4

So what next?

As you can imagine yesterdays blog post was the result of many hours of conversation and debate between the four of us over the past few weeks and months. It was in January, actually while away from Rum which is often the best place to gain perspective – outside of the environment or situation you are pondering that we came to the decision to begin leaving our current life, at least for a while.

As an individual I have always considered myself to have a pretty short attention span which has butterflied me from job to job in my early adulthood. When we told a friend (previously a boss at work actually) that we were considering not sending Davies and Scarlett to school she laughed at me and said ‘Of course you are, why would you ever do anything just because everyone else does it?’ And she was right. We always question and challenge what we’re doing and why we’re doing it that way. We constantly re-evaluate if it is still working for us. That could sound exhausting and foster a low level feeling of instability but it is done within a framework of a very secure family with constants of our relationships with each other and a whole load of researching and considering options before actually making any rash moves. Despite the unconventionality of our lives – home educating, a year travelling with young children, a move to a remote island, now a plan to do something else, all of these have actually been thought out, carefully planned choices that have worked really well for us. The early months of this blog were all about the planning and decision making process behind our WWOOFing adventure. To me it feels far riskier and irresponsible to not take ownership as much as possible of the direction of your life, to heedlessly follow where others lead without checking in with yourself regularly as to whether this is making you happy, meeting your needs, ticking your boxes.

I should state here that this is what works for me, what works for Ady and why he and I are such a good team and what has worked really well for Davies and Scarlett who inevitably share our world view but are very capable of challenging and questioning and having clear opinions and ideas of their own (not to mention very used to having them heard, taken seriously and acted upon). I know that others have their own guide through life, their own paths to tread, their own philosophies on how they make their choices and are perfectly happy and content. I am in no way judging or dictating, merely recording how we go about our personal brand of dice rolling.

Last year was a really tough one for the four of us, by our standards. It started with Ady in hospital, followed up with the loss of a pig and subsequent loss of an unborn litter that pig had fathered. A rash and un-thought out rehoming of two more pigs really didn’t work out well for us. Difficult times for several of our extended family which we were simply too remote to help with really tested our commitment to living so far away. The bad start to the year never really managed to pick itself up. The positives of our life here were for a lot of 2016 overshadowed by the negatives. We talked often of leaving, of whether this was still working for us and more often than not at least one of us was ready to start talking about the next step. But we collectively agreed that our life here was still, on balance meeting most of our needs. We even quantified it and decided that we had about 80% of everything we wanted which we felt was pretty good going. I have been accused before of painting an unrealistic idea of what life here can be like – it is true I am very much an optimist but I genuinely do see the best in life and am very aware that all choices involve compromises and that choosing to focus on the good rather than allow the bad to be overwhelming is what makes for contentment. We felt that 20% of our needs not being met was acceptable and worked towards finding ways to meet them better – more regular trips off the island, finding ways to take responsibility for creating the opportunities we felt were lacking etc.

I’m not at all keen on the ‘If I won the lottery / ruled the world / could make up all the rules’ type thinking and as such we decided not to talk about what we do if we left Rum because I think as soon as you start investing energy and imagination in something other than what you are actually doing right now you might as well be investing properly in it and making it happen rather than speculating on it. But once we had decided that Rum was no longer working for us we began talking about what we wanted and trying to work out what our next step might be.

We’re still in the early stages of even honing our wish list. Just like before we don’t expect to find a perfect match for every aspect of it and while some points are more important to us than others we are prepared to compromise. But this is where we are at right now with our lists of what we would like in the next phase of our lives:

Davies:
* A regular social life and being able to hang out with friends in real life.
* Wifi and power.
* More privacy – a different space to hang out with friends or watch / listen to something or just spread out my stuff.
* Drumming. I’d like to have lessons.
* The equipment and resources for film-making and access to a film-making course or workshops.
* Being able to decide to buy something and just going out and getting it the same day.

Scarlett:
* Enough space to keep chickens and ducks. Water for the ducks in the form of a pond or river, an indoor space to rear young animals like a shed or outbuilding.
* A view. I want to still look out of a window and see nature not roads and houses.
* Home Educated or otherwise shared interest people nearby. I want to live close to people like me.
* Walking distance to a beach
* To be able to get involved in conservation activism or volunteering.
* To find an animal sanctuary or similar with opportunities for volunteering or work experience.
* A donkey!

Ady:
* Learn more about alternative energy, how to generate more power and store it. I love being off grid and want to learn more without the constraints of space and access to the resources or people who know about it.
* I’d like to experiment with more obscure livestock holding – species like llamas, ostrich or alpacas.
* I’d like to have a motorbike
* To be able to drive up to my front door!
* Access to takeaway food
* A proper home
* To have family celebrations again, like Christmas and birthdays with our wider family.
* Easy access to services like doctor and dentist. To be able to give blood again
* To earn a living from using my skills in selling, talking to people and something I believe in

Nic:
* To be close to my family. Able to day trip or at least be able to get to them on the same day as I leave home.
* A wide selection of food choices, particularly fruit and vegetables.
* A comfortable home with private space for each of us and a larger communal space for being together.
* White goods! I want to have a freezer and a washing machine under the same roof I live
* Opportunities for activism and volunteering and being part of the things I am passionate about
* Access to courses for education, opportunities to join a choir and a reading group
* Being able to say yes to attending interesting events and parties
* Access to resources of all types – whether it is needing a new pair of shoes, some craft materials or a kitchen item at the moment we buy blind online, rely on good customer service and delivery charges then rely on the post and ferry to get something to us. To decide I want to buy some new jeans, go and try them on and bring them home all on the same day.
* I still want to live somewhere beautiful, somewhere with a sense of community and somewhere we can grow food and keep some animals.
* close to the beach or a river or other body of water.
* To write, craft and talk to people and earn money or otherwise meet our material needs from these pursuits.

So a real mix. Many of the items on the wish lists are what we have now and value too much to let go. Many are practical conveniences which our five years living in a caravan on a remote island have made us crave back in our lives, a lot of them are to do with other people – a need to be closer to those we know and love or to find more people like us, some, particularly the kids are about opportunities and finding the path to what happens next.

This list, much like the one we made 7 years ago will change and be added to as we think of more things which are important to us, or let go of things we are prepared to compromise on. But for now the four lists are coming together to paint a picture for us of what our life should look more like than it does now and where we can start looking to find the right place to base ourselves. The wish lists begin to give us a geographical idea of where in the world to look, what sort of location (urban, rural etc.), what sort of dwelling we want and what sort of income we’ll need to generate between the four of us to fund it.

Taking the winter off Rum will give us a chance to see how much we miss the easily met parts of our wish list from Rum and how important some of those other not at all feasible on Rum items are.

Watch this space – exciting times are ahead!

3

Winds of change

Nearly seven years ago after many conversations about just what we wanted from life the four of us drew up the following wish lists. It was 2010. I was 36 and spent my days as a Home Educator with a part time job at the local library and volunteer roles as a shepherd and a leader for various of the kids ‘after school’ activity groups. Ady was 45, worked full time, wore a shirt and tie, spent a lot of time on the M25 in his company car. Davies was 9 and loved drawing, films, animation and bushcraft and Scarlett was 7 and loved animals and any opportunity to get muddy! They went to swimming lessons, St Johns Ambulance Badgers, RSPB Wildlife Explorers, cinema club and regular home ed groups. We lived in a decent sized house and had chickens, ducks and quails in the garden and an allotment a mile away.

A’s list:
learn more about butchering, possibly slaughtering.
Growing fruit & veg
Spending more time with N & children
Fishing
Cooking
Practical skills

D’s list:
Bushcraft / survival skills
Working with wood
Driving tractors and understanding how they work
lifestock – particularly sheep and chickens
fishing
a lake with a row boat
a treehouse

S’s list:
wants dogs and cats!
animal breeding – ducks, chickens, maybe small animals
keeping pigs and sheep

My list (note it does seem rather longer!):
Keeping livestock – pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, bees (for meat, eggs, honey)
Having a cow for milk & making other dairy – butter, cheese, yoghurt
Growing food for us and livestock
Bartering / skill exchange / education
cooking / baking / preserving / brewing
crafts – sewing, knitting, basket weaving, woodcraft – making clothes, tools, household objects.
composting
renewable and sustainable energy – a green way of life -= solar, wind, water power, biomass fuels, woodburning
building from sustainable sources – strawbale builds, compost loos, solar showers, rainwater harvesting

We also came up with an ‘ultimate goal’ which we all liked the sound of:

To live a more sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. To have all four of us working together towards providing for ourselves whilst having as many elements of our shared, and individual ambitions met. To be living our passions full time rather than indulging them in small ways around the rest of life. To be doing things for ourselves wherever possible and putting our own food on the table rather than going out to work to earn money to pay for food (or tables). To have our life be our work, our work be our life and everything rolled in together in providing for ourselves, realising our dreams and spending our days in tasks taking us towards where we want to be. No pointlessness.

When I started this blog all those years ago I had no idea of quite how much of an adventure it would chronicle. How far we would come, how many of those wish list items we’d tick off, how different our lives would become. Our journey to this point has been a combination of an open minded attitude towards seeing opportunities as they arise, saying yes to exciting and scary possibilities, a willingness to learn and try new things. When I read back that list now I am struck both by how ambitious and (if I’m honest) unattainable it felt to be writing it at the time and by how much of it we have ticked off now.

Our adventure took us all over the UK, introduced us to the most amazing people, taught us so many lessons, showed us some of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery and wildlife in the UK, offered us stepping stones from one chance meeting and conversation and opportunity to the next until we finally ended up here on Rum. What could have been the end of the adventure with us finding our new home was infact just the start of a whole new one as we set about putting into practise what we’d learned, what we wanted to achieve and built a tailor made new life for ourselves from a bare field up.

Our choices, our lifestyle, the way we have made decisions has been pretty unconventional. Not many 7 and 9 year olds get to write wish lists for how their life will be and have the adults in their life not just take them seriously but find ways to enable those wishes regardless of how quirky they might be. But we believe that our time as a family unit is so short before Davies and Scarlett head off on their own adventures in life that to have found a way to combine all four of our wish lists and create a life that is as close to our dream as possible has been the very best thing we could have done. Of course the wish list of seven years ago is ever changing and evolving to meet different needs, dreams, accommodate new experiences and interests. The life that we have built here on Rum which met our needs has more recently felt lacking.

Rum is a staggeringly beautiful place. Every single morning when I wake and open the curtains I am reminded anew how fortunate I am to live in such a stunning place. Every walk alongside the river, every sunset, every winter frost, every spring awakening, every bramble picking autumn. It is also incredibly harsh, wind and storm battered, midge infested. Ridiculously remote, difficult, time consuming and expensive to come and go from as visitors or residents. The land is inhospitable to livestock or crops, every single triumph in both is off set against the failures, so many failures. Never will we, nor would we really want to, tame this croft to any real degree.

When we arrived here we brought the resident numbers to over 40. When we leave they will dip below 20. Davies and Scarlett are the only teenagers, we are the only Home Educators, the only off-gridders. We have made some wonderful friends here, will take with us so many memories and experiences but for now Rum is no longer meeting our needs or ticking off sufficient items on our current wish list.

Having realised that self sufficiency in food is not a feasible notion and that bartering and exchange will still not net us everything we need to survive we are forced to reconsider quite how we can earn enough to buy in the things we cannot grow, rear or create ourselves. Our shelter here, always intended to be temporary becomes less adequate with every passing season and ever growing children. The next chapter in our adventure awaits.

In the same way as we began this blog with a sense of longing for something different and a plan to go searching for it we are intending to further hone our wish list this time and then explore all the options to find the best way to meet our needs. At this stage we feel that some perspective outside of our Rum bubble is the best starting point. A return to the mainland, a saturation in all that we have left behind and not had these last five years. We began this journey by stripping away everything and slowly adding back in the things we felt we needed. This time we plan to do the reverse and immerse ourselves back into modern life and see what we can cast off as unnecessary.

Our current intention is to enjoy the spring, summer and autumn on Rum. Knowing it may be our last round of all these seasons and squeezing every last ounce of the best from them. We’re growing crops, opening the shed for business, introducing new lines and looking forward to our weekly wildlife boat trips and lots of visits from family and friends. Then we will leave before the winter starts and see what happens next. At this stage our intention is actually to return to Rum again in spring 2018, to start again with only the financially viable parts of our current Croft activities and see if earning an actual living from Croft 3 is feasible. In the same way as our original plan was a 9 month WWOOFing adventure before returning to Sussex. It is easier to take courageous steps into the unknown when the door to home is still open, in sight behind you.

I will continue to blog – both what is happening here on Croft 3 on Rum for as long as it remains our home, and about what happens next. The adventure is far from over!

0

Season kicking in

March is like the babymoon phase of parenthood here on Rum. The pain and messiness of actual childbirth is behind you and almost forgotten (winter storms, endless rain and condensation, cancelled ferries…) and the reality of newborn parenting has not yet sunk in – sleepless nights giving you a zombie like state in a constant round of nappies and nighttime feeds are still not fully making their presence felt (midges, endless questions from visitors about how many children are in the school, what you do in the winter and how you got here when you are clearly not Scottish). Instead you are there, utterly falling in love with your new baby, endlessly counting their tiny toes and gazing into their deep and knowing eyes (charmed by the cockerels crowing, the daffodils appearing, it still being light at 7pm).

Yeah, so March. A nice time on Rum.

I’ve painted up all the new wellies to add to the trail.

welly trail

I’ve had another couple of sessions of weeding, thinning, planting and sowing. Covers are on the mini greenhouses, the first seedlings of salad leaves have already poked their heads through the soil.

walled garden

mini greenhouses.

I spent a couple of hours in the shed tidying up, rearranging and getting everything ready to open for the season.

Meanwhile Ady has been mending fences and clearing out sheds ready for making encouraging and welcoming spaces for the birds to start laying their eggs and he’s done the first cut of the season on an area o the croft so choked with reeds that it needs clearing to allow the grass to grow through and create more grazing space for the sheep and geese.

Spring is well and truly in the air.

0

March

Another winter over. Another winter survived. That makes our fifth on Rum.

The end of February brought a monthly bring and share community meal with the theme of ‘winter leftovers’ to celebrate the impending end of that season. We took along sausages made from the pig we took through winter but really shouldn’t have done.

meal

Followed the next day by an incredibly soggy beach clean on Loch Scresort beach. I was not in the best frame of mind for this hour or so traipsing along the slippery stones in the pouring rain gathering litter from the beach I have to confess. However a combination of the company and the innate rightness of such a task did propel me into both a better mood. As did sitting infront of the log burner with a hot cup of tea once I got home.

beach clean

On our second day here on Rum back in 2012 we joined a beach clean over at Kilmory beach. Of the people who came along to that beach clean all but two have since moved on from Rum.

The day after that Davies, Scarlett and I headed off on the ferry to the mainland. Ady joined us the next day so as to leave the animals and croft for the shortest possible time in the care of friends. The purpose of the trip was a brace check up at the dentist for Scarlett. She is a year in, and about two thirds of the way through her treatment and doing well. I am in awe of both what can be achieved by orthodontics and Scarlett’s attitude towards what has been a real diet and lifestyle altering amount of treatment.

We made the most of the visit with lots of baths, TV and access to the supermarket. I have never yet been off without bumping into someone I know, which always serves to remind me that the community we live in here is bigger and wider reaching than just our little island.

We arrived home yesterday and Rum was kind to us while we moved cars about and carted shopping up the hill in wheelbarrows, holding off the hail and rain until about an hour after we were safely back indoors.

Today has been glorious – a real taste of springtime with sunshine warm enough to have me in my short sleeves outside for a couple of hours over lunchtime.

I managed to do my first round of seed sowing: peas, beans, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, leeks, onions, celeriac, asparagus, strawberries and three fish boxes of salad leaves ready I hope for our April filled with guests to have salad. That’s the polytunnel shelves nearly filled with seed trays but I have my four mini greenhouses waiting with new covers to take the next batch of sowing.

sowing
seeds

I did some more weeding of the outside strawberry beds and having taken a peek at the strawberries in the plastic covered beds alongside the polytunnel I realised that despite thinning the plants at the end of last season they have continued to throw out runners and need thinning again. I was in the process of this task (about a third of the way through) when a friend walked past so I chatted to her and her son for a while by which time the late winter sun had already dipped behind the hills and thrown the strawberry beds into shade which called an end to that activity for today.

I did managed to drill holes in the bottom of all the odd, outgrown or split wellies I had gathered up last week and washed so that when we hang them up to be part of the welly trail to Croft 3 they won’t fill with rainwater as it can drain out. I also made a start on painting them before the sun dipped too low for the sporran to have sunshine too.
wellies
At which point I came in for tea, pizza dough making and some dvd watching with Davies.

The next few weeks is all about getting ready for the impending season – of visitors to stay with us and of visitors to Rum. The shed needs to be ready to re open for business and we need to have our share of deliberate crops to begin growing along with everything nature is encouraging to burst into life.

1

More visitors, not Doris

There is a joke often posted on social media by folk up in the wilds of the UK whenever big winds affect the lower parts of the country and mass chaos ensues. Cancelled ferries, closed bridges and shut snow gates are a part of day to day life up here so there is a tendency to sneer a little when what is barely a breeze up here creates mayhem and headlines down south. The joke is along the lines of ‘Hurricane coming. Hebridean folk use two pegs on washing on the line’. You have probably seen and heard variables of it. I have previously sniggered and agreed but when it did the rounds yesterday someone commented that actually big winds in built up areas with denser population numbers *will* cause chaos in a way that places that are used to and set up for it with smaller numbers of people, less reliant on travel or services.

We had a friend staying last weekend and it was a wild-ish night with lots of caravan wall wobbling, much like it is tonight and I realised how what we have become accustomed to in our nearly five years here is so very different to what we used to expect of the weather as we barely raise an eyebrow or pass comment when the glasses rattle on the shelves and things randomly fly by the windows. As I sit typing the bit of Doris that we have gotten (which wouldn’t be sufficient to be named if it were not already a named storm) is blowing around outside and I am merely grateful that it means the rather green wood we are burning is catching ok on the logburner thanks to the draw the wind is providing.

We had a day last week of sausage making – a total of 45kg of sausages, so that was a whole day of mincing, mixing, stuffing and linking.

sausages

link nic

My new ukulele arrived. My original was a very cheap (as in a tenner) from ebay to see whether I could master it. I did invest in upgrading the strings but everyone said a better quality one, and possibly a larger concert size would be a shrewd investment and easier to play. I resisted as I wanted to ensure I was actually going to use it. We don’t have spare storage space or cash so it needed to be a justified purchase. Scarlett and Ady set me the challenge of learning to play American Pie to prove I was serious about learning. This was a mighty challenge as it also meant learning all six verses. But I did it and so my new very lovely ukulele arrived last week and is already proving much easier to play and sings a far nicer song. So there has been plenty of ukulele-ing this week

ukulele

Davies and I have been binge watching a dvd box set that arrived too, two or three episodes a day. It’s a long way from the days of spending afternoons cuddled up watching Toy Story or Peter Pan but no less lovely to sit infront of the fire and watch stuff together.

But it’s not all been indoors pursuits. The croft is getting a much needed tidy up of all that random stuff I mentioned sailing past the windows in the wind and Ady has been gathering up bits and pieces and burning rubbish when the weather allows, we’ve been working on getting the shed ready for re-opening for the season with some roof maintenance and a bit more planned re-waterproofing the walls and giving the inside a spruce up. I’ve gathered a load more outgrown wellies and cleaned them all ready to be painted up to add to the Croft 3 welly trail.

I’ve also managed a few hours outside weeding and mulching one of the large raised beds which has strawberries in it. It is now ready to be covered with plastic but having unravelled enough off the large roll to cover it this afternoon just as the wind got up and it billowed about all over the place I quickly rolled it back up and declared it a two-crofter job so will need assistance to do that on a less windy day.

strawberry beds

raised beds

Storm Doris aside though it really does feel as though spring is in the air though… buds are on the trees, daffodils are in bloom and the cockerels are starting to crow and the geese beginning to hiss once more.

1

First visitors of the year

The early part of the week continued with that special low hanging in a bright blue sky that only a winter sun brings, along with the promise of spring in the air and a magical kind of light. We’ve had our share of gloomy skies and rain too just for balance.

We managed to get the artichokes in – I think I had 50 in total and we planted them two or three to a pot. They were very cheap black pots I bought from a supermarket on a mainland trip a couple of years ago and have never really used because they had no drainage holes. So I sat in the sunshine with a drill for an hour on Sunday and drilled holes in the bottom of them all, carried them over to a patch of ground that the pigs had previously been on so was bare ground, beautifully broken up with manure trodden in. Scarlett and I filled the pots with some of the soil and have left them in a sunny, sheltered spot. Hopefully the fact they are black pots, in the sunshine, sheltered from the worst of the wind should mean the soil inside them warms up more than the earth and the artichokes start to grow. Once they have broken the surface soil of the pots I will transplant them into the ground and fence the area off to stop any deer or our birds or sheep nibbling.

artichokes

We caught the three sheep at feeding time one afternoon, sprayed a number on each and treated them all for fluke and ticks as if the ticks the cat and dog are starting to show are any indication the weather has warmed up enough for the sheep to start suffering too. We took the opportunity to check their teeth and feet and general health while we had them penned and they are all doing well.

My ukulele-ing continues. I still have ever such a lot to learn but now at least feel that even if I took months off I would be able to pick one up and remember stuff again. My fingers are far from knowing where to head next to find a note but I can feel that it is starting to get there. I could sit and pick out a tune on a piano, it would be lovely to get to that stage with the ukulele. I have gotten way better at changing between chords and learned a few songs so my next challenge is learning some strumming patterns.

The highlight of the week though was on Tuesday – not St Valentines day, but just as filled with love we had our first visitors of the year as friends came for a couple of hours between boats. We didn’t have time to walk to the croft and back so instead walked along to the otter hide which is close to the pier where the ferry comes and goes but takes us through some woodland, past some blackhouse remains and looks out over the bay and into the open sea. It was a beautiful sunny day and while we sat chatting, drinking a glass of prosecco and enjoying the view we were treated to a heron, some oystercatchers, several seals and a porpoise. Just magical.

cally

Even more magical though was the night before when parked up in Mallaig overlooking Rum and Eigg at sunset my friend sent me a message to say she could see a pinprick light over on Rum. We assumed it was one of the houses around the bay but when we flicked our light on and off in the caravan it turned out it was us she could see! She took a video clip and shared it online with other friends too, uniting a whole group of women who I have been friends with for over 10 years, scattered all over the world (one is in New Zealand!) all able to see our tiny light flicking on and off live. It was very special.

rum light

0

Up and down

It’s been a week or so of mostly clear skies here on Rum. That’s meant sunshine and blue skies during the day, starry skies and moonlit nights.

Last night the moonrise was so stunning we thought a chicken house had caught fire from a spark of the rubbish we were burning until we realised it was a reflection of the moon on it’s roof. Several planets are visible in the night sky just now too and sitting watching the first star appear each night followed by a handful more, then a sudden burst of loads until you feel as though you could look up into the sky and count them forever (which I know you could) is amazing, humbling and wonderful.

Of course as my friend Helen, who we have been camping with many many times and is a very wise woman always says ‘clear skies mean bloody freezing. Socks by six!’ referring to the need to start layering up early around the campfire of an evening so you go to bed cosy rather than chilly. Socks for the gas bottle might have been wise last night as the regulator froze meaning no kettle or grill for tea and toast this morning. Plus ice on the inside of our bedroom windows. As a child of the 70s from a metal window single glazed bedroom on the shady side of the house waking up to pretty patterns sticking the net curtains to the inside of the panes was nothing unusual at this time of year and our double duvet and hot water bottles mean once we’re in bed it’s pretty cosy. Always better than a tent!

ice window

ice gate

ice

It’s been lighter later too, we even managed our last cup of tea of the day outside yesterday at nearly 6pm

last tea

After nearly five years, with the help of last summers volunteers and a final push from Ady using some off cuts of wood we were given from the old dismantled hostel building in the village we finished the footpath from the bottom of the croft up to the caravan.

path

It’s amazing. We can walk up and down without risking knee deep mud or slipping and sliding. To ensure it is safe to walk on I stapled chicken wire to the wooden part yesterday. Just in time for the heavy frost last night to make it perfect for this morning.

chicken wire path

It’s very funny watching the cat, the dog and lots of of the birds all using it to avoid the mud too!

I’ve managed to get the first crops in the ground – some onions and garlic and some early potatoes already in containers. The rest are waiting to go out along with the artichokes once the ground has warmed up a little.

And I’ve been doing well with the ukulele – I got a couple of cheap songbooks and have been practising every day. I’m really enjoying it. The others are all walking around humming La Vie En Rose and American Pie from hearing them over and over again… see how I have brought music into all our lives!

uke booksukulele

0

Two of twelve

February. January did feel like it dragged it’s heels a little towards the end, it’s great to have February here.

The last few years we have been away for at least some of February. For various reasons, including lack of pet / livestock /croft sitters we are not away this year which is a shame. As resident numbers on the island continue to dwindle and we remain the only people living outside of Kinloch village the favour of trekking up to the croft twice a day to feed our animals, particularly at this time of year feels like a big ask.

We are not the only ones starting to think ahead – in the last week or so we have had a real flurry of contact from family and friends wanting to arrange visits to Rum and potential volunteers offering their help. 2016 was a really good year for volunteers and we felt that we offered a good experience of both our lifestyle and Rum to the various people who came to lend a hand, while benefiting from their time and energy with help on the croft. Having set co-ordinated volunteer events worked well for us too.

This year we are taking a year off hosting volunteers though and have already added to our WWOOFing listing that we won’t be taking anyone. We don’t have any large specific projects planned and have decided to put all our hosting energy towards family and friends coming to stay instead.

Ady has been spending lots of time with the sheep getting them really tame and friendly. They now free range roam around the croft and despite early concerns about how they might mix with Bonnie they all seem to have the measure of each other and practice deliberate ignorance! This is great and we are really hoping that a final cut of the areas of the croft that we have already semi-tamed followed by grazing by the sheep will see us moving closer towards our permaculture ideals.

I have finally finished planting the last few trees. There were a few willow and hazel left over from the line we did all the way across the top of the croft and I have planted them close together in our walled garden. They should help with drainage in there and also be useful for basket weaving material. My next job is planting out the potatoes, artichokes, garlic and onions I have, along with the first sowing of early seeds. But there are very low temperatures forecast for the week ahead so I am holding off for another week or two to wait for the weather to warm up a bit more. I don’t want to bury things only for them to rot in the wet ground before they get a chance to start growing.

Last week was the AGM of the Island Community Trust so lots of talk about projects being planned to move the island forward for the future. We had a nice afternoon yesterday watching the rugby with Rum friends. I don’t really understand what’s going on at all with rugby but grasped enough to know that for yesterday at least we didn’t need to choose between our adopted homeland of Scotland or our English roots.

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The longest month

Even with a week off the island January seems to be stretching really long this year.

It’s been really cold and very windy so outside tasks have not been a very attractive proposition. I decided against planting onion sets and seed potatoes as I think they will rot long before the ground warms up to start them sprouting. I have ordered some artichokes and garlic though to keep me inspired even if nothing is in the ground yet.

The daylight hours are stretching with every passing day, sunrise a little earlier, sunset a little later and twice this week we’ve braved the five o clock chill to have the last cup of tea of the day outside on the sporran as the light fades.

Fortunately there have been plenty of indoor tasks to get on with; tax returns, car tax, emails to catch up with, a bit of spring cleaning, some crocheting, tea drinking and chatting with friends.

It’s also been a week of celebrations – Bonnie the dog was five (which in dog years seems to make her about the same as me we think) so Scarlett made her a special treat and Wednesday we joined in with probably my favourite night of the year here on Rum for the Burns Supper. I’d helped make the haggis earlier in the week so I was part of the proceedings presenting the haggis to be addressed (which mostly involves prancing around carrying it while being followed by someone else brandishing a bottle of whisky!) and I also wrote and read out a poem. Many others read poems and the primary school had put together a presentation too. A lovely evening with friends and this year we had various contractors and volunteers on island too so they got to join in and see Rum community at our very best.

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Away and back

Those who know me at all will know I am prone to clumsiness. I am capable of tripping over an invisible, imagined hazard on a smooth path in sensible shoes. Add a muddy uneven hill path into the equation and frankly it’s a wonder I am not on first name terms with the pilot and carry a valued customer loyalty card for the medivac helicopter here!

So it was with no grace or dignity whatsoever that I managed to fall down two weeks ago and badly sprain my ankle while walking down the croft hill, drill in hand, to go and dismantle some more damaged cloches. It had been a rainy morning, we had gotten wet going to the pier to meet the ferry and collect a delivery but it brightened up around 3pm so with an hour or so of daylight Ady went to chop firewood and I headed off to do some practical outside stuff too. My ankle went from under me, I made a split second decision to try and save the drill from the mud and twisted myself. My ankle gave an ominous ‘crack’ and down I went into the mud, drill held aloft out of harms way! It appeared to be not quite as bad as I had first feared, thanks I think in no small part to my very sturdy wellies (which were a bugger to get off!) and I took the advice offered by medical friends and Dr Google of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) with it propped up on a stool and cushion, a very cold (ice obviously out of the question here, although it did very helpfully snow a couple of days later) water soaked towel tightly bound around it and three days of largely sitting around wincing every time I moved it.

That seemed to do the job though, to the extent that with the support of my sturdy wellies I was able to drive us all the way from Mallaig to Carlisle five days later. It remains swollen and a bit tender and sore even 12 days later but I am walking OK and only using it a little bit as an excuse to get out of things I don’t want to do…’I can’t possibly do the washing up with my ankle!’

What were we doing in Carlisle I hear you ask?

Well, all sorts of things. Some of us got a haircut, all of us went to the cinema to see the final episode of Sherlock on the big screen,
cinema

sherlock our car went for a MOT (and passed! Yippee!)

And then the next day we went to Penrith Centerparcs. I have to confess I am not a huge centerparcs fan. Camping I (used to) love but CP always felt slightly like contrived being in nature and paying a lot of money for it. However we do all like swimming and have had four very enjoyable CP holidays in the past with family and friends. This was a family break and my parents came up to join us which was lovely. We also managed a day trip to spent time with adopted family for a few hours which was very special as it’s been nearly two years since we had seen them. Annoyingly, just as the last time we met up we failed to get any pictures of that though!

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swing

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pancakes

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A lovely break with hours in the pool – for Davies and Scarlett this mostly meant the slides and flumes, for Ady and I it mostly meant sitting in the spa pools chatting to each other and for Ady a very long conversation with a man from Bangladesh who happened to be sitting next to him in the spa pool and in a chatty mood. A couple of nice meals out, time spent watching BadgerCam in our lodge, late nights, late mornings and lovely time spent with family. It was a real break for us with no dentist appointments, shopping lists or places to be which usually characterise our time off of Rum.

And now we’re home. Armed with a planting calendar list and packets of seeds to get cracking with, seed potatoes to start chitting, a pig to process, a shed to get ready for re-opening for the season, the first flurry of volunteer emails to answer and start to think about planning volunteer events for this year.

Busy, busy, busy. And obviously anything I don’t really want to do I can still just about wriggle out of by blaming my ankle….