spot, get your water from a river, your power from solar panel and wind turbine. You rear and kill animals, learning to shear sheep, fend off eagles from stealing your birds and red deer from eating your crops. Your idea of a top night out is sitting infront of the shop in your wellies drinking cider from a can while singing along to a fellow islander strumming a guitar. You make friends who will last forever and memories to fondly recall when you are old and grey. You are the subject of a Ben Fogle show and make a living from selling crocheted midges. It’s hard to know where to go when you need a bit of respite really.

Cue Glastonbury. Home to the largest green field festival in the world, place of myth and legend, a high street filled with shops selling tie dye and crystals. It’s very not Rum but it’s certainly not without it’s parallels. And much as I don’t feel a calling to settle here for any length of time it is certainly somewhere we return to again and again, often at times of feeling at a loose end and needing to regroup. So here we are again.

So far it has been the usual eclectic mix that Glastonbury always offers us. Comforts and conveniences – central heating, washing machine, bath and microwave. Retail therapy – both in shopping and in playing shops as we have been helping to get a new farm shop ready for it’s opening today; calling our old skills into play of merchandising and planning layouts. I’ve also spent a day at a market displaying my crochet wares – I didn’t sell anything but had some interesting chats with fellow stallholders and visitors. There have been treats – a visit to Bath spa for me, the ultimate of all baths! Tastes of Christmas including our overdue annual Christmas cake making. And friends – the friends we are staying with and a steady flow of visiting friends who happen to be nearby either visiting or living close.

1

1000 miles. And also a million….

This time last week we spent 14 hours driving almost from one end of the country to the other.

We left Rum the day before, waved off by friends as the ferry pulled away. Thanks to a quiet word whispered in my ear as I hugged one friend and the tears in the eyes of another I too was a bit leaky of eye. But this is not goodbye, this is see you later…

As the ferry approached Mallaig, the mainland port the skies opened with a downpour of rain which had been rolling towards us across the sea for most of the journey, while on the mainland the sun shone. A stunning rainbow, over a sea of houses. It all felt rather symbolic.

We were only travelling 50 miles along the road on that first night, to Fort William which was less than would have been sensible, given the length of the total journey but necessary as we all had dental check ups and Scarlett had a brace progess check up the following day.

It meant the start of what seems to be a series of Kira the cat goes travelling photos as she settled into the Travelodge

Bonnie also did very well with all the travelling but she was at least able to have regular ‘get out the car for a wee’ stops along the way whereas Kira was in her cat carrier for the duration.

The early stop did mean a meal out for Ady and I (Davies and Scarlett were much happier with fast food in the hotel room, served with a side order of hotel wifi and TV) and a bonus beer with a Rum friend who we had not said a proper goodbye to as he was off the island looking after his poorly Mum who happens to live in Fort William.

Then to Friday. There were moments in that epic 14 hour drive south for the winter, cat in carrier mostly quiet and still but occasionally with a pitiful meow, dog curled across my feet bringing on pins and needles, a 50 mile diversion with some mis-read signage meaning it became nearly 100 miles diversion, it already being dark before we hit the sign telling us we’d reached England, the oil light pinging on about 80 miles from our final destination, when it felt like David Attenborough should be voice-overing the trip. I know birds migrate for days on end to head south but surely in people years that was days on end? It certainly spanned two days as it was the early hours of Saturday when we finally pulled up at my parents house in Sussex.

Which meant that settling in the cat and dog, having some food and catching up even in brief with my Mum and Dad took us to a very late bed time indeed.

Saturday and Sunday was rather a blur of dog walks, supermarket trips, spending time with my parents, my brother and his family and a speedy trip to our old house to check on an overgrown hedge intruding onto the neighbours garage. It was odd to see the house (which we still own, hence checking up on it) and not feel any pull to it – it’s just somewhere that we used to live. On Saturday morning I was woken by unfamiliar sounds including an emergency services vehicle with siren blaring as it drove by. I counted 12 sirens over the course of that first day. A sound never, ever heard on Rum but as much of a soundtrack to life in that house – where I lived from ages 4 to 19 – as the cockerels crowing to announce morning, cuckoos calling to herald spring and stags roaring to signify autumn are the background noise on Rum.

On Monday we headed west, driving past Stone Henge and arriving in Glastonbury in the early afternoon. I feel as though Glastonbury and our planned time here is worthy of a post all of it’s own and frankly the first leg of the trip away from Rum was exhausting enough that just recounting it in a blog post has me feeling tired again.

So we’ve landed. Back on the mainland, starting to remember things and slowly take stock of where we are, where we want to be and how we might get there. We knew this would be a lot to take in and we were most definitely right.

0

Nearly there…

Just two full days and three sleeps till the off.

It’s tricky to know what to bring and what to leave, what we might need, what we might regret not bringing and what we may end up looking at in weeks to come and wondering why we gave it car space. Four people, a dog, a cat, a full size keyboard, a ukulele, Open University study materials for two, clothes and shoes…precious things, useful things, just in case things.

Some are easy decisions – the clock stays, despite it probably being my most treasured possession it only hangs on the wall when I consider myself at home. Everywhere we’ve planned to be so far is not going to be home. I won’t be needing my jam funnel….craft materials will be useful for making Christmas gifts, most of our Rum suitable clothes are cheaply and easily replaced with more mainland worthy garments once we arrive on the mainland.

We’ve had our ‘See You In The Spring’ party in the Rum village hall, inviting the community and various visitors to the island who happened to be around last weekend to come and cram a full seasons worth of celebrating into one evening with us as we’ll miss Christmas, Hogmanay, Burns Night and everything inbetween. There was singing, laughter and a very Croft 3 pork heavy menu.

.

The caravan is pretty much packed up as far as anything we want to bring with us goes. Tomorrow we have various outside on the croft tasks to tend to, Wednesday we will be packing up the car ready to head off on Thursday. It’s exciting and real now and already plans are starting to get lined up for things to do, people to see, places to go. But first, pausing for breath, taking long last looks around us and gearing up for the changes ahead.

By pure chance we have had two very Rum-equse Fridays in a row the last two weeks and have two very mainlandy Fridays ahead.

On 3rd November we were out leading ponies across rivers and up and down steep paths on mountains in the rain.

On 10th November the four of us were out on the croft all afternoon planting trees. 420 in total, bringing the total count of trees we have planted on the croft since we arrived here to over 1000.

If everything goes according to plan on 17th November we’ll be driving almost the length of the UK from the Highlands to Sussex. I am anticipating traffic jams, road closures and diversions, the M25. We will leave the scenery and quiet of this life and head towards the busyness and excitement of the next chapter. We have a plan for the 24th which is even more at the other end of the spectrum but I’ll share that as and when it happens.

0

Pigs to pork

Today Ady and I made sausages from the last two pigs we killed for eating. I’ve blogged before about our pig processing and how much we have learned. Seeing the whole process from breeding, birthing, rearing and killing the live animals, to the skinning, butchering and processing them. We have experimented with roasting joints, chops and diced meat. Used wet and dry cures to make bacon, created brine to make gammon, had an ill fated attempt at charcuterie products such as salami and chorizo and made sausages. Lots and lots of sausages.

Sausage making is time consuming and requires some kit and additional ingredients. Given our lack of power up here on the Croft as well as lack of indoor, sterile and spacious environment we have always hired out the village hall space to make our sausages and made use of the community owned mincer and sausage machine. We did have a small hand crank mincer but it was a pale imitation version of the heavy duty ones from our grandparents days. We do have a small electric mincer with sausage stuffer attachment so in times to come when we are not processing an entire pigs worth of sausages at a time we will likely still experiment with our own blends of herbs, spices and flavourings and have another go at some of the more ambitious ideas which require certain specific conditions to work in or finish off in.

As a child of the ’70s I have a much clearer recollection than Davies and Scarlett of butchers shops on the high street with strings of sausages hanging from hooks rather than pre-packaged polystyrene trays in the supermarket. We did patronise our local butcher surviving against the odds in Sussex but I think even he probably bought in his sausages rather than making them. I remember the hilarious attempts of contestants on The Generation Game trying to turn a huge stuffed sausage skin into a string of linked sausages. When we were WWOOFing we stayed with a farmer who had been butcher trained and could do an impressive link of sausages which the rest of us were only able to observe and vacuum pack as it was quite a skill. Ady and I joined fellow islanders in our first year here on a venison processing course though and while Ady retained far greater knowledge of the various cuts and butchering skills I have been deemed the Sausage Queen and am the one responsible for stuffing and twirling the sausages to turn them from one giant two metre long length to something while maybe not quite worthy of hanging outside a butchers shop certainly recognisable as a string of sausages.

Sausages are something of an art, not just in the actual stuffing and linking but in the preparation of the sausage meat itself. The meat is best minced and processed very cold, if it’s not quite defrosted so much the better, which works well for us as the village hall is not being used to run a seasonal teashop during the winter and we usually kill our pigs in the autumn so we just need to work out the optimum timing for taking the bags full of chopped up meat out of the freezer to ensure it is defrosted but not too much. Previously we have erred on the side of not enough time and been hacking at raw pork ice lollies to get chunks off to mince. This time we allowed 48 hours and had frozen it in smaller quantities which turned out pretty much perfect. There is a huge array of choices available for herb, spice and flavour seasoning options and then whether to add rusk or not. After lots of experimentation our preference is for a fairly herby but not too spicy blend. This time I messed up by managing to order the correct seasoning blend but the seasoning only rather than the actual mix including rusk. D’oh! Cue some hurried purchasing of stuffing and sausage mix to aid in the bulking out. We could have gone with all meat and the sausages would have been fine but rather dense compared to our personal preference.

Then once you have minced the meat, added the seasoning and rusk and water and re-minced it to fully blend comes the stuffing. We use bought skins (again not having the facilities to process our livestock sufficiently to get intestines to use) which need to be soaked in water to remove the salt coating used to preserve them. I have yet to get right the amount I buy either ending up with too many or too few. Today was a too few day and we only ended up with enough for about a third of the sausage meat we had. So 150 sausages made and enough sausage meat bagged up into the right sized portions for sausages for the four of us for another 300 sausages in the freezer.

It is days like today which make me wonder whether it is living here like this which mean we dedicate a whole day for two of us to making sausages, having to curse and make do when we discover we have miscalculated the resources required rather than dashing out and buying more. Or whether it is living here like this which means we don’t simply pick up a pack of sausages or two from Tescos on the way home…. only time will tell.

Either way I am delighted that not only will we be dining this evening on sausages made by us from pigs we bred here on Croft 3 but that there was a brief moment today with nearly 5 foot of sausages dangling below me when I could have hung them on that hook outside a butchers shop on the high street of my childhood and they would not have looked out of place.