The Next Chapter

I had thought I would wait until we are actually settled, but there is every chance we will be internet-less for a few weeks so better to blog now.

Last Thursday evening I spotted a house to rent on the local-ish facebook buy/ sell / swap group so I got in touch with the landlord and after a bit of chatting we arranged to go and view it on Monday evening.

Ferries do not allow for easy logistics for things like that so we had to be sure it was a real contender to justify heading off but after lots of discussion we decided Ady and I should go and view it while Davies and Scarlett stayed here on Rum to look after the Croft creatures and the pets. It meant Ady and I were able to hire a car for the evening to drive ourselves to go and view the house and then doze in the car overnight ready to catch the ferry back to Rum first thing the next morning. Cheapest option with least pet sitting favours required we thought.

So Monday afternoon saw Ady and I on the ferry, we caught up with a few friends from neighbouring islands also heading to the mainland including our WWOOF hosts from Eigg all those years ago so it felt like closing the circle somehow. We drove to the house and arrived a short time before the landlord so had time to wander round the outside of the house, take some photos to send back to Davies and Scarlett and sit and get a feel of the place. Both Ady and I felt that it was somewhere we could easily picture ourselves living.

We met the owner and had a chat, a good look around the house and further chats. The feeling of rightness continued and strengthened the longer we were there and the more we talked to the owner about the house and the surrounding area. We said goodbye and drove back to somewhere with good phone signal to call Davies and Scarlett and send videos and pictures and talk it through with them. We all agreed to take it further and so contacted the owners to say we’d like to go ahead with renting the house.

A fairly uncomfortable and cold night of sandwiches , reading my kindle and watching stuff Ady had downloaded onto his phone later we had a cup of tea on the quayside looking out across the sea towards Rum.

An hour later we were on the ferry back to Rum chatting to various friends who also happened to be on the ferry (some residents, some visiting for a meeting) and two hours later we were back with Davies and Scarlett. We arrived home to the kettle on, the fire lit and Scarlett ready and waiting for the eggs and other ingredients we had bought back with us at her request for a pancake extravaganza of various sweet and savoury options. Go Scarlett!

That was only yesterday morning, and five days ago we didn’t even know this house existed. But between then and now we have agreed the contract, ordered a phone and internet connection, paid the deposit and first months rent and booked the ferry.

On Saturday (ferry and all other variables playing fair) we will be arriving in our new home.

As usual it’s a rollercoaster with us. Nothing is ever slow but the day is for seizing!

The house is within an hour’s drive from Mallaig, where the ferry to Rum leaves from, so we’ll be commuting back at forth very regularly while we continue to work the croft for now, while setting up our new mainland life too. As I said the internet may be a barrier to sharing what’s going on for a couple of weeks but we’ll be taking plenty of photos and storing up any stories to tell ready for when we’re back online and able to post more.

For now, I’ll leave you with the list that the four of us drew up just a couple of weeks ago about our absolute wishlist for what we all wanted next….

Some of those items (proximity to a town / city / airport) are not quite so close as we might have wished for in a 100% perfect option but they would definitely still get a tick against them.

Wish us luck, we’re pulling together the words and pictures for the ‘what happens next’ bit of our story again.

Another winter done

I’ve lived here (and by here I am meaning Rum, but actually the same applies for ‘on the planet’) long enough to know that March far from signifies the end of all that winter can bring in terms of weather and temperature challenges but nonetheless March 1st does mark the start of meteorological spring and therefore the end of winter.

We arrived on Rum in spring 2012 and during that first six months we must have heard over 100 times ‘well you haven’t done a winter yet…’ and that was to our faces. We know for a fact that behind our backs people were doubting that we / our caravan / our southern softie ways would last a winter. But we did. And then another one, and another, and another…. Last year we did attempt to not do yet another winter, but then we returned to Rum in March and while winter was technically over I think our welcome home offering was the toughest weather conditions we’d encountered yet. We intended at that point to definitely not do another winter. And yet, here we are. We have had several trips off but were here for all of December and January and half of February too and now we are getting into longer days and signs of spring once more it turns out that oh look, we’ve only done yet another winter.

So what does winter here actually mean? Despite being pretty far north Rum is not actually all that cold. It is more warm, wet and windy. And dark. In the depths of winter snow is still unusual, in seven winters here we can count proper snowfalls on one hand, hard ground frosts are not that common either. With an island only 8 miles across pretty much everywhere is coastal, the ground is undulating and very, very wet and boggy so the pockets of ups and downs tend to break up the weather and temperature. That said a draughty caravan is rubbish at keeping internal temperature much different from external temperature (and indeed internal conditions generally different from external ones, if it’s rainy outside then chances are the roof might leak and the windows are certainly running with water). Our little log burner does a fine job of keeping the living area cosy while we’re awake and tending it but bedrooms, particularly Ady and I’s (which is at the far end of the caravan, furthest from the living space) are never above single figures celsius during the winter months, often plummeting very close to zero during the night. I’ve talked before about the wet and the windy. As I am typing this we are ‘enjoying’ winds of around 50mph with gusts of up to 70mph.

But this is not a complain-y post, this has been the life we have chosen and enjoyed more than enough highs from to take these lows in our stride, or at the very least offset them firmly against the good bits. And the longer days are coming. For our six hours of daylight in the depths of winter we enjoy 20 hours of daylight in the height of summer. And we are creeping back towards credit rather than debit of daylight hours with a good 10 hours, maybe more, rising daily. It’s been a curious few weeks of weather across the UK with a February heatwave, a small amount of which has even reached us here on Rum. I’ve been up my hill a couple of times in short sleeves and nature is waking up. I have both enjoyed the sun on my upturned face and nursed a dread in my heart about quite what the environmental message the planet is sending us with these unseasonal conditions is.

But as the world still turns and the calendar pages flip over to reveal the start to yet another season. There are starting to be visitors coming off the ferry wearing walking boots and heading out into the island once more. I met a man walking up my hill last weekend and stopped for a chat with him. I’ve spent time labelling up jam, have been crocheting midges to restock the shed and been posting on our Croft 3 instagram about the various crafts and produce available in our shed to whet the appetites of people planning a trip to Rum this year.

We have taken inventory of our seeds and put together a list of new ones to buy. We have another 1000 trees arriving in the next couple of weeks, the sheep’s fleeces are looking fabulous (although we are months away from shearing it’s still nice to cast an eye over them and feel pleased about having those to come) and we’ve had a few duck eggs already.

In our usual spirit of not getting stuck in our ways and trying to always think of a new way of approaching things Ady came up with the genius idea of moving our strawberry patch to create a chicken run. Our strawberry patch last year was in an adjacent area to our fruit cage and veg garden but the plastic hoop covering we used didn’t quite last the season and the black plastic we had put down had not really worked at either preventing weed growth or dealing well with the steep ness of the slope that area is on, meaning that every time we walked in the cage to do weeding or pick strawberries we were pulling the plastic covering around. So rather than our planned idea of building a new chicken cage and doing more work in the strawberry cage Ady proposed moving the strawberries somewhere more suitable and using that cage for the chickens. Perfect! The strawberries require daily attention during the peak season so we have created an area close to the caravan for them and have some readymade plastic tunnel cloches arriving. The area is paced out, has wooden paths to prevent muddy foot paths, a wind break / sheep / turkey / goose barrier errected and as soon as we have a nice weather window and our plastic tunnels have arrived we will dig up the strawberries, lay down the plastic cut to size and replant them in the new area, then let the chickens in to enjoy the weeds and stay in an enclosed area each night until they have laid eggs each morning.

You might be wondering why all this talk / work when we don’t really know what’s happening next? We are firm believers that even if you are looking for something new you should carry on making the absolute best of where you are right now at the same time. Both here on our Croft on Rum and indeed in all of life itself.

Nearly a year back

We are coming up to it being a year since we returned to Rum after our winter off in 2017 / 2018. We returned with the intention of giving Rum one last shot at working for us, while trying to spend more time off to get a better balance of mainland / island life.

‘Making Rum work’ has always been a rather subjective and almost ever changing notion with so many determining factors as to whether it is working, has worked, could maybe possibly potentially one day work. The past year making Rum work was about earning as much money as we could from the various endeavours we have here. That meant advertising our various crafts and produce as much as we could – we refreshed and added to the welly trail and signage up to the Croft, painted our on-island car to direct visitors up to the croft, did lots of social media posting, created extra signage to direct people to the North Side Nature trail which brings visitors around the sides of the croft and past the shed selling our crafts and produce. We carried on pushing sales throughout the year online netting several sales right up until Christmas, which is way past when we have usually finished for the season.

We introduced lots of new lines in the shed and in our online etsy shop including clocks, badges, stamped keyrings and pendants, slate signs and crochet creatures. We invested in nicer jam jars with fancier labels and sold through the older style jars of jam. We introduced several new jam flavours based on what had sold well previously. We gifted a couple of clocks to be displayed in other on-island businesses to draw people up to buy them and provided quite a lot of produce delivered down to the bunkhouse including bread and cakes. We did a few talks and tours on the croft and a couple of workshops teaching people some of the crafts we sell here.

We were more efficient in our egg selling with most of the birds penned so that we were collecting all of the eggs instead of sharing them with the crows. We only let a couple of birds hatch young (although sadly none of the hatchlings made it). We only grew crops that we knew would be profitable in terms of feeding ourselves or being made into preserves.

Ady took on a fair bit of off-the-croft work, although he was hampered by his knee injury from taking on quite as much as he’d have liked into the autumn. We kept our livestock holding numbers down to a static number and managed to shear the sheep all by ourselves, with the first fleece spun and turned into wool items for sale.

All of these efforts to earn more went towards spending more so that we could balance our lives better to meet the needs of our restless teens and our own needs for a social and cultural life over and above what Rum can provide.

We have had trips to Northern Ireland, North Wales, several visits to Sussex, to London, to Manchester, to Inverness and Aviemore. We’ve been to the theatre, the cinema, museums, memorial services, beaches, the Giants Causeway, neighbouring islands, zoos and more.

Our plan was to spend the spring, summer and autumn on Rum and then head off again for the winter. We had hoped to find somewhere local-ish to rent over the winter so that we could keep a close eye on the Croft while not having to actually survive in the caravan over the winter. Unfortunately we are far from the only people looking to rent short, or even long term in this area. We have spent six months trying to find somewhere, casting our net ever wider and turning up nothing even slightly suitable, let alone perfect. And suddenly we find ourselves just weeks away from the spring having stayed another winter in the end after all. We have managed plenty of time off over the winter and it has been a very kind, mild, mostly bearable winter (so far…. never speak too soon, spring could easily be delayed until May!).

It would be easy enough to aim to do the same again this year – settle for a spring, summer and autumn here and plan to be off for as much of next winter as possible with regular trips off but that is starting to feel like something of a limbo, as though we are all poised ready to start the next bit but never quite getting off the ‘ready…..steady….’ bit of the starting blocks. The fact is that while we could easily do just that and see out another season here quite contentedly pottering about on the croft, incrementally growing the business from the shed, tending to our livestock and growing a few crops whilst spending what we earn on nice distractions and experiences we all four know that this chapter of our lives is meeting our needs less and less with every passing month.

We started this blog, way back in 2010 when we were four perfectly happy and content people who just felt we were slightly living the wrong lives. As though there was a better fit for us somewhere else. We were not miserable or sad, not deeply unhappy or unfulfilled and we found joy in our lives daily. But we knew there was something else out there that would be even better. That is where we find ourselves once again….on the cusp of the next unsettling, scary, unknown, risky adventure. I always tell the kids that you know when something is right for you because you get that fizzy, pit of your stomach feeling of excitement, like the night before Christmas or just as the rollercoaster pauses for that split second at the very top of the track, or you look down from the top of the diving board…..or you realise that no one is holding on to the back of your saddle anymore and you really are peddling this bike all on your own.

It is wrong when living in an off grid caravan, halfway up a muddy hillside, on a remote Scottish island becomes the safe and known. It’s been a tremendous adventure and we have learned so very much but I think the biggest lesson of all has to be that if this felt like a huge and exciting venture then maybe this was only the start and perhaps there is something even more exciting waiting for us. We just need to start looking a bit harder.

This week we all sat and compiled a list of what we would look for next in an ideal home. The results were interesting, with plenty of crossovers between the four of us. Some are reactions to how we have been living for the past eight years since we left our cosy Sussex home, some are takeaways from precisely how we have been living and don’t want to let go of. It gives us the basis of what to look for next and some ideas of ways to make enough money to support ourselves with the next set of things we’d like to do, see, achieve and experience.

More as we start to work it out ourselves….

Jaunts and Adventures

We’ve been away. Away from Rum and back visiting old lives, old friends and family.

Poor weather meant we ended up away for even longer than we’d first planned but it’s not a bad time of year to be away from our caravan. It was a shame to have missed some heavy snow here for the photo opportunities and the beauty that is Rum under a heavy coating of white, but fortunately we had plenty of photos posted up by fellow islanders to look at instead.

Our first stop on our time off was Greater Manchester, in a little cottage for a week. It was lovely; a cosy, warm, beautiful little house with everything we could possibly need. Close enough to the nearest town to walk in for supplies, close enough to Manchester city to drive in – which we did lots!

To collect and drop off friends from the airport 

To go to a Welcome to Nightvale live show (as the introduction speech went ‘if you have never been to a Nightvale show before you are in for a weird evening. If you have been to a Nightvale show before you are in for a weird evening’). Davies was interviewed in the queue outside

We had a fabulous weekend with friends, some up from Sussex, some over from Northern Ireland.

There was singing, dancing, eating, drinking, laughing, talking and general merriment. There was not much sleeping….

Family from Manchester came to visit us 

and we managed a trip to the Trafford Centre

And it snowed! Which was both amazing because it was so beautiful….

and a bit rubbish because it meant that a get together with another set of friends we’d been really hoping to see had to be cancelled due to the weather / driving conditions / planned meeting being a walk with our dogs.

After a very enjoyable week we headed even further south down to my parents. Another lovely stay with lots of time spent with Mum & Dad, my brother and his son, both my sister-in-laws and our nieces and nephews. I met a friend for lunch, Ady, Davies and Scarlett had a trip to the cinema, walks along the beach and onto the pier and some very successful charity shop trawling trips where our required items of four hand luggage sized suitcases for a trip later this year were met for less than we’d have paid for one new, plus my search for new walking boots was met with not one but two pairs for less money than I’d had refunded for the pair that fell apart after just a few months use. Ady and I helped Dad fit a bit of shower screen and I helped Dad put together a garden store. We helped dig several large currant bushes out of one place and replant them in another.

We chased sunsets a few times – on the beach, up on the south downs. I had a wonderful sunset walk along Worthing beach and pier when I met the others from the cinema and managed to see flocks of starlings murmerating over the pier before swooping down to land underneath it to roost for the night. Scarlett fed the gulls on the beach one day too.

Despite the motorway path back up north home being long and mostly boring we did have some amazing birding spots though – loads of buzzards over the M25, huge numbers of red kites over the M40 and several large mumerations of starlings over the M6.

As always returning to Rum is a mixed bag of emotions – sadness to leave behind family and friends, the relative ease in many aspects of mainland life and all it offers. Joy to return to the place that definitely feels like home in my heart, reluctance to settle once more in the caravan yet comfort at once more having our belongings around us; drinking tea from my own mug, using my own kitchen utensils to cook with, laying my hands on something as soon as I think I may want it. Life on the road has many delights but settling into a place called home, wherever that might be trumps them all for now.

The time off has given us pause to consider further our next steps though and the search for the right path ahead continues. More on that in posts to come.

One Hundred Hills

Way back on my birthday in 2017 we took a walk up the newly repaired path part way up into Rum’s hills. The path leads up to Coire Dubh, the place where most of Rum’s houses get their electric and water supply from as there is a dam there.

When we did the walk in 2017 I found it really, really hard going. It’s not a terribly long way but is very steep. I have asthma so even at my fittest cardiovascular exercise is tricky. At the time I remarked to Davies that I should start doing the walk once a week and that I bet if I did it would quickly start to become an easier walk. Despite that being an intention, as so often happens life and other distractions got in the way so I never did it in 2017.

I’m not even sure what made me think about it again last summer but on summer solstice, a day that is so long here that you both awake and go to sleep while it’s still daylight it was one of the many outdoorsy things I did and that afternoon I set off up the hill. It was just as tough as I remembered it and I arrived at the top, red faced, breathless and gasping for water.

But the view was magnificent! Blue skies, blue sea, green hills and a bay filled with boats.

Two factors have made me carry on walking up that hill. Not every day, some days I’ve not been on Rum, some days I’ve simply been too busy with other things, or not well, or the weather has just been too awful to be outside unless I *had* to be. The two things are my sheer bloodymindedness of not taking well to finding things hard, when they should be if not easy, certainly not quite so far out of my reach. The second is how much I have enjoyed it.

The bloodymindedness has led me to do several similar things in the past. Back in 2009 from being a very weak swimmer who could barely manage a length I did a sponsored swim and swam 75 lengths for charity. Buoyed on (pun intended!) by that the following year I signed up for a ‘channel swim’ where over a 12 week period I swam the equivalent of the English Channel at my local pool. By the end of that 12 weeks I was managing well over 100 lengths at a time a few times a week. Again I raised a decent sum of money for charity which was excellent, but mostly I enjoyed it.

The enjoying it is a funny one. The exercise for the sake of it is something I can’t confess to really enjoying. Whilst I like knowing I am increasing my health and fitness it is much more about pushing myself to do something challenging that I enjoy. When I was doing the swimming I also enjoyed the hour or so at a time entirely to myself – as a full time Home Educating mother when Davies and Scarlett were little I had little to no time all to myself, so to lose myself in a mindless physical activity while my brain could wander around was a joy. With the swimming I was mostly busy listening to my own breathing and counting my tally of lengths as I went but I was also doing plenty of mental tupperware sorting, putting things into boxes, labelling them accordingly and working through things. Certainly the 2010 swimming challenge was during the first ponderings that led us to our WWOOFing adventure. I enjoyed the heavy legged, physical tiredness of the swimming too.

My Coire Dubh walks have not raised any money for anything and unlike the swimming challenges they have not had an end date or a specific goal in mind. For the last week or so I have been mindful of approaching 100 times though because after that first time of taking a picture of the view and a selfie of me red faced and grimacing I decided to carry on recording those two images each time so I was aware that I was nearing 100 times of doing the walk as the file numbers on my computer told me.

I have mostly walked up alone, although Bonnie’s been with me a couple of times and on my birthday the other three joined me. Once a friend came up part way with me. I sometimes meet people along the way but more often I do not see anyone. I have sat and chatted with people for ages at the top before now and had some really interesting conversations with strangers, with fellow Rum residents and with visitors, or just exchanged a smile and a nod as I pass people heading up or down on the path. I have been up during summer, autumn and winter and watched the colours and the landscape change with the seasons. I have walked up in wind, rain, hail, snow and sunshine, sometimes two or even three of those in the same day. I have seen rainbows, planes, birds and the most amazing clouds in the sky. I have bumped into red deer on several occasions, sometimes almost literally!

Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes a podcast, sometimes nature, sometimes nothing. I have walked up singing, laughing, a couple of times crying. I have walked with joy, with anger, with woe, I have been carefree and burdened, excited and defeated. I have mentally composed replies to emails, finished off fantasy conversations or arguments with others, thought things through, made decisions and made my peace. The perspective of seeing everything spread below me – Rum, the croft, the mainland beyond is both symbolic and soothing, uplifting and humbling. The path may be meandering but it keeps me straight.

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this walk. Lucky to live where I live and have access to all this natural beauty. Fortunate to have sufficient health, fitness and physical ability to walk up a steep hill – and to have noticed it getting easier. Blessed to have the time to call my own to spare to take this walk. I am always grateful to sit and rest at the top, even on the coldest, bleakest days. I am always even more grateful to arrive home to a cup of tea.

So today was walk 100.

I wasn’t sure how to mark the 100th time. It felt both momentous but at the same time not really that remarkable either. I’ll carry on walking up that hill, most days, weather and other factors permitting. You can clearly see the change in the seasons by the colours of the view. I can see changes between the two pictures of me too – if nothing else I’ve improved the art of taking an arms length photo of myself!

In the end I marked a stone with 100 and held it up next to me. I just selected a dark stone and marked it with water. Obviously I had access to water as there were little pockets of snow on the ground and I am sat next to a dam. I’ll let you decide whether I ignored both of those water sources and just licked my finger to mark it….

A few moments later the water was already drying and by the time I started to walk away it had disappeared…

That felt like the perfect way to mark it. Acknowledge, celebrate, move on.

My hill taught me that.

What Happens Next?

We’ve been hinting and alluding to next steps in the planning and while we are still waiting for all the details to fall into place we have enough of a vision of what we’d like our lives to look like that we can share that vision. As has happened before with sharing ideas and plans on the blog we often get some great feedback – questions are brilliant as in answering your questions we often need to think about details that we may have missed or iron out any flaws in our plans. Ideas or suggestions are also really good – the hive mind or the ‘more the merrier’ definitely comes into play. Finally though the more we talk about ideas they more they manifest themselves, take shape and become closer to a reality.

Eight years ago we were on the cusp of a huge adventure. We were working out our notice periods in our jobs, finalising our WWOOF host arrangements, doing the final clear out / pack up of our house and preparing ourselves as best we possibly could for the absolute unknown. Willow the camper van was already sitting on our driveway and we would often go and sit in the van and try to picture what lay ahead. Our lives were filled with lists, timescales, maps, plans and a long, long checklist of hopes and dreams.

Seven years ago our application for a croft on the Isle of Rum – a place we had only visited once, for barely two hours – was in the hands of the island community trust, in response to crofts they had created and advertised to let. Within the coming weeks we would visit again for an interview, be offered the croft and set about a whole new set of lists, packing up, getting ready and a whole new list of hopes and dreams.

One year ago we were sitting in a rented house in Ireland having left the island for the winter to decide what we should do next and get some perspective away from Rum and our challenging lives here on the croft. We collectively decided to return, to make changes to our lives here to fix the issues we had with the things that we did have control over and to accept with good grace the things we could not. More lists, more plans…

Whilst it would be completely fair to say that we have made some unconventional and unusual choices it would also be accurate to say that all of them have been considered, planned, well-thought out and the result of plenty of research, discussion, taking the individual and collective needs of the members of our family into account and with careful re-evaluation along the way. The detail, reflection and talking that makes it onto this blog is merely the tip of a very large iceberg! Whilst it would be true to say that our little family unit is definitely up for adventure, challenges and grasping at the opportunities life offers us we are also not heading off blindly into the unknown.*

*largely thanks to Ady if I am being honest, I am definitely of the more reckless personality type!

So with that considered approach to our lives here on Rum we have collectively concluded the following:

Our current lives here no longer meet all of our needs; social, educational, financial, health & welfare are all lacking:

  • Social – Davies and Scarlett are the only teens / young adults on the island. There is no social scene catering to their needs. Whilst Ady and I have some very good friends here there is also a side to our social needs which is lacking too.
  • Educational – Davies is able to pursue his formal education with the Open University which is an excellent fit for him and his study needs and style. However, there are other educational opportunities such as relevant work experience, training or workshop type learning experiences which all four of us would like to access which our location here on Rum prevents from being viable.
  • Financial – As we move from being a family of two adults and two children to a family of four adults our financial situation alters both in terms of income (eg. child-related tax credits and outgoings (eg adult rates for travel, accommodation, more spends on food, clothes etc.). There has been a loss of a couple of small but not insignificant earning opportunities on the island over recent years with the closure of a hostel and a drop in visitor numbers, Ady’s knee injury prevents him from some of the more physical work he has previously done to bring in money and the shed, while continuing to do well, particularly with additional online sales does not bring in sufficient income to sustain us. Added to this the need to travel further afield to meet those social, cultural and educational needs brings an additional cost implication in travel, accommodation and so on which our already stretched budget cannot cope with.
  • Health & Welfare – Whether it is age and the physicality of our lifestyle beginning to take it’s toll, the living conditions of a damp caravan or a continued erosion in the services we receive in terms of healthcare, access to sufficient winter sunlight or a decent supply of fresh fruit and vegetables we have to concede that this life poses challenges to our health, some of which we struggle to mitigate.

There are many aspects of life here which we cherish and wish to retain:

  • Love for Rum – This island, this croft has been our home for a large chunk of our lives and will forever hold a big place our hearts. While it is currently not providing everything we all four need we also feel very attached and do not want to lose that connection.
  • We can still see potential – It would be very easy to conclude that this is not completely working and so we should do something completely different. Having spent time away over last winter and viewed our lives here with a different perspective since returning in the spring we can still pick out the aspects that really do work and the ones which could potentially work with some tweaking.
  • For now, (but) not (necessarily) forever – As said before there are four of us and at times our individual needs can be really quite diverse. Just because on balance this is not working for us right now it does not mean it may not work for some of us at a future point, in fact it may continue to work for some of us right now if we can find the compromise for those it is not working for.
  • The elements of this way of life which do work for us – when we came we said we were looking for somewhere to live which was beautiful, which had a sense of community and which allowed us freedom to do a land based project of growing crops and rearing animals. Nearly seven years in we are forced to accept that not all of those criteria are met here just now. Yet Rum continues to be beautiful, we do have land which while not as suited to our hopes and dreams as we’d have liked nonetheless with our time and energy spent so far has improved and does sustain some crops and some animals.

What we are missing and want from the next stage in our lives:

  • A more suitable living space – We still believe in our original idea of a modest home with as small an environmental footprint as possible and as low running costs as we can manage. However a growing family means a need for more space, more privacy and more protection from the elements. Walls that don’t wobble, ceilings that don’t drip and space for us each to follow our interests without needing a rota for who has use of the table for art / crafts / studying /gaming would be desirable.
  • Access to those cultural, social, educational and medical opportunities – A dentist or physiotherapy appointment that does not require two nights away from home, a cervical smear test that does not end up two years overdue before the doctor only does house calls now there is no surgery space on the island and you don’t live in a house (!), a cinema, theatre or music event you can travel to and maybe need to stay overnight but not require several nights and hundreds of miles travelling, a celebratory meal out,  a ‘run out of cat food pop to the shops’. This is island living and it’s been a compromise we have been happy to make with our eyes wide open fully aware of the flip side of the massive benefits to island living. But at our current collective stage of life the down sides are weighing heavier than the up sides.
  • To use all those skills we have learnt, to make the most of the last seven years and to move on to the next stage – we want to do the things we are good at, that we love doing and we want to start earning money from them and doing what we believe in. Whilst working a few shifts cleaning hostel rooms / doing the admin in the school / working at the post office / picking winkles have been great ways to make ends meet they were never on that list of hopes and dreams. Planting seeds and tending crops, breeding and rearing animals, butchery, baking, crafting, photography, talks and tours, teaching and hosting volunteers were all on that list and to a degree we have managed all of those things but not to the level we had hoped or dreamed.

Looking at all of these factors has led us to a new vision for the next few years. One where we have that living space that suits our changing needs, one where we manage to access all of the things we are craving hopefully without losing all the things we love. So we are looking for a house to rent on the mainland, close to Rum. Our idea is to be based on the mainland offering Davies and Scarlett all of the opportunities that mainland life provides – driving lessons, cinema trips, part time work, a social life, offering Ady and I some respite from the more challenging aspects of life here and some of those same social and educational opportunities too. But we’ll continue to spend a large amount of time here on Rum on the croft, still growing crops, rearing animals, crafting and producing. We’ll be able to take our crafts and produce to the mainland too though – to market days and craft fayres, to local shops and tourist hot spots, to accommodation providers. We’ll find the capacity to offer volunteering opportunities or workshops here on the Croft when we can bring supplies with us from the mainland. We can look for part time work to help sustain us while we get our existing Croft 3 brand expanded to include this bigger potential market.

In short we can bring some of our Rum life with us to the mainland and bring some of that mainland ease and convenience with us back to Rum.

As you can tell it is still at the plans, hopes and dreams stage of a vision. There will be details to iron out, not least the actual finding of somewhere to rent, an issue which has been proving rather trickier than we had first hoped when we began looking a few months ago. But as with all of our previous ambitious and at first glance perhaps unachievable goals we are confident that if you start with the vision, begin making lists and carry on talking and being open to ideas and opportunities there is every chance that this will be forming the start of a blog post of the future talking about a plan we shared way back in early 2019.

45

I’m almost at the end of my year with the self indulgent posts (teens birthdays, end of the actual year, my own birthday) and I do have plenty of mentally half composed posts about crofting stuff and what we’re planning next but first please bear with me while I get my own personal annual All About Me post out of the way.

January 6th is my birthday. This year, 2019, I turned 45. Not a particularly landmark birthday but certainly putting me firmly into my mid 40s. I place I am perfectly happy to be.

I unashamedly love birthdays. I love a day all about me, particularly one so close to Christmas. Birthdays are very indulgent for our little family with the birthday person getting to choose all food and activities for the day.

As I mentioned over Christmas I am very keen to not acquire more ‘stuff’ so when it comes to finding gifts for me I know I can be quite tricky. Years of careful coaching (and often, as this year actually sourcing exactly what I want and directing  Ady towards it) mean my usual mantra of something I can eat, drink or use up, or something that is actually regularly useful or beautiful enough to justify itself were all adhered to. I was given gin and chocolate and a gorgeous pendant that I had commissioned myself from a local Hebridean crafter. I first came across Fiona aka The Silver Grasshopper when I admired the silver pendant an Eigg friend and went to check out her website.

I am not a huge jewellery wearer, I have several small earrings which I never change or remove, my wedding ring, eternity ring and a gold ring of my late grandmother’s which my parents gave me when I got married (my wedding ring was hers) and I wear a piece of amber with a trapped cadisfly inside it around my neck. But something about Fiona’s island charms really appealed to me and the idea of having a tiny Rum charm to wear no matter where I may roam to symbolise the importance of this island to me has been something I’ve coveted ever since.  And now I have one!

It is perfect. I love everything about it – the supporting a fellow crafter and small business owner, particularly someone local (Fiona is on the Isle of Raasay), the fact it is a one-off made just for me, by hand. Even if someone else has a Rum charm made it won’t be identical to mine as they are all created by hand, but as yet mine is the first and only one in existence.

As usual Davies and Scarlett created amazing cards. Scarlett’s was inspired by one of my favourite photos from a few years ago…

Davies’ was capturing all sorts of tiny details about me, my life and the things I love

We were fortunate to have a dry, mild day so in honour of my birthday everyone came up my hill with me. Scarlett sneaked a flask of tea into her bag too which she presented me with at the top.

We never quite seem to manage to organise a birthday cake – often this is because there is still Christmas cake needing to be eaten and I am not a big cake-eater anyway. This year the reason was a complete lack of eggs on the island so we tried to make jellies in our number moulds for a 4 and a 5 but failed to de-mould them very well so I had a bowl of brandy snaps and some birthday sparklers – perfect!

A friend came up to bring a present and stay for a cup of tea and chats, another friend dropped by while we were out with a gift and I had plenty of messages and phonecalls from family and friends too. It was a lovely day.

Out with the old… and in with the new

2018 left as all years do, a mix of the mundane and the remarkable.

Our nasty colds have lingered and given a soundtrack of coughing and blowing noses to the festive season but I think we are all now over the worst of that. The weather has continued to be kind and we’ve had a few amazing starry nights where we’ve stood out in the darkness looking up in wonder.

Most of the festive food has now been eaten, plenty of festive drink remains, as do festive chocolates but we are happy to find room to store those and enjoy them over the coming weeks. We took our decorations down a few days after Christmas. Slightly early according to tradition but in such a small living space with such extreme temperature fluctuations the tree was becoming both a nuisance and starting to look past it’s best anyway. I always like the brief feeling of the caravan being spacious! We were also aware that rather than let the tree get sadder and limper in the caravan once we put it outside on the croft it would be very gratefully enjoyed by the sheep for a few days. Sure enough they were investigating it within minutes of me putting it outside and a few days later it is stripped bare of bark and needles.

The last day of 2018 was wet though, right through til the evening and Ady seemed to spend a large amount of the day outside doing various things like getting supplies from the village freezer or shop, checking for post deliveries (both Davies and Scarlett were still waiting on one final Christmas gift each, both have now arrived and been very gratefully received). On one such jaunt he left the caravan only to return a few minutes later carrying a buzzard.

Yes, a buzzard!

Very sadly it had killed and was eating one of our chickens. It appeared to have been quite the tussle with feathers everywhere and the chicken clearly not going without a fight. The buzzard was quite thin and had gotten waterlogged during the tussle and so when Ady disturbed it eating the chicken it was unable to take flight and he was able to fairly easily grab it. He bought it up to the caravan where Scarlett covered it’s head with a tea towel to calm it down and then he took it to the resident bird expert on island who kept it calm and quiet overnight to dry out, fed it some venison and released it the next morning whereupon it flew off seemingly none the worse the wear for it’s adventures and manhandling. Hopefully not to return too soon to Croft 3, at least not for any more chicken buffets! A slightly sad tale but an exciting one and Ady also plucked and stripped the breast meat from the chicken which I added to the meat I was cooking the following day for our New Years Day dinner.

The actual turning of the year from 2018 to 2019 was spent just the four of us having enjoyed a nice dinner, chatted with friends online and by phone watching the rest of the UK celebrate.

We stepped outside on to the sporran at midnight to toast the new year under the stars. It was very cold so we didn’t linger but lovely to be together seeing in this new year and wondering what it has in store for us.

We were all up quite late.

On New Years Day I popped into the village to collect the post from the day before and this years calendar had arrived, very conveniently. I make the new calendar each year in late December using photos from the corresponding month of the year just passed – so in 2019 all the January photos are from January 2018 and so on. It means we are always looking at a large page with photos to remind us what we were doing this time last year and dates to remind us what we have planned for this year. The putting the calendar together each year is a nice activity to remind me of all the things we have done each year and we all look forward to it arriving and then turning over on the first day of a new month to see what we were doing last year.

For some reason – maybe the fact I had finished this year’s quite late at night, having ordered a slightly different one for my parents as a Christmas gift including photos of us with them and so was tired by the time I finished our one I have managed to create a calendar with 2019 on the front but the actual dates for each month being 2018. So all of the days of the week are wrong and events like birthdays, Easter and bank holidays which I fill in with little extra pictures are all wrong too. I was initially upset about this and considered getting in touch with the company I ordered it from. Although it is my mistake to have selected 2018 from the drop down box I do think that when the front cover selected is 2019 and it is almost at the very end of 2018 given how many pop up alerts about the photo quality I got a pop up alert to check I definitely had the right year selected would have been really helpful and prevented the error.

I then decided that actually a few minutes sat with some white paint to mark out all the dates and then rewriting them by hand, along with drawing a little arrow to show the pictures for special dates should be on the next day would still give us a perfectly usable calendar. Plus the rest of the family are so delighted at the teasing me opportunity the mistake has given them the ‘hand corrected’ calendar complete with ‘oops!’ next to where I’ve changed the date from January 2018 to January 2019 is now hanging in pride of place and is making me smile every time I catch sight of it. Imperfect, with a story to tell and visible mistakes that have been put right is definitely the sort of characteristics I admire and celebrate in things and in people!

 

It’s our Bad, Good, Learnt in 2018 round up

Our round up of 2018 and our hopes for 2019. We are overdue an update post on what our next steps plans are and there are hints of of that from all of us in this post. I will get a proper ‘what’s happening next’ post up in the next few days but for now here is us drawing a line under the year gone by and looking ahead to the year to come.

Davies:

Bad in 2018:

  1. The house in Ireland. It was two months – a sixth of the year – spent living somewhere that didn’t fulfil my needs. We had gone hoping for respite from the tougher aspects of life here on Rum but ended up somewhere which was worse! I was colder than in the caravan on Rum and there was even more limited internet access.
  2. Not achieving all of the things I’d hoped to in 2018. I have come to realise that I am not always as motivated as I thought I was. This is something I have learnt about myself. It is not a bad thing to have learned that but it is on my bad list that I feel I have wasted time.
  3. The Megabus experience! Although it is a fun story in the re-telling the actual day spent travelling on the bus was no fun at all.
  4. Continuing from what I said last year about having missed out on a chunk of growing up experiences, when I listen to parents and friends talking about their lives at my age I am aware of the limitations that my lifestyle and location put on me.
  5. Tutor phone calls! During the access course with the OU I had regular scheduled phone calls with my tutor. I found them awkward and dreaded them. Talking about myself, to a stranger, on the phone were really difficult things to do.

Good in 2018:

  1. The London trip to see Hamilton. It was really good, cool, fun and awesome to see a London show and to see it with a friend made it even better.
  2. Finishing my OU access course and getting a good pass. I have started studying for a degree and been doing really well. My first marked assignment got a very high grade and my second got an even higher one.
  3. We’ve probably spent a cumulative total of about a third of 2018 off of Rum on various trips. That has been a good part part of this year.
  4. I’ve made new online friends again this year and spent time talking to and hanging out with them online.

Learned in 2018:

  1. As mentioned in my bad list I have learned about myself that my motivation is not as prominent as I would have liked to have thought it was. I started the year with a long list of things I wanted to achieve and the only barrier to making them happen was myself.
  2. Although I am lacking in motivation I have learned that when I do apply myself to something I am more than capable and actually can do very well.
  3. The course content of my OU studies is Social Sciences and I have learned a lot from the course materials and being able to  take the theories and apply them to real life.
  4. I continue to improve my art skills, I would like to improve further but I can see from my instagram posts on my drawings how I have gotten better in 2018.
  5. I’ve done a lot of gaming this past year and feel that I am good at them and the skills involved such as reflexes, reasoning and my determination to improve are all things I have learned.

Hopes for 2019:

  1. Complete this years study and commence the next (academic) years.
  2. Continue improving my art skills. I’d like to combine my art and film making skills to create some videos for my youtube channel.
  3. As last year – to learn keyboard / read music
  4. To get my driving licence.
  5. I would like to find a way to start earning some money. I would particularly like to earn it by doing something I like.

Special bonus wish for 2019 – to travel to a different country, specifically one which I have an online friend in.

Scarlett:

Bad in 2018:

  1. The house in Ireland was not what I hoped it would be. I was looking forward to getting to know and exploring a new area but we were completely in the middle of nowhere so there was no opportunity to get to know a new place or meet new people.
  2. I had hoped to do more with my baking / cake decorating. But everywhere we stayed (whether in Ireland at the start of the year or the various holiday cottages we stayed in last year) or here on Rum I never had the opportunity with the right kitchen / cooker / space.
  3. I’ve gotten behind in watching lots of the cartoons / anime stuff I like to watch just because I always think that 20-30 minutes is too long to start watching something even though actually I often end up watching youtube clips for longer than that.
  4. As much as we have done lots of off island stuff in 2018 living on Rum has still meant that there are some events we are not able to get to. You can’t be spur of the moment about arrangements, you have to plan things long in advance
  5. The Sheerwater boat trips were disappointing again this year – the weather was fine but for a second year running we saw hardly any marine life.

Good in 2018:

  1. Hamilton. I’ve loved the show online and the soundtrack for such a long time and got into it by chance and introduced it to Davies and my friend E. To actually go and see the show in London and to see it with my friend E and Mummy, Daddy and Davies was amazing.
  2. I really enjoyed how much time I spent with my friend E. We’ve been best friends for a few years but in 2017 we saw each other maybe twice, in 2018 we saw each other so many times and spending real life time together has been so amazing.
  3. We saw a shark! It was only a fin and a head but it was worth the rocky boat trip and the trips where we saw nothing to have been able to say we saw a basking shark. We also saw a polar bear cub. It was at the zoo rather than in the wild like the shark sighting but it was really good to know that there is still wildlife in the wild or conservation projects happening which mean we can have such experiences.
  4. THE NON STICK COPPER STONE FRYING PAN!!!
  5. I went ice skating! I have done it before when I was really little but had been really keen to do it again. Being off Rum and staying with friends in a more accessible to general facilities meant we were able to decide to go ice skating (or the cinema) in the morning and just go rather than it being a big epic trip.
  6. The trip to the adventure park with the high ropes and the jumping off the sky dive platform. It was something I’d never done before and it was really fun.

Learnt in 2018:

  1. I learned how much of a problem marine plastic is. I had thought it would not be such a problem somewhere like Rum where there are so few people and we are all environmentally conscious. But having spent hours each day collecting plastic off the beaches here I realise that even though we might not create the problem here on Rum it comes here anyway.
  2. My reading and writing has really improved this year along with my understanding of how complicated the English language is and how we have collected words from other languages too.
  3. I have known about nail art as a thing for a while but after Mummy got a UV nail lamp I got really interested in it as an art with the colour and details and embellishments like glitter. I don’t want my own nails done but I like the artistic and fiddly skills, a bit like cake decorating in doing nail art.
  4. I have been really interested this year in realising how far technology is progressing in things like artificial intelligence (eg google, amazon alexa, siri and so on).
  5. From the wildfire on Rum back in April, I learnt how fragile and risky our lives are. The fire was spreading really quickly and rather than having a fire engine arrive to put it out we were planning to evacuate and let our animals go instead because we live too far from everything to just fight the fire.

Hopes for 2019:

  1. To spend as much time with my friend E as possible.
  2. To do a course or workshop to improve my skills and learn more about nail art.
  3. To travel somewhere outside the UK and see wildlife in the wild that I can’t see here.
  4. Carrying over my wish from 2018 to do more horse-riding and improve on that.
  5. Further improve my art and drawing skills.
  6. Learn all of the lyrics to Despacito (the original).
  7. To see more live shows like Hamilton.

Special bonus: learn to do dance routines. I’ve watched lots of videos of dancers and it looks like a really cool thing to be able to do.

Ady

Bad in 2018:

  1. This year a situation occurred that bought home to us how if you want to be part of the progressive and developing community on Rum you need to buy your way in to it. We are too far out of the main settlement on the island  so to be included in investment into infrastructure we would need to finance that ourselves. There is an upgrade on the island internet which our household has not been included in as it is not financially viable.
  2. Our time off last winter was really good but it felt as though there were consequences in having been off for so long. Returning to find rats had been in the caravan showed us that if we leave the island there will be a price to pay when we return.
  3. There is a real feeling of divide on the island this year, particularly towards the end of the year. The on island politics have been at a peak and it feels as though there are two distinct camps.
  4. Our living conditions here in the caravan continue to deteriorate.
  5. It is not possible to drive home to the caravan – whether with a load of food shopping, a heavy gas bottle or just after a night out in the pouring rain and that makes for a hard life which gets me down.
  6. Health and the limitations that my age and general health levels create for living this lifestyle.
  7. I am aware that this life no longer works for all four of us, specifically Davies and as a parent that makes me feel bad.

Good in 2018:

  1. There have been contractors on the island in 2018 working on building a shore base and the ground works for housing for the fish farm. They have been really sympathetic to our lifestyle and have gifted us off-cuts of wood and scrap building materials, delivering them as close to the Croft as they can get. Some of it has already been put to use for improving our path which is brilliant, but even knowing that someone is up for helping us out has been really heartening.
  2. The flip side of the challenging issue this year with the wider community has been that as a foursome we are closer than ever as a family and really know we can count on each other.
  3. In 2018 we had two holiday cottage breaks and Nic’s parents gifted us a car. That has opened up a whole new world of opportunity to have time with family and friends, to take the cat and dog with us and be able to host, to cook and make a (temporary) home.
  4. The new solar panel has been fantastic. It has meant that we have had so much more power than ever before for a relatively small financial outlay.
  5. The path. We have had a very kind end to the year weather-wise but to still be able to walk around the croft in shoes rather than knee deep mud has been wonderful.
  6. Croft 2 has now been re-let and while we don’t yet have permanent neighbours there is hope on the horizon that we will no longer be the lone outreach of life outside the main village on the island.
  7. The fruition of the work we have done on the Croft over the last 6 years. People comment on and we can see the difference in our land having improved drainage, planted trees and created infrastructure.
  8. The welcome when we came back after the winter – a friend picked us up from the boat and bought us and out stuff home, we were given bed in the bunkhouse for the first couple of nights while we got everything straight in the caravan.

Learned in 2018:

  1. About land management – cutting the grass and digging drainage ditches makes such a difference.
  2. About the right sort of livestock here for Rum and our land – not pigs, the sheep have worked, that we need to look at specific breeds of poultry to work best here on the island.
  3. That we don’t need to come off for such a long period. This winter has been kind so far and the implications of being off for so long are bigger than the benefits.
  4. That this life is no longer enough for Davies and Scarlett. It is definitely time to give them the opportunities to spread their wings.
  5. How important it is to go off.
  6. That we no longer have a full time future here on the island.

Hopes for 2019:

  1. To have the best of Rum on a part time basis with a part time business on the mainland while Rum remains our base.
  2. To improve the caravan by cladding it to help preserve it from the weather and improve the aesthetic of it.
  3. To be able to be hosts again. We have had lots of visitors while we’ve lived on Rum but not in the way we used to and would love to again, having people, to stay, to come for dinner or to entertain without it being so difficult.
  4. To create a viable business that if not already earning enough for us to live on has the potential to do so.
  5. Seeing Hamilton in London in 2018 was amazing. I’d like to have more experiences like that.

Special bonus wish: to have some rheas.

Nic

Bad in 2018:

  1. Having returned to Rum in the spring ready to give the island, the croft and our life here another really good try it was incredibly disheartening to learn just a few months after we came back that a so called island-wide internet upgrade had been planned without including us here on the Croft. Not only had we not been included in the finances to make it happen we had also not been included in the conversations about it happening. Whilst the finer details of the whole situation are still being discussed the overwhelming message to us was that we were not part of the future or the vision for the island community and that instead of being valued we needed to fight our corner and defend ourselves. Whilst I can make any number of justifications and explanations for the decisions that have been made the realisation that some of our closest friends here on the island had been involved in decisions which excluded us and then rather than apologising for, explaining or attempting to put right those decisions a period of ignoring us, making aggressively defensive justifications for their actions, false promises or simply a wall of silence will be forever something that makes me sad. There was a time frame where just talking to us, just saying sorry or just treating us like the fellow islanders, residents of over 6 years and friends we are could have put that situation right. That time has now passed. People I know I did my best by over the years we have lived here did not do their best by me or us.
  2. Our return to Rum back in March was both a high and a low point. But there were certainly moments during the first week or so we came back that it all felt very hopeless and futile. Cleaning four months worth of mold from walls and ceilings, dealing with the aftermath of a rat invasion while the water had frozen definitely falls into the lows category.
  3. Ady’s knee injury has been a low. It has perhaps not prevented him as much as it should have done from working on the croft and making life here run smoothly but seeing the man I love suffering pain and not get the proper medical diagnosis, support and treatment has been hard. It is also a timely reminder of the harsh reality of life here in terms of medical provision, remoteness and the physicality of our lives.
  4. Whilst I think we have struck a pretty good balance of time spent off Rum celebrating significant birthdays, spending time with family and friends and having special experiences I can see that life here is starting to mean compromises that hit hard – from it being near impossible to get Davies through a driving test, to finding education and work experience opportunities for Davies and Scarlett, to simply arranging simple medical appointments even the fairly mundane and routine things are tricky, let alone finding the way to see the latest cinema release without several nights accommodation, ferry trips and a several hundred mile round trip to the nearest cinema.
  5. Finances have been super tight this year. Due to a combination of reasons not least Ady’s inability to do some of the off-Croft work he usually manages, more trips off that usual and children becoming adults altering our family finance status. I have had some big sales for my various crafts and produce which has helped but it has felt like quite a juggling act to make ends meet in what is far from a luxurious lifestyle.

Good in 2018:

  1. Going off. As much as the Ireland adventure at the start of the year was not everything we had hoped it might be it was still an adventure. It gave us perspective, a renewed sense of what we do love about our lives here and what we still wanted to achieve here which is why we returned. I have been grateful to be back, to see another trip around the sun here and to really appreciate all that I love about Rum once again, particularly as I suspected when we left back in November 2017 we might only be coming back to pack up our things and leave for good.
  2. New things. I always strive to learn new skills, to introduce new lines to the Croft 3 shed and to have a good do at trying new things. I’ll elaborate more in my learned section but I feel I have certainly achieved that aim in 2018.
  3. Studying and stopping studying. I had always intended to go to university after taking a gap year to do some travelling back when I was 18/19. In that year off I ended up getting together with Ady and we bought a house instead. While I have never for a single moment regretted that decision I have often wondered whether I would have actually got to university and how I would have done. In doing the OU access course last year I learnt both that I am indeed more than capable of studying for a degree which was good to know but more importantly that certainly for now I really don’t want to! I am loving looking at Davies’ course materials as he embarks on a degree and find the subject matter and the learning absolutely fascinating, but every time he is doing an assignment or writing an essay I am so grateful that I am not and don’t need to prove my learning in that way. I may yet return to formal education (never say never!) but for now it’s been really good to have that question that was always in the back of my head answered with a ‘yes you could, but actually you don’t really want to’!
  4. Spending time with family. I really miss my parents, my brother, my sister in law and my nieces and nephews. In 2018 I think I managed to see the most of them I have since we left to go WWOOFing back in 2011. Particularly spending a few birthdays or other special occasions with family has been lovely and the Remembrance Day trip to North Wales with my parents in November was filled with some very special memories that I will treasure.
  5. Our trips. Hamilton was excellent, the Giants Causeway was fab, the seaweed baths were mad but splendid, the Natural History Museum was amazing as ever, seeing the polar bear cub, going ice skating, doing the high ropes circuit at Landmark in Aviemore. I can’t pinpoint any single one of those experiences, they were all wonderful.

Learnt in 2018:

  1. I’ll start with the practical skills. I properly learned to shear the sheep by hand. Then I learned how to deal with the fleece to card it, spin it, ply it, wash it and crochet with it. The fleece I (and Ady) took off the backs of the sheep we keep is now a hat that Ady wears, a pair of bedsocks I have been wearing while suffering with a cold and part of a fantastic heirloom project huge blanket that I crocheted for my Mum which sits on my parents bed down in Sussex. That makes me pretty proud.
  2. More ukulele stuff. In 2017 I said that while still very much a beginner I felt like I had mastered the start of learning to play. In 2018 I spent many more hours, carried on learning but also wrote five songs – the tunes, the lyrics and everything. They are personal, meaningful and feel like something special I have created all by myself.
  3. More crafty stuff. Along with the fleece / wool stuff I have also taught myself a few other crafts including increasing my general crochet skills to include creating patterns, making amigurumi creatures and finally mastering crochet socks, learning about lettering and making signs and clocks on slates, working with willow and other foraged materials to make baskets, wreaths, Christmas decorations and more.
  4. I’m not entirely sure this fits in my learnt, but I’m not sure it would have fitted in good either really, but it’s noteable. I’ve been walking up one of the steep paths on Rum regularly since June. I have not done it every day; we’ve actually not been on Rum for days or even weeks at a time over the late summer, autumn and winter and if the weather has been particularly dire or I have been busy or otherwise unable then I have not been up but I managed over 80 trips up the hill during 2018. It is a decent path although it has some steep places and several burn crossings which can be a leap during or just after heavy rain. I use a pair of walking poles to ensure both minimum impact on my knees but also to improve my surefooted-ness as I am a clumsy walker with weak ankles on perfectly flat ground let alone uneven steep paths. I’ve learnt from the process of the exercise, the head space and the effects that doing that walk have had on me.
  5. In spending time off Rum at the end of 2017 and the start of 2018 I learnt about what I did and didn’t miss about life here. In returning I have learnt about what I do and don’t value about being back. That sense of perspective is what is helping to shape our plans for the next stage in our lives and it’s been such a valuable lesson to realise and be able to quantify just what we do like and at what cost it comes.

Hopes for 2019:

  1. To find the right next stage for the four of us. We have a fairly good idea now of what that might look like and have started to make steps towards making it happen. I hope that it is not too far into 2019 before we are starting to live that new life with a new business and new challenges and adventures ahead.
  2. Linked in to the hope above I also hope that winter 2019 sees the four of us in a home which we feel less vulnerable in. One that better meets our needs and enables us to start following our dreams and feeling back in control again.
  3. To continue to follow my creative passions of music, writing, crafting and creating. I would love to make a living from my creative outputs and to continue producing things that others enjoy and want.
  4. To support my family through the next stage of our lives – to be there cheer leading and providing whatever is the most appropriate back up to Davies and Scarlett as they continue to navigate their way through life and the start of their independent adult paths.
  5. To feel I am making a difference. Whether it is by activism, writing, encouraging others or just small actions in this uncertain world where so many injustices exist and I feel at times powerless to make change to find a way to use the tools I have to make that change in the world that I would like to see.

Special bonus wish: Some kind of natural world experience to make me gasp in wonder – a wildlife sighting, a landscape or weather phenomena or other such encounter, of the good sort!

And so that was Christmas….

It’s that strange lull time between Christmas and New Year when some people are already back to work but others are still off, TV and radio scheduling is not back to normal and you hit a point where despite the house being filled with all sorts of delicious special food you struggle to pull together an actual meal that doesn’t make you feel like you are at a wedding reception buffet – which is no bad thing, but starts to wear thin after 8 such meals in a row for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Of course here in this life we don’t really have jobs to be getting back to, or certainly not ones we have taken time off from. Indeed Ady has been doing more paid, off-the-croft work than normal the last week or so as he has been feeding the animals and doing the daily checks on buildings and livestock for the nature reserve as the regular staff have been off the island celebrating Christmas with their families. I’ve gone with him for the ride and the photo opportunities. It’s lovely to get out into the island and feel the wilderness and rugged nature of Rum once you are outside of the main settlement of Kinloch village.

We had very different weather conditions on every trip across the island from bright sunshine to hardly-see-your-hand-infront-of-your-face fog.

Our Christmas dinner this year was Rum venison, as always it’s lovely to have proper local food to celebrate and you can’t get much more local, or indeed seasonal than red deer from our own island. We are no longer in small overexcited children territory of Christmas past, infact Ady and I were up well before the teens this year and the piles of presents under the tree were considerably smaller than ever before. True to type though Ady’s gifts were mainly gadget based, Davies’ were game, art and tech related, Scarlett’s were largely art and craft with some tech in there too and mine were consumable – I am very keen to not amass more ‘stuff’ so would always rather have something I can eat, drink or otherwise use up, or something I can actually use regularly. For the last few years I have been collecting individual pieces of pottery from a potter down in the south of England who makes one off items. I started with a large mug from her and then commissioned matching tumbler, shot glass, bowl and this year a plate. They all match, as much as individually made pieces can and I love the fact that this was made specifically for me, to my own personal size, design and colour specifications. Davies and Scarlett are also heading towards the same reasoning of less stuff, more memories and had asked for tickets to a podcast live show as gifts too, thus delaying part of their Christmas until next month.

I also got a pyrography tool so expect some new craft learning pictures and ideas to be popping up soon.

Everyone was really pleased with what they were given and while the teens tried out some of their new games and Ady busied himself getting Christmas lunch cooking I managed to take my Christmas jumper up my hill for an hour all to myself, which was very lovely too.

Ady met me on the way down and we popped along to the village for a festive drink with some of the islanders who were enjoying a communal meal together in the village hall. Then back to the croft for some more Christmas jumper pictures with Davies and Scarlett.

You may well notice Scarlett looking slightly dazed – she had come down with a cold on Christmas Eve, which over the course of Christmas Day and Boxing Day the rest of us have also come down with so we are currently all in full on convalescence hibernation mode. We had planned a couple of nights visiting local friends on the mainland which we were all really looking forward to but had to make the difficult call to cancel as none of us were up to it, neither did we want to bring them our festive germs either.

So instead, like in years gone by, and like so many people everywhere we have been watching festive TV on iplayer, ploughing through the festive food and drink and trying to keep up with just what day it is!

Merry Christmas – we hope all our readers have enjoyed a peaceful and celebratory holiday.