August of Adventure

I was going to title this post ‘August of Opportunities’ but then I realised I’ve already used a similar title and there were plenty of adventures so I went with that. Because who doesn’t love an alliterative title? But it is mostly about opportunities.

It’s been quiet here because we’ve been so very busy. I’ll have a ‘six months in’ up in the next week or so because, yes, it’s been six months this coming weekend since we left Rum and started setting up our lives here. We’re still tweaking and working out the finer details of precisely what our lives will look like post-Rum, or maybe not post-Rum but certainly post-full-time-Rum as we combine very part time crofting with our new mainland lives here.

As my previous post described Rum in a day so August was a snapshot month of life now. In a word – busy. Busy with work, busy with volunteering, busy with hobbies and busy with friends. Probably a bit too busy to be honest, certainly at a level beyond what we could keep up with all the time, but a lovely whirlwind of a month packed with loads of good things.

Work first – lots of shifts at the tea room for Ady. He enjoys the work, feels like he is learning loads of new skills, really likes working as part of a team and is getting to know lots about the local area and meet lots of local folk and visitors to the area. The hours are rather unsociable and it is likely to be be very seasonal so will start to slow down now we are heading into autumn so he may well need to think about alternative ideas moving forward but he has a couple of things to ponder further on with regard to volunteering / studying / career paths. August was his busiest month so far there though with shifts six days a week.

August was super busy for me at work too – I had stories in the paper every week, was out on tour at a couple of local schools for summer holiday youth events, worked at the community centre for film screenings and gig events, put on a couple of events for crafts and games and did the first weekly youth club after the summer holidays (schools have earlier summer holidays here in Scotland than in England, breaking up in June and going back in August). We’ve also been doing our holiday cottage cleaning.

We took a stall at the local agricultural show in the craft and produce tent where Davies had his art work on display, Scarlett sold cupcakes and I had jam and crafts for sale. We all did pretty well but Scarlett cleaned up – she entered various cakes for the competitions and took first prize for her fabulous cupcakes. Showing true entrepreneurial family spirit she took her remaining cupcakes out into the crowds towards the end of the afternoon and sold the lot walking around, Apprentice-style talking to people and offering discounts.

Davies has had his first sales on his local art work and been working on his online accounts and getting plenty of likes and follows on social media.

Davies and I have been doing a shift or two every week on the helpline. So far we have not had any calls but we have more training coming up soon and are both hoping to put our training to use in the not too distant future. An area of volunteering where we have put our new skills to use is in the citizen science project we have been involved with locally on marine identification.

Having done a workshop way back at the start of the summer on identifying the various plants and animals found on our local shores we attended several surveys where we joined in with other fellow amateurs and a marine biologist to identify and record seaweeds, lichens and all manner of creatures found on quadrats on the shore of our local loch. We know our bladderwrack from our spiralwrack and can gender ID a shore crab, spot a lichen, name a barnacle and uncover a starfish with confidence!

As always our hobbies have blurred with our work and with our lives but there has been art and music and baking as usual. Scarlett and I have also started a new hobby which we are absolutely loving – wild swimming. We’ve invested in wetsuits and goggles and I have been taking a few lessons to brush up on my strokes (pun intended!) and we’ve spent a fair few hours bobbing about in Loch Sunart which is just wonderful.

Ady and I had a weekend away. We stayed with friends and went to a film screening as part of the Fringe by the Sea festival in North Berwick but most excitingly of all went to a show in Edinburgh. A bit of background here is that my favourite comedian when I was young was Tony Slattery. I adored him, on Who’s Line is it Anyway? but also on various of the other (many) things he did. Another of my favourite comedians is Richard Herring, who we have seen several times doing stand up over the years and I listen to his RHLSTP podcast too. When I spotted that Richard Herring was interviewing Tony Slattery for one of his Edinburgh shows it was one of those things I would have sighed over back on Rum as something I would have loved to go and see but was utterly out of logistical reach. But now it is not. So we went!!!

And then I had a photo (and a hug!) with them both and thanked them for making me laugh for so many years. And if I look a bit like I am on the verge of tears in that photo with Tony Slattery it’s because I am.

The eagle eyed among you may have noticed a new face in some of the photos above, which brings me rather tidily to friends. We have had various house guests during August – several have stayed for a night or two like my friend Helen. Ady, Helen and I managed a quick overnight trip to Rum in the middle of all the craziness which was fantastic – we had an amazing wildlife encounter on the boat trip over with a pod of dolphins and whales, countless numbers of gannets, shearwaters and a great skua all participating in a feeding frenzy in the waters between Eigg and Rum.

Helen and I got up my hill…

and she got to meet lots of our Rum friends and have a night on the croft with us. Then back here we had a wild swim, a walk in the local woodlands and plenty of time spent here with the rest of the house-full eating ice cream in the sunshine.

The other new face is less friend, more family. It’s Davies’ girlfriend Megan who was here staying with us for a whole month. Megan came all the way from America to spend August with us and was a lovely addition to the family, fitting right in. We did some special trips to show Megan part of our lives like heading over to Inverness to take in Loch Ness, Channonry Point and some of the sights…

Megan also fitted in with our day to day lives joining in with cooking, helping on the stall at the show, being on hand when one of our hens hatched her brood of chicks and joining in with general Goddard craziness.

It was fabulous to have her here with us and we’re already looking forward to her next visit later this year.

The other new face is Scarlett’s best friend E, who was here with us from Northern Ireland for a few days adding further to the blend of ages and accents in the house. Then Scarlett and I joined her heading back home and had a week in Northern Ireland ourselves.

And just to keep the whole circle joined up Helen who had visited us here also came out to stay with our friends there too!

And no, despite appearances I didn’t spend the whole of August with a glass in my hand – just the moments that were captured on camera!

There is more to say, more that the gallivanting and working and volunteering and general busyness have bought to the fronts of our minds. More that visiting Rum and hatching chicks and children growing up have made us think about. More that travel and a changed lifestyle have thrown up as considerations which were not on our radar in our old lives.

But for now, as we pause a bit to catch our breath, flip the page on to the next month on the calendar and regroup back to being a household of four instead of three, five, six or seven it was definitely an August to remember.

New Lives in the Mild

Ady and I visited Rum for the day on Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happy and good life lived on Rum.

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

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

and then made jam – 29 jars to be precise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mainland of Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Chicken Relocate

We’ve been chicken keepers for a lot of years. Infact I have just checked and our chicken-keeping adventures started way back in 2007.

In lots of ways that was the very start of our journey towards the lifestyle that began this blog. We were offered an incubator to borrow from a farmer friend of ours, along with half a dozen eggs. It was meant to be a science experiment for our home educated children. We would learn about how eggs hatched into chicks, with all of the surrounding chat about reproduction and life cycles as well as where food comes from.

We set the incubator up, tended the eggs for the 3 weeks it takes for chicken eggs to incubate and hatch, carefully turning them several times a day and keeping the conditions inside just right in temperature and humidity. We candled the eggs at various points during the incubation to check whether they were fertilised – one was not – and monitor the development inside. The pipping of the eggs and subsequent hatching was so exciting.

The original plan had been to keep the chicks and learn about their development for a few weeks and then return the young adult chickens to our farmer friend along with the incubator. This would involve watching them grow, change from balls of fluff to feathered creatures, initially requiring light and heat and tending until they were off able to be independent.

Hatchwatch 2007.

Predictably we grew attached, named the chicks, handled them a lot and really enjoyed being their ‘parents’.

It wasn’t long before they were ready for some outside time. So I visited the local industrial estate and begged some pallets to dismantle, borrowed a drill and a spare pair hands from my Dad, along with a roll of chicken wire he had spare and we built a chicken run so they could spend time outside each day.

It was a small leap (and a few more pallets and assistance from Dad) to build a chicken house for them to move outside full time. Unfortunately all of those chickens were cockerels. In order to continue the experiment to it’s logical conclusion one of them was our Sunday roast. The other four did indeed go to our farmer friend but we had the chicken keeping bug.

Our next in take was four bantams bought for us by a friend from an agricultural fair. Along with some more incubated eggs over the years they were the start of a flock of back garden chickens we bred and kept for eggs. We also hatched out a pair of ducks, which Scarlett raised and kept until we were off WWOOFing when we re-homed them with a friend who had a lake for them to live on, and a clutch of quail eggs.

We always made sure our birds were safe from predators and kept in comfortable happy conditions but we also always managed this on a very tight budget. We made use of reclaimed materials, creative ideas and learned so much about natural chicken behaviours and what makes for a happy chicken.

Our very first creatures on Croft 3 were chickens along with some ducks and a pair of geese. We started with 10 brown hens and a speckled cockerel and true to form we housed them in a cobbled together with random materials chicken house. Rum is a great place to be a chicken as there are so few predators. There are no foxes, pine martens, badgers, polecats or any of the other mammals I have heard of other chicken keepers losing birds to. We did lose a chicken to a dog once but putting up signs around the croft asking visitors to the island to ensure their dogs were kept under close control seemed to alleviate that issue from happening again. We also lost a chicken once to an eagle, and another to a buzzard but otherwise our free range flock on Rum had a very happy, healthy idyllic life and thrived accordingly. They were disease and ailment free and bred very successfully, providing us with ample eggs for ourselves and excess to sell along with the occasional bird for the table when our flock grew too large, or too cockerel-heavy.

We have rehomed a lot of our flock, mostly on Rum but also as far afield as North Berwick and only had a small number left on the croft, all of which were Rum hatched and bred and are a mix of descendants from those first chickens we bought and a few bantam hens and a cockerel we rehomed from someone else on the island a few years ago. They were being well looked after by our friend who is keeping an eye on the croft and our own visits back, but after 12 years of chicken keeping we were missing having them around.

We were also feeling the imbalance of paying for chicken feed to be sent across to Rum, throwing away bread scraps and fruit and veg peelings and buying eggs. The obvious answer was to bring our Rum chickens over here to start a new mainland life alongside the rest of us. We checked with our lovely landlords that it would be OK to have the chickens here first. Not only were they quite happy to agree to that they also offered us some chicken wire they had spare and said we could make use of any of the offcuts of wood (from various house build and other projects here) in the garage to make our chicken house from. Did I mention they are lovely?

So Ady and I dragged out all of the bits and pieces of wood we were able to use along with a tape measure, a saw and plenty of screws and set about creating a Chicken Castle. Our prime concerns were size – it had to be big enough to comfortably house the flock we wanted to bring over, and safety – it needed to be as predator proof as possible. Our biggest chicken keeping challenge here is likely to be pine martens – a super cute but deadly to chickens master predator, very prevalent in this area. There is never a 100% safe house but we want to be sure we have done all we can to keep them as safe as possible.

Our dimensions were very much dictated by the size of the wood we had available. We wanted a sloping roof to allow rain (of which we get a lot!) to run off which meant one side taller than the other, with two sides with sloping edges. A sturdy floor, a roof which was heavy enough to take the strong gusts of wind we get here. So six pieces of wood in all. We measured and cut these aiming for as large a space as possible with the wood we had.

‘measure twice, cut once’ so the saying goes.
A plan was starting to form

We wanted an easily opening but securely closing door as that is obviously a weak point. We decided on a slidey up and down design, so cut out the space, cut out a door bigger and cut out some lengths to create the sliders.

door open…
..door closed.

By the time we stopped for lunch we had the six panels all finished and a plan for fixing them together. We wanted strong and stable so used some chunkier wood to create battens inside on three of the the edges on two of the pieces to butt the other two and the base up to. The wood we were using was off cuts, reclaimed or already used for other things previously and while it was mostly in really good condition there were a few pieces we had to discard and some nails we had to bang in. I’d not bought a claw hammer across from Rum so had to use a hammer that I use for metal stamping. I’m not entirely sure of it’s origins, almost certainly one we were given by my Dad and almost certainly older than me!

Antique but still more than up to the job.

We were able to put together the four sides and the base in situ in the corner of the garden we’d decided would best suit a chicken castle. It’s under a tree so gets plenty of shade from the sun, the rain and the worst of the wind. It’s close to a fence and a relatively flat part of the garden but slopes away in one direction down to the house and in the other towards a small river than runs alongside the house so that is the angle the roof aims towards to run off into.

We then placed the roof panel on top, with an overhang all around and drew round it from underneath. That gave us a template to create little corner pieces screwed on to ensure it stays securely on and does not slip off or get blown about.

Bonnie and Kira approved!

One chicken house. All in a days work!

The following day we painted it. Also in the garage was half a tub of wood preserver paint which just so happened to be green – my colour of choice for anything. So a couple of coats of that and some holes drilled around the top of all the sides for ventilation and one chicken castle ready to receive it’s inhabitants.

The following day we were busy in the morning and Ady was working in the evening but I spent a couple of hours constructing panels to make a run to fit on the front. We would need to keep the chickens in for a couple of days once they first arrived, to make sure they understood the chicken castle was their safe home. There will also be times when we want to let them out but not to free range so a run is perfect to contain them in those instances. Most of their time will be entirely free though so this also needed to be fairly portable / able to be moved and removed.

I started well using sarking board we had earmarked for this bit of the project, measuring and cutting lengths to create two long sides, one same length but wider top panel and one small end panel. I was hampered by a few things though; one was the sarking board being up on the side of the garage accessible only by ladder…

another was the lack of co-operative tools. We had not bought any tin snips with us and I needed to cut the chicken wire. I improvised with a tiny pair of wire cutters I have for jewellery making. They did the job, but at a very slow pace…

The next challenge was the midges – curse of the west coast at this time of year. I managed to set up a little space out on the decking with all my materials and tools assembled around me and the electric fan bought out. It created a small, but real area of midge free respite.

I was doing so well and very proud of my resourcefulness but the final hurdle which ended my creativity was a misbehaving staple gun. It worked for about half of attaching wire to wood for the very first panel and then simply refused to work at all any more. I dismantled it and hit it very hard against the ground but to no avail. I decided the universe was trying to tell me something and as I still had dinner to cook ready for Ady getting home from work I took it that the message was not ‘if at first you don’t succeed; try, try, try again’ but rather ‘know when to give up, grab a cold beer and have a bath while the pizza dough proves’.

Early the next day Ady and I caught the ferry across to Rum. We rounded up eight hens and a cockerel and bought them home the following day. They sailed down on the car deck in a large dog crate filled with straw and covered with a tarp. They were non the worse for wear from their travels and one of them even laid an egg on the trip!

I waited at the pier with them while Ady dashed off to get our car and we were quite the attraction for all the visitors waiting to boat the ferry across to Skye, with several of them asking to take photos and questioning me about them all. The final leg of the trip was in the back of the car.

And then we were home. We’d collected another staple gun and the tin snips from Rum so it was a speedy job to finish the run and assemble it infront of the chicken castle.

And then the big release! Welcome to your new home chickens.

They settled in really quickly and we’ve had an egg every day so far. It always takes a while after a trip like that before they are all laying again but we’re anticipating plenty of lovely fresh eggs in the weeks to come.

We have already made a few modifications and additions to the chicken castle. The first was putting in a perch – for this we used a broom handle we bought across from Rum (the broom head had long since lost it’s bristles but the handle lives to serve another purpose). We also created four nesting boxes. This was easily done with some lengths of marine plywood leftover from the castle build. We put in a base across the whole length of one side attached to the sides with brackets and secured from below with an upright support. We then added a small batten across the front to prevent those freshly laid eggs rolling out and three dividers to create four boxes secured with brackets. It doesn’t need a roof as when the lid of the castle is closed that acts as the roof for the nesting boxes.

After three days familiarisation we opened the run up so that during the day they are free ranging and exploring the garden. Bonnie is delighted to see them again – she loves nothing more than herding them from one part of the garden to another. They have created an area to dustbath in and already earmarked their favourite sun trap corner of the garden to sit in when they are not scratching around .

Hopefully they will enjoy this new life on the mainland as much as we are. They are certainly as settled, busy and at home as we have become.

Three Months In…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer’s here and the time is right….

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

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

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

So what have we all been up to then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just not a party without carbs!

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

The new normal

What a madly busy week we’ve had.

Last Saturday we did our cleaning job in the morning and then as the weather was so glorious we collected Davies and Bonnie and some ice lollies in a bag of ice and headed down to the beach near our house. We are about half a mile up a track through oak woodlands off the ‘main’ road with a loch the other side of the road. The loch is tidal and low tide reveals a beach. It’s rocky, sandy, seaweedy with plenty of good foraging if we wanted a seashore feast but that day we were out collecting rocks to tumble and any plastic or other litter to collect and bring back to the rubbish bins.

The following day was just as glorious which was perfect as it was the local water festival. Organised by the local community it was a day celebrating our loch-side location with a whole host of taster sessions for various watery activities including paddle boarding, skiff rowing, canoeing, kayaking, open water swimming and more. On shore there was food and drink, music, an open tank displaying creatures collected from the deep of the loch including lobster, crabs, starfish, sea sponges and more.

Scarlett had been keen to try kayaking for a while so we had signed her up for a session and as she is under 18 she needed an accompanying adult. Davies and Ady declined which left me signed up too. I’ve never kayaked and although I am a confident swimmer I am not a confident getter in and out of boats so I confess to being slightly nervous. I was right, it was not at all elegant getting in or out (Ady kindly videoed me doing both, I won’t be sharing those clips!). It was however hugely fun, amazing to get that different perspective out on the loch of this beautiful area and excellent to challenge myself with something I was unsure of.

Scarlett adored it and we’ve been googling inflatable kayaks ever since. I forsee a purchase once we have sorted out finances out a bit with some more work.

The next day was Ady’s birthday. 55 years young. His gifts included lots of biscuits, a book and a kitchen gadget! And of course a mention from Ken Bruce on his radio show.

Ady has been desperate to go and find the mines up in the hills above Strontian, which is our nearest village ever since he heard about them. It was these lead mines where strontium was collected and Ady was very keen to see if we could find some. So we googled the route and set off with a picnic. We ended up driving a road we’d not even known existed, let alone realised could lead so far showing our lack of local geography. It was a spectacular route up, up and over the hills and then back down ending near a loch. We parked up and took our picnic for a wander along a brilliantly maintained track which led up and over another big hill for walkers and bikes. We paused a short way in to sit next to a winding river and eat our lunch.

Then we back tracked along the route a little way as we suspected we had missed the landmark for the start of the walk to the mines. Sure enough we happened upon it. We had bookmarked the link to the route on our phones but not anticipated having no phone signal to check it again so were relying on half remembered hastily read through directions which almost had us turning back as we felt we had gone wrong, but we decided to turn one last corner and suddenly we spied the landmark building ruins we recalled so carried on further.

Scarlett was the only one tenacious enough to carry on looking after the rest of us had sat down to rest. While Ady and Davies spent time finding likely looking rocks to contain seams of strontium and smashing them open like people, from Time Team, Scarlett climbed a bit further and was rewarded with the discover of the opening of a mine.

We gathered up quite the haul of rocks showing quartz and traces of the mineral and then walked back the way we had come to the car, retracing the gorgeous drive back home.

Then it was time for cider and cake in the sunshine.

We had earmarked Tuesday as postal voting day. Davies’ first vote. We’ve had postal votes ever since we moved to Rum and although we are now close enough to a poling station to go and vote in person it seemed sensible to stick to a postal vote for now when we all registered living here just incase voting clashes with working or visiting Rum or something else in the way. Davies and I spent several hours online watching videos about what MEPs do, how the numbers of MEPs are allocated to various countries and areas within countries, doing some political compass quizzes and looking at how MEPs had voted on past issues over recent years to see who we would be most aligned with. We talked about tactical voting, how you may vote differently in local, general, European, council elections and in referendums. How you may vote on single issues or feel more closely aligned with the political ideals of a particular party or candidate, how to engage politically via contact with your councillor, MP, MSP or MEP even if you didn’t vote for them and so on. We talked about what votes might mean in this rather unusual European election and how you might want to use your voice to make a statement. It was the sort of exercise I have done with every time I’ve voted but honestly never quite in so much detail and with so much thought.

This was all followed by the complicated origami that is putting ballot paper into one envelope, into another envelope with not all of them fitting without folding and then requiring licking and sticking…. if the political research had not left us with a bitter taste in our mouths then the envelope glue certainly did!

The next three days and two nights were a home alone adventure for Davies and Scarlett left looking after the house, the pets and each other while Ady and I headed to Rum for a couple of days.

We planted trees, dug up strawberries, caught up with friends, checked all was well on the croft, got up my hill, tidied up the shed and removed a wasps nest, sorted out the water, attended to the boiler, changed a tyre and were generally very productive and efficient.

Once home we’ve repeated ourselves with back to holiday cottage cleaning and mammoth volumes of laundry this weekend.

It’s alright you know this new normal. Busy, lots of opportunities for new things, new adventures, new skills and new challenges. Just what we were looking for!

Part time at everything

Life here is starting to shape into what it might look like moving ahead. And it’s a whole lot of part time somethings. Which suits us perfectly. No chance to get bored or feel like we are spending too much time doing any one thing. Life on Rum was a whole lot of part time somethings; working on crops, working with the animals, home education, crafting, writing, working at various jobs including clerical at the school, post office, cleaning, castle tours, ghilly work, directors and other voluntary roles. That life style really suited us there and I think it’s going to suit us here.

Davies is studying part time. He’s about to start working on the final essay of this years module, which is due in at the end of this month. He’s enjoyed this first year and got consistently high scores in all his assessments as he’s worked through the year. He will be starting the Introduction to Psychology module in the autumn and is looking forward to the summer off studying to focus on other part time interests. He has signed up to be a volunteer with a local charity and will have some training sessions for that before he gets started. Another part time role.

Scarlett is working with Ady (and sometimes me) doing cleaning of holiday cottages part time, mostly at the weekends. She has continued her Rum past time of collecting litter, mostly plastics off the beaches here. There is thankfully not too much litter around the shores of the loch here but enough that she has never come back from one of her walks empty handed. Scarlett had her first taster session of kayaking last weekend, something she has wanted to try for a while and she loved it. We’re looking into how she can get more time out on the water doing that along with a couple of other volunteering opportunities that might be interesting for her. She will also do some short online courses over the summer, part – time of course!

Ady is still looking for more part time work. He does the cleaning with Scarlett and narrowly missed out on a cruise guide job which he applied for after we returned from holiday as we were away for a couple of weeks. The reply back was that he sounded as though he would have been perfect for the job, they would keep his details and it was a shame he’d not got in touch before we went away. Ah well. He has been thinking about what type of part time work he would like to do and come up with a few ideas. We’ve chatted to a few friends who work in a similar field, been emailing with a contact they put us in touch with and signed up for various email alerts for work in that area. Ady has also signed up to be a volunteer (with expenses) for a local initiative which is both a little income and something he will enjoy and is helping people. He has also been looking at some courses and training.

I have been helping the others with the cleaning, signed up to volunteer for the same charity as Davies, been talking to a few local retailers about stocking my crafts and been looking at part time work too. I’ve been offered a job working in youth support which I am thrilled about. It is part time, naturally, and is a sessional post (fancy way of saying I only get paid for when I work, bit like zero hour contracts) and while I’m waiting for my references and working with vulnerable groups checks to come through I am yet to start and find out just how many hours that might be before I can look for other part time things too.

Meanwhile we are still part time crofters. This week Ady and I spent a couple of days and nights on Rum. We finally finished planting this years trees, over 1000 this time, with us getting about 400 of those in this week. That brings our total so far to well over 6000 trees planted on the croft, a legacy project for sure. We topped up the stocks in the shed, which is continuing to bring in a trickle of income and Ady chatted to a visitor walking around the croft who asked if she could come in and see around, so she got a personal croft tour and met some of the creatures. The remaining croft 3 creatures are all thriving under the watchful eye of our friend David who is keeping things ticking over while we’re not there. We will be rehoming the chicken flock in the coming weeks – some are coming over here with us for a new mainland life, the rest are going to a friend on Rum, so will migrate slightly east to a beachfront location! The geese and sheep will remain, happily grazing. Sheep shearing is on the agenda for our next visit back.

We checked over the crops still on Rum – mostly orchard and soft fruit which is all doing very well and looking like it might be a good crop this year, so fruit harvesting is also part of the part time plan for the year ahead. We did do the annual thinning of the strawberry bed to allow the plants room to spread. This year though instead of increasing the space for strawberries on the croft we bought the thinned plants back here with us so that we can enjoy strawberry picking part time over here too.

It was good to be back on Rum for a couple of nights, to catch up with Rum friends, to nip up my hill one afternoon, to wake up and pull the curtains on the sunrise over the croft and go to bed after the sunset over the other side of the croft. Good also to remind ourselves of all we achieved in our time on Rum and why it will always be special and have a place in us. Rum can be such a bubble; when you are there it is as though the rest of the world doesn’t really exist and when you are not there it can feel as though Rum doesn’t carry on without you. It was quite strange to have Ady and I there while Davies and Scarlett were here, living simultaneous old and new lives in both our part time locations.

We all walk through life wearing all these part time hats, it’s these many roles and facets to our personalities that make us humans so interesting. We wear so many labels and are so many different things to so many people, all added together to make up our self and who we are. In the end our full time lives on Rum were lacking sufficient to make up a whole life for each of us. It is lovely to still have the part time versions of our Rum selves and our Rum lives to add to the mix of these new versions of us as we find all the new part time components to piece together to make the next incarnations.

All you can’t leave behind

For various reasons I’ve found myself talking about me a lot the last week or so. OK, I concede I talk about myself a lot generally but usually that is more habit than actually being asked! The last couple of weeks have meant introducing myself a fair few times – at my friend’s Book Club while in Northern Ireland, at a job interview this week and while meeting the co-ordinator for the phone helpline for a local mental health and wellbeing charity that Davies and I have signed up to be volunteers for.

So I’ve found myself answering the ‘How did you end up on Rum?’, ‘What is Home Education all about?’, ‘What jobs have you done before?’ and ‘How are you settling in?’ questions a fair few times in various different circumstance. The way I may have approached the answers has varied but in essence it’s been the same replies. I’ve covered most of those areas here on this blog before save for the ‘how are you settling in?’ one. I have a collaborative post with the others for our usual bad, good, learnt type format about how we are finding it here in this next adventure planned but for now on what is our two month anniversary of arriving here in this house you will have to make do with my musings.

The title of this post is all you can’t leave behind because it echoes the essence of my answer to that question about how we have settled in, which is that so far this feels like all of the best bits of what we loved about life, with some of the tougher bits removed and more opportunities available. So what could we not leave behind? The elements of my life that I most loved were the freedom to choose what to do with my time and the luxury of mostly only doing things I loved. I love being with my family, exercising my creative muscles with arts, crafts, music and cooking. I love being in nature and encountering wildlife. I love light, laughter, family and friends. I love learning and adventure and people. I love new challenges and new experiences and discovering something new every day.

So far I’m ticking all of those boxes. There are buzzards flying overhead daily here. We get woodpeckers on our bird table. There are seals in the loch we can walk to and watch. Last night I saw my first red deer from the house, today we watched a hind in the woodland just outside. I was woken at dawn by a tawny owl calling from the tree just outside our bedroom window. Our house has windows on every side flooding the rooms with light, the views are amazing filled with endless skies, hills in the background, oak trees bursting with life, woodlands carpeted with bluebells and primroses. My wildlife, nature, sunshine and light quotas are more than matched.

I have space for my craft materials, currently there is no market for things I can make but I have a new home to make my own and I am on my second blanket to adorn the sofa. My ukulele has a stand and the radio is always playing bringing me new songs to be inspired to learn or trigger new tunes and lyrics to write my own. I have a bath to linger and dream in, free for my mind to wander and come up with new ways to be creative.

People are everywhere! New faces all the time. Just this week I have been for a job interview – which I got ! More on that soon, Davies and I have signed up as volunteers. We went to the library where the librarian remembered us from when we joined up weeks ago, the re-use shop where we bought new glasses in our second week here to buy a small table and were remembered again from our last visit. To our landlords to collect clean laundry for our cleaning job where we chatted about our holiday. Two sets of friends have visited just this week. We are putting down roots, making our place, building our lives.

There are things about Rum that I miss. Our livestock, putting my hands in the soil and tending crops, my shed filled with things I made, my friends, my hill.

Looking forward though and finding the ways to bring with me what I can’t leave behind, or as much of them as I can.

And swoosh, a month went by!

Although we have spent less than half of it here in our new house as we’ve been off gallivanting about.

To be fair if we had known in advance that we would be here then we may well have not had quite so many adventures during April as we’d have been happy to be settling in here, getting on with finding work and busy with the work we have found and probably had family to visit us for Easter rather than the other way round. But we had planned this trip way back last year and the travel and pet arrangements were such that it was easier to go with what we already had booked than try and rearrange things.

The first half of April saw us having another trip back to Rum. This time just a day trip and just Ady and I. We collected some more belongings, emptied our freezer, gathered up Mrs Turkey who has now come over to the mainland to take up residence with our landlords who had a lonely Mr Turkey so that was a happy matchmaking opportunity.

We had an overnight visit from a friend which was lovely and she bought her son who stayed for a longer visit. He and Davies have been friends since they were 4 and it was lovely to have him here with us for a few nights slotting back in as though he’d only been with us last week.

We’ve been busy doing new house admin type stuff like setting up direct debits, changing our address, registering with the doctor and so on, which all take up time in phone calls, emails and visits to the nurse to be weighed and measured. It is now official that Davies is the tallest and the lightest. I am the shortest and the heaviest…..

We have been getting out and about familiarising ourselves with the local area for walks and wildlife and discovered a lovely circular walk through some woodland which looks likely to be ever changing through the seasons. We spotted the first bluebell on our second trip 3 weeks ago and this week walked through a carpet of them. I’m looking forward to seeing how that landscape changes through the year.

We also enjoyed recreating an old picture from a bluebell walk of the past…

The second half of April had us heading south. First stop Sussex for a week with my family.

We happened to fluke being there at the same time as one of Ady’s oldest friends from school days so met up with him for a couple of hours which was both lovely and surreal.

We spent a lovely few hours lazing on a rug in a park that my sister in law and I used to take our children when they were tiny and was the backdrop for many long, lazy afternoons in the sunshine while the children played and had adventures, and semi-regular stressful half hours when two of the cousins (Scarlett I’m looking at you as one of them here….) used to get themselves lost too. Lovely to lounge about with the teens joining us for our surreal conversations and slightly hysterical nonsense, although now it is middle age rather than small children invoked sleep deprivation driving the nonsense!

cousins playing from long ago

Another memory lane trip was the local park with my brother and his son for an hour in the sunshine too. He and I would play there as children, I used to take Davies and Scarlett when they were small and now we stood and watched my small nephew. The play equipment has changed with the times but the open grass and feels of the park has not.

To add further to the retro feel Davies and Scarlett persuaded my brother and I to go head to head on a tetris game. Frazer beat me 2 games to 1 but we were pretty evenly matched, just as Davies and Scarlett are, albeit at a much higher level than my brother and I. We tried to tell them about how we were the first generation to play that game, when we were younger than them before they were even thought about let alone born but they ignored us and went back to beating our very best scores with barely one eye on the screen!

Not too old and jaded for an Easter egg hunt though. I’ll let you decide whether that is them or me who is not too old as I suspect I enjoyed writing the clues and hiding the eggs more than they enjoyed finding them. It’s good to be indulged!

Never too old for a cup full of 2p pieces at the amusement arcade on the pier though…

Scarlett, Bonnie and I had a lovely evening walk up the downs looking at the signs of spring on the way too.

Then to the second leg of our time away, which was leaving Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat in the loving care of my parents while we four headed over to Northern Ireland, which is rapidly achieving second home status for us. Despite the obvious downsides of air travel it was the cheapest option by far and I promise we do plenty to offset the carbon footprint.

Ady swapped seats with me so I could sit with Davies and Scarlett (the plane was split down the aisle with blocks of three seats either side) but then he ended up with nobody sat in either of the two seats in his block, so I moved over and we swapped mid flight for a go at the window seat.

We realised it was the very first time all four of us had travelled by plane together. Ady, Davies and I flew to Manchester for a weekend when Davies was very tiny, Davies and I had flown from Edinburgh to Gatwick to collect a car to drive back to Rum and Scarlett and I had flown to Northern Ireland two years ago but this was a first for all four of us. We did take part in the Heathrow Terminal 5 trial runs a few years ago as an educational day out which had us going through testing the security set up, boarding pretend flights and at one point even taxi-ing along the runway but never up in the air all at the same time. Our flight over was daytime and our flight back was night time so that was a nice contrast for amazing views.

Our time in NI was fabulous as always. This time we were not really doing any touristy stuff, just spending time with our friends. But with amazing weather like we enjoyed for the first few days, their gorgeous house and fantastic hospitality you don’t really want to leave the house anyway!

We were persuaded by the teens into Belfast city one afternoon…. we accompanied them on the bus, saw them to the main centre and then decided that as we didn’t need to drive anywhere or be anywhere and the price of two pints and a bowl of chips to share was pretty much the same as a fast food lunch we’d do that instead. It’s nice to see that there is definitely Life After Parenting!

We also persuaded our lovely friends into a pint or three on the Saturday afternoon at their local. When in Northern Ireland….

A highlight was being invited along to the monthly neighbourhood book group which happened to be while we were visiting so I had read the book and went along. I do envy my friend her local social life and it’s definitely something I am hoping to find some degree of here once we are settled in. Choir, book groups and other semi-regular social get togethers are all things they have in abundance where they live, I hope we can start to get some of that back in our lives now we are not quite so remote.

All too soon the time there had come to an end so it was back in the sky for us again. The flight back was busy and our hand luggage ended up having to go in the hold. This was both a pain as it meant having to hang around to collect it rather than walking straight off, we had also bought some crockery from a charity shop and had packed it carefully enough for our own handling of our hand luggage but not up to baggage handler lobbing stuff about standards so there was one casualty of glassware, thankfully contained in bubblewrap. The plus side was that Davies and Scarlett got to see baggage reclaim in action and pluck their cases off the moving conveyor belt!

Back to Sussex to be reunited with our pets, have a day of packing up, an oil change and new tyre for our car and goodbyes with my parents and brother before the long drive back north. We spent two whole days in April like this:

Both drives were uneventful from our perspectives although our drive back up to Scotland was lengthened by a rogue swan on the M6 near Birmingham for whom the road was closed as he was guided back off the carriageway. Swans eh? If they are not breaking your arm they are breaking your journey!

It was a lovely couple of weeks. Massive thanks to the family and friends who managed to spend time with us, host us, look after us and our animals, do our laundry, feed us and generally have lots of fun with us. It was lovely to be away, to see you all.
It’s also lovely to be back here. But that is taking me into May, which is definitely for another blog post.