For various reasons I’ve found myself talking about me a lot the last week or so. OK, I concede I talk about myself a lot generally but usually that is more habit than actually being asked! The last couple of weeks have meant introducing myself a fair few times – at my friend’s Book Club while in Northern Ireland, at a job interview this week and while meeting the co-ordinator for the phone helpline for a local mental health and wellbeing charity that Davies and I have signed up to be volunteers for.
So I’ve found myself answering the ‘How did you end up on Rum?’, ‘What is Home Education all about?’, ‘What jobs have you done before?’ and ‘How are you settling in?’ questions a fair few times in various different circumstance. The way I may have approached the answers has varied but in essence it’s been the same replies. I’ve covered most of those areas here on this blog before save for the ‘how are you settling in?’ one. I have a collaborative post with the others for our usual bad, good, learnt type format about how we are finding it here in this next adventure planned but for now on what is our two month anniversary of arriving here in this house you will have to make do with my musings.
The title of this post is all you can’t leave behind because it echoes the essence of my answer to that question about how we have settled in, which is that so far this feels like all of the best bits of what we loved about life, with some of the tougher bits removed and more opportunities available. So what could we not leave behind? The elements of my life that I most loved were the freedom to choose what to do with my time and the luxury of mostly only doing things I loved. I love being with my family, exercising my creative muscles with arts, crafts, music and cooking. I love being in nature and encountering wildlife. I love light, laughter, family and friends. I love learning and adventure and people. I love new challenges and new experiences and discovering something new every day.
So far I’m ticking all of those boxes. There are buzzards flying overhead daily here. We get woodpeckers on our bird table. There are seals in the loch we can walk to and watch. Last night I saw my first red deer from the house, today we watched a hind in the woodland just outside. I was woken at dawn by a tawny owl calling from the tree just outside our bedroom window. Our house has windows on every side flooding the rooms with light, the views are amazing filled with endless skies, hills in the background, oak trees bursting with life, woodlands carpeted with bluebells and primroses. My wildlife, nature, sunshine and light quotas are more than matched.
I have space for my craft materials, currently there is no market for things I can make but I have a new home to make my own and I am on my second blanket to adorn the sofa. My ukulele has a stand and the radio is always playing bringing me new songs to be inspired to learn or trigger new tunes and lyrics to write my own. I have a bath to linger and dream in, free for my mind to wander and come up with new ways to be creative.
People are everywhere! New faces all the time. Just this week I have been for a job interview – which I got ! More on that soon, Davies and I have signed up as volunteers. We went to the library where the librarian remembered us from when we joined up weeks ago, the re-use shop where we bought new glasses in our second week here to buy a small table and were remembered again from our last visit. To our landlords to collect clean laundry for our cleaning job where we chatted about our holiday. Two sets of friends have visited just this week. We are putting down roots, making our place, building our lives.
There are things about Rum that I miss. Our livestock, putting my hands in the soil and tending crops, my shed filled with things I made, my friends, my hill.
Looking forward though and finding the ways to bring with me what I can’t leave behind, or as much of them as I can.
Although we have spent less than half of it here in our new house as we’ve been off gallivanting about.
To be fair if we had known in advance that we would be here then we may well have not had quite so many adventures during April as we’d have been happy to be settling in here, getting on with finding work and busy with the work we have found and probably had family to visit us for Easter rather than the other way round. But we had planned this trip way back last year and the travel and pet arrangements were such that it was easier to go with what we already had booked than try and rearrange things.
The first half of April saw us having another trip back to Rum. This time just a day trip and just Ady and I. We collected some more belongings, emptied our freezer, gathered up Mrs Turkey who has now come over to the mainland to take up residence with our landlords who had a lonely Mr Turkey so that was a happy matchmaking opportunity.
We had an overnight visit from a friend which was lovely and she bought her son who stayed for a longer visit. He and Davies have been friends since they were 4 and it was lovely to have him here with us for a few nights slotting back in as though he’d only been with us last week.
We’ve been busy doing new house admin type stuff like setting up direct debits, changing our address, registering with the doctor and so on, which all take up time in phone calls, emails and visits to the nurse to be weighed and measured. It is now official that Davies is the tallest and the lightest. I am the shortest and the heaviest…..
We have been getting out and about familiarising ourselves with the local area for walks and wildlife and discovered a lovely circular walk through some woodland which looks likely to be ever changing through the seasons. We spotted the first bluebell on our second trip 3 weeks ago and this week walked through a carpet of them. I’m looking forward to seeing how that landscape changes through the year.
We also enjoyed recreating an old picture from a bluebell walk of the past…
The second half of April had us heading south. First stop Sussex for a week with my family.
We happened to fluke being there at the same time as one of Ady’s oldest friends from school days so met up with him for a couple of hours which was both lovely and surreal.
We spent a lovely few hours lazing on a rug in a park that my sister in law and I used to take our children when they were tiny and was the backdrop for many long, lazy afternoons in the sunshine while the children played and had adventures, and semi-regular stressful half hours when two of the cousins (Scarlett I’m looking at you as one of them here….) used to get themselves lost too. Lovely to lounge about with the teens joining us for our surreal conversations and slightly hysterical nonsense, although now it is middle age rather than small children invoked sleep deprivation driving the nonsense!
Another memory lane trip was the local park with my brother and his son for an hour in the sunshine too. He and I would play there as children, I used to take Davies and Scarlett when they were small and now we stood and watched my small nephew. The play equipment has changed with the times but the open grass and feels of the park has not.
To add further to the retro feel Davies and Scarlett persuaded my brother and I to go head to head on a tetris game. Frazer beat me 2 games to 1 but we were pretty evenly matched, just as Davies and Scarlett are, albeit at a much higher level than my brother and I. We tried to tell them about how we were the first generation to play that game, when we were younger than them before they were even thought about let alone born but they ignored us and went back to beating our very best scores with barely one eye on the screen!
Not too old and jaded for an Easter egg hunt though. I’ll let you decide whether that is them or me who is not too old as I suspect I enjoyed writing the clues and hiding the eggs more than they enjoyed finding them. It’s good to be indulged!
Never too old for a cup full of 2p pieces at the amusement arcade on the pier though…
Scarlett, Bonnie and I had a lovely evening walk up the downs looking at the signs of spring on the way too.
Then to the second leg of our time away, which was leaving Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat in the loving care of my parents while we four headed over to Northern Ireland, which is rapidly achieving second home status for us. Despite the obvious downsides of air travel it was the cheapest option by far and I promise we do plenty to offset the carbon footprint.
Ady swapped seats with me so I could sit with Davies and Scarlett (the plane was split down the aisle with blocks of three seats either side) but then he ended up with nobody sat in either of the two seats in his block, so I moved over and we swapped mid flight for a go at the window seat.
We realised it was the very first time all four of us had travelled by plane together. Ady, Davies and I flew to Manchester for a weekend when Davies was very tiny, Davies and I had flown from Edinburgh to Gatwick to collect a car to drive back to Rum and Scarlett and I had flown to Northern Ireland two years ago but this was a first for all four of us. We did take part in the Heathrow Terminal 5 trial runs a few years ago as an educational day out which had us going through testing the security set up, boarding pretend flights and at one point even taxi-ing along the runway but never up in the air all at the same time. Our flight over was daytime and our flight back was night time so that was a nice contrast for amazing views.
Our time in NI was fabulous as always. This time we were not really doing any touristy stuff, just spending time with our friends. But with amazing weather like we enjoyed for the first few days, their gorgeous house and fantastic hospitality you don’t really want to leave the house anyway!
We were persuaded by the teens into Belfast city one afternoon…. we accompanied them on the bus, saw them to the main centre and then decided that as we didn’t need to drive anywhere or be anywhere and the price of two pints and a bowl of chips to share was pretty much the same as a fast food lunch we’d do that instead. It’s nice to see that there is definitely Life After Parenting!
We also persuaded our lovely friends into a pint or three on the Saturday afternoon at their local. When in Northern Ireland….
A highlight was being invited along to the monthly neighbourhood book group which happened to be while we were visiting so I had read the book and went along. I do envy my friend her local social life and it’s definitely something I am hoping to find some degree of here once we are settled in. Choir, book groups and other semi-regular social get togethers are all things they have in abundance where they live, I hope we can start to get some of that back in our lives now we are not quite so remote.
All too soon the time there had come to an end so it was back in the sky for us again. The flight back was busy and our hand luggage ended up having to go in the hold. This was both a pain as it meant having to hang around to collect it rather than walking straight off, we had also bought some crockery from a charity shop and had packed it carefully enough for our own handling of our hand luggage but not up to baggage handler lobbing stuff about standards so there was one casualty of glassware, thankfully contained in bubblewrap. The plus side was that Davies and Scarlett got to see baggage reclaim in action and pluck their cases off the moving conveyor belt!
Back to Sussex to be reunited with our pets, have a day of packing up, an oil change and new tyre for our car and goodbyes with my parents and brother before the long drive back north. We spent two whole days in April like this:
Both drives were uneventful from our perspectives although our drive back up to Scotland was lengthened by a rogue swan on the M6 near Birmingham for whom the road was closed as he was guided back off the carriageway. Swans eh? If they are not breaking your arm they are breaking your journey!
It was a lovely couple of weeks. Massive thanks to the family and friends who managed to spend time with us, host us, look after us and our animals, do our laundry, feed us and generally have lots of fun with us. It was lovely to be away, to see you all. It’s also lovely to be back here. But that is taking me into May, which is definitely for another blog post.
This weekend saw us celebrating three weeks at our new address.
We have a shelf full of New Home cards from friends and family, have met some of the neighbours, started working and applied for a couple more jobs, had our first visitors, been to our first local event and finally got our internet and landline connected. So far it is mostly very slow indeed, frustratingly so of an evening when of course we (and everyone else, which explains the slowness) most want to use it. We are supposed to still be in our 10 day ‘bedding in’ period when the router and our connection is optimising and stablising so we will see if things improve after that time is up. But still, it is nice to be reconnected and the novelty of the landline phone is huge, it’s been nearly a decade since we’ve had one of those. I very much enjoyed spending a couple of hours in the sunshine on Sunday sitting outside chatting to my sister-in-law and then my parents and brother on the phone.
So what are we up to then? Ady and Scarlett – with me as back up – have cleaning work in some local holiday lets. It’s ad-hoc based on the cottages and cabins being let and as such will likely be very seasonal but as we’re heading towards precisely the right time for that season we are hopeful that that will bring in a fair chunk of the income we want. I worked with them today and we are a good team, all playing to our strengths and working together. I do the bed changes and laundry, Scarlett cleans the kitchens, windows and mirrors, Ady does the bathrooms and hoovers. We are reliably informed there will be plenty more holiday let cleaning posts in the area in the next few weeks lasting right through until the winter.
I have applied for a couple of part time posts working in areas I have worked in over the years either in paid or voluntary capacities – jobs like library of youth worker posts. The closing dates are not for a while yet so I’ll have to wait and see on those. I’ve also been contacting local tourism and accommodation providers about produce like my jam and baking and my crafts. I have got some of my crafts waiting to go in front of the quality control panel for stocking in the local tourism office and craft shop and the local campsite is waiting on me providing them with a price list for my baking and produce. There are two craft fairs happening next week which we’re going to visit to check out pricing, range of items for sale and how folks set up their tables and displays ready to take a table ourselves next time.
Davies has finished all of his course module material and is in the throes of his penultimate assignment before working on his end of module assessment and then having the summer off. He has earmarked a potential local charity to contact for voluntary work possibilities which would be both interesting and tie in with his studying so once he is finished studying for this (academic) year he has a list of things to be thinking about and getting on with too.
We’ve been back to Rum once to check on our livestock and make a start on planting the latest delivery of trees. Ady and I are heading back again this week to finish off the tree planting, check on everything and work out a list of tasks to work through on subsequent visits. We have applied to the Crofting Commission for permission to be further than the 32 kilometres you usually need to reside from your croft (we are not terribly much further than that, but we are not within it either) and are waiting on confirmation of their approval although we don’t anticipate any issues with our application.
The house continues to feel like home. We are very comfortable and happy here. Ady has been doing tasks like clearing the gutters, fixing the dishwasher which was not working when we moved in, applying WD40 to the slightly ill-fitting windows that are swelling and contracting in the spring temperature extremes and generally making himself feel at home. I have been loving the novelty of a washing machine (another job was getting a washing line strung up between some of the tree branches in the garden), using the Kenwood chef mixer we have had for years and kept boxed up and redundant on Rum due to lack of electricity for baking, dusting off the yoghurt maker that we bought and made excellent yoghurt with but had no fridge to keep the yoghurt fresh with on Rum. And I’ve started a new blanket as the sofa we have here is comfortable but tatty and is draped with the blankets I had made on Rum but has room for a couple more to cover it.
The bath continues to be a lovely treat, as do our large bedrooms, damp-free cupboards, TWO toilets and tons of space. We’ve been getting out and about and meeting people; we’ve met some of our neighbours, we bought a little freezer off some people in the village, went to the cinema night event at the community centre, chatted to volunteers at the local charity shop where we bought some glasses and are starting to feel like this is where we live.
The previous tenants had put up a bird table but in our first week or so here we had not seen any signs of wildlife. We bought some nuts and seeds when we were in town and restocked the feeders and the table has been a frenzy of feeding ever since, with tits, finches and robins darting around almost constantly. Buzzards and eagles are a daily spot flying over the house, as are ravens. Yesterday afternoon I watched a pair of eagles engage in their courtship sky dancing of catching each others talons and spiralling downwards and then later thought a plane was passing by so close and large was the sea eagle that flew past the window, close enough to make out it’s white tail, curved beak and wing tip feather details. The surrounding woodland of the house is filled with braken and I am ever alert for adders as it is prime adder habitat. It certainly does not feel that we have left behind the landscape and wildlife that we so loved on Rum.
This past weekend was Earth Hour, an event that we have marked since it began back in 2007. On Rum it used to feel slightly empty given our lack of electricity generally. This year we turned off all the lights, lit candles and watched the stars. Mothers Day on Sunday felt all the more special for being able to head out for an adventure somewhere new and have a lovely bubble bath while dinner was cooked for me.
I am aware that I am enthusing about some of the very things that I might have previously been smug about having left behind. That this could seem a return to the life we turned our backs on when this blog first began. But this is a continuation of our story, our ever-evolving journey. When this blog began we were living a very conventional life in a busy corner of the UK, with one of us working full time and a feeling that we could be having a different, better life. ..
The bulk of this blog was us searching for that better life and trying out more and less extreme versions of it. Our year of WWOOFing saw us experiment with lifestyles before settling on the one we lived for seven years on Rum. We are still reflecting on what that taught us, what we achieved and how much it showed us and how it led us to this next chapter.
What we are looking for just now, and have hopefully found is what suits us now, as four people with very different needs to what we had when we started this blog nearly a decade ago. We were then two young children with parents in our 30s and 40. We are now two young adults with parents in our 40s and 50s. Our priorities remain our time spent together, autonomy over what we invest time, energy and attention in, achieving goals which are important to us personally as individuals, as a family unit and in treading lightly on our planet. leaving legacies which only impact positively, finding joy, love and laughter and making the most of the opportunities we have in this life. This is a slightly less planned out phase of our lives than the previous ones shared on this blog, but hopefully it remains interesting to stick along for the ride with….I can’t believe it will be run of the mill no matter what happens!
It’s ten days since we were sitting on the ferry heading away from Rum. We had our cat, our dog, as many possessions as we could pack in and a whole load of hopes, wishes, frets and crossed fingers in the car on the car deck.
Ten days later we’re back in the caravan on Rum again for a few nights. On the day we left 1000 trees arrived for us, so we’re back to plant those, to check on our livestock and to collect a few more belongings.
It’s been a busy week and a half. We’ve got no mobile phone signal at the house and our landline and internet is not due to be up and running until next week so we are ironically more cut off there than we have been here at the moment. So we’ve been driving or walking out each day to get signal to check emails and messages, make contact with family and friends, keep on top of all of the arrangements that come with a house move, ensure Davies does not fall behind with his studying, stay in touch with Rum to make sure everything is OK here and start the process of setting up our new lives too.
Most of this has been done sitting in a car park about 5 miles from our house. We are almost directly between two villages, the larger of the two has two shops, a post office, fuel, a couple of craft shops, cafe, hotels, B&Bs, tourist office, school, library and community centre. By mainland standards we are still pretty remote, by Rum standards this is a sprawling metropolis! The car park is in this larger village and we can pick up 4G mobile phone signal which allows us to hook up the laptop and use our car as a sort of mobile office / classroom.
Ady and Scarlett had already found work and started earning. They have a couple of cleaning jobs which is perfect. They both enjoy the work, work well together and will be looking for more of the same. Ady has registered with an online agency for more work along those lines and is hoping he can pick up enough part time hours locally to bring in the fairly modest amount we need to cover our monthly bills.
Davies has been studying lots, his course is nearly 3/4 of the way through this first module and he has had his fourth assessment back with another very high grade and good, useful feedback from his tutor. He only has one more assessment left before his final end of year assessment and is enjoying the current block of study very much. He will then have the whole summer off studying and has various plans for things he wants to do with his time.
I have been using the limited online time I’ve had so far to build up a list of possible contacts and places to sell my crafts and jams. I’ve got a list of the various craft fayres in the area and the dates that they run with a plan to visit all of them over the coming few weeks as they start up to get a feel for the pricing, the range of items and see what is selling and how people set up their tables, make some contacts and then set about attending them myself. I’ve also got a list of various places that may be interested in selling my items and will be taking a selection of what I make and do around with me over the next few weeks to see if there is any interest and if so on what terms. I also have an eye on any part time work that might be suitable for me too.
We have joined the library, met some of the neighbours, joined some of the local online groups and explored the very local area on foot and by car. We’ve been into Fort William a couple of times. FW has been our nearest town here on Rum for the last seven years and is already where we visit the dentist, optician, hospital, our nearest supermarkets and so on so is somewhere we already know well. It’s just that on Rum it is a ferry trip *and* an hour’s drive away, now Fort William is just an hour’s drive! We have a choice of three routes to town, two by road and one by road and a very short ferry trip. We have done all three and will be investing in a book of ferry tickets as that will save about 20 miles of driving each way. We will plan to make the trip to town every ten days or so once we are settled.
I’m still looking for a daily hill, although the walk up and down the track from our house to the road is nearly a mile and is fairly steep so for now walking down to put rubbish and recycling in the bins and check for post will keep me going!
It’s very early days but we’ve settled in very quickly and it feels like we can certainly build the next stage of our lives here.
I had thought I would wait until we are actually settled, but there is every chance we will be internet-less for a few weeks so better to blog now.
Last Thursday evening I spotted a house to rent on the local-ish facebook buy/ sell / swap group so I got in touch with the landlord and after a bit of chatting we arranged to go and view it on Monday evening.
Ferries do not allow for easy logistics for things like that so we had to be sure it was a real contender to justify heading off but after lots of discussion we decided Ady and I should go and view it while Davies and Scarlett stayed here on Rum to look after the Croft creatures and the pets. It meant Ady and I were able to hire a car for the evening to drive ourselves to go and view the house and then doze in the car overnight ready to catch the ferry back to Rum first thing the next morning. Cheapest option with least pet sitting favours required we thought.
So Monday afternoon saw Ady and I on the ferry, we caught up with a few friends from neighbouring islands also heading to the mainland including our WWOOF hosts from Eigg all those years ago so it felt like closing the circle somehow. We drove to the house and arrived a short time before the landlord so had time to wander round the outside of the house, take some photos to send back to Davies and Scarlett and sit and get a feel of the place. Both Ady and I felt that it was somewhere we could easily picture ourselves living.
We met the owner and had a chat, a good look around the house and further chats. The feeling of rightness continued and strengthened the longer we were there and the more we talked to the owner about the house and the surrounding area. We said goodbye and drove back to somewhere with good phone signal to call Davies and Scarlett and send videos and pictures and talk it through with them. We all agreed to take it further and so contacted the owners to say we’d like to go ahead with renting the house.
A fairly uncomfortable and cold night of sandwiches , reading my kindle and watching stuff Ady had downloaded onto his phone later we had a cup of tea on the quayside looking out across the sea towards Rum.
An hour later we were on the ferry back to Rum chatting to various friends who also happened to be on the ferry (some residents, some visiting for a meeting) and two hours later we were back with Davies and Scarlett. We arrived home to the kettle on, the fire lit and Scarlett ready and waiting for the eggs and other ingredients we had bought back with us at her request for a pancake extravaganza of various sweet and savoury options. Go Scarlett!
That was only yesterday morning, and five days ago we didn’t even know this house existed. But between then and now we have agreed the contract, ordered a phone and internet connection, paid the deposit and first months rent and booked the ferry.
On Saturday (ferry and all other variables playing fair) we will be arriving in our new home.
As usual it’s a rollercoaster with us. Nothing is ever slow but the day is for seizing!
The house is within an hour’s drive from Mallaig, where the ferry to Rum leaves from, so we’ll be commuting back at forth very regularly while we continue to work the croft for now, while setting up our new mainland life too. As I said the internet may be a barrier to sharing what’s going on for a couple of weeks but we’ll be taking plenty of photos and storing up any stories to tell ready for when we’re back online and able to post more.
For now, I’ll leave you with the list that the four of us drew up just a couple of weeks ago about our absolute wishlist for what we all wanted next….
Some of those items (proximity to a town / city / airport) are not quite so close as we might have wished for in a 100% perfect option but they would definitely still get a tick against them.
Wish us luck, we’re pulling together the words and pictures for the ‘what happens next’ bit of our story again.
I’ve lived here (and by here I am meaning Rum, but actually the same applies for ‘on the planet’) long enough to know that March far from signifies the end of all that winter can bring in terms of weather and temperature challenges but nonetheless March 1st does mark the start of meteorological spring and therefore the end of winter.
We arrived on Rum in spring 2012 and during that first six months we must have heard over 100 times ‘well you haven’t done a winter yet…’ and that was to our faces. We know for a fact that behind our backs people were doubting that we / our caravan / our southern softie ways would last a winter. But we did. And then another one, and another, and another…. Last year we did attempt to not do yet another winter, but then we returned to Rum in March and while winter was technically over I think our welcome home offering was the toughest weather conditions we’d encountered yet. We intended at that point to definitely not do another winter. And yet, here we are. We have had several trips off but were here for all of December and January and half of February too and now we are getting into longer days and signs of spring once more it turns out that oh look, we’ve only done yet another winter.
So what does winter here actually mean? Despite being pretty far north Rum is not actually all that cold. It is more warm, wet and windy. And dark. In the depths of winter snow is still unusual, in seven winters here we can count proper snowfalls on one hand, hard ground frosts are not that common either. With an island only 8 miles across pretty much everywhere is coastal, the ground is undulating and very, very wet and boggy so the pockets of ups and downs tend to break up the weather and temperature. That said a draughty caravan is rubbish at keeping internal temperature much different from external temperature (and indeed internal conditions generally different from external ones, if it’s rainy outside then chances are the roof might leak and the windows are certainly running with water). Our little log burner does a fine job of keeping the living area cosy while we’re awake and tending it but bedrooms, particularly Ady and I’s (which is at the far end of the caravan, furthest from the living space) are never above single figures celsius during the winter months, often plummeting very close to zero during the night. I’ve talked before about the wet and the windy. As I am typing this we are ‘enjoying’ winds of around 50mph with gusts of up to 70mph.
But this is not a complain-y post, this has been the life we have chosen and enjoyed more than enough highs from to take these lows in our stride, or at the very least offset them firmly against the good bits. And the longer days are coming. For our six hours of daylight in the depths of winter we enjoy 20 hours of daylight in the height of summer. And we are creeping back towards credit rather than debit of daylight hours with a good 10 hours, maybe more, rising daily. It’s been a curious few weeks of weather across the UK with a February heatwave, a small amount of which has even reached us here on Rum. I’ve been up my hill a couple of times in short sleeves and nature is waking up. I have both enjoyed the sun on my upturned face and nursed a dread in my heart about quite what the environmental message the planet is sending us with these unseasonal conditions is.
But as the world still turns and the calendar pages flip over to reveal the start to yet another season. There are starting to be visitors coming off the ferry wearing walking boots and heading out into the island once more. I met a man walking up my hill last weekend and stopped for a chat with him. I’ve spent time labelling up jam, have been crocheting midges to restock the shed and been posting on our Croft 3 instagram about the various crafts and produce available in our shed to whet the appetites of people planning a trip to Rum this year.
We have taken inventory of our seeds and put together a list of new ones to buy. We have another 1000 trees arriving in the next couple of weeks, the sheep’s fleeces are looking fabulous (although we are months away from shearing it’s still nice to cast an eye over them and feel pleased about having those to come) and we’ve had a few duck eggs already.
In our usual spirit of not getting stuck in our ways and trying to always think of a new way of approaching things Ady came up with the genius idea of moving our strawberry patch to create a chicken run. Our strawberry patch last year was in an adjacent area to our fruit cage and veg garden but the plastic hoop covering we used didn’t quite last the season and the black plastic we had put down had not really worked at either preventing weed growth or dealing well with the steep ness of the slope that area is on, meaning that every time we walked in the cage to do weeding or pick strawberries we were pulling the plastic covering around. So rather than our planned idea of building a new chicken cage and doing more work in the strawberry cage Ady proposed moving the strawberries somewhere more suitable and using that cage for the chickens. Perfect! The strawberries require daily attention during the peak season so we have created an area close to the caravan for them and have some readymade plastic tunnel cloches arriving. The area is paced out, has wooden paths to prevent muddy foot paths, a wind break / sheep / turkey / goose barrier errected and as soon as we have a nice weather window and our plastic tunnels have arrived we will dig up the strawberries, lay down the plastic cut to size and replant them in the new area, then let the chickens in to enjoy the weeds and stay in an enclosed area each night until they have laid eggs each morning.
You might be wondering why all this talk / work when we don’t really know what’s happening next? We are firm believers that even if you are looking for something new you should carry on making the absolute best of where you are right now at the same time. Both here on our Croft on Rum and indeed in all of life itself.
We are coming up to it being a year since we returned to Rum after our winter off in 2017 / 2018. We returned with the intention of giving Rum one last shot at working for us, while trying to spend more time off to get a better balance of mainland / island life.
‘Making Rum work’ has always been a rather subjective and almost ever changing notion with so many determining factors as to whether it is working, has worked, could maybe possibly potentially one day work. The past year making Rum work was about earning as much money as we could from the various endeavours we have here. That meant advertising our various crafts and produce as much as we could – we refreshed and added to the welly trail and signage up to the Croft, painted our on-island car to direct visitors up to the croft, did lots of social media posting, created extra signage to direct people to the North Side Nature trail which brings visitors around the sides of the croft and past the shed selling our crafts and produce. We carried on pushing sales throughout the year online netting several sales right up until Christmas, which is way past when we have usually finished for the season.
We introduced lots of new lines in the shed and in our online etsy shop including clocks, badges, stamped keyrings and pendants, slate signs and crochet creatures. We invested in nicer jam jars with fancier labels and sold through the older style jars of jam. We introduced several new jam flavours based on what had sold well previously. We gifted a couple of clocks to be displayed in other on-island businesses to draw people up to buy them and provided quite a lot of produce delivered down to the bunkhouse including bread and cakes. We did a few talks and tours on the croft and a couple of workshops teaching people some of the crafts we sell here.
We were more efficient in our egg selling with most of the birds penned so that we were collecting all of the eggs instead of sharing them with the crows. We only let a couple of birds hatch young (although sadly none of the hatchlings made it). We only grew crops that we knew would be profitable in terms of feeding ourselves or being made into preserves.
Ady took on a fair bit of off-the-croft work, although he was hampered by his knee injury from taking on quite as much as he’d have liked into the autumn. We kept our livestock holding numbers down to a static number and managed to shear the sheep all by ourselves, with the first fleece spun and turned into wool items for sale.
All of these efforts to earn more went towards spending more so that we could balance our lives better to meet the needs of our restless teens and our own needs for a social and cultural life over and above what Rum can provide.
We have had trips to Northern Ireland, North Wales, several visits to Sussex, to London, to Manchester, to Inverness and Aviemore. We’ve been to the theatre, the cinema, museums, memorial services, beaches, the Giants Causeway, neighbouring islands, zoos and more.
Our plan was to spend the spring, summer and autumn on Rum and then head off again for the winter. We had hoped to find somewhere local-ish to rent over the winter so that we could keep a close eye on the Croft while not having to actually survive in the caravan over the winter. Unfortunately we are far from the only people looking to rent short, or even long term in this area. We have spent six months trying to find somewhere, casting our net ever wider and turning up nothing even slightly suitable, let alone perfect. And suddenly we find ourselves just weeks away from the spring having stayed another winter in the end after all. We have managed plenty of time off over the winter and it has been a very kind, mild, mostly bearable winter (so far…. never speak too soon, spring could easily be delayed until May!).
It would be easy enough to aim to do the same again this year – settle for a spring, summer and autumn here and plan to be off for as much of next winter as possible with regular trips off but that is starting to feel like something of a limbo, as though we are all poised ready to start the next bit but never quite getting off the ‘ready…..steady….’ bit of the starting blocks. The fact is that while we could easily do just that and see out another season here quite contentedly pottering about on the croft, incrementally growing the business from the shed, tending to our livestock and growing a few crops whilst spending what we earn on nice distractions and experiences we all four know that this chapter of our lives is meeting our needs less and less with every passing month.
We started this blog, way back in 2010 when we were four perfectly happy and content people who just felt we were slightly living the wrong lives. As though there was a better fit for us somewhere else. We were not miserable or sad, not deeply unhappy or unfulfilled and we found joy in our lives daily. But we knew there was something else out there that would be even better. That is where we find ourselves once again….on the cusp of the next unsettling, scary, unknown, risky adventure. I always tell the kids that you know when something is right for you because you get that fizzy, pit of your stomach feeling of excitement, like the night before Christmas or just as the rollercoaster pauses for that split second at the very top of the track, or you look down from the top of the diving board…..or you realise that no one is holding on to the back of your saddle anymore and you really are peddling this bike all on your own.
It is wrong when living in an off grid caravan, halfway up a muddy hillside, on a remote Scottish island becomes the safe and known. It’s been a tremendous adventure and we have learned so very much but I think the biggest lesson of all has to be that if this felt like a huge and exciting venture then maybe this was only the start and perhaps there is something even more exciting waiting for us. We just need to start looking a bit harder.
This week we all sat and compiled a list of what we would look for next in an ideal home. The results were interesting, with plenty of crossovers between the four of us. Some are reactions to how we have been living for the past eight years since we left our cosy Sussex home, some are takeaways from precisely how we have been living and don’t want to let go of. It gives us the basis of what to look for next and some ideas of ways to make enough money to support ourselves with the next set of things we’d like to do, see, achieve and experience.
We’ve been away. Away from Rum and back visiting old lives, old friends and family.
Poor weather meant we ended up away for even longer than we’d first planned but it’s not a bad time of year to be away from our caravan. It was a shame to have missed some heavy snow here for the photo opportunities and the beauty that is Rum under a heavy coating of white, but fortunately we had plenty of photos posted up by fellow islanders to look at instead.
Our first stop on our time off was Greater Manchester, in a little cottage for a week. It was lovely; a cosy, warm, beautiful little house with everything we could possibly need. Close enough to the nearest town to walk in for supplies, close enough to Manchester city to drive in – which we did lots!
To collect and drop off friends from the airport
To go to a Welcome to Nightvale live show (as the introduction speech went ‘if you have never been to a Nightvale show before you are in for a weird evening. If you have been to a Nightvale show before you are in for a weird evening’). Davies was interviewed in the queue outside
We had a fabulous weekend with friends, some up from Sussex, some over from Northern Ireland.
There was singing, dancing, eating, drinking, laughing, talking and general merriment. There was not much sleeping….
Family from Manchester came to visit us
and we managed a trip to the Trafford Centre
And it snowed! Which was both amazing because it was so beautiful….
and a bit rubbish because it meant that a get together with another set of friends we’d been really hoping to see had to be cancelled due to the weather / driving conditions / planned meeting being a walk with our dogs.
After a very enjoyable week we headed even further south down to my parents. Another lovely stay with lots of time spent with Mum & Dad, my brother and his son, both my sister-in-laws and our nieces and nephews. I met a friend for lunch, Ady, Davies and Scarlett had a trip to the cinema, walks along the beach and onto the pier and some very successful charity shop trawling trips where our required items of four hand luggage sized suitcases for a trip later this year were met for less than we’d have paid for one new, plus my search for new walking boots was met with not one but two pairs for less money than I’d had refunded for the pair that fell apart after just a few months use. Ady and I helped Dad fit a bit of shower screen and I helped Dad put together a garden store. We helped dig several large currant bushes out of one place and replant them in another.
We chased sunsets a few times – on the beach, up on the south downs. I had a wonderful sunset walk along Worthing beach and pier when I met the others from the cinema and managed to see flocks of starlings murmerating over the pier before swooping down to land underneath it to roost for the night. Scarlett fed the gulls on the beach one day too.
Despite the motorway path back up north home being long and mostly boring we did have some amazing birding spots though – loads of buzzards over the M25, huge numbers of red kites over the M40 and several large mumerations of starlings over the M6.
As always returning to Rum is a mixed bag of emotions – sadness to leave behind family and friends, the relative ease in many aspects of mainland life and all it offers. Joy to return to the place that definitely feels like home in my heart, reluctance to settle once more in the caravan yet comfort at once more having our belongings around us; drinking tea from my own mug, using my own kitchen utensils to cook with, laying my hands on something as soon as I think I may want it. Life on the road has many delights but settling into a place called home, wherever that might be trumps them all for now.
The time off has given us pause to consider further our next steps though and the search for the right path ahead continues. More on that in posts to come.
Way back on my birthday in 2017 we took a walk up the newly repaired path part way up into Rum’s hills. The path leads up to Coire Dubh, the place where most of Rum’s houses get their electric and water supply from as there is a dam there.
When we did the walk in 2017 I found it really, really hard going. It’s not a terribly long way but is very steep. I have asthma so even at my fittest cardiovascular exercise is tricky. At the time I remarked to Davies that I should start doing the walk once a week and that I bet if I did it would quickly start to become an easier walk. Despite that being an intention, as so often happens life and other distractions got in the way so I never did it in 2017.
I’m not even sure what made me think about it again last summer but on summer solstice, a day that is so long here that you both awake and go to sleep while it’s still daylight it was one of the many outdoorsy things I did and that afternoon I set off up the hill. It was just as tough as I remembered it and I arrived at the top, red faced, breathless and gasping for water.
But the view was magnificent! Blue skies, blue sea, green hills and a bay filled with boats.
Two factors have made me carry on walking up that hill. Not every day, some days I’ve not been on Rum, some days I’ve simply been too busy with other things, or not well, or the weather has just been too awful to be outside unless I *had* to be. The two things are my sheer bloodymindedness of not taking well to finding things hard, when they should be if not easy, certainly not quite so far out of my reach. The second is how much I have enjoyed it.
The bloodymindedness has led me to do several similar things in the past. Back in 2009 from being a very weak swimmer who could barely manage a length I did a sponsored swim and swam 75 lengths for charity. Buoyed on (pun intended!) by that the following year I signed up for a ‘channel swim’ where over a 12 week period I swam the equivalent of the English Channel at my local pool. By the end of that 12 weeks I was managing well over 100 lengths at a time a few times a week. Again I raised a decent sum of money for charity which was excellent, but mostly I enjoyed it.
The enjoying it is a funny one. The exercise for the sake of it is something I can’t confess to really enjoying. Whilst I like knowing I am increasing my health and fitness it is much more about pushing myself to do something challenging that I enjoy. When I was doing the swimming I also enjoyed the hour or so at a time entirely to myself – as a full time Home Educating mother when Davies and Scarlett were little I had little to no time all to myself, so to lose myself in a mindless physical activity while my brain could wander around was a joy. With the swimming I was mostly busy listening to my own breathing and counting my tally of lengths as I went but I was also doing plenty of mental tupperware sorting, putting things into boxes, labelling them accordingly and working through things. Certainly the 2010 swimming challenge was during the first ponderings that led us to our WWOOFing adventure. I enjoyed the heavy legged, physical tiredness of the swimming too.
My Coire Dubh walks have not raised any money for anything and unlike the swimming challenges they have not had an end date or a specific goal in mind. For the last week or so I have been mindful of approaching 100 times though because after that first time of taking a picture of the view and a selfie of me red faced and grimacing I decided to carry on recording those two images each time so I was aware that I was nearing 100 times of doing the walk as the file numbers on my computer told me.
I have mostly walked up alone, although Bonnie’s been with me a couple of times and on my birthday the other three joined me. Once a friend came up part way with me. I sometimes meet people along the way but more often I do not see anyone. I have sat and chatted with people for ages at the top before now and had some really interesting conversations with strangers, with fellow Rum residents and with visitors, or just exchanged a smile and a nod as I pass people heading up or down on the path. I have been up during summer, autumn and winter and watched the colours and the landscape change with the seasons. I have walked up in wind, rain, hail, snow and sunshine, sometimes two or even three of those in the same day. I have seen rainbows, planes, birds and the most amazing clouds in the sky. I have bumped into red deer on several occasions, sometimes almost literally!
Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes a podcast, sometimes nature, sometimes nothing. I have walked up singing, laughing, a couple of times crying. I have walked with joy, with anger, with woe, I have been carefree and burdened, excited and defeated. I have mentally composed replies to emails, finished off fantasy conversations or arguments with others, thought things through, made decisions and made my peace. The perspective of seeing everything spread below me – Rum, the croft, the mainland beyond is both symbolic and soothing, uplifting and humbling. The path may be meandering but it keeps me straight.
I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this walk. Lucky to live where I live and have access to all this natural beauty. Fortunate to have sufficient health, fitness and physical ability to walk up a steep hill – and to have noticed it getting easier. Blessed to have the time to call my own to spare to take this walk. I am always grateful to sit and rest at the top, even on the coldest, bleakest days. I am always even more grateful to arrive home to a cup of tea.
So today was walk 100.
I wasn’t sure how to mark the 100th time. It felt both momentous but at the same time not really that remarkable either. I’ll carry on walking up that hill, most days, weather and other factors permitting. You can clearly see the change in the seasons by the colours of the view. I can see changes between the two pictures of me too – if nothing else I’ve improved the art of taking an arms length photo of myself!
In the end I marked a stone with 100 and held it up next to me. I just selected a dark stone and marked it with water. Obviously I had access to water as there were little pockets of snow on the ground and I am sat next to a dam. I’ll let you decide whether I ignored both of those water sources and just licked my finger to mark it….
A few moments later the water was already drying and by the time I started to walk away it had disappeared…
That felt like the perfect way to mark it. Acknowledge, celebrate, move on.
We’ve been hinting and alluding to next steps in the planning and while we are still waiting for all the details to fall into place we have enough of a vision of what we’d like our lives to look like that we can share that vision. As has happened before with sharing ideas and plans on the blog we often get some great feedback – questions are brilliant as in answering your questions we often need to think about details that we may have missed or iron out any flaws in our plans. Ideas or suggestions are also really good – the hive mind or the ‘more the merrier’ definitely comes into play. Finally though the more we talk about ideas they more they manifest themselves, take shape and become closer to a reality.
Eight years ago we were on the cusp of a huge adventure. We were working out our notice periods in our jobs, finalising our WWOOF host arrangements, doing the final clear out / pack up of our house and preparing ourselves as best we possibly could for the absolute unknown. Willow the camper van was already sitting on our driveway and we would often go and sit in the van and try to picture what lay ahead. Our lives were filled with lists, timescales, maps, plans and a long, long checklist of hopes and dreams.
Seven years ago our application for a croft on the Isle of Rum – a place we had only visited once, for barely two hours – was in the hands of the island community trust, in response to crofts they had created and advertised to let. Within the coming weeks we would visit again for an interview, be offered the croft and set about a whole new set of lists, packing up, getting ready and a whole new list of hopes and dreams.
One year ago we were sitting in a rented house in Ireland having left the island for the winter to decide what we should do next and get some perspective away from Rum and our challenging lives here on the croft. We collectively decided to return, to make changes to our lives here to fix the issues we had with the things that we did have control over and to accept with good grace the things we could not. More lists, more plans…
Whilst it would be completely fair to say that we have made some unconventional and unusual choices it would also be accurate to say that all of them have been considered, planned, well-thought out and the result of plenty of research, discussion, taking the individual and collective needs of the members of our family into account and with careful re-evaluation along the way. The detail, reflection and talking that makes it onto this blog is merely the tip of a very large iceberg! Whilst it would be true to say that our little family unit is definitely up for adventure, challenges and grasping at the opportunities life offers us we are also not heading off blindly into the unknown.*
*largely thanks to Ady if I am being honest, I am definitely of the more reckless personality type!
So with that considered approach to our lives here on Rum we have collectively concluded the following:
Our current lives here no longer meet all of our needs; social, educational, financial, health & welfare are all lacking:
Social – Davies and Scarlett are the only teens / young adults on the island. There is no social scene catering to their needs. Whilst Ady and I have some very good friends here there is also a side to our social needs which is lacking too.
Educational – Davies is able to pursue his formal education with the Open University which is an excellent fit for him and his study needs and style. However, there are other educational opportunities such as relevant work experience, training or workshop type learning experiences which all four of us would like to access which our location here on Rum prevents from being viable.
Financial – As we move from being a family of two adults and two children to a family of four adults our financial situation alters both in terms of income (eg. child-related tax credits and outgoings (eg adult rates for travel, accommodation, more spends on food, clothes etc.). There has been a loss of a couple of small but not insignificant earning opportunities on the island over recent years with the closure of a hostel and a drop in visitor numbers, Ady’s knee injury prevents him from some of the more physical work he has previously done to bring in money and the shed, while continuing to do well, particularly with additional online sales does not bring in sufficient income to sustain us. Added to this the need to travel further afield to meet those social, cultural and educational needs brings an additional cost implication in travel, accommodation and so on which our already stretched budget cannot cope with.
Health & Welfare – Whether it is age and the physicality of our lifestyle beginning to take it’s toll, the living conditions of a damp caravan or a continued erosion in the services we receive in terms of healthcare, access to sufficient winter sunlight or a decent supply of fresh fruit and vegetables we have to concede that this life poses challenges to our health, some of which we struggle to mitigate.
There are many aspects of life here which we cherish and wish to retain:
Love for Rum – This island, this croft has been our home for a large chunk of our lives and will forever hold a big place our hearts. While it is currently not providing everything we all four need we also feel very attached and do not want to lose that connection.
We can still see potential – It would be very easy to conclude that this is not completely working and so we should do something completely different. Having spent time away over last winter and viewed our lives here with a different perspective since returning in the spring we can still pick out the aspects that really do work and the ones which could potentially work with some tweaking.
For now, (but) not (necessarily) forever – As said before there are four of us and at times our individual needs can be really quite diverse. Just because on balance this is not working for us right now it does not mean it may not work for some of us at a future point, in fact it may continue to work for some of us right now if we can find the compromise for those it is not working for.
The elements of this way of life which do work for us – when we came we said we were looking for somewhere to live which was beautiful, which had a sense of community and which allowed us freedom to do a land based project of growing crops and rearing animals. Nearly seven years in we are forced to accept that not all of those criteria are met here just now. Yet Rum continues to be beautiful, we do have land which while not as suited to our hopes and dreams as we’d have liked nonetheless with our time and energy spent so far has improved and does sustain some crops and some animals.
What we are missing and want from the next stage in our lives:
A more suitable living space – We still believe in our original idea of a modest home with as small an environmental footprint as possible and as low running costs as we can manage. However a growing family means a need for more space, more privacy and more protection from the elements. Walls that don’t wobble, ceilings that don’t drip and space for us each to follow our interests without needing a rota for who has use of the table for art / crafts / studying /gaming would be desirable.
Access to those cultural, social, educational and medical opportunities – A dentist or physiotherapy appointment that does not require two nights away from home, a cervical smear test that does not end up two years overdue before the doctor only does house calls now there is no surgery space on the island and you don’t live in a house (!), a cinema, theatre or music event you can travel to and maybe need to stay overnight but not require several nights and hundreds of miles travelling, a celebratory meal out, a ‘run out of cat food pop to the shops’. This is island living and it’s been a compromise we have been happy to make with our eyes wide open fully aware of the flip side of the massive benefits to island living. But at our current collective stage of life the down sides are weighing heavier than the up sides.
To use all those skills we have learnt, to make the most of the last seven years and to move on to the next stage – we want to do the things we are good at, that we love doing and we want to start earning money from them and doing what we believe in. Whilst working a few shifts cleaning hostel rooms / doing the admin in the school / working at the post office / picking winkles have been great ways to make ends meet they were never on that list of hopes and dreams. Planting seeds and tending crops, breeding and rearing animals, butchery, baking, crafting, photography, talks and tours, teaching and hosting volunteers were all on that list and to a degree we have managed all of those things but not to the level we had hoped or dreamed.
Looking at all of these factors has led us to a new vision for the next few years. One where we have that living space that suits our changing needs, one where we manage to access all of the things we are craving hopefully without losing all the things we love. So we are looking for a house to rent on the mainland, close to Rum. Our idea is to be based on the mainland offering Davies and Scarlett all of the opportunities that mainland life provides – driving lessons, cinema trips, part time work, a social life, offering Ady and I some respite from the more challenging aspects of life here and some of those same social and educational opportunities too. But we’ll continue to spend a large amount of time here on Rum on the croft, still growing crops, rearing animals, crafting and producing. We’ll be able to take our crafts and produce to the mainland too though – to market days and craft fayres, to local shops and tourist hot spots, to accommodation providers. We’ll find the capacity to offer volunteering opportunities or workshops here on the Croft when we can bring supplies with us from the mainland. We can look for part time work to help sustain us while we get our existing Croft 3 brand expanded to include this bigger potential market.
In short we can bring some of our Rum life with us to the mainland and bring some of that mainland ease and convenience with us back to Rum.
As you can tell it is still at the plans, hopes and dreams stage of a vision. There will be details to iron out, not least the actual finding of somewhere to rent, an issue which has been proving rather trickier than we had first hoped when we began looking a few months ago. But as with all of our previous ambitious and at first glance perhaps unachievable goals we are confident that if you start with the vision, begin making lists and carry on talking and being open to ideas and opportunities there is every chance that this will be forming the start of a blog post of the future talking about a plan we shared way back in early 2019.