The glorification of busy

I realised the other day I had been misrepresenting myself.

When you move somewhere new, or start a new job, join a new club, meet a new social circle, or in the case of me do all of the above at once to a degree your slate is wiped clean.

No one here really had much prior knowledge of me and so their idea of who I am is largely based on what I have told them and what I have done. Which is of course a fair measure of who someone is in many ways.

Just as many of us go through different life phases and while the essence of who we are deep inside remains the same we wear different coats, carry different external identities or play out different roles the person I am presenting here just now is rather different to anyone I have been before.

In many ways this is an accurate portrayal of me – I’m no longer a scruffy student, a stroppy teen, an ambitious young career chaser. I’m no longer a Home Educator mother of two small people (although I’ll never feel I’ve lost my Home Educator status, no matter how big those people grow…), I’m no longer an off gridder, an island-dweller (well I am, but the island is rather bigger), not a pig / sheep / duck-keeper.

Instead the two things that I am most regularly greeted with when I meet people just now are talk of swimming and talk of busyness. I seem to have become the local crazy in-the-water-most-days wild swimmer. I’m known for it. I also have the reputation of being ‘everywhere’, ‘always busy’ and ‘never at home’.

I’m more than happy with the swimming tag. I am indeed in most days and while I still wouldn’t class myself as much of an actual swimmer, more a ‘messer-about-in-the-water’ if you’re going to do something most days then it’s fair to get tagged with it. And I’ve never much minded a crazy tag (with no offence at all meant to anyone who is triggered by that term).

I am less comfortable with the ‘busy’ label.

I looked it up in the dictionary – busy is defined as ‘working hard’, ‘having a great deal to do’ and ‘overloaded, swamped’. It can also be taken to mean ‘overly decorated or ornate’. The opposite of busy is idle, leisurely or indeed free.

And right there I realise what I’m kicking against with the term busy. Because I am not particularly working because I try not to consider anything I do as work, just as what I’m choosing to spend my time doing. Various of the things I choose to do mean I earn money but in the main I actively enjoy doing all of them. There are elements of each task that can be mundane or not entirely joyous but sufficient highlights in every one to make the overall endeavour a pleasure. Whether it is finding the fun, humour or photo opportunity in a holiday cottage cleaning morning or some banter with the young people at school breaking up a shift at the community centre.

I cannot possibly be busy when I can choose to take an hour out of my day, pretty much every day, pretty much at a time of my choosing to go and swim in the loch. I cannot be busy when every day I have time to pause, look out of the window or stand and stare at the sky, the clouds, marvel at the light, spot raindrops on cobwebs and buzzards in trees.

I cannot be busy when I find time every day to do so many things which I earn nothing for but which bring me such joy, a strum of my ukulele, a curled up cuddle with a teen while watching something on TV, a half an hour snatched in bed in the morning to finish a chapter of a book rather than get up just yet, a spinning of fleece, a crocheting something on a whim because I felt like it, a baking a cake ‘just because’.

I cannot be busy when I sit here, on a Tuesday morning typing this and pondering my third cup of tea of the day.

Busy feels negative, it feels something to be bound by, as though it should almost always come with the word ‘too’ in front of it to be used as an excuse, an apology, a regret.

I won’t call myself busy any more. And when next someone asks after my swimming and then comments on my busyness I shall correct them. I’m still pondering on quite what I am instead…. fulfilled? Lucky? Fortunate? Maybe I’m just doing exactly what I want to be doing….

Wild Swimming

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the double wild swim I’d done in a day and have mentioned a few times that Scarlett and I have been out swimming quite regularly.

Regular readers will know that during our last year on Rum I walked part-way up one of the hills there on a very regular basis right up until we left. I’ve also gotten back up that hill on a couple of our visits back. I wrote about me and my hill back in January when I marked 100 times up the hill.

When we moved here I was very keen initially to find a replacement for my hill. A walk of a similar distance / challenge to do regularly. Despite searching I never really found one.

But the loch was calling me instead. Literally at the end of our driveway (although the driveway is over half a mile long) lies Loch Sunart. We drive alongside it every single time we leave the house, to go to work, to the shops, to go anywhere. At times it is flat and calm as a mirror, at others as churned up and choppy as a washing machine on full spin. Sometimes it reflects blue skies and fluffy white clouds, sometimes it appears menacing grey with murky depths. Herons, gulls and eagles soar above and land around the shores, seals are regularly spotted basking on the rocks and small islands exposed at low tides or peeking curiously out of the water.

I’ve blogged before about my first few dips and the lead up to the two epic swims (neither of which were in Loch Sunart actually, they were Loch Linhe and Loch Leven) but over the past few weeks I think I have found my new hill – and it turns out it is a loch!

My hill offered me various things – exercise being one obviously, and loch swimming is certainly offering me that. A connection with the natural world was a huge one though – encounters with wildlife, being in tune with the changing seasons, weather, temperature, light levels and sights, sounds and smells of walking the same path every day. It also offered me headspace – a meditative experience of being alone with my thoughts and feelings in a different atmosphere where I was not working, or at home, not parenting, crofting or crafting – I was just being. Finally it offered me a creative opportunity to mark what I was doing, the changes and the staying the same from the same walk each time as I took photographs in the same place – of myself and of the view.

The loch is ticking a whole load of the same boxes for me – I have improved my swimming and in a very slow but certain way I am improving my breathing and fitness. There are also a whole host of reported benefits to cold water swimming for both physical and mental well-being and certainly there is a real high during and post-swim, which seems to be increasing as the temperature decreases.

In just a few weeks I have seen the colours on the hills and woodlands surrounding the loch change from summer to autumn. The loch just now has floating fallen leaves in it too. I’ve seen rainbows above the loch, the first snowfalls atop the highest peaks and been in the loch when it’s been pouring with rain. I’ve shared swims with Scarlett where we chat, laugh and point things out to each other and swims all alone. I’ve talked to people in the car park and on the shore walking their dogs, heading back from their own swims, photographing or just enjoying the wildlife and landscapes.

I was planning to save this post until I’d seen the passing of more seasons, had more memories to share and no doubt I will be back with more tales of my swims in the future but in the last 10 days I have had two magical encounters with wildlife that have felt worthy of a blog post.

The first was a sea eagle, the UK’s largest bird and a regular spot in the skies above us here. It was actually on Rum that the sea eagles were reintroduced back into the wild so I feel a connection with them anyway and often spotted them over the croft or on my walks up the hill. It was here in the loch that I had my closest encounter yet though. It was a choppy tide and I was battling to swim against it so gave up on getting too far before I got too cold and was having my mid-swim float on my back where I look at the sky, listen to the sounds and ponder what is different and the same to the last time I was in the water. A pair of ravens had already been overheard making their distinctive croaking sound and the eagle had flown over much higher earlier but while I was floating it returned. I was enjoying the experience of watching it circle above, dipping it’s wings and tilting it’s head as the circles grew smaller and lower. Until I realised that actually it was getting rather closer than I was entirely comfortable with.

When I swim alone I use a tow float – a small inflatable attached by a tie to my waist. It means Ady (who spots me from the shore, I am never entirely alone) can see me all the time and it gives me something to hold on to should I get a cramp or get into trouble in the water. My float is bright pink and possibly looks not unlike a dead thing in the water. I was also lying fairly still and it is only my face which is not clad in neoprene wetsuit or hat. As I mentioned before there are lots of leaves floating in the water which may look like fish from above to an eagle. Whatever it was interested in was certainly in very close proximity to me if it was not actually me and so I splashed around a fair bit to show my size, hatched an emergency plan to put my face into the water should it actually dive at me and sure enough the eagle stopped circling me and headed away.

Me and the eagle…

marked incase you didn’t spot us above.

That was thrilling enough but yesterday Scarlett and I had an even closer in-the-water encounter with a seal.

I’d been reading on various online wild swimming groups about wildlife encounters and seals are quite a common one. Accounts range from the magical with tales of interacting with seals and feeling as though you have communicated with them, young pups getting really close and curious; to the slightly scary with a few folk telling tales of rather over zealous curious seals scratching or biting. None sound aggressive and I suspect if a seal was actually intent on harm they could so a bit of damage – they are very well armed with their teeth and claw-like ends to their flippers. I have heard a tale of a couple suddenly finding themselves surrounded in a circle by a group of seals which they found quite intimidating. In the main the advice and stories I have read have suggested that as long as you read the body language of the seal and take your lead from them you should consider yourself super lucky to be sharing your swim with them and as with all wildlife encounters you should allow the animal to be in charge of how long and how close your experience lasts.

I have also heard seals most frequently described as like dogs – mostly friendly, mostly curious and mostly wanting to get a closer look at you. Unfortunately as someone who is really quite frightened of dogs this is not really that reassuring to me!

I’ve been half expecting a seal encounter as I know they are abundant in Loch Sunart, we often see them basking on the island in the middle only a few metres down the shore from where I swim. I have also heard lots of other local swimmers talk about and seen pictures of them coming close to swimmers. So I guess it was more a matter of when than if and sure enough yesterday it happened.

Scarlett was in swimming with me, as she does once or twice a week and possibly our more noisy and splashy duo swim rather than my quieter and more direct solo swims attracted the attention of a seal. Ady watching from the shore watched it pop up quite some distance from us and then head speedily closer, popping up several times nearer and nearer to us before we noticed it.

no circles required!

The most surprising thing to note was how HUGE it seemed. A big head atop a strong body, so clearly designed for swimming, able to dive and power through the water in a way I could only dream of made my usual feeling of grace and buoyancy quite laughable in comparison. The seal more or less escorted us to the shore – we were mindful of it being pupping time of year and so keen to not be missing a message that we may have gotten close to somewhere it was steering us away from. Then it took a big dive and didn’t resurface again, obviously heading away under the water.

I’m sure I’ll be back with further tales of wildlife encounters and of course there is a whole season of winter swims ahead of me, but I’ll leave with a small montage of my before and after pictures which is my current creative endeavour alongside my swims. And a quote from a rather famous fellow wild swimmer, Rev. Kate Bottley who says ‘I’ve never yet got out of the water and wished I hadn’t got in.’

Just like starting over

We’ve had friends staying the last few days. Very good friends who have visited us on Rum many times and we have spent time with them too. This is the third ‘home’ they have come to visit us in – a static caravan off grid on a remote island, a quirky rented house in Eire and this rented house here in mainland Scotland.

Our lives are very, very different to each other in many ways. We are both happy families of four still living with two parents and two teens, similar in age with a cat and a dog. We share plenty of common interests but the list of ways in which we are startlingly un-alike would cover many more pages than they ways in which we are the same.

It is our little family which is the unusual one – our children have never been to school, none of us work full time or even have any one particular job title, our hobbies and interests tend to be on the quirky side. Our most recent move from Rum to here marked one more move in a list of several changes in address, all of which have been remarkable in their own way.

The conversations my friend and I have shared over the many years we have been close often follow a similar path with her wanting my take on something to better understand how our approaches can be so very different, on how the things which would keep her awake at night worrying about are either of no consequence to me, or are actually motivation for doing something in the first place – risky? unknown? probably a bad idea? untested? just so very different to how everyone else is doing things?

For my 40th birthday Ady bought me a bag with the slogan ‘ignoring advice since 1974’ – I posted about it at the time remarking that most of the best choices I have made in my life so far have been as a result of ignoring advice. Settling down very young, moving away from family and friends with a very small baby, not sending children to school, jacking in jobs and heading off around the country in a small campervan, moving to a remote island, dragging a caravan up a muddy hill…. all of my favourite memories, happiest times, things that make me smile, decisions I am most proud of have come from doing things differently to how most people do them.

During this particular visit we were talking about the various jobs we have found here, the new life we have built for ourselves since arriving in March when we had a house rented but no jobs and no friends yet. At least half of the various things the four of us are finding ourselves doing did not even exist as jobs before we got here, some of them were not advertised.

In my 20s I must have applied for 100 jobs. I must have attended 25 interviews, I had 10 different jobs. In my 30s and 40s I have come to realise that what I was doing wrong was applying for jobs that already existed and trying to make myself fit them. Where I am succeeding now (and by succeeding I mean paying rent, finding things to do that I find rewarding, worthwhile, enjoyable and fit around the other things in my life that I want to do, both in terms of actual hours I have to work, when those hours are, the rate of pay, the flexibility, the people I am working with and how well I am actually doing them) is by seeking what suits me rather than attempting to change myself to match a job spec.

Parenting taught me a lot of those skills, home educating taught me even more. WWOOFing topped them up massively, life on Rum honed them, moving here is fine tuning them. I fully anticipate plenty more twists and turns in my future to continue shaping them, adding to them, growing them.

Starting over is exciting. New things to learn, new ways to present yourself, new opportunities to find where your strengths and previous experiences may be useful and what you need to learn and develop that you didn’t already possess. Starting over means new people to get to know, new rules to understand. I love the constants in my life, they are what enables me to feel secure enough to thrive on a big dose of changes. Working out what should be the constants and what can be let go in favour of a shake up has definitely been key in all the startings over we have done so far.

To dye for

It’s funny how so many of the things I had planned and dreamed of doing but never managed in all those years on Rum have been possible since leaving. It turns out living in a house with easy access to so many of the things we didn’t have on Rum does indeed make life easier. It comes with it’s own price for sure but I’m enjoying both the actual luxury of four solid walls and a solid roof along with the luxuries that a rather easier life (in many ways) provides.

One of the skills on my very long list of things I wanted to learn was rural crafts. I wanted to learn to shear sheep, spin the fleece, dye it and make things with it. In classic reverse order I learned to crochet (I could already knit) long before I learned to make the wool, before I even had the sheep actually.

Then came the sheep, followed a year later by the shearing and thanks to a kind Rum friend a first taster of spinning. Sadly the caravan had no room for a spinning wheel and although I had a drop spindle I failed to master the skill so the bagged up fleece remained bagged up.

The following year (last year infact) we improved our shearing skills and buoyed up by this, along with a donation from a blog reader I invested in a better drop spindle and set about improving that skill too. Many hours of practise later, along with quite a few swear words and spindles and bobbins bouncing about the place I had managed to spin enough wool to form part of an heirloom blanket project for my Mum, a hat for Ady and a pair of cosy socks for when I’m ill for myself.

The notion of dyeing was there nagging at me but once again the caravan and the limitations of our Rum life made it a tricky one. We had no spare pan and wooden spoon for a dye bath, our hob ran on bottled gas which we had to carry up the hill and was a precious resource providing our cooking and hot water. An hour or more of boiling a pan just to colour some wool was not a wise investment of such a resource and the levels of condensation from an uncovered pan bubbling away for an hour would have made me very unpopular with the others.

This year though, with the bag of fleece now a wheelie bin filled with the fleeces of 8 sheep the time has come to embark on the final step of that woolly adventure skills acquiring. So armed with a pan I bought from the local re-use centre for a pound and some freshly spun wool I started learning about natural dyes.

I’m sharing here what I’ve learnt from what I’ve done rather than any sort of guidelines. I’ve not measure properly or timed anything and some of what I’ve discovered goes against some of what I’ve read, while some of it supports what I’ve read. There is not a wealth of information about natural dyes and certainly nothing definitive, there seems to be lots of contradictory advice out there. Which of course I am now adding to too!

The key things I had read were that most natural things (leaves, fruit, fruit and vegetables and their peel, berries, seeds, needles, fungi, lichen, flowers…) can be used to extract colour from to make a dye but there are different ways of treating different things to get different results. The colour you get is not necessarily the colour of what you are using eg blackberries won’t give you a purple dye, a green leaf won’t give you a green dye. Some dyes require a mordant or fixative, some will be changed again with the addition or use of a mordant.

I have read about various mordants – some you treat the wool with before dyeing, some during and some after. They range from chemical to natural. To me if I’m using natural things to dye with I wanted to be using natural things to fix it with. Natural mordants include ammonia, vinegar and iron water. Iron water is made by soaking a rusty piece of iron in water, ammonia can be urine.

I’ve read about extracting the pigment from things by soaking them in the ammonia or iron water and then creating a dye bath for your wool or fabric from that, or by adding everything together. Some things require long soakings, some require heat.

If it’s all sounding a bit like a dark art then you are concluding about the same as I did from reading about it. I decided doing was better so armed with a suggestion from somewhere that lichen does not require a mordant and having seen someone local dyeing yarn by boiling it in a pan with some lichen I decided that was my starting point.

I am lucky enough to live in the woodland which is rich with lichens of many types. I am no botanist and while I can fairly confidently call a lichen a lichen the only variety I would have a go at naming is lungwort. I was aware that different lichens give different results so I kept the three types I had gathered separate.

Almost all lichens are protected and you should not pick them from where they are growing – it can damage both the lichen and what it is growing on. Fortunately (for me) at this time of year there is plenty of windblown lichen lying around on the woodland floor so I was able to gather a decent handful or two without disturbing anything growing.

I started with a pale green almost fluffy looking type. I put the wool and the lichen in a large pan of water and simmered it for about an hour. I kept an eye on it, didn’t agitate it too much in case the wool felted and when it looked like the colour had mostly left the lichen and was staying in the wool I drained it and rinsed the wool through. The colour stayed fast!

Out to dry – thee skeins on the left are dyed, three skeins on the right are not

The wool is pure white to start with. This first lichen took the colour to a pale yellow – almost identical to what the wool had looked like before I washed the lanolin and general croft dirt out of it after I’d spun it.

Next I tried a more lungwort-y looking lichen. This had quite a bit of tree bark debris, mostly because I had gathered it off the firewood we had chopped up and bought in. I didn’t gather so much of this so I suspect a bigger haul would net a deeper colouring, but maybe not.

This gave a darker result than the first one.

Left to right – dye number two x 2, dye number 1 x 3, undyed x 2

Over the weekend we went on a walk to some local woodland which was rich with all sorts of foraging treasures. I gathered a large handful of lungwort which I had been told would create a darker brown. This was my biggest volume of lichen in a dye bath yet which no doubt accounts in part for the deep colour but look at this!

It’s just gorgeous. And the four different colours all together look stunning.

Next adventures include trying something other than lichen, experimenting with more or less lichen per bath and (very exciting) dyeing some fleece before spinning it. I have this idea that it would be cool to create some yarn with two different colours.

I also want to try knitting or crocheting something with my newly dyed yarn. Any suggestions?

Another season

We are well into autumn now and having moved here at the very start of spring there is only winter left for us to experience. Here on the mainland winter festivals are already very much in evidence, a bit of a culture shock after nearly a decade out of that particular loop. Has it all started even earlier or did we just forget?

Certainly in Ady and my working life in retail, going back many years ago ‘season’ meant something very different to what was happening outside in nature. Having worked in high street fashion and card and gift retail, DIY superstores and garden centres as well as a huge shopping mall with a Christmas grotto branch to the business we are not strangers to Christmas starting in August. But it felt largely in the planning and the behind the scenes side of the businesses back then – looking at recruitment for Christmas temp staff, interviewing Santas, making space in the stock room for the influx of deliveries or packing away the last of the unsold summer clothing ready to bring back out again with slashed prices for the January sale (which incidentally started earlier each year and reached Boxing Day even within my retail career lifetime).

Here though we are still managing to mostly retain our appreciation of the season changing to the leaves turning colour and falling – a spectacular event that living right in the middle of ancient oak woodland is making one of the most photogenic autumns I can recall. To the decreasing day lengths – now when I wake it is to the sun directly shining in through the bedroom window because it is that low in the sky, the chickens are going away every earlier each night, the fire is being lit, we are back to carrying a ‘just in case’ torch in a pocket once more. Today I dug my doc martens back out to start wearing in favour of my shoes.

There remains an off-duty feel to where we are living, in common with Rum. There are fewer people about. Our holiday cottage cleaning has come more or less to an end (although we have potentially picked up a new contract for next season which is good), there are less cars on the road, our trips into Fort William which we aim for every ten days or so to do food and supply shopping are notably quieter in the shops and on the roads, the ferry has less people and traffic, the lambs who were both a delight and a traffic hazard gambolling about in the roads are now indistinguishable from their parents and barely look up as cars pass.

Ady, who is still working six nights a week at the tea room is reliably home most evenings well before 10pm, sometimes even by 9. I am already on the first half term break from my youth club, we have a table booked at the ‘Christmas’ craft fayre locally and this week we made our Christmas cake. A time honoured Goddard tradition happening sometime in October, or very sometimes November depending on ferries bringing the ingredients or us not being on the road somewhere.

We are continuing to settle in here nicely. We are starting to make plans well into next year which suggests we are planning on this being a permanent (for now!) address. We are enjoying the benefits and opportunities that mainland life offers and are fairly regularly being very grateful we are not heading towards the winter in our caravan.

Bring on the seasons. We’re loving every one so far.

All for the swim

I’ve mentioned on here a couple of times that Scarlett and I have begun wild swimming in the loch. We even took a visiting friend in with us in August.

We had been driving alongside the loch most days and walked around various parts of the shores in our early months here and looked longingly at it – it looked cooler than the inside of our car during heatwaves, it looked beautiful and inviting and exciting. When we started doing the marine identification workshop and surveys and learned more about the plants and animals living in and around the loch it was even more attractive to think we’d be sharing the water with starfish, anenomes, crabs (the small ones at least!) and so many varieties of beautiful seaweeds.

Then I interviewed a local swimming coach to write an article for the paper and that felt like the final prompt we’d needed. We booked a guided swim session with her, initially planning to hire wetsuits from her but the same week found bargain wetsuits on offer when we did our food shopping (one of those supermarkets with middle aisles filled with non food items you didn’t even know you wanted or needed in your life until you spot them there!) so we arrived for our guided swim clad in our own wetsuits. I had not previously left the house without cleavage on display since about 1992 and Scarlett hates anything restrictive so we were tugging on our necklines and wriggling about uncomfortably feeling both exposed and restricted. By the end of that first hour we were converted!

Fast forward a couple of months and we now both own two wetsuits each, have snorkel masks and goggles, gloves and tow floats and towel ponchos. Our downstairs shower is almost always host to at least one dripping wetsuit and I seem to wear waterproof mascara more often than I did in my tearful teenage years! We keep a stock of ‘after swim pear drops’ in the car and my instagram feed is filled with pictures of us looking dry and anticipatory or wet and happy before and after shots of our swims.

We are both able swimmers having had swimming lessons as children – in my case rather more years ago than in Scarlett’s, at the same swimming pool in Sussex, albeit 30 years apart. When Davies and Scarlett were having their lessons I started swimming again in fact. I was not a fan of sitting in the overly heated viewing area and never really clicked with the other swimming lesson mums chatting about schools so I used the time instead to get in the water myself. In 2010 I did two charity swims and raised nearly £500 shared between Marie Curie and Aspire. The first was a 2.5km all in one go swim and the second was the cumulative total of the English Channel over a 12 weeks period.

Since then though with the occasional exception of a couple of isolated swimming pool opportunities and the odd dip in the river on Rum swimming has not been part of our lives. Both of us have flaws in our techniques and I was a committed breast stroke swimmer with a firm aversion to getting my face wet. Wet suit swimming in salty water is not best suited to breast stroke though as the added buoyancy gives you a funny curve to your back if you keep your face out of the water and the words of the swimming coach who did life guard duty and watched me swimming up and down that pool nearly a decade ago have never stopped echoing in my head. She said I had all the stamina and determination of a good swimmer but needed some help with my style and that I would be a good candidate for adult lessons.

So I’ve had a few lessons to try and get my front crawl sorted and while I am still not totally there and may well have a couple more lessons to really crack it my confidence has soared. I’ve done a couple of group lessons too and found the camaraderie and support of fellow learners to be a brilliant motivator. Sufficient enough for Scarlett and I to sign up for two wild swims with the fantastic Highland Open Water Swim charity. We signed up months ago when October 5th seemed like a date so far in the future we needed even think about it yet. We had grand plans for training schedules and proper preparations and every so often I’d get email reminders or look at the website and then close it down again with a nervous fizzing in my tummy. August was so busy and even though we were in the loch several times a week we did a lot more looking in wonder at the world beneath the waves and leisurely floating on our backs gazing at the sky and marvelling of the beauty of being at loch level than we did actual swimming.

Suddenly the date was edging really close and just as we’d started to start thinking about measuring distances and looking at timings I fell ill with a really nasty cold. We managed just two dips in the weeks leading up to the swims and if I’m honest I was feeling very underprepared indeed. I’d met several others who were doing one or both of the swims and we all seemed to share the same anticipatory feelings of ‘it’s going to be amazing!’ and ‘I am utterly terrified!’.

And then it was yesterday – the day of the swims. I was finally better and recovered sufficiently to feel underprepared but well enough to swim. We had all the details printed out, knew where we were parking and what time we had to be there, which ferry we hoped to catch but had a reserve later one just in case we missed it, or it was full. Ady had the evening off work, Davies (who is largely nocturnal) was primed ready to get up many hours before his usual awakening time to come and cheer us on. I woke with butterflies ready to start easing myself into my wetsuit only to hear the distinctive sound of coughing and nose blowing coming from Scarlett’s bedroom. Sure enough she had been awake most of the night struck down with the very germ that I had finally seen off after three weeks suffering. Scarlett was out of the game and I was swimming alone.

Ady, Davies and (well wrapped up, tissue toting, sad faced) Scarlett in tow I arrived ready to go for round one. We headed across as foot passengers on the ferry, joining a crowd of fellow wet suited up people one way across the Corran narrows, which is the closest two points in Loch Linhe, where a ferry crosses every half hour during the day to make the trip from the Ardnamurchan peninsula to just south of Fort William. It’s about 380m but is very tidal so the drift means all but the very strongest swimmers end up covering rather more of a distance as they fight the tide.

There were 90 of us, some in wetsuits, some brave and hardy folk just in skins (swimsuits) and as the ferry left to head to the other side so did we. Accompanied by kayaks and ribs with safety support off we went. The large group soon spread out – the fastest swimmers were going there and back and before I was two thirds across there were already swimmers heading back and crossing me in the opposite direction. I have no record of the time I made other than knowing Ady, Davies and Scarlett were still on the other side when I got out of the water so it was within the half an hour window. By the time I had cheered on some fellow swimmers, posed for some jubilant photos and walked along the shore a bit they were coming in on the next ferry. We crossed back over again to hand in my tag (all swimmers were issued with numbered tags referenced to our personal details and emergency contacts incase of problems) and grab a cup of soup and then headed back for home to have lunch and try and get my swimsuit and wetsuit at least partially dry.

Then a few short hours later it was time to head off again. Leaving by now even more poorly Scarlett behind with Davies to look after her Ady and I drove back (using the ferry this time!) heading towards Glencoe. The second swim of the day was a night time one. Twice the distance of the daytime one although not quite so tidal with the added excitement of night falling while we swam. I gathered with fellow swimmers, this time adorned with glow sticks attached to us for the second safety briefing of the day before getting back into the water. This time it was Loch Leven and a swim around the Ballachulish peninsula, a headland that juts into the loch and is around a kilometre in the water.

The double distance, the falling light, the buffeting of the incoming tide pushing me towards the land and the fact it was my second swim of the day meant this was more challenging. I had completed the first swim with a grin on my face the entire way. This one was longer, closer to an hour in the water (although again I have no absolute record of the time) and allowed me time to go through all sorts of feelings as I swam. I felt alone and small, but mighty and powerful, just me and the tide and the waves. I felt part of something bigger, although I was not interacting with any of the swimmers around me I kept pace with the person infront wearing two glowsticks in the band of their goggles, motivated to swim that bit faster again when they pulled ahead, reassured I could slow up a bit again when I caught them up. I was aware of the kayakers close at hand and as the light faded and the people around me went from clear arms out of the water and faces with goggles turning to the side to breathe to blurry glowsticks and splashes in the darkness I also felt safe and surrounded by others doing this crazy thing.

I knew that this ‘race’ was my own. At any time I could call it over and make for the side and wait for the rib to collect me without anyone judging me but that I wanted to do it and that the feeling of achievement if I swam to the end and walked out of the water would be huge. As the mountains of Glencoe went from clearly defined peaks in the distance to looming shadows, the sky turned from grey to black and the tide grew fiercer creating waves that engulfed me and gave me mouthfuls of salty water I was super aware of my place in the world, at one with nature, yet the lights of the hotel I was aiming for, tail lights of cars driving that iconic road through Glencoe and the intermittent flash of the camera taking photos of people as they emerged from the water up in the distance along with the feel of my wetsuit and my spluttering out of every gulp of loch reminded me with every stroke that I was human and not really designed for being immersed in water.

As the ending lights grew nearer and I started to hear people on the shore my marker buddy ahead and I both sped up. I told myself that it would be less than 100 strokes to the end. Then I told myself it would definitely be less than 100 strokes to the end when I reached 112 and started my counting again. Finally my third ‘last 100 strokes’ proved correct and I could hear Ady calling out to me and it was me causing the flashes as the photographer captured my emerging images.

I’ve done some pretty mad things in my time and had some very memorable experiences. Yesterday definitely makes it high on my list of top memories. I am really sad not to have shared it with Scarlett and I missed her with every stroke as I know how much she wanted to do it and would have enjoyed it. I could hear her voice urging me on and see her face as I have done so many times in the loch over the past few months as we grin at each other and say in unison ‘this is amazing!’ when we spot a starfish, emerge breathless from a big wave or float on our backs in the middle of the loch with mountains all around us.

The best thing of all though is that our wild swimming adventures have only just begun. There are more places to discover, more skills to hone, more challenges to meet.


Back when this blog first started, before I even knew what a croft was I would have described my dream to be smallholding. The idea of enough land to keep sufficient animals and grow enough crops to provide for ourselves with maybe a small excess to sell. I wanted to scale up from the allotment and back garden chickens and ducks we had at our house towards more food production which would mean we could have to work less. I recall saying something along the lines of wanting to not have to go out to work to earn money to put food on the table, rather to work hard to grow the food to put on a table that maybe we’d made.

I cherished notions of self sufficiency, Ady watched endless re-runs of The Good Life, Scarlett dreamed of acres of animals, Davies wanted woodland and freedom to roam. We had a growing desire to tread more lightly on the earth, reduce our impact and live a greener existence. We wanted to expand our skills in rural crafts. We wanted to be in closer contact with nature and have more time together.

Whilst we’re all really glad our lives took the turn they did with Croft 3 on Rum and that extreme adventure with all it taught us and we did manage a huge amount of those goals wrapped up in that it’s been lovely recapturing some of the aspects of that original smallholding / crafting / in touch with nature in the smaller scale since we’ve been here.

In our time on Rum we had hundreds of birds hatch with varying degrees of success. Our philosophy there was to leave the animals to get on with things themselves as much as possible and to let nature take it’s course. Partially this was simply all we could do as we lacked the inside space and infrastructure to do more. With no power comes no heat lamps for small hatchlings, with no outbuildings comes no shed to bring a farrowing sow in to birth her litter of piglets. It was mostly a desire to interfere as little as possible – to watch and learn, to understand how nature worked though, and learn we did. The Croft was never going to earn us a living, barely going to cover it’s own costs so having accepted that we were able to focus on high welfare, giving our livestock good, natural lives and reaping the rewards of living alongside them and learning from them.

Back on the mainland we have mostly adhered to the same principles but having bought Rum chickens with us, hatched and reared on the island it would have been unfair to subject them to new threats and predators they had not lived with previously so we do shut them away at night – something we never did on Rum. We have still lost two hens to a fox though because we choose to free range with complete freedom during the day and only close the door to secure them once they have gone in to roost of their own volition. Two hens went broody this year outside of the chicken house – we found them and made them as secure as we could and allowed them to try and hatch their clutches of eggs. One hen lost the lot – we assume to a small egg predator such as a rat as she was unharmed. The other hatched five of her nine eggs and nearly 6 weeks later is still roaming around with a trail of healthy chicks growing more independent each day. We did intervene last week when one was ailing though and bought it inside for a few hours to warm it up, get it fed and watered before returning it to it’s mother and siblings. Something that on Rum we would likely not even have been around to notice on such a huge area, let alone able to dedicate one of the four of us to sitting with a chick for six hours.

Our huge flock of mixed poultry on Rum meant they were a collective of birds, at their peak in excess of 60 in number. Now we have a small flock and I am starting to get to know each individual bird again with their quirks and personalities.

We’re starting to look at growing for next year here too. We already bought over a load of strawberry plants from Rum and created a raised bed along a south facing wall. Although we didn’t get much of a crop we have a lovely healthy looking strawberry patch now which should thrive next year and provide us with plenty of fruit. We have a load of pots of plants on our decking including some lavenders (my favourite herb / flower / plant – for its gorgeous smell and pretty flowers, to use in baking and of course for bees), some marigolds, rosemary, oregano and mint. We’ve already been using them in cooking and I have earmarked a spot for a herb spiral ready for next year.

We’ve also gotten permission from our landlord to put some vegetable beds in the garden and worked out the best location for the first ones which we will get cracking on mulching in the next few weeks so they are ready for planting in next spring. I’ve also picked up a heavily reduced mini walk in greenhouse in the end of gardening season sales in the local shops ready to get seeds sown in next year. Obviously in a rented property it makes sense to only create reversible or removable areas for growing but I’m keen to have as much home grown produce as we can manage for next year. Even in a small garden I know we can create abundance.

Having simply not had time for any creative pursuits over the last few months I found a couple of hours this weekend to sit outside in the sunshine and card a load of fleece from sheep shrearing over the last three years. I’ve been spinning, washing and hanging out wool from my drop spindle for the last two days too and have a plan to finally have a bash at some dyeing. Suddenly the constraints of a safe space to store experiments with natural dyes, the ability to leave a potion bubbling on the stove for a couple of hours now we’re not on bottled gas and a flat surface to work on that doesn’t need clearing away as soon as it’s food time or someone else needs the table for drawing or setting up their own activity opens up a whole new world of opportunity with creative crafts again.

As I said, a rented property with limited garden space is always going to prevent a full on small holding, but having been out this morning collecting and cutting fallen firewood, getting out and doing the tiniest of bramble pickings yesterday morning to make crumble for pudding and looking out on the garden with our chickens scratching around and wool drying on the fence it feels like maybe 8 acres is not essential and perhaps crofting is as much a state of mind as a physical space. Croft 3.1 anyone?

On not picking brambles

It’s the first year in nearly a decade that I have not spent September picking brambles and making jam. On Rum jam was one of our biggest income streams and I would pick more than my own body weight in brambles every year turning them into several hundred jars of jam to be labelled up and sold in our little shed throughout the year. I sent jam all over the UK, both in the rucksacks of people who bought it and took it away with them and in the post to people who bought it from me online.

Picking brambles was one of my favourite things to do. September is so often a gorgeous month of weather, the midges have mostly gone, the visitor numbers are lower so I would wander, largely uninterrupted through some of my favourite places on the island swinging a bucket that got heavier as I went. I would have time for my thoughts, my summing up of the season passed and the season ahead. I did some of my very best thinking while picking brambles.

Then I’d bring them home and be creative, filling the caravan with splashes of purple sugary loveliness, adding all sorts of crazy flavour combinations like a mad professor or an alchemist. I’d spend hours lovingly creating labels for the jars and then feel such pride looking at a table filled with productivity, groaning with the weight of clear glass jars, jewel-like jam inside, my own writing and drawings on the outside – clear proof of my endeavours. I’d walk the heavy bags full of jam down the hill and display them in the shed, then enjoy the sales throughout the year ahead, counting out the tens of jars sold and watching stocks diminish until finally it was September once more and time to start the whole cycle again.

Friends often joined me on my bramble ambles. Sometimes they were helpful, adding large numbers of their own picked fruit to mine. Sometimes they were seen off by midges, or I’d need to spend ages picking through their foragings to remove stalks, stems, leaves and other non-bramble imposters. I had some very good chats with fellow bramblers though.

I always sustained scratches, on my arms and legs and feet. I always had fingers wounded by tiny thorns and stained by bramble juice.

This year I have picked not a single bramble. Davies picked one this week and gave it to me to eat, which was the only one I’ve consumed this year too.

I’ve picked strawberries, raspberries and currants on Rum when we’ve been over. I’ve made jam, even bramble jam just before we left the island in March and I was clearing out the freezer and the sugar stash. But I’ve not picked a bramble. I’ve not had that very specific headspace that bramble picking always gave me. I’ve indulged in no bramble philosophy, bramble ambles or bramble ponderings.

It’s been a deliberate act. I’ve been busy with other things this year; work, life, mainlandiness. But I also left it behind on purpose. That belonged to a different version of me, the Rum Nic, the jam maker, the crofter. Just now that is not who I am. It’s been good to have that break. To draw a line, take a breath, turn a page. We don’t need the jam.

Next year I’ll pick brambles again though. It turns out maybe it is still who I am after all. I’m Nic, and in September I pick brambles.

Six months in…

It will six month tomorrow since we arrived here at this house for our next chapter in our lives. I’ve been quieter on this blog although from my perspective it’s been one of the greatest periods of change in my adult life. Our move to Rum was the culmination of a year of dreaming and planning, followed by a year of travelling and working out what we wanted. In contrast this move felt more of a leap into the unknown akin with new parenting or leaving home for the first time.

It was not planned, we did not know the area, had no real idea of what our day to day lives would look like and we didn’t have to create a business plan, submit an application form or sit an interview to qualify for it. We knew what we wanted in terms of a house, in general terms of location and this felt like the best fit we’d come across yet so we went for it.

I know that does not necessarily make for such interesting reading because we are returning to the known and familiar for most of our readers. Back to the mainstream and the conventional in many ways, departing from the extraordinary, the remarkable and the TV show-worthy.

But for us this is new. Lots of it is not necessarily what I am happy to share with a wider audience – parenting through the fledgling years, the spreading of wings and working out next steps. These are now no longer my stories to tell. In the same way as we did not always tell every single aspect of our WWOOF hosts or the minute details of life on Rum life here and the type of work and small community we have joined means it is not appropriate to comment on every aspect of life here in such a public forum.

However, in the same way as this blog began as an account of a period of change and a break from the norm this next phase is much the same. It’s about readjustment and starting from scratch to work out what is important, what is essential, what is desirable and what our priorities are.

So here we are, summing up those first six months into our new life here. The highs, the lows, the learnings. And we have added in a line each about what we’d like the next six months to bring, where we would like to be after a whole year into this next chapter.


* We are not fully in the loop of all that is happening just now on Rum but we are aware that there is some turmoil and changes. It is frustrating not being fully part of it, not having a say any more and knowing that some of the things we helped to build are not going so well just now.
* The internet here is poor. It is very slow and not really up to the demands of four people with various devices. We need it for study, for work and for leisure and it is often simply too slow to meet those needs.

* For the first time instead of dreading it I am actually looking forward to the winter.
* I enjoy my job. I like learning new skills and working with people. The hours (I work evenings) are not great but it does mean no early starts and I still have all day to myself.
* Now we are settled here and planning on staying long term we are starting to make the house our home. We have been furnishing it and getting things like lights. We are also looking for a sofa. We are buying from re-use centres or charity shops to avoid buying new things but it is nice to start making the place feel like our own.
* I have loved having lots of people to stay and am looking forward to having lots more. It is not the worry it used to be on Rum about running out batteries or filling up the loo, we can just relax and enjoy being hosts.
*I have gotten some of my tools over from Rum and am enjoying feeling practical again like I used to in that life. I have fixed a wobby loo seat, am planning to put some tiles up around the bath and re-seal it and it’s good to feel useful like that again.

* I have learned loads from my work at the tearoom, about prepping food, cooking food, waiting tables. I’ve learned a bit about the politics and differences in types of catering kitchens.
* I’ve learned how close Glasgow is! From all our trips to the airport in August and a few deviations off to shopping centres I have realised that getting to the airport here takes not much longer than it would have done to get to Heathrow from our Sussex home, or into a big city for an Ikea trip. Suddenly we don’t feel so remote.
* From the Strontian show we got a real taste of the local community here and how it feels close knit and friendly.
* That it really is possible to find the right balance between how much you work, what you do and what you need to earn.

In six months time.I would like to have a more stable job – with regular hours and term and conditions / a contract. I would also like us to have a second mode of transport and a TV.


* I have only been back to Rum once and still have lots of my stuff there that I would like to get over here.
* I have not done the beach cleans that I used to do so regularly on Rum as it’s too far to head down. I am managing to do it but nowhere near as often as on Rum when I did it most days.
* My room is on the north side of the house and is a bit dark. If I want to do art in there I need to have a light on.
* The internet is very slow here and is often completely unusable.
* I had really hoped to make selling cupcakes a business and that looks like it might not be quite so easy to set up as I wanted because of the private water supply here.

* I am really enjoying wild swimming in the loch with Mummy.
* It’s been nice having guests here. We were able to collect people from the airport and have lots of people here to stay.
* Winning first prize for my cupcakes at the Strontian show. Also selling my cakes on our stall there.
* Going to the cinema week at the Sunart centre. It was really fun seeing four films in five days.
* It was cool to see a fox (even though it had caught two of our chickens!).
* I’ve really noticed how much Bonnie has slowed down and aged and life here is so much easier for her so it’s nice that she gets to retire in comfort here.

* I’ve learnt loads from the Marine ID surveys we’ve done and really enjoyed those.
* I have learned lots about swimming, particularly in open water from having some lessons with Mummy with a swimming coach.
* Our visit to the local sand mines taught me a lot about how mines work.
* In the six months we’ve been here we have seen about four or five road traffic accidents, all of which have had a big impact on traffic and holding people up. It has made me realise that people are not stupid but are so used to being told what to do that they struggle when they have to think for themselves. They either wait for the police to direct traffic or someone else to take charge. Back on Rum we were used to using common sense and making decisions for ourselves.

In six months…. I would like to have set up a small business selling my cupcakes. I would also like to explore the possibility of volunteering or getting involved with an animal rescue charity or sanctuary.


* The internet is very poor. It stops me from doing much of what I would have planned to do.
* I have set up as a self employed artist and registered for universal credit. This has meant meetings and phone calls with a work coach at the job centre. I find this a bit stressful and not really very helpful. Often the coaching sessions are not relevant to what I want to do and I feel they are taking away my time and attention from my art or selling my art.
* I often blamed my lifestyle on Rum for preventing me from achieving some of the things I wanted to. Six months away has shown me that actually it is myself.

* Megan came to visit! It was easier to collect and take her to the airport living here, we had more room and privacy here than we would have done in the caravan and we were able to do more stuff like: bowling, shopping, meeting other friends, going for a meal, visiting Inverness, going for walks.
* I love the space, the freedom to do more of my own thing in a bigger room, the increased privacy, the extra bathroom of the house.
* There are increased opportunities here than on Rum for social, educational, voluntary things. I am not necessarily making the most of all of them yet but at least things I don’t do here are because I am choosing not to rather than because I simply don’t have that option.
* The cinema. In six months we have seen lots of films at the cinema, in Oban and at the local community centre. Cinema was one of the things I missed on Rum so it’s been good to go regularly again.

* I have learnt things about running a business and the ins and outs of running a small business. I have created a business plan and looked at things like cash flow.
* I have learned a lot about biology both from the Marine ID workshop and surveys but also while Megan was here we looked at lots of videos about evolution and genetics which used lots of the same terminology and theories as we’d learned on the marine courses.
*I have learned lots on the training courses for my voluntary work on the phone line. Both the actual content of the courses in areas such as suicide prevention and awareness, phone line counselling, confidentiality, protecting vulnerable people etc. But also about how training courses work as I have not been on anything like that as an adult before. I am attending another course soon on domestic violence awareness. I have also found that a lot of the course content fits in to what I have been learning in my OU course about social sciences.
* I have learned some more things about cooking such as making lasagne, cheesecake, potato gratin, pork chops in pepper sauce. There are more things I would like to learn to cook but this was a good start.
* In the last six months I have made moves towards an adult independent life. This has included setting up a business, managing my own money, living with my girlfriend for a month. Mummy and Daddy were away for a lot of August either working or actually staying away and I was responsible for the animals, the house and things like food.

In six months...I’d like to have a trip to America planned. I would like to have my business more established with an understanding of how it will develop into the future. I would like to have my next module of study well underway and the end of that block planned.


* An inevitable consequence of both moving away from Rum and getting busier lives, along with young adult children is that we do not spend quite so much time together as we previously did. While this is a natural move towards Davies and Scarlett becoming more independent and the next stage of our lives and we are all finding ways to ensure we still spend quality time together as it was more me who has always had one or both of my children within very close physical distance I am mourning this change a little bit.
* Life is a bit more compartmentalised. Further to what I said above back on Rum our work / life / family / leisure / hobbies were all very blurred together and it was all just ‘life’. Now I have clearer boundaries between things I do to earn money, things I do to keep the house going, time I spent with one or more of the rest of the family, ways to ensure I am staying active etc. I am working really hard to ensue that I still merge these things wherever possible but it requires more effort.
* I still have not found my social niche. I have met a fair few people that I have clicked with and some I would even start to call friends but still no one I could send a message to and have turn up an hour later with a bottle of wine for an evening.

*I will echo what all of the others have said and say how many friends and family we have had to stay over the six months here. We love having a house full of people and while we had lots of guests to stay while we were on Rum it was always harder to manage due to space restrictions in the caravan. Here we have plenty of room and have really made the most of it.
*The work we have found. I was confident that if we had just a couple of months somewhere we would be able to find opportunities to earn money and we did. I possibly have slightly too much work to feel I am doing it all justice but I am sure that over the coming months I will work out which to prioritise and find the right balance. I am really enjoying getting to know people in the community, working with local young people through the youth work and flexing my writing muscle with the freelance reporting. All of the jobs have potential to create more opportunities to suit me and it’s good to feel useful and that I am an asset to these various employers.
* I am absolutely LOVING the wild swimming. I am loving doing something with Scarlett who is a perfect buddy for it as she is adventurous, enthusiastic and super fit so she urges me on to be better myself. We have shared so many magical moments out of our depths, bobbing about in Loch Sunart looking at each other with absolute glee. We have made new friends, experienced new challenges, encouraged more people to do the same and seen a whole world beneath the surface of the loch as well as a whole new perspective of where we live.
* Seeing my family so happy and settled. There was a moment last month where Ady had just arrived home from work full of gossip and pride for having cooked for a huge number of people with sounds of chatter and laughter drifting downstairs from Davies, Scarlett and their two best friends / partners where I just felt so happy. I’ve not really had any doubts that this move was the right one for us, but seeing the other three so happy here is a real high.
* The opportunities. From being easier to get to events such as a gig, the cinema, a concert, away for a weekend, to collect or drop off a friend from the airport. A highlight which was amazing in itself but also a shining example of this was going to Edinburgh festival and seeing Tony Slattery.

* I’m learning new stuff in all my various jobs, as you always do in new jobs. Stuff like actual skills to do the jobs, stuff like the work place culture. It’s great to be doing contract / self employed work too so that the things which I know I would struggle with in a more conventional job are not an issue because I think learning or re-learning those would prove tricky.
* How life works here – from the ferry times to the etiquette for the single track roads, having bin-day and the opening times for the local shops. The best place to get local information or who to ask about what. All of those general, not always quantifiable things to learn about the mechanics of a life somewhere.
*That in the same way as you will always spend at least as much money as you have you will also fill up all of the time that you have. I would have anticipated having loads of free time without all of the time sucks I used to have on Rum like fetching things from the freezer every day, meeting the ferry to collect the post, spending hours each week processing laundry. But I actually seem to spend less time with nothing specific to be doing now than I did then.
* I would agree with Scarlett on learning about swimming. I have been having some lessons and have massively improved. I have not paid to learn anything for years and would previously have always thought I could teach myself something. So I have not just learned the swimming, I have also learned about learning!

In six months time… I would hope to be ending our first year in this new phase of our lives with our various jobs more settled. I would like to have some crops growing or at least seedlings planted for the season ahead and some crafty or creative pursuits happening for myself. I would like to have a more local social life established.

Do what you can, where you are.

A couple of years into our time on Rum we had a young friend come and stay with us for a month. She was a remarkable young woman who is continuing to fulfil her potential and forge her path through life making a difference and beating her wings very hard so that the world has to be affected by what she has to say. Back then she was utterly charmed by our off grid, remote, survival style lifestyle and felt that that would be her calling. We had a lot of interesting conversations her and I, with both of us teaching the other. What I could offer in age and life experience she could more than match in youthful positivity, fresh eyes and a belief that anything was possible. One of the conversations I have often thought back to with her was about making a difference in the world and the best way to do that. My advice was that you should make your changes where you were in the first instance. Make the most of where you happen to be right now. The world certainly needs big voices, big changes and leaders to gather behind in order to make those big differences. But we also need smaller voices and smaller changes too.

Our lifestyle on Rum was incredibly low impact environmentally most of the time. But it was also reliant on a lot of the infrastructure we had chosen to leave behind still being there when we needed it. For us it was about living lightly on the land, learning about self sufficiency; in food, in power, in heat and water. It was about building community and stripping back all of the twenty-first century trappings of a modern consumer lifestyle to see which bits we could live without and what compromises we were prepared to make to bring back in the bits we missed. About seeing what the true cost – environmentally, financially, spiritually, personally and in terms of our time of our lifestyles. We didn’t set out to be quite so extreme, quite so remote, quite so remarkable. Along the way we met people far more extreme than us and plenty of people doing more or less in some areas but making their own choices and controlling their own lives. We were inspired by them to really understand what was most important to us and focus on those areas. What matters to us as a family is not necessary what will matter to other people. What matters to us as individuals is not always the same as each other, what mattered to me yesterday or might matter to me tomorrow may not be what matters today. Life is like that, ever changing, ever evolving, ever learning.

Returning to the mainland is involving compromise again. It is meaning that we are once again evaluating what is more or less important to us, what we care most about, what our priorities are. There is always an ‘ideal world’ scenario in my head, offset against doing what we can, where we are. I’d love to reduce car travel (or indeed travel generally) but we live somewhere with very limited public transport and the green options of walking or cycling are tricky due to single track, very windy roads making some of the routes unsafe. So we do the best we can – for us this means working as close as possible, or indeed actually at home. It means co-ordinating work trips with other members of the family or other reasons to take the car out to minimise journeys wherever possible and trying to organise lift shares with neighbours. As and when we do need to look at a second vehicle (which as four people living in a remote area with poor public transport links we very likely will do) we will explore various options including electric vehicles, small engines etc. We make the trip into town for grocery shopping just every ten days or so and have invested in freezers to mean we can stock up on food and store it to allow for less frequent trips.
This past month has involved a lot of driving and for Scarlett and I it has also involved air travel – something both of us were uncomfortable about and had looked at alternatives to. Although we were more than prepared to take longer to arrive at our destination – Northern Ireland – the alternate mode of transport to a budget airline was a ferry and was about five or six times the financial cost (if taking our car). On this occasion we decided to save the money being spent on travel knowing that having more money to spend in other areas means we can make better choices there -e.g. more environmentally friendly purchases on food. We have agreed that subsequent trips will be planned further in advance and we will take advantage of special offers and promotions from the ferry company to allow us to choose that transport option next time though.

Mainland life has meant electricity from a large supplier again in our home instead of the solar and wind power that we used on Rum. I’ve already mentioned having a freezer and we also have a washing machine and dishwasher here. We had a washing machine on Rum – powered by petrol generator which I used once a week to do our laundry in small loads. It would have to run for a couple of hours to get through four people’s washing. I would say the automatic washing machine here is running for a similar amount of time each week. All our drying is done just the same, out on the washing line (still making use of that wind and solar power!). Dishwashers seem to be touted as the more environmentally friendly option for water and energy use.

Our hot water here is oil fuelled, clearly not the best eco-option. If we were to own a house we would look at better options for that, but we don’t, we rent so we limit hot water use. So far we are on track to use about half what the oil company told us was typical usage for our house and house-hold size so I think we’re doing OK there. The oil also fuels the heating but we have a log burner so that will be our primary heating source with just the radiator in Davies’ room on (as he feels the cold).

Mainland life is a re-entry back into consumer society in lots of ways which Rum was not. Of course consumption has negative impacts. It also has positive ones too – the choice on how to use your consumer power being one of them. Sometimes being in the system gives you a voice.

Doing what we can where we are has enabled us to re-join a more mainstream, although still fairly small community and find voluntary opportunities in areas that we are passionate about and feel we can make a difference in. It has meant we have found employment in places which are not just enjoyable for us but also make a difference to others. I am writing for the local paper and getting to cover stories about subjects that I want to raise awareness of, working with young people helping to shape their ideas and support them in finding their future paths.

I think we achieved a lot in our time on Rum – we learnt so much and were able to give Davies and Scarlett a rich, wild, adventurous and alternative end to their childhood. The ripples and impacts of that will spread way beyond our time actually living there.

We also touched the lives of other people – those who visited us on the croft – family and friends, groups of students and school children. All those who came and volunteered with us, many of whom I am still in touch with and went on to change their lives in larger or smaller ways as a result of the time they spent with us. People who read this blog, who watched the TV shows or read magazines or newsletters, heard us on the radio talking about our lives. People we met on our cob course, at the Eden project community camps, friends of friends…. I have lost count of the times I have been told that people have made changes in the way they think about things, approach things or live because they have heard about us – our low impact life, our alternative education, different way of life, moves towards self sufficiency.

Part of doing what you can where you are is in realising when your work somewhere is done. I think that was the point we reached on Rum. We felt we had achieved all we were likely to manage there within the boundaries and confines of what our own health, wealth and desires dictated along with those imposed on us by external factors. Moving away has changed our stage and our audience but is allowing us to learn more ourselves while potentially do more in some areas, despite maybe not being quite so close to our ideas in others.

This post came about partially in response to a comment left by a regular reader but had also been prodding me as one of the potential posts constantly forming in my mind while I’m going about my day to day life. Our Rum life was a bit of a bubble and coming out of that bubble to realise that in some ways the world has changed a lot while we’ve been away but in others it has not changed at all has been a really interesting concept to catch up on.