It’s all relative obviously, but that is starting to sound almost like I should be a grown up…..
It was my birthday on January 6th. I am the last of the four of us to celebrate a birthday here in our new mainland life.
As usual, in a tradition which now spans close to 40 years the day before my birthday I jumped three times. Depending on where I happen to be I conduct those three jumps in various ways. This year I was at the jetty for a group swim with local friends. I decided to go with three jumps off the jetty and into the loch. As there were three of them I went for one in my wetsuit, one in my swimsuit and one…. not as my swimming friends suspected in my ahem, birthday suit, but accompanied by Scarlett, who is always my favoured partner for all the maddest pursuits.
Later in the day I showed Davies, Scarlett and Megan how to use fabric to wrap gifts. I’d been on a workshop for it and wrapped all the Christmas gifts that way and promised to teach them all how to do it. There was a need for birthday gift wrapping so the skill was shared.
In what was probably quite predictable it was a small step from wrapping books and boxes to wrapping bottles to wrapping Davies! I guess if you use reclaimed bedlinen as your wrapping material then it is not a surprise when they take the size of the material as a personal challenge to find a suitably large thing to wrap!
My actual birthday was perfect. I got to eat. drink and do all the things I most wanted to.
I had a swim, in a rather choppy loch which swirled around me and offered me seaweed as a gift. A couple of years ago Ady and I went to saltwater seaweed baths in Ireland. Yes, that was a warmer experience and there was a very nice steam box too but saltwater seaweed bathing in a loch is freer, both physically and financially!
Back at home we had birthday pancakes followed by (beautifully fabric wrapped) gifts of nice drinks and chocolates and the most wonderful art from Davies, Scarlett and Megan. All three of them had created a picture for me and all three featured me swimming in my loch.
And all three of them made me cry <3 with the beauty of their talent and with the heartfelt lovely things they had written.
They then took charge of the obligatory birthday brownies
Later we had home made burgers for dinner and played a game of the Escape Room challenge our friend Mairi had given us for Christmas. We got out with seconds to spare!
A perfect start to being 46. Another year older, possibly another year wiser but certainly no more grown up!
2019 was quite a year. We started it still on Rum with hopes to move on but no real idea quite where yet. We end the year very settled into our new lives with various work – self employed, employed and voluntary, new friends, new hobbies and interests and plenty to look forward to in 2020.
As always we have enjoyed visits from and to family and friends, getting to Manchester, Northern Ireland, Sussex, Edinburgh, Glasgow, North Berwick, Inverness, Rum (obviously!). We’ve had cinema and theatre trips.
We have continued to do crofty type things, bringing over chickens and some crops from Rum, dispatching our sheep and having a mammoth fruit picking and jam making session. We have still sold from our Rum croft shed as well as craft and produce fairs here on the mainland.
We have started new jobs, new businesses, new studying and new voluntary work – some in very exciting brand new areas, some in things we already knew about, some fulfilling long-held ambitions.
Without further ado, here are our individual round-ups of 2019 – the bad, the good and what we learned. Along with our hopes for the year ahead.
This year we are five – Davies’ partner Megan joined us for the whole of August and is here again for all of the winter celebrations – Solstice, Christmas and New Year. As a big part of our lives and a member of our family now Megan joined in with the bad, good, learned, hopes sharing session too.
I still miss Rum friends – although I have started making friends here I miss the connections of people who we shared our lives with on Rum.
In most recent visits to Rum it has been sad to see the croft falling back into nature’s grasp. I feel guilty about not doing stuff there.
Although I love the house we are nearly five miles away from the village so can’t just pop out. Over Christmas we have been to the local pub a couple of times for an evening meal and a New Years Day event but one of us has to drive so the option of popping in for a drink of an evening is not there.
We are still a long way from family. Although it is much easier to get to us than when we were on Rum it is still a very long journey from Sussex where our families are. I’ve particularly missed seeing family this Christmas.
I am still feeling like we’re in a honeymoon period with the house and where it is. I love still being remote and gathering firewood from the land and having privacy. But we’re in a lovely house now without the hardships of being in a caravan. Luxuries such as being able to drive right up to the door of the house, have a bath, not worry about the weather have not worn off at all.
I’m really excited about my new job. It is a really good fit of a part time role doing something I really want to do. I love the idea of it not interfering with our family life and other things we want to do but I am really looking forward to learning new things, being part of a team and meeting people.
I am really pleased that we still feel part of a community. It was something that was important to us on Rum and within a year I feel we are now part of this community here – both the smaller area within our village, where I now almost always spot someone I know to chat with and am known in the local shop, but also in our bigger nearby town where we usually bump into someone when we go in for bigger food shops, petrol or other things.
Christmas in the caravan on Rum was really special and I will treasure the memories of those years but this year was magical with a big tree, so many lights, a big table to have Christmas dinner and festive TV to watch.
We are able to be more spontaneous and act on impulse more now. Financial limits obviously apply but we have been to the theatre and recently decided to go to the cinema just the night before rather than having to plan for weeks, arrange animal sitters, book ferries and organise accommodation.
From working at the tearoom I learned so much. I had never previously waited tables or set up tables. I got to work with and learn from a qualified chef and understand about catering rather than home cooking.
It had been 15 years since I last went for a job interview. The application process and the actual interview were all new experiences for me, particularly in an area I have never worked in before.
I learned lots on the Marine ID workshop and surveys. I didn’t know before about the various strand lines and the seaweeds on the shores around here.
Hopes for 2020:
That I settle in well into my new job and it all goes well.
That with more money coming in we can carry on having experiences like the cinema / theatre and other trips this year.
I hope that now we have room again to play hosts we are able to have lots of visitors here.
I hope that all of the next stage of their lives plans that Davies and Scarlett have in terms of studying, business ideas and relationships continue to thrive.
Special bonus wish for 2020: To visit America again, particularly someone I’ve not been before like Universal Studios, or a return trip to New York.
The internet at our house is really very bad. It is often slow to the point of being unusable, particularly for things like whatsapp calls when the audio and video quality is really poor.
Bonnie is visibly aging – she is slowing up and is no longer up for the long walks her and I used to do together.
All of the good walks with easy access and decent paths require a drive. Although we have woodland around the house and the loch at the end of our lane all require walking on poor ground or along roadsides.
I miss having the livestock, particularly the ducks. There are lots of sheep around us here and of course we have our chickens but I miss having creatures that come to you for feed.
I am really noticing the effects of climate change with this very mild winter. So far this winter there has been no snow even on the mountain tops and I like the marked changes of the seasons.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing the wildlife here on the mainland that we don’t have on Rum. I’ve seen foxes and pine martens here at our house. I got a trail cam for Christmas and saw a pine marten on the very first night.
Although the internet here is poor it is still good having internet and electricity to charge devices all the time.
It’s been good having friends to stay and be able to host properly here.
The Welcome to Nightvale live show in Manchester in January. It was another really good live show and it was really good to have Daddy join us for the first time and all being together along with our friends Ali and Freya too.
It’s been good to spend even more time in real life with my friend Elinor – we’ve been to stay with her twice, she has been here twice and we met in Manchester too.
I learned about doing surveys and throwing quadrats and laying transects, as well as lots about different seaweeds from the marine ID surveys. I already knew a fair from Ranger Mike who we spent a lot of time with back in our early days on Rum but it was good to use that knowledge and expand on it.
From doing the craft and produce markets and fayres I have learned that people buy cupcakes more based on how they look than what flavours they are which surprised me as I would have chosen on flavour first.
I had a taster session of kayaking at the water festival in the summer, which was something I had not done before.
At our tour of the sandmines I learned lots about mining, about sand, about how much that mine had changed in it’s processes over the decades since it was first opened.
I learned quite a bit when giving blood from the nurses. Everyone there was very lovely and had lots of time to talk about it. I held the pouch of my own blood and was surprised at how much you can donate and how warm it felt. It was like it was still alive somehow.
I got my food hygiene certificate earlier this year, which meant a few hours of online learning to pass.
Hopes for 2020:
Carrying over last years wish to visit somewhere outside the UK and see animals in the wild we don’t have here.
To go to a cosplay event with friends. My friend Elinor and I almost got to one this year and I’d love to do that with Davies and Elinor this year.
To put together a business plan for my baking business and understand all of the stuff around like profit and loss, pricing and marketing etc.
To spend as much time as I can with my friend Elinor, whether online or in person, with as many visits as we can manage.
I’ve been missing beach cleaning here as there is not much litter on the shores of the loch. I think this is mostly because we are a long way from the open ocean rather than an indication of the marine litter issues however. I have noticed some litter along the roadsides though and would like to organise some litter picks.
Special bonus hope for 2020: To get involved in volunteering with some sort of animal charity or shelter.
Because I have spent every free moment in 2019 talking to Davies I have not made any new friends and have maybe lost touch with some of my older friends. Because it’s a long distance relationship it has been even harder to combine spending time with Davies and friends and I feel I sometimes don’t have people to talk to or spend time with as much as I would like.
Being in a long distance relationship comes with some real challenges, such as not being able to have a hug, or always be there when you need each other. I’d definitely choose this LDR over no relationship but it is tricky a lot of the time.
I struggle to talk to my parents and wider family about things that we don’t agree on. I choose to stay silent rather than create conflict.
In getting close to Davies this year I have recognised some aspects of myself which I don’t always like. I feel I am improving myself but I realised this year I still have things to work on.
A highlight of this year is my relationship with Davies and getting to actually meet up with him and spent real life time together. I would extend that to meeting Davies’ family and feeling like I have a new family as well as my relationship with Davies.
Although Davies and I were close for a few years it is only since becoming a couple that I have realised he is my best friend too. It’s great to have that sort of relationship where someone so totally gets me and is so good for me. I think so many of the positive things I have done this year have been down to having someone supporting me to be the best version of myself.
I did a summer job to raised funds for my two trips to the UK this year. Getting a temporary job was something I had been considering for a while but not motivated to do before. Although there were bits of the job which I didn’t always love I did get a lot out of it, from feeling like I had done something productive and helping myself, as well as raising the money.
A huge highlight of this year has been in taking control. I always felt as though I was headed in an inevitable direction in terms of not looking after myself physically or mentally as well as I could. This year I have really changed that and almost reinvented myself. I have started to exercise and change my eating habits and to take better care of myself in personal hygiene. I have also altered my attitude towards things – I used to think ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I am afraid to do that’. Now I tell myself ‘I’ll still be afraid anyway so I might as well go ahead and do the scary thing too.’ I’m proud of what I’ve achieved this year.
This year I re-evaluated some of the people in my life and realised that I had some relationships which were more bad than good and quite toxic at times. I found the courage to cut those people out and while it was not always easy and there were parts of our relationships which I missed I know that it has been better for me to not have them around and influencing me.
I learned a lot about how much power I have over my own self control this year. I used to see people who I identified as like me and think that if they could not do something then I could not either. In taking the big jump towards changing myself I realised that actually once you make a change it becomes easier to carry on making it.
I have always questioned who I am and spent time trying to label myself or consider myself either A or B. I have also at times been frustrated when I feel people don’t recognise what I consider the ‘real me’. This year I have had a bit of an epiphany in realising actually it’s fine to be both A, B and C and explore both sides to myself and worry less about how people view me.
New things I have learned and discovered: New TV shows, a dance group at my athletics group, learning about anthrapology and evolution expanding on science I already love and enjoy. I discovered Scotland and have really enjoyed exploring the bits I’ve seen. I have also learned new skills in singing, public speaking and cooking. We don’t have cooking utensils at home so coming to the Goddard home and learning some cooking and using kitchen equipment has been new.
I have been learning about genetics and recently did a DNA testing kit and got my results back. I learned loads both about genetics as well as learning more about me and what makes me who I am. It was so exciting to hear about what my roots are and how I got the physical traits I have. I was really excited to do the test and so thrilled to get the results before I set off for my trip here.
Hopes for 2020:
I would like to gain confidence and be able to speak freely. I feel I spend too much time worrying about how I might come across rather than just talking to people and can be awkward. I’d like to work on overcoming that this year.
I’d like to work out this year what I’d like to do with my future, both as part of my relationship with Davies and for me too. I’d like not just to work out what I want to do but also work out how I’m going to do it.
I’d like to try and achieve a better balance between being productive and having fun. I can be inclined to focus on one thing without giving other things the opportunity to come to the fore. I would like to get better at being flexible to change my mind and make sure I have a good all round balance of things. This includes being open to making new friends.
I’d like to spend more time with Davies this summer than last summer and stay for longer. I’d also like to visit England. It would also be great if Davies came to visit me in America.
Special bonus wish for 2020: to have some sort of big milestone in my relationship with Davies.
The first month here in the house was a bit of a limbo situation, We had no internet, no phone signal and had not settled into the house properly. I was only a few months into my relationship with Megan and wanted to be talking to her all the time but we were driving to sit in a carpark each day for an hour or so and connect to 4G signal to do all the various online things I wanted and needed to do including studying. Initially it felt like all of the promised benefits of leaving Rum had not appeared and we’d actually lost some of what we had there in terms of internet and phone signal.
Even when we finally did get the internet sorted it is not as good, fast or reliable as we’d hoped. It has settled down a lot now and is mostly usable but things like uploading and downloading videos and games, and playing movies are sometimes impossible.
Being in a long distance relationship is sometimes hard. I miss having a real life hug and making proper eye contact. A live chat through a screen means you can’t look at both the camera and the other person.
I found the interviews and phone calls with the job centre and work coach to be really stressful. When I am actually in the interview I am fine but I still get anxious in advance.
As per last year I have not accomplished everything I had hoped to do this past year.
I sometimes feel conflicted about the choices and the path I am on. I find the deadlines of studying and the assignments quite stressful and some of the content feels repetitive and a bit pointless which I find frustrating. With my art in order to make something sale-able I sometimes have to do pieces which are not what I would choose to do which can remove some of the joy of it.
My relationship with Megan. Having a best friend and someone I know is always there to talk to and be on my side. Megan’s two visits to me in the UK have been the best thing.
The house. Although there are compromises to the location and internet it is so good to be in a cosy house with electricity and internet. Having two bathrooms is brilliant! Having a bigger bedroom with space for my stuff.
Being on the mainland. Being able to visit the town, go to the cinema, go out for lunch.
Another year of stuff which was all good included: friends visiting, trips to see live shows, visits to friends and family.
My results on my studies this year. I passed my first year with honours and got a really high mark on my first assessment so far this year. Within a few weeks of setting my art business I had made my first sales.
I attended lots of courses this year for my voluntary work – training for being a helpline listener for a local mental health charity, a suicide prevention awareness course and a women’s aid domestic violence awareness ambassador course. The course content was really interesting and the skills that were covered were ones I feel will be really useful. Some of the information and statistics I heard on the courses were surprising and informative too.
From being in my first relationship I have learned so much. I have learned about Megan but also more about me and how I am in a relationship. Having Megan stay for a month each visit has been intense and meant we have learned lots very quickly.
I have learned lots from the course content of my OU studies, particularly psychology. I’ve enjoyed the case studies and been inspired to investigate further into some of the stuff I’ve learned.
I put together a business plan for my art this year and it was very similar to the academic writing of essays for my assignments for my studying. It involved using evidence to support your point and writing introductions and conclusions. It was good to have a practical application outside of my studies to use that skill.
I’ve spent a lot of time this year watching, reading or listening to reviews of films, commentaries on films and why they are good or bad and similar things on games. I have also watched and listened to similar things about debating political issues and contentious issues. It’s been interesting to understand other people’s views and see how they contrast or match my own and expand a little more how I form opinions and views.
Hopes for 2020:
To spend more time with Megan. Both here in the UK and visiting the US. I’d like to travel more and see where Megan is from too.
I hope to do a piece of art for every day of 2020. I have some strategies in mind as to how to make that happen, I will now start doing it.
To continue donating blood. I’ve done it twice in 2019 and despite the rather spectacular end to the second time (I fainted and fell to the floor from standing) I want to carry on.
I’ll carry over the two things which have been on my list for a few years but not happened yet – learn a musical instrument and post videos to a youtube channel.
To be earning an income from my art by the end of the year as per my business plan.
Special bonus wish for 2020: To go to America. It would be good to see any of the big landmarks I have heard about or seen like New York, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, California or Disney.
When we stepped outside of the rest of the world for our initial WWOOFing and then our move to Rum it felt like we were embarking on the start of something new and exciting. We began to mix in circles of people who all thought along similar lines to us and a lot of our rather ‘out there’ ideas all began to feel quite normal and sensible. In returning to mainland life and living in a house we have stepped back in ourselves to some habits which I had been glad to leave behind. I know that having done without things like TV and always on electricity and internet it is unsurprising to enjoy them to the full but a little part of me is sad that they have so quickly become seen as essential. In many ways the world has moved on in the last decade and people have started to wake up to the big issues facing us. In so many others things are worse now than ever. It was easier to feel that we were at least not part of the problem when living our low impact off grid lifestyle.
Another lifestyle one – although I am enjoying all the various things we do as I recently blogged it is so easy to get caught up in ‘the glorification of busy’. I am determined to keep re-evaluating what I’m doing to make sure that I keep my priorities straight around what I spend my most precious resource – time – on. Necessities of ensuring we were able to pay the bills and settle in to our new life with the expense that came with it have meant I have taken on a lot this year and there have certainly been times when I have felt the balance has been off. I am fiercely protective about my time and how I spend it. This year has maybe involved slightly more compromise on that than I have been happy with. I have done less crafting, less playing my ukulele, less listening to podcasts which inspire, educate and inform me this year than in previous years.
The above both feed in to what I miss about Rum. Freedom over my time, little to worry about outside basic survival and everything having meaning. I am managing to find my meaning and my connection to the things I personally feel are the most important to me, and to the world, but it takes a conscious effort and a degree of offsetting things to ensure that happens, whereas in our Rum life it was just the way things were.
I am massively proud of the four of us and what we have achieved in such a short space of time. I am proud of our ability as a family to be a team, to talk about our wants and needs individually and collectively and work out the best path forwards. I am proud of how we have managed to land here with no jobs, no friends and no real knowledge of this area and so quickly find work, opportunities, friends and make a space for ourselves. I feel both heartened that we have made this work but also reassured that if and when we need to we could do this all over again. I hope we have been good role models for Davies and Scarlett and shown them how to achieve this and make things work.
Individually I am loving all of my various jobs. I am so pleased and proud to be writing for the paper. I love finding stories, interviewing interesting people and working out what the best way to present a story about them is. I love the thrill of seeing my name in print as a by line next to stories I wrote and I have been so chuffed to have such great feedback, from the editor and from local people too, about what I am writing. I am enjoying the youth work I do, despite sometimes feeling frustrated I can see a real difference in the way things are happening as a direct result of my input and again have had some great feedback. I have had a lot of different jobs over the years and always found joy and pleasure in aspects of all of them but as Ady said in his bit it was about 15 years ago that I last did a proper interview, particularly for work I had not previously done, so to go to the various interviews, perform well and be offered the jobs was a real boost. To be doing them well and enjoying them is even better.
I have loved watching the others blossom here. It has been great seeing Davies in his first relationship and meeting Megan. It is lovely to watch your son be such an amazing partner and I am so proud of his loving, respectful, affectionate and caring manner towards his partner. I am also hugely proud of his setting up his art business, his voluntary work and his continued studying. It is wonderful to look at your 19 year old son and see a man, with echoes of the toddler he once was. Scarlett has done so well with her cakes and will continue to develop that too but she has been amazing this year in her mature and responsible attitude towards our new lives here and such a massive part of our team in making everything run smoothly from quietly spotting what needs doing to suddenly appearing with a cup of tea, announcing she has done the thing you were fretting about still needing to be done, dealing with crises and just really stepping up as another adult around the place to fill in the gaps when we’ve needed her. She has impressed so many people whether it’s been coming along with me on interviews, getting involved in the marine ID surveys or coming along to swim. She has been offered two jobs just by people who met her and thought she was great. I’ve already talked about how proud I am of Ady and his new job and how proud I was of him back in the summer taking on the work at the tearoom too.
My wild swimming has been a real highlight of my year. I have loved the group swims, both the big organised events I went to and the smaller regular swims with locals I do weekly. I love the camaraderie and support of the groups, the acceptance and cheerleading and always looking out for each other. I also absolutely adore the solo swims I do. I love the feeling of oneness with the loch, the sky and the mountains. I love the wildlife encounters I have had with seals, with eagles, with gulls, herons and oystercatchers grazing the waves and screaming at me. I love the sense of personal challenge, the connection to nature and the changing seasons. It has become my new hill to replace the one I was missing on Rum.
Despite my earlier bad about getting sucked back into mainland life closer proximity to cultural and educational opportunities has been a real plus. I have to mention Ady and I going to Glasgow to see Hannah Gadsby and Edinburgh to see Richard Herring and Tony Slattery as huge highlights of this year.
I have gotten loads better at spinning this year and while a spinning wheel remains on my wish list I have mastered the drop spindle. I also started experimenting with natural dyes and really enjoyed both the process and the results I got from that.
I have learned a new style of writing from my work with the paper. I have never had my words edited before and it is interesting to see where things get chopped, changed, cut out and moved around. I used to think I would hate having my words critically appraised and altered but actually I have found it really interesting.
I have learned all sorts of things about swimming, both in terms of actual stroke and technique and in terms of wild swimming, various kit and how big a thing it is in the UK.
Living in a very small community on Rum taught me so much about people, about small scale politics, about how communities work and people interact. It also taught me a huge amount about myself. Starting over in a new community has been fascinating and seeing how people slot into almost pre-ordained roles. I am continuing to learn about what makes people tick, what motivates them and about myself and what I am prepared to accept, what I am not willing to put up with and where my boundaries are. I am definitely better than I was and much more inclined to aim for straightforward and honest stating my case and being prepared to walk away if things don’t work out.
I’ve not quite made the sort of friendships and connections I miss from Rum but I am starting to build them. My swimming and my work at the community centre along with the volunteering I do and the couple of craft fairs we’ve done have begun to throw up connections with people who are now definitely more than just acquaintances. I am looking forward to deepening those into lasting friendships over the coming year.
I hope to strike a better balance over the course of this year with how I invest my time – in bringing in money, in volunteering and in my creative outlets.
I hope to continue to support, encourage and cheerlead the other three in their endeavours, hopefully striking the balance between gentle motivation and adding too much pressure, while helping them see what they are capable of.
I would like to have more house guests. We have a spare room in a lovely home and it would be amazing to have more people visit us.
Special bonus wish for 2020 – I would like some sort of exceptional adventure (of the good kind) – a special trip, an amazing wildlife encounter or a personal achievement of a noteworthy kind.
Our first Christmas here in this house. It’s been a perfect Christmas house – lots of space, lovely high ceilings to accommodate a nice tall tree, lots of light so Ady has been able to have poinsettia, hyacinth and amaryllis bulbs all ready to flower for the big day. We have a stair case in the open plan downstairs living area which we have strung with lights.
It’s been lovely heading into Fort William which is our nearest big town every 10 days or so to get a dose of festive countdown madness and see the Christmas lights in the high street.
I’ve been in to the lovely local independent shop which sells fair trade, ethical and no waste items for a furohiki workshop and learned the skill of fabric wrapping so all of my gifts were wrapped with recycled fabric – mostly brightly coloured bedding sets from charity shops along with some fabric from my own stash.
All now tidying folded ready for re-using, The others all used up previously bought wrapping paper but I’ve promised to teach them all to fabric wrap too and will aim to carry on picking up suitable fabric from charity shops to wrap future gifts with. I think things like tea towels or scarves will be perfect as they will become part of the gift too.
We’ve always managed to make our own Christmas cake and mincemeat in autumn ready for Christmas but it’s been a juggling act in limited space finding room for it in the caravan. This year we had plenty of space and were able to make extra mince meat to sell at the local Christmas Fayre. I also made some festive flavours of granola to sell too. Davies had three designs of Christmas cards printed out to sell and Scarlett made some amazing festive Christmas cup cakes. I also made some little santa hats to go on my crochet midges. We had a great day at the fayre, which was held at the local community centre where I work in aid of the high school. It was fab to be feeling part of the local community, realising how many people we already had gotten to know, selling our various wares and getting in the festive groove, albeit still back in November!
We even managed to attend a couple of Christmas staff parties. We had been invited to four different ones for our various self employed, volunteer and other roles but chose just two.
It’s been fantastic to add these new things to our run up to Christmas. It’s also been lovely to continue our closely held little family traditions too and all the more special to be sharing them with Megan this year for the first time.
The first of which (after Solstice celebrations) was Christmas cracker making. In the style of The Good Life, which regular readers will know is a source of constant inspiration to us, we make our own crackers and shout ‘bang!’ when we pull them. We make the hats from newspapers, write our own festive jokes, make a small gift to go inside and stuff it all into a loo roll inner.
This year, having saved our very favourite Christmas movies to share with Megan we cleared a big floor space on Christmas Eve and laid out all the supplies. Pens, packing paper, supermarket weekly specials leaflets, loo roll inners and our badge machine to make the gifts. Davies and Megan particularly took it very seriously and were still hard at work many hours after we started creating cracker masterpieces.
Scarlett decorated the Christmas cake, going for a melted snowman theme this year. As ever she amazes me with her skills in cake decoration and her vision for her designs.
We all ushered in Christmas Day staying up past midnight with carols on the TV – which reminds me Ady and I also managed to attend a local carol service with mulled wine, mince pies and the chance to sing along – bliss!
The big day itself was beautiful with sunshine. I went for a morning swim in the loch where I found the best Christmas star!
while the others opened their Christmas stockings. Then after a festive breakfast we exchanged gifts. A fantastic mix of thoughtful and lovingly chosen presents. As ever we have gone for some experience type gifts to be enjoyed through the year – for Ady a lunch at a restaurant he is very keen to visit, for all four of us a show in the spring, for Davies, Scarlett and Megan photo calendars of some of the best memories of their 2019s to take into 2020. For Scarlett a trail cam which she set up and captured footage of a pine marten of that same evening, for Davies a set of headphones, for Ady a couple of ‘toys’ to play with including a crystal ball for photographs, for me a good supply of lovely gins and fancy chocolates and a non-leaking travel cup to replace the very unsatisfactory one which has leaked tea over me on the last few car trips I’ve taken it on.
We had replaced Scarlett’s now too small Christmas jumper and found one for Megan in charity shops over the past few weeks so once all the gift giving was complete we headed outside into the sunshine for our now traditional Christmas jumper photos.
And took Ady’s new crystal photo ball for a first try out too.
Dinner – as cooked by Ady – was delicious.
Our Boxing Day, along with many people, saw us all venturing out for some much needed fresh air and vitamin D. For Davies and Megan that was a brisk walk. For Ady, Scarlett and I it was a slightly wetter experience as Ady finally took the plunge – quite literally – and joined us in the loch!
Super brave of him and he assures me he was not entirely put off and would definitely do it again. I’ll let you know if he actually does!
We continued our traditional Boxing Day dinner of bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese and leftover turkey but this time Davies and Megan took over the bagel making duties. It felt slightly strange teaching an American to make bagels!
It’s been a fabulous Christmas so far. We’re looking forward to seeing 2019 out, welcoming 2020 in and seeing what the year ahead will bring.
To all our readers we wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever winter festival you celebrate (or indeed summer if you are in the Southern hemisphere!) It is so lovely for us to know that so many people are sharing our story.
One of the most amazing things in our country is our health service. We have been incredibly fortunate – so far – to have needed to call on it fairly few times but both Davies and Scarlett were born with NHS midwives in attendance, Ady obviously had his emergency operation and both he and I have had routine or non-emergency appointments over the past few years.
It can be tough to give back, outside of national insurance and income tax contributions and not using up precious resources unless necessary. On Rum we participated in a long running survey being interviewed 3 times over several years about the service the islands received. We ensured we attended any first aid and first responder training sessions and engaged as fully as possible with consultations about ways to improve the service and to take responsibility for community-led services.
When we lived down in Sussex Ady and I gave blood and we are all on the organ donation lists with Ady and I both also registered for living donor lists too. On Rum giving blood was a logistical impossibility but as soon as we were settled back here we registered for the next session in Fort William and in June we donated, along with Davies who was now old enough too. Last week we donated again and this time Scarlett was also able to donate, just 12 days after she was eligible. It was a super smooth first time for her and she loved all of the information the nurse was able to give her about the process including having a hold of the bag once it was full ‘It’s so warm. And heavy!’ So close to Christmas there were giveaways of tree baubles for donors too.
Poor Davies had a slightly less smooth experience for his second time as he stood up off the bed and promptly fainted and fell back to the floor. He managed a fairly spectacular drop with a cut to his lip and a big bump to his chin but after a lie down and something to eat and drink other than a couple of extra bruises to go with the one on his arm where the needle goes in he was none the worse for wear. It’s always good to have a heroic tale to go with a bruise I think. I’m really proud of them both for donating and hope it’s the start of a years-long habit.
We also volunteer in health service supporting services – Ady in the local hospital transport project, which offers lifts to people attending hospital appointments in our very rural community. Davies and I volunteer for a mental health helpline service and are also trained ambassadors for the local Women’s Aid charity. These services are so very important in remote areas and on Boxing Day I took a call to the helpline – a stark reminder of how difficult this time of year can be in the middle of feasting, lights and making merry.
For some few years Ady has felt that if the opportunity arose he would be interested in working in a caring type role. He really enjoys working with people, is passionate about empowering people to live independently and supported rather than ‘looked after’ and particularly likes getting to know and being around older people. He put some feelers out when we first moved here but found that not having previous experience or qualifications could prove something of a barrier. He then found work at the tearoom over the summer along with our various housekeeping contracts and so nothing more came of it.
Recently though, with no real work (both of the above roles are very seasonal) his thoughts turned again to that type of work and with a bit of research and a very well written application demonstrating how cross transferable his many varied skills could be he was offered an interview for a post a few days before Christmas. Competition was fierce and he was the only unqualified applicant granted an interview. His first interview in well over a decade, his first ever panel interview with five people on the opposite side of the table. He came out having learned more about the job and even more keen to do it. Later that afternoon he took a phonecall offering him the job!
So yet another new chapter of life is upon us with yet another new role. Loads of new skills to acquire, lots to learn, to understand and to embrace. It’s a perfect fit of a part time role which allows us to continue with our flexible housekeeping posts between the four of us and my part time jobs too, while still ensuring that time together as a family remains our top priority and that which gets most of our focus.
We are so proud of Ady, ready and willing to start anew in something completely different, something that he will love. We think he will be brilliant at it, a perfect match for his caring nature, unflappable approach, skills in getting to know and helping people. Ady is proud to be joining and becoming part of a team of people we have long been in awe of and thankful for – our NHS.
We began celebrating Solstice quite some few years ago and while on Rum it became a real turning point of the year when we lived so close to nature and were so dependent on natural daylight. Our days were so dictated to by what was happening outside be it weather or hours of day and night time, as were those of our animals and our crops.
After attending the amazing Burning the Clocks celebration in Brighton back in the early 2000s we have followed the tradition of lighting up the longest night with fire and celebrated the rising of the sun for the following day when it stays in the sky that tiny bit longer than the day before.
I know that solstice can move about to a day either side of 21st December, in the same way as summer solstice can do in June but we have tended to stick to that date. Two years ago we were in Glastonbury for Solstice which was a magical place to sit around a bonfire with dear friends and talk about the year gone by and dreams for the year ahead. Last year we were back on Rum for a bonfire.
This year we are a family of five as Davies’ partner Megan has joined us from America to celebrate a month’s worth of special times including Solstice, Christmas and New Year which also happens to be Davies and Megan’s anniversary.
To mark a mainland Solstice and our increased number we decided to do something special this year so took advantage of it also being the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Nevis Range centre on Ben Nevis meaning they were offering gondola passes at the same price as back in 1989 when they opened.
This meant that after a solstice morning swim for me we headed off to the foot of Nevis and took a cable car ride part way up the mountain. As we climbed higher and the ground below us began to be snowy and the view spread out it was a truly magical experience. We’ve been up a couple of times and it’s always special but this was really wonderful.
The snow was not too deep – although in characteristic fashion we deviated from the proper path and found ourselves wandering in sometimes really quite deep and often rather perilous places with at least two of us getting wet feet as a leg disappeared down a hole! We walked to a viewing point offering splendid panoramic views of snow capped mountains all around, lochs far below reflecting the pink of the sun set skies and nature truly dwarfing man. We’d taken flasks of hot chocolate to enjoy and toast the shortest day with.
Someone was blowing giant bubbles off the balcony of the centre at the top, which drifted magically by, sometimes bouncing off the snow before taking off again.
Back at home, night fell, the clock struck midnight and we took our solstice candle block cut from last year’s yule log on Rum and lit the candles on our decking. We all had a sparkler to fully light up the night and said what we were grateful to nature for. Then we stood while the breeze blew the candles out. The final flame lasted quite some while, almost going out several times and then reigniting before a gust of wind finally extinguished it.
Later that morning, once the sun had risen again I had another swim in the loch, this time with friends. Mountains, lochs, stars, sun rises and sun sets – we felt we continued our tight connection to nature as we marked the shortest day, the longest night and the turning of yet another season.
Scarlett is finally 17. I say finally not because she was desperate to reach that milestone birthday like I was when I was her age – it was my most longed for birthday because it heralded my provisional driving licence and start of my driving lessons, followed as swiftly as possible by my first car – to this day the most exciting test I’ve ever passed and possession I’ve ever owned, filled with possibility, opportunity and adventure. No, Scarlett doesn’t really care about driving. She, like Davies when he reached 17 has her provisional licence but they are both yet to have a lesson or look at theory tests to begin the road to a full licence.
No, for Scarlett this landmark birthday meant she was now eligible to give blood, something she has been looking forward to doing since she first came with Ady and I as a very small girl.
For me it was a good birthday as for some unexplained reason I have never quite felt 16 suited her. I’ve no real idea why, I just never quite got my head around her being 16 and stumbled over it every time I had to say her age. 17 feels just right. For one whole month all four of us are odd number ages, maybe that feels tidier somehow. I’ll ruin that soon by becoming even again – I think odd just suits me better!
The day started with a birthday breakfast of french toast – always the better for using our own chicken’s eggs. This year they are laying so much later into the year and we are still regularly getting an egg or two most days. And present opening. Scarlett’s main requested gift was a waterproof camera for swimming with. There was also a selection of smaller items and a fabulous picture from Davies.
After much deliberation about how to celebrate the day itself Scarlett decided to go to Treasures of the Earth – a local crystal, fossil and gems museum. The kids and I had been before quite some few years ago but Ady had never been. It’s a small and rather tired place but has a real charm to it and was reminiscent of the places we used to go to when the kids were little. We were in there for a couple of hours and enjoyed it.
After that we headed into Fort William for lunch. A new American / Italian diner style restaurant had opened up earlier this year on the high street and we’d been keen to go and try it so in we went. Another ‘couldn’t have done that on Rum’ type treat. We had really nice food in a really colourfully decorated place.
Later back at home it was Scarlett’s favourite dinner followed as per tradition no matter where we might be by birthday brownies.
And maybe a glass or two of something cold and fizzy to toast the birthday girl.
We are very fortunate that we have always been able to make a huge fuss about birthdays. Ady and I have always taken the day off work for ours and of course neither of the children have ever needed to be at school, so the day is always all about the birthday person including food choices and how the day is spent. Of course on Rum the choices were rather more limited although we always seemed to manage something special and appropriate for the person celebrating.
It was lovely to say goodbye to 16 (which I insist never suited her!) and welcome in 17 with a very Scarlett day – different, sweet, interesting, fun, family-focussed, filled with love and laughter and all her favourite things.
I realised the other day I had been misrepresenting myself.
When you move somewhere new, or start a new job, join a new club, meet a new social circle, or in the case of me do all of the above at once to a degree your slate is wiped clean.
No one here really had much prior knowledge of me and so their idea of who I am is largely based on what I have told them and what I have done. Which is of course a fair measure of who someone is in many ways.
Just as many of us go through different life phases and while the essence of who we are deep inside remains the same we wear different coats, carry different external identities or play out different roles the person I am presenting here just now is rather different to anyone I have been before.
In many ways this is an accurate portrayal of me – I’m no longer a scruffy student, a stroppy teen, an ambitious young career chaser. I’m no longer a Home Educator mother of two small people (although I’ll never feel I’ve lost my Home Educator status, no matter how big those people grow…), I’m no longer an off gridder, an island-dweller (well I am, but the island is rather bigger), not a pig / sheep / duck-keeper.
Instead the two things that I am most regularly greeted with when I meet people just now are talk of swimming and talk of busyness. I seem to have become the local crazy in-the-water-most-days wild swimmer. I’m known for it. I also have the reputation of being ‘everywhere’, ‘always busy’ and ‘never at home’.
I’m more than happy with the swimming tag. I am indeed in most days and while I still wouldn’t class myself as much of an actual swimmer, more a ‘messer-about-in-the-water’ if you’re going to do something most days then it’s fair to get tagged with it. And I’ve never much minded a crazy tag (with no offence at all meant to anyone who is triggered by that term).
I am less comfortable with the ‘busy’ label.
I looked it up in the dictionary – busy is defined as ‘working hard’, ‘having a great deal to do’ and ‘overloaded, swamped’. It can also be taken to mean ‘overly decorated or ornate’. The opposite of busy is idle, leisurely or indeed free.
And right there I realise what I’m kicking against with the term busy. Because I am not particularly working because I try not to consider anything I do as work, just as what I’m choosing to spend my time doing. Various of the things I choose to do mean I earn money but in the main I actively enjoy doing all of them. There are elements of each task that can be mundane or not entirely joyous but sufficient highlights in every one to make the overall endeavour a pleasure. Whether it is finding the fun, humour or photo opportunity in a holiday cottage cleaning morning or some banter with the young people at school breaking up a shift at the community centre.
I cannot possibly be busy when I can choose to take an hour out of my day, pretty much every day, pretty much at a time of my choosing to go and swim in the loch. I cannot be busy when every day I have time to pause, look out of the window or stand and stare at the sky, the clouds, marvel at the light, spot raindrops on cobwebs and buzzards in trees.
I cannot be busy when I find time every day to do so many things which I earn nothing for but which bring me such joy, a strum of my ukulele, a curled up cuddle with a teen while watching something on TV, a half an hour snatched in bed in the morning to finish a chapter of a book rather than get up just yet, a spinning of fleece, a crocheting something on a whim because I felt like it, a baking a cake ‘just because’.
I cannot be busy when I sit here, on a Tuesday morning typing this and pondering my third cup of tea of the day.
Busy feels negative, it feels something to be bound by, as though it should almost always come with the word ‘too’ in front of it to be used as an excuse, an apology, a regret.
I won’t call myself busy any more. And when next someone asks after my swimming and then comments on my busyness I shall correct them. I’m still pondering on quite what I am instead…. fulfilled? Lucky? Fortunate? Maybe I’m just doing exactly what I want to be doing….
I posted a couple of weeks ago about the double wild swim I’d done in a day and have mentioned a few times that Scarlett and I have been out swimming quite regularly.
Regular readers will know that during our last year on Rum I walked part-way up one of the hills there on a very regular basis right up until we left. I’ve also gotten back up that hill on a couple of our visits back. I wrote about me and my hill back in January when I marked 100 times up the hill.
When we moved here I was very keen initially to find a replacement for my hill. A walk of a similar distance / challenge to do regularly. Despite searching I never really found one.
But the loch was calling me instead. Literally at the end of our driveway (although the driveway is over half a mile long) lies Loch Sunart. We drive alongside it every single time we leave the house, to go to work, to the shops, to go anywhere. At times it is flat and calm as a mirror, at others as churned up and choppy as a washing machine on full spin. Sometimes it reflects blue skies and fluffy white clouds, sometimes it appears menacing grey with murky depths. Herons, gulls and eagles soar above and land around the shores, seals are regularly spotted basking on the rocks and small islands exposed at low tides or peeking curiously out of the water.
I’ve blogged before about my first few dips and the lead up to the two epic swims (neither of which were in Loch Sunart actually, they were Loch Linhe and Loch Leven) but over the past few weeks I think I have found my new hill – and it turns out it is a loch!
My hill offered me various things – exercise being one obviously, and loch swimming is certainly offering me that. A connection with the natural world was a huge one though – encounters with wildlife, being in tune with the changing seasons, weather, temperature, light levels and sights, sounds and smells of walking the same path every day. It also offered me headspace – a meditative experience of being alone with my thoughts and feelings in a different atmosphere where I was not working, or at home, not parenting, crofting or crafting – I was just being. Finally it offered me a creative opportunity to mark what I was doing, the changes and the staying the same from the same walk each time as I took photographs in the same place – of myself and of the view.
The loch is ticking a whole load of the same boxes for me – I have improved my swimming and in a very slow but certain way I am improving my breathing and fitness. There are also a whole host of reported benefits to cold water swimming for both physical and mental well-being and certainly there is a real high during and post-swim, which seems to be increasing as the temperature decreases.
In just a few weeks I have seen the colours on the hills and woodlands surrounding the loch change from summer to autumn. The loch just now has floating fallen leaves in it too. I’ve seen rainbows above the loch, the first snowfalls atop the highest peaks and been in the loch when it’s been pouring with rain. I’ve shared swims with Scarlett where we chat, laugh and point things out to each other and swims all alone. I’ve talked to people in the car park and on the shore walking their dogs, heading back from their own swims, photographing or just enjoying the wildlife and landscapes.
I was planning to save this post until I’d seen the passing of more seasons, had more memories to share and no doubt I will be back with more tales of my swims in the future but in the last 10 days I have had two magical encounters with wildlife that have felt worthy of a blog post.
The first was a sea eagle, the UK’s largest bird and a regular spot in the skies above us here. It was actually on Rum that the sea eagles were reintroduced back into the wild so I feel a connection with them anyway and often spotted them over the croft or on my walks up the hill. It was here in the loch that I had my closest encounter yet though. It was a choppy tide and I was battling to swim against it so gave up on getting too far before I got too cold and was having my mid-swim float on my back where I look at the sky, listen to the sounds and ponder what is different and the same to the last time I was in the water. A pair of ravens had already been overheard making their distinctive croaking sound and the eagle had flown over much higher earlier but while I was floating it returned. I was enjoying the experience of watching it circle above, dipping it’s wings and tilting it’s head as the circles grew smaller and lower. Until I realised that actually it was getting rather closer than I was entirely comfortable with.
When I swim alone I use a tow float – a small inflatable attached by a tie to my waist. It means Ady (who spots me from the shore, I am never entirely alone) can see me all the time and it gives me something to hold on to should I get a cramp or get into trouble in the water. My float is bright pink and possibly looks not unlike a dead thing in the water. I was also lying fairly still and it is only my face which is not clad in neoprene wetsuit or hat. As I mentioned before there are lots of leaves floating in the water which may look like fish from above to an eagle. Whatever it was interested in was certainly in very close proximity to me if it was not actually me and so I splashed around a fair bit to show my size, hatched an emergency plan to put my face into the water should it actually dive at me and sure enough the eagle stopped circling me and headed away.
That was thrilling enough but yesterday Scarlett and I had an even closer in-the-water encounter with a seal.
I’d been reading on various online wild swimming groups about wildlife encounters and seals are quite a common one. Accounts range from the magical with tales of interacting with seals and feeling as though you have communicated with them, young pups getting really close and curious; to the slightly scary with a few folk telling tales of rather over zealous curious seals scratching or biting. None sound aggressive and I suspect if a seal was actually intent on harm they could so a bit of damage – they are very well armed with their teeth and claw-like ends to their flippers. I have heard a tale of a couple suddenly finding themselves surrounded in a circle by a group of seals which they found quite intimidating. In the main the advice and stories I have read have suggested that as long as you read the body language of the seal and take your lead from them you should consider yourself super lucky to be sharing your swim with them and as with all wildlife encounters you should allow the animal to be in charge of how long and how close your experience lasts.
I have also heard seals most frequently described as like dogs – mostly friendly, mostly curious and mostly wanting to get a closer look at you. Unfortunately as someone who is really quite frightened of dogs this is not really that reassuring to me!
I’ve been half expecting a seal encounter as I know they are abundant in Loch Sunart, we often see them basking on the island in the middle only a few metres down the shore from where I swim. I have also heard lots of other local swimmers talk about and seen pictures of them coming close to swimmers. So I guess it was more a matter of when than if and sure enough yesterday it happened.
Scarlett was in swimming with me, as she does once or twice a week and possibly our more noisy and splashy duo swim rather than my quieter and more direct solo swims attracted the attention of a seal. Ady watching from the shore watched it pop up quite some distance from us and then head speedily closer, popping up several times nearer and nearer to us before we noticed it.
The most surprising thing to note was how HUGE it seemed. A big head atop a strong body, so clearly designed for swimming, able to dive and power through the water in a way I could only dream of made my usual feeling of grace and buoyancy quite laughable in comparison. The seal more or less escorted us to the shore – we were mindful of it being pupping time of year and so keen to not be missing a message that we may have gotten close to somewhere it was steering us away from. Then it took a big dive and didn’t resurface again, obviously heading away under the water.
I’m sure I’ll be back with further tales of wildlife encounters and of course there is a whole season of winter swims ahead of me, but I’ll leave with a small montage of my before and after pictures which is my current creative endeavour alongside my swims. And a quote from a rather famous fellow wild swimmer, Rev. Kate Bottley who says ‘I’ve never yet got out of the water and wished I hadn’t got in.’
We’ve had friends staying the last few days. Very good friends who have visited us on Rum many times and we have spent time with them too. This is the third ‘home’ they have come to visit us in – a static caravan off grid on a remote island, a quirky rented house in Eire and this rented house here in mainland Scotland.
Our lives are very, very different to each other in many ways. We are both happy families of four still living with two parents and two teens, similar in age with a cat and a dog. We share plenty of common interests but the list of ways in which we are startlingly un-alike would cover many more pages than they ways in which we are the same.
It is our little family which is the unusual one – our children have never been to school, none of us work full time or even have any one particular job title, our hobbies and interests tend to be on the quirky side. Our most recent move from Rum to here marked one more move in a list of several changes in address, all of which have been remarkable in their own way.
The conversations my friend and I have shared over the many years we have been close often follow a similar path with her wanting my take on something to better understand how our approaches can be so very different, on how the things which would keep her awake at night worrying about are either of no consequence to me, or are actually motivation for doing something in the first place – risky? unknown? probably a bad idea? untested? just so very different to how everyone else is doing things?
For my 40th birthday Ady bought me a bag with the slogan ‘ignoring advice since 1974’ – I posted about it at the time remarking that most of the best choices I have made in my life so far have been as a result of ignoring advice. Settling down very young, moving away from family and friends with a very small baby, not sending children to school, jacking in jobs and heading off around the country in a small campervan, moving to a remote island, dragging a caravan up a muddy hill…. all of my favourite memories, happiest times, things that make me smile, decisions I am most proud of have come from doing things differently to how most people do them.
During this particular visit we were talking about the various jobs we have found here, the new life we have built for ourselves since arriving in March when we had a house rented but no jobs and no friends yet. At least half of the various things the four of us are finding ourselves doing did not even exist as jobs before we got here, some of them were not advertised.
In my 20s I must have applied for 100 jobs. I must have attended 25 interviews, I had 10 different jobs. In my 30s and 40s I have come to realise that what I was doing wrong was applying for jobs that already existed and trying to make myself fit them. Where I am succeeding now (and by succeeding I mean paying rent, finding things to do that I find rewarding, worthwhile, enjoyable and fit around the other things in my life that I want to do, both in terms of actual hours I have to work, when those hours are, the rate of pay, the flexibility, the people I am working with and how well I am actually doing them) is by seeking what suits me rather than attempting to change myself to match a job spec.
Parenting taught me a lot of those skills, home educating taught me even more. WWOOFing topped them up massively, life on Rum honed them, moving here is fine tuning them. I fully anticipate plenty more twists and turns in my future to continue shaping them, adding to them, growing them.
Starting over is exciting. New things to learn, new ways to present yourself, new opportunities to find where your strengths and previous experiences may be useful and what you need to learn and develop that you didn’t already possess. Starting over means new people to get to know, new rules to understand. I love the constants in my life, they are what enables me to feel secure enough to thrive on a big dose of changes. Working out what should be the constants and what can be let go in favour of a shake up has definitely been key in all the startings over we have done so far.
It’s funny how so many of the things I had planned and dreamed of doing but never managed in all those years on Rum have been possible since leaving. It turns out living in a house with easy access to so many of the things we didn’t have on Rum does indeed make life easier. It comes with it’s own price for sure but I’m enjoying both the actual luxury of four solid walls and a solid roof along with the luxuries that a rather easier life (in many ways) provides.
One of the skills on my very long list of things I wanted to learn was rural crafts. I wanted to learn to shear sheep, spin the fleece, dye it and make things with it. In classic reverse order I learned to crochet (I could already knit) long before I learned to make the wool, before I even had the sheep actually.
Then came the sheep, followed a year later by the shearing and thanks to a kind Rum friend a first taster of spinning. Sadly the caravan had no room for a spinning wheel and although I had a drop spindle I failed to master the skill so the bagged up fleece remained bagged up.
The following year (last year infact) we improved our shearing skills and buoyed up by this, along with a donation from a blog reader I invested in a better drop spindle and set about improving that skill too. Many hours of practise later, along with quite a few swear words and spindles and bobbins bouncing about the place I had managed to spin enough wool to form part of an heirloom blanket project for my Mum, a hat for Ady and a pair of cosy socks for when I’m ill for myself.
The notion of dyeing was there nagging at me but once again the caravan and the limitations of our Rum life made it a tricky one. We had no spare pan and wooden spoon for a dye bath, our hob ran on bottled gas which we had to carry up the hill and was a precious resource providing our cooking and hot water. An hour or more of boiling a pan just to colour some wool was not a wise investment of such a resource and the levels of condensation from an uncovered pan bubbling away for an hour would have made me very unpopular with the others.
This year though, with the bag of fleece now a wheelie bin filled with the fleeces of 8 sheep the time has come to embark on the final step of that woolly adventure skills acquiring. So armed with a pan I bought from the local re-use centre for a pound and some freshly spun wool I started learning about natural dyes.
I’m sharing here what I’ve learnt from what I’ve done rather than any sort of guidelines. I’ve not measure properly or timed anything and some of what I’ve discovered goes against some of what I’ve read, while some of it supports what I’ve read. There is not a wealth of information about natural dyes and certainly nothing definitive, there seems to be lots of contradictory advice out there. Which of course I am now adding to too!
The key things I had read were that most natural things (leaves, fruit, fruit and vegetables and their peel, berries, seeds, needles, fungi, lichen, flowers…) can be used to extract colour from to make a dye but there are different ways of treating different things to get different results. The colour you get is not necessarily the colour of what you are using eg blackberries won’t give you a purple dye, a green leaf won’t give you a green dye. Some dyes require a mordant or fixative, some will be changed again with the addition or use of a mordant.
I have read about various mordants – some you treat the wool with before dyeing, some during and some after. They range from chemical to natural. To me if I’m using natural things to dye with I wanted to be using natural things to fix it with. Natural mordants include ammonia, vinegar and iron water. Iron water is made by soaking a rusty piece of iron in water, ammonia can be urine.
I’ve read about extracting the pigment from things by soaking them in the ammonia or iron water and then creating a dye bath for your wool or fabric from that, or by adding everything together. Some things require long soakings, some require heat.
If it’s all sounding a bit like a dark art then you are concluding about the same as I did from reading about it. I decided doing was better so armed with a suggestion from somewhere that lichen does not require a mordant and having seen someone local dyeing yarn by boiling it in a pan with some lichen I decided that was my starting point.
I am lucky enough to live in the woodland which is rich with lichens of many types. I am no botanist and while I can fairly confidently call a lichen a lichen the only variety I would have a go at naming is lungwort. I was aware that different lichens give different results so I kept the three types I had gathered separate.
Almost all lichens are protected and you should not pick them from where they are growing – it can damage both the lichen and what it is growing on. Fortunately (for me) at this time of year there is plenty of windblown lichen lying around on the woodland floor so I was able to gather a decent handful or two without disturbing anything growing.
I started with a pale green almost fluffy looking type. I put the wool and the lichen in a large pan of water and simmered it for about an hour. I kept an eye on it, didn’t agitate it too much in case the wool felted and when it looked like the colour had mostly left the lichen and was staying in the wool I drained it and rinsed the wool through. The colour stayed fast!
The wool is pure white to start with. This first lichen took the colour to a pale yellow – almost identical to what the wool had looked like before I washed the lanolin and general croft dirt out of it after I’d spun it.
Next I tried a more lungwort-y looking lichen. This had quite a bit of tree bark debris, mostly because I had gathered it off the firewood we had chopped up and bought in. I didn’t gather so much of this so I suspect a bigger haul would net a deeper colouring, but maybe not.
This gave a darker result than the first one.
Over the weekend we went on a walk to some local woodland which was rich with all sorts of foraging treasures. I gathered a large handful of lungwort which I had been told would create a darker brown. This was my biggest volume of lichen in a dye bath yet which no doubt accounts in part for the deep colour but look at this!
It’s just gorgeous. And the four different colours all together look stunning.
Next adventures include trying something other than lichen, experimenting with more or less lichen per bath and (very exciting) dyeing some fleece before spinning it. I have this idea that it would be cool to create some yarn with two different colours.
I also want to try knitting or crocheting something with my newly dyed yarn. Any suggestions?