We had a whole list of reasons for our off-island winter adventures. We wanted a break from the survival-quest which is winter in an off grid caravan on a Scottish island. Wet, windy, cold. Six hours of daylight, battling against a mud bath of a croft, going out to collect firewood and feed animals, staying in to wipe down walls and windows. After five winters we knew we had nothing left to learn – or prove – about what the darkest months of the year hold for us here. Instead we wanted to have a proper family Christmas with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. We wanted to catch up with friends and dip our toes back into our old lives to see whether we really missed what we thought we might, plus how we’d feel about not being here on Rum.
We had three very different chunks of time while we were off. Working – and enjoying all of the rewards of working in Somerset. Doing stuff for someone else at someone else’s bidding but compensated richly for it. A return to our old lives back in Sussex including a visit to our old house, picking back up the threads of our previous social lives and family times. Then in complete contrast our two months in Ireland, time spent isolated from everyone where nobody knew our names or was likely to come knocking at the door. None were perfect, all were perfectly nice. None lured us back or made us want to stay beyond the time we had planned to.
In returning to Rum we all definitely feel we have come ‘home’. There are aspects of our lives here which we know are unsustainable long term. More than ever perhaps our lives here feel finite in many ways. We arrived home to no water, rodent invasions. Since returning we are realising quite how much of a physical toll our lives here take on us after nearly four months break from it. Today the ferry bought us 11 bags of animal feed and compost – four wheelbarrow-loads to move from the closest place we can get a car to the feed bins on the croft. The ferry tomorrow is already cancelled due to the wind that is shaking the walls as I type. But none of this is news. None of this is intolerable, it is merely the compromise of life here, in much the same way as early mornings, traffic jams, Monday morning meetings, boilers breaking down are the compromises of other choices in ways to live your life. These are the compromises we are making in order to have the freedom, the views, the time that we have here. All things we missed when not here and all things we are prepared to put up with a lot of down sides to protect and enjoy.
So for now, certainly for as much as anyone really is able to have a long term plan we have settled on one that we think works for us. No more winters in the caravan. We don’t need to be off for as long as we were this past winter – probably two months would be sufficient to miss the worst of it. We don’t need to go as far away from here as we did this time either, indeed staying somewhere that we could return for visits would be preferable. We don’t need to have quite so many compromises as we do here – we have a lightweight washing machine on order along with a bigger solar panel to mean that laundry can all be done here on the Croft and Davies and Scarlett can have pretty much always on wifi. We’re looking at ways to put a porch space on the caravan with a re-roof over the top.
We have also been looking at the croft with a critical eye, working out what does bring in income, what does enhance our lives as in makes us happy or are things we enjoy doing. Our livestock holding is currently at nice manageable numbers in terms of animal feed. Our sheep are doing a great job of grazing the croft and we will get another three fleeces from them in the summer. Thanks to the very cold winter this years fleeces are looking fantastically thick and full. Also in my online order basket is a spinning wheel. A bit of an investment but something I am really excited about learning to do properly and something which should easily return the investment in wool from the 3 fleeces I already have from last year, the 3 we’ll get this year and the amount of wool that will give me either to sell or to make things with to sell.
Our chickens and ducks have always enjoyed a very wide free ranging life but it has meant that our egg collecting is way tougher than it could be, with most of the eggs feeding the crows. We currently have the ducks penned in our soft fruit cage, primarily as we are re-educating them that they live here on the Croft after a winter spent down in the village. They are also doing a great job of clearing all the grass and weeds around the currently dormant fruit trees and bushes and eating all the bugs, slugs and moths that can damage the trees later in the year. We’re collecting the eggs they lay too. We will let them back out once the weather dries up so they can swim on the river but may well create a penned area for them to be put away in at night so we can still collect the eggs.
The chickens are free ranging at the moment but after a managerial style walk around the croft yesterday with virtual clipboards Ady and I decided that our walled garden of raised beds is never going to perform well for us with crops until we improve the soil in there. Every year I do really well with getting seeds germinated and growing in the polytunnel and then I plant them out into the raised beds and they fail to thrive despite watering, feeding and weeding. This year we won’t even try – we will pen the chickens in that area and they can forage and scratch all the weeds out for us, then we can add a mulch of their manure-rich bedding on the beds covered with a hefty layer of seaweed from the beach and leave the whole lot to rot down nicely for next year. Meanwhile we will be able to collect all of the hens eggs too, bolstering our eggs sales and reducing our feed bill, while improving the ground ready for next year. We will concentrate on the large areas we have given over to strawberries and soft fruit and use the polytunnel and mini greenhouses to grow herbs, salad, tomatoes and peas.
I have moved things around and added some of the crafts I had worked on over the winter off into the shed. We have ordered some bits and pieces for other crafty ideas we have to make and sell and Ady is working on some more photography for postcards. I have at least one off-island outlet for selling my jams, an online shop for selling my crafts and a plan to work more on expanding both of those.
Davies has transferred his study with the Open University from an access course to a BSc degree in Psychology with the credits from what he has already studied going towards that. He has a choice in how fast or slow he takes that studying depending on what else he does with his time. He is considering a variety of other pursuits including some work experience, some travelling, following his other interests in art and film making and still has the option of looking at a bricks and mortar university at some future point should he decide he wants part of that uni experience after all. But for now he has a clear plan, with lots of interesting, exciting and challenging options ahead of him. The part time study since the autumn has shown him what he is most interested in, confirmed the areas he thought he wanted to learn more about and highlighted for him the skills he needs to invest more time and energy into improving.
Scarlett is really pleased to be back on Rum. She is still working out quite which direction to throw her energy in, but has many possible options she is exploring and in the meantime we are all getting to eat a lot of delicious and beautifully decorated cupcakes as she hones that particular interest and skill.
At the end of our virtual clipboard croft walk Ady and I sat on our favourite bench looking our over our favourite view with the last cup of tea of the day. A plan, a feeling of contentment and enough of a streak of uncertainty and adventures still to be had makes for a pretty good combination as far as I’m concerned.