Grow your own

My food growing adventures started back in 2008 when we got to the top of the very long waiting list for an allotment from our local council.

Davies, Scarlett and I went to the office, signed the paperwork, paid our first years rent (About £50 if I recall correctly) and collected the key to the main gate.

We drove straight to the plots, about two miles from our house and roamed through the mostly beautifully tended and productive plots to find ours which was furthest away from the gate and quite overgrown. Subsequent chatting with neighbouring plot holders meant we learned that we had taken over the previously very loved plot of an elderly gentleman who had fallen into ill health for a while before dying so his plot had been left for a whole season or more without being tended.

I learned so much from that plot and it was absolutely a big inspiration for our year of WWOOFing and subsequent crofting adventures on Rum.

During our WWOOFing travels we stayed with people who were amazing produce growers. Some on massive scales growing to supply others with veg boxes, some fully self sufficient for their communities and families, some still in the early stages of setting up abundant gardens and a whole mix of different challenges in terms of soil quality, accessibility, water, climate and weather conditions, sloping or flat land and orientation of plot creating shade, sun and shelter. I think I learned at least one thing that has stayed with me from every single hosts whether it was tips on sowing distance from Lisa in Wales who used her own hands and feet to measure rather than a tape measure because ‘I’ve always got my hands and feet with me!’, pest prevention from Pete in Somerset who encouraged weeing around his perimeter fence to deter deer, amazing planning and crop rotation from Wilf and Matt in Durham or permaculture plot design and forest gardening from Chris in Devon.

Despite best efforts (and bloody hell there was a whole lot of effort!) although we created a lot of infrastructure for growing on the croft with 20 raised beds in a ‘walled garden’, a massive soft fruit cage, a huge strawberry garden, a herb spiral and a polytunnel my growing on Rum was never a huge success. The start of the season was so late, often with frosts into May, followed swiftly by midges during the time you most needed to be outside tending crops. The soil quality was poor despite best efforts at improvement with livestock aerating and treading in manure, seaweed mulch, comfrey feed, chicken and duck pest control….Really the only crops that I triumphed with were soft fruits like currants, strawberries and raspberries, salad leaves grown in containers and peas. I seem to be good at growing strawberries and peas regardless of where I am. I guess we all have that one crop we fluke. I’ve yet to grow a leek beyond spring onion size though.

Anyway, back to the present day. Where I hope the cumulative knowledge and all those who have taught me, my own experience in the very easy growing and the very challenging growing conditions and proximity to more resources yet a more pressing need to ensure we have at least some fresh produce in the impending food crisis during / post corona virus may aid my green fingers a little.

I picked up a mini greenhouse in the end of season sales last year and stashed it ready for this spring. I had some seeds already and had placed an online order for more just before the lockdown hit so received those in the post pretty much on time for the start of the growing season. I had some compost bought from our chicken feed supplier already and a few seed trays purchased in another end of season sale last year. Instead of stockpiling loo rolls I’ve been saving the empty cardboard tubes for weeks ready to make little seed pots with (the others are very helpful indeed at leaving them in the bathrooms for me…..).

I didn’t have a watering can but I did have a small pin to pierce holes in the lids of various milk cartons means I was able to make a selection of small and large watering cans.

Once we realised our spare bedroom would not in fact be hosting our planned influx of house guests (sob) this spring I set up a whole load more sown seeds all along the large south facing window in an array of makeshift seed trays including plastic tubs and trays, cardboard containers.

And just like despite the drama / crisis / horror story unravelling and evolving before our eyes on the TV, in the papers and on our phone news feeds the sun rises and sets, the moon continues through her phases, the tides roll in and out and the birds have begun to sing, pair up and gather nesting materials so the seedlings have begun to burst through the surface of the soil.

Which of course means that just like any proud witness to new life we have been casting around in the realisation that they will carry on growing and need a bigger home than their tiny loo roll tubes.

We had already agreed with our landlord last year that we could create some vegetable beds so we have built a couple of beds with some scrap wood, swapped some eggs for rotted horse poo with a neighbour, borrowed a spade (because all of our tools are on Rum, where we can’t get them having now missed two planned visits due to lock down) and are going to lift the lawn up. Ideally we would have filled the raised beds with compost – that is not feasible to get hold of in these weird times so we figure growing direct into the ground (we’ll be slicing and rolling the grass to lift it rather than digging) and then filling the beds at some future point is the way to go.

We still have another couple of weeks to be certain of being frost free so in the interim we are encouraging the chickens to feed and scratch around on the beds. We have some netting on order to prevent them doing that once we are ready to plant out.

The strawberries that we bought over from Rum last year have taken well and spread out lots in the first bed we constructed here last summer. I have had them covered with plastic over winter and although there are no flowers yet there are some very healthy looking leafy plants.

It will be really interesting to see how we do in this, our third growing space.

Small Things

I’m reading a book at the moment. It’s lovely, beautifully written and filled with joys and sorrows. It’s a story of ordinary people and their ordinary lives, and deaths – both similar to and utterly different to every single story every one of us has to tell / is living through.

Lots of us are finding meaning in things we would not usually discover at the moment, maybe we are seeking something we don’t usually look for? Maybe there is a new quiet, a special hush which means we can see more, hear more, feel more with so many fewer distractions. I’ve read stories (some later proven not true) of wildlife returning to places previously too busy with humans. I’ve seen photos of goats in playgrounds, dolphins in canals, ducks in water fountains, wild boar playing with their young in the middle of a deserted high street.

I’ve found articles online talking about earth quakes felt many miles away from where they normally would be because our walls are not shuddering with constant lorry traffic passing by. I have Seen maps of reduced pollution over cities, looked up and seen skies free from jet contrails.

There is suddenly greater poetry in song lyrics, in dystopian novels, in prophesies of doom. Those of us already blessed / cursed with seeing meaning in everything are seeing it even clearer, hearing it even louder. Looking for silver linings, wishing on rainbows.

I said to a friend recently that Coronavirus is a bit like Christmas. It’s bringing out the best and the worst in people. For every heart warming hand crayoned wonky rainbow picture a child is sellotaping to their window, for every pair of hands clapping for the NHS at 8pm on a Thursday, for every single one of the tens of thousands of people printing off the words to ‘You are my Sunshine’ and joining in with a remotely scattered choir conducted by Gareth Malone via youtube there is a child who’s only respite from a cold house, an empty belly, a loveless existence was their day at school. Or a scared woman suffering at the hands of a violent partner, even more angry now at the lack of open pubs and Saturday football. Some of us have lost our only glimmers of sunshine and hope.

People are still sick, dying, needing medical care for all the reasons other than COVID 19. People are still unemployed, poor, hungry, homeless even without lockdown related restrictions. People are still despairing, anxious, depressed, suicidal just as they were before this global pandemic gave everybody something to lay awake fretting about at 4am. There is no comfort or ease of those suffering from now being in the company of the whole of society with their collective suffering too.

Back to that book I mentioned. A sentence from it this morning made stop. re-read it several times. Take a photo of it.

Our grieving was an exchange of cakes through the winter because sometimes the only things you can do in response to big things are small things.
There aren’t enough big things. (from The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen)

Everything is so overwhelming just now. It’s all Big Things. Big scary things, with names we don’t fully understand and outcomes even our most optimistic hopes for are still unspeakable in their horror. And there is so, so little we can do about it.

We all know that the only thing certain in life is death. We all know that despite our best laid plans, intentions, meticulously detailed calendars and organised lists none of us really know what the future ever holds. I can have an idea of what next Tuesday afternoon might hold for me – I can plan a menu, schedule a reminder for a TV show, organise a phone chat or a video call with a friend. I can look at the weather forecast and even look out an outfit to imagine myself in. But the reality is that even the fleeting thought going through my mind just now of putting the kettle on for another cup of tea and re-reading this post before I press send may not actually come to fruition.

But we like to think we have a grip on things. I have lived a life filled with unconventional choices and twisty-turny saying yes to opportunities, finding myself somewhere completely different to where I thought I was setting out to and have loved it. The unexpected, the spontaneous, the tossing a coin to decide whether to turn left or right next. But it was always me tossing that coin and although if I think about it too hard for too long I know I don’t really hold any real control over my destiny, it is in making lots of small decisions and doing lots of small things that we are able to cope with the big things.

The same is true in these dark times I think. I have walked through the light living a charmed life. I am ever optimistic and filled with sunshine but even I am struggling with this one. I think I’m getting a real taste of what it must be like not to be me. Not to be able to shrug off the sadness and the worry. To find small joy in a seedling poking it’s head through the soil but not have the feeling of dread pushed away by it.

My way of coping has been to try and face it all as head on as I can. I’ve actually compiled mental lists of the very worst that could happen. They are dreadful lists and I wouldn’t write them down or speak them aloud. But they have allowed me to ensure I am as prepared as I can be for them.

Living far from loved family and friends for nearly a decade has meant that I always say goodbye knowing it may actually be goodbye. That I try not to leave things left unsaid just in case there is not a later. That if I have any questions or doubts I attempt to ask them and appease them. Those who I am not able to spend real life time with know how much I love them, how important they are to me and how much I value them in my life because I’ve told them, very clearly.

Those who I see often but am apart from now, or should have been spending time with I’m aiming for virtual company with. Zoom chats, video calls, regular messages and check-ins.

Our home life has not changed massively. Education for us has always happened from home. Davies and Scarlett have conducted the majority of their social lives online anyway. For nearly a decade we have lived remotely and at the mercy of poor weather meaning we need to have a good store cupboard of food and don’t always have fresh fruit and vegetables unless we grow it ourselves. I already had this years seedlings sown and our chickens were already providing our eggs. Our ‘daily exercise’ was always walks or swims. We never watched Eastenders anyway!

We have always had an ongoing emergency type plan of who Davies and Scarlett could call on if something happened to us. I updated it recently having realised that they are no longer dependant children and in light of my ‘name your worst fear’ list I have sorted out our paperwork files, shared all the information about the admin side of of lives and created documents to guide any of the other three through the things that previously I used to do and ensured that no single one of us is in fact indispensable on a practical or administrative level at least.

Then I have turned to the small things; giving some of the egg surplus to the neighbours, signing up for the local community phone line to take calls from those needing food supplies, medication and firewood, or just a friendly chat, I’m still doing at least one shift a week for the mental health helpline too and I am about to start doing a weekly video chat hosting for people about Home Education locally as well. These are the small things for others but also for me. To give me a sense of purpose, of having done something, *anything* each day.

I’ve stopped swimming for now. During the colder months we would drive to the loch for my swims so I could get home and in the shower /warm quicker. It is non-essential travel for sure. Although I am very safety conscious it felt just a risky enough activity to not be a sensible thing to be doing. I miss it massively. I am walking down to the loch every day and have been paddling instead, even submersion to knee deep is a highlight of my day.

Ady is our key worker. He is now donning protective masks, gloves and aprons for every client he visits. It is a very strange time to have joined the NHS and been thrown into the middle of the biggest challenge it has likely ever faced. He is in a peripheral role to the big fight against Coronavirus but certainly noting the effects on his clients and the world around them.

This feels a strange post for this blog really. But these are strange times and I want to record them. I want to be honest, candid and myself (even if there are bits of myself I am not entirely recognising just now). It would be stranger still not to talk about it I think.

I will post soon about more small things – I have tales of the seedlings to share, plans for raised beds, a yen for a cob pizza oven in the garden. Rum is calling with belongings I am suddenly finding a need for stuck there and friends I want to catch up with.

It feels odd to be wondering so much more than we are wandering just now.

And finally, that cup of tea I could not be entirely sure of? It’s here now beside me on the table. I’m about to press send….

The slow motion apocalypse

Prior to this past week I am not sure I have actually gasped at anything other than TV drama and action movies. Now I am gasping daily while watching the news, logging on to social media or reading things online. Gasping with horror, with shock, with dismay.

I’m also finding myself with my hand on my heart, feeling the most bittersweet emotions of seeing the very best of humanity too.

For every vitriol filled rant on social media there are several stories of people helping their fellow neighbours. For every selfish act witnessed there is a leaflet through the door advertising helplines to ring to ask for help collecting shopping, medical supplies or firewood.

People are scared, which almost always brings out the worst in us and there is not necessarily fast enough responses and answers from our usual trusted information sources and government, largely because the answers may not yet be know, so people are turning to less trustworthy sources, making up their own answers or grabbing what they can to feel safe and prepared against the worst.

Davies, Scarlett and I took to self-isolation as of last Tuesday when I was sent home from work as youth club and all the various sporting activities at the community centre where I work shut down. Ady and I cleaned a cottage on Wednesday but saw no one and the cottage had already been empty for over 48 hours. I have ceased my group swims and have been swimming alone, although I sometimes see someone (and indeed have passed folk) we have been tens of metres away from each other and outside so able to call a friendly but physically very distant greeting to each other. Davies and Scarlett are out every day for a walk but see nobody at all and touch nothing which another person will have touched.

Ady is obviously not able to do the same as his care at home work requires him to be at very close quarters with his clients. Updated guidance and information is coming through from the NHS all the time for him and he started four days off (he works a 4 on, 4 off shift pattern) today. I suspect by the time he returns to work again on Friday things may have moved on yet further. With him out and about anyway he is doing our essential shopping for food and fuel. After nearly a decade of island living and rural living we have become accustomed to buying in bulk and having a decent store of essentials anyway, with a decent stock of food in the freezer and healthy amounts of dried and tinned goods. Living 40 miles from the nearest supermarket and at the mercy of often extreme weather closing roads and stopping the ferry running means you have a certain amount of SHTF-preparedness as a matter of course.

Being at home for me has meant I am able to sign up for extra shifts on the mental health helpline as I am usually working 3 evenings a week. It’s also meant I have been able to volunteer for the local community council initiative of a phoneline for residents too and today I completed a skills audit of various other home-based things I can do with the local council, who my youth work / community centre employers have redeployed staff to aid with.

I already had my mini green house filled with seeds but have ordered a few additional packs of seeds and will turn over the sunny window sill of our spare room to ‘greenhouse’ space too. Sadly the friend expected later this week, our house sitters for our planned Ireland trip and my parents, visiting for 10 days will not be needing that spare bedroom, which had been looking like it would be very busy over the next 6 weeks. All of those plans have been cancelled.

A fingerpicking workshop of daily practise I had signed up for before this all kicked off has been an excellent daily motivator to pick up my ukuleles every day. And once in my hands after I’ve done the 15 minutes of finger picking I have been playing on for another 15 minutes or so. Today we joined in with around 15000 other people for the first of Gareth Malone’s choir practises.

Mothers Day yesterday was the embodiment of all that is good, bad, happy and sad about these strangest of times. A video call to my Mum, an email and text message exchange with my extra Mum Lynda, a facebook messenger chat with my extra daughter Megan all scatted across the UK and across the world. A day of being so very grateful to have Davies and Scarlett right here with me. As always I was completely blown away with their skills and creativity from their hand made cards and reduced to (happy) tears with the lovely things they said to me. And Megan managed to also make me cry with her message too.

We never really know what the future holds, but the world has been totally turned upside down for every single one of us.

I hope all of our readers stay safe, look after themselves first and as many others as they are able to help look after too. Be kind – as always it’s the single most important thing we can possibly aspire to.

One Year On

Last week it was the one year anniversary of our move back to the mainland. As it’s not that long since our bad, good, learned round up of 2019 I have not made the others sit down and do the exercise again about our first year away from our Rum life.

We have all been reflecting on it though and I spent a few hours with a friend who we met on Rum but actually lives near us here having lived on Rum for a few years himself last week, so Life After Rum was part of our many conversational meanderings.

Life has moved on hugely for our family a year on. It’s been a really busy year with all of us making the most of the opportunities being based on the mainland has offered.

We have all taken on new volunteering responsibilities – Ady has been involved in a hospital transport driving project, Scarlett and I are both in the throes of becoming involved in the local Cats Protection League, Davies and I volunteer weekly for a local mental health helpline and are ambassadors for a Women’s Aid initiative as local ambassadors, we’ve all been involved in a citizen science project and between us spend several hours a week collecting litter off the shore of the local loch.

We have all found new and very diverse employment ranging from holiday cottage cleaning, writing for the local paper, working in the local tea room, at the local community centre, as a youth worker, selling our art, crafts, baking.

We have made new friends and become part of new social circles.

We have taken up new hobbies and interests, learned new skills and had new experiences.

Our lovely house has meant we have been able to have many people to visit for shorter and longer stays, both to visit us and to house sit for us when we’re away.

We have managed to bring chickens with us over from Rum and they have settled in well and bred the first new generation of mainland chickens for us. We also bought over some strawberries from Rum and had a tiny little crop of fruit, hopefully a bigger crop will follow this coming summer. We have sown seeds here and have plans to turn over part of the garden to growing veg, we have a compost bin and have been experimenting with dyeing wool using the lichen from the woodlands around the house.

My friend asked me last week if I missed Rum. I replied yes, I did and then we talked a bit more about what it was I actually missed.

Eventually I concluded that what I most missed about Rum was who I was there. I missed the freedom to decide each day what I wanted to do and how much meaning every single thing had. There were no pointless tasks in that lifestyle. Everything was either about survival or future proofing. Life was very much in the here and now and there was something hugely satisfying about that. In this past year there have been days when I’ve felt frustrated or as though my time has been wasted doing things I would struggle to justify the point of (mostly done while earning money it has to be said and there is a circular argument forever about that, which I have had internally with myself and with others over the years. There is no definitive answer…). On Rum I almost never had that feeling.

This was definitely the right move for us, the right choice at the right time. I feel proud of the new life we have built in the last 12 months and all we have achieved. It has a transient, temporary feel to it which at times I find unsettling and I am not entirely convinced we have the balance of all the various components completely right but we’re edging closer to it and there is no doubt that when everything is weighed up we are definitely in the right place. For now.

Swimming into spring

‘But you haven’t done a winter’ is a phrase which has rather followed us around in our life choices since we started this blog.

The notion of managing a winter in our campervan volunteering was the first one. Actually, we didn’t manage that. We’d always planned to be back in Sussex again for Christmas with family and not even attempted to set up WWOOF hosts through the winter before we set off as that would have proved all but impossible a year in advance. We assumed we would either continue setting up hosts a few weeks in advance as we travelled, that we’d have had enough of the adventure and returned home, decided to move our travels to somewhere warmer and venture into mainland Europe next or have worked out what our next step was and be wanting to start on that.

In fact we had indeed decided to move to Scotland, visited Rum for the first time and submitted our application for the croft so were waiting on hearing about that.

Our next ‘you haven’t done a winter yet’ was living on Rum itself. That was footnoted by ‘and definitely not in a caravan’.

That was quite some winter. We certainly came out of the other side of it feeling as though we had achieved something. We’d survived the winter winds, the days and days of endless rain and the croft turning to mud before our very eyes. The hours and hours of daylight – sometimes 20 a day shrank to barely 5 or 6. We’d been out collecting firewood, out picking winkles. It was a challenging and eye opening season with countless lessons learned and battles fought, lost and won.

‘Doing a winter’ certainly seems to be something of a badge of honour.

My adventures in wild swimming, started back in the summer last year had a similar hesitancy to the approach of the winter. I began to don a second pair of neoprene socks, looked at thicker gloves, bought a balaclava style hood and began exposing less and less of myself to the water as the temperature dropped.

At the end of November though, just as winter was tapping on our shoulders a couple of friends and I stripped off our wetsuits at the end of a regular swim and got back in to the water in our swimsuits. It was the most amazing feeling – like thousands of tiny pins and needles all over our bodies as the nerve endings jangled. It was one of the most freeing, joy filled experiences I’ve ever had. Every bit of my body seemed to be flooded with the most amazing sense of being alive. It was like letting your hair down when it’s been tied up all day, taking off a pair of uncomfortable high heels, removing your bra, finally having that wee you’ve been busting for for the last half an hour.

It was like putting on a pair of glasses when you’ve gradually been losing your vision and suddenly seeing every leaf on the trees again, your ears popping after being blocked and realising how muffled everything was. It was that feeling on the last day of school before the summer holidays, the relief of an all clear result, the exhilaration of a roller coaster.

I’ve not put the balaclava hood on since. Well actually I have, one day I had a very cold head and said to Ady ‘remind me tomorrow that my hat is my friend’ so the next day I went in the water wearing it, but a halfway into my swim I pulled it off and stuffed it down the front of my wetsuit. It was muffling the sounds, lessening my feelings and a million times more annoying than having a cold head.

Swimming without a wetsuit is known as ‘swimming in skins’ even though you are not just in your skin, you do have a swimsuit on too (although I do hear of many folk who literally just swim in their skin even my remote corner of the world still has me encountering other folk once a week or so and I can be seen from the roadside by any cars driving by, so I’ll be sticking with the swimsuit for now!). We carried on these skins dips at the end of our regular Sunday swims through December and for our New Years Day ‘Loony Dook’. The water was getting colder but with the decreasing temperature came increasing pleasure from the experience.

I began to consider just swimming in skins all the time rather than stripping off at the end of a swim. In the same way as the hat felt constricting the wetsuit was starting to feel the same. It was a faff to wriggle in and out of every time and I often felt I spent more time getting in to, out of or rinsing my wetsuit than I did actually being in it in the water. Over Christmas and new year I heard myself telling at least three people about how I was ‘considering losing the wetsuit and starting to swim in skins all the time’. I had half a plan to maybe shed it in the summer and then try not to go back to it through next winter thinking I would acclimatise that way, but those weekly skins dips were working their magic.

Then one day in early January I had my wetsuit with me to change in to on the shore as I was planning my swim on the way home from being out. I already had my swimsuit on under my clothes. It was windy and raining and Ady said to me ‘you’re going to get just as cold and wet putting that wetsuit on as you would just getting into the loch without it.’ He voiced in a joke what I had been thinking in all seriousness. My own voice was echoing in my ears that the only way to go from ‘thinking about doing’ something to doing something was to do it.

So I did.

And since then I’ve been in the loch most days in just a swimsuit and gloves. I have a fairly unreliable thermometer – some open water swimmers are a bit sniffy about having a thermometer at all but I like to know the water temperature. I am curious, purely in an interested in what’s going on sort of way. It is useful, in getting to know my own body and my capabilities to understand what impact a degree either way has on me. Finally I quite like knowing so I can brag about how tough I am! Conservative estimates corroborated by friends with more accurate thermometers and splitting the difference averages put the loch as low as perhaps 1 or 2 degrees at it’s coldest this winter. It’s currently around 6 degrees.

I swim in the loch in skins about five times a week. Sometimes it’s a dip lasting less than 10 minutes, sometimes it is over 20 minutes and I manage a decent swim. This depends on all sorts of variables including the water temperature, the air temperature, the weather conditions, the tide being in or out, the level of the waves, what the wildlife around me is doing and how I am feeling on any given day. I have had times when I went in calling back to Ady (who always accompanies me on my solo swims and stands on the shore, sometimes taking photos, sometimes collecting rubbish from the beach if it is after a storm and there is rubbish washed up) ‘I won’t be long…’ and then emerging after a new record for distance of swim or time in the water. Sometimes wading in thinking today is the day for breaking a personal record only to be spooked by an eagle, suddenly aware of loss of feeling in my toes or a low flying plane putting me off and coming back out again.

Up until today I have been donning my wetsuit still for my regular Sunday group swim with friends, feeling that it allows me to stay in for longer. But the last few times I have worn it it has felt like such an effort to pull it on pre-swim and I have felt constricted and irritated by wearing it, as though it is hampering my swim rather than aiding it. So today I arrived for our group swim in skins. And it did not prevent me from swimming as I would have done had I been wearing it, infact I am confident it was not missed at all and that I found swimming without it easier. It was also quite fun to be the only one in a group of nine without a wetsuit. I am always happy to be different!

I have had some of my best, deepest and most interesting conversations with people I swim with. I have made connections, lost inhibitions and found links with folk I would likely have little else in common with. It has been my opening in our new mainland life to a new social world and to interesting and diverse people.

It has provided me with my much needed link to the natural world and the landscape around us. I physically crave that connection with nature, with the weather, the seasons, the wildlife. On Rum my life was much more outside based and through necessity our new mainland existence means I am driving more and walking less. I am back in artificially controlled environments for a greater period of time with lights and heating and no windows. My near daily dips re-centre me and keep me in tune with a clock and calendar far beyond that which hangs on my wall or sends me reminders on my phone.

My relationship with the loch is much like the one I enjoyed with the hill on Rum. It provides challenges and inspiration, motivation and opportunity. It gives me headspace of a meditative nature and allows a mindless meandering of my thoughts and a wide open space for what is really important to rush in and show itself to me. I have epiphanies, realisations, eureka moments and clarity.

I am reminded how small I am, how insignificant and finite. I am conversely given the gift of feeling mighty, powerful, in control and autonomous. I can choose how long to stay in, which direction to head in, which stroke to select, I am at the absolute mercy of the waves, the tide, the unknown depths below me. I am entirely along in my experience in the loch, I am submersing myself in water which has always been on this planet and has been tears, sweat, a raindrop, a glass of water, an ice cube, a snowflake, a cloud…in a never ending cycle older than I will ever be, before my first ancestor, likely after the last of my line has become extinct.

It is mid March. I swam in summer, in autumn and I will swim in spring. But once again, with the echoes of voices in my ears about ‘not doing a winter’ I am able to take a small sense of pride in knowing that once again I did. This time I swam though it. I swam through a winter.

Down and back up again

For the last few years rather than acquire more ‘stuff’ we have instead tried to choose experiences as gifts for Christmas and birthday presents for ourselves. We still exchange small tokens but aim for either things which are going to be consumed quickly (nice chocolates, nice drink, nice bath products) or items which are going to be regularly used and enjoyed. We also aim to support small independent makers, usually either local people or sellers on etsy, for example my hand thrown pottery mug, tumblers, bowl and plate and my silver Rum pendant.

This has meant visits to the theatre in Manchester, London, Glasgow and Brighton. Often weeks, months or in the most recent case over a year after the actual occasion the gift was marking but there is something rather lovely in still having a treat to look forward to long after the decorations are down and the season has turned.

Way back in 2018 we booked tickets and arranged a trip to London to meet up with friends from Northern Ireland and see Dear Evan Hansen We had super cheap restricted view seats and a budget hotel booked. We were still on Rum at that point so further travel arrangements were not worth considering but closer to the date I organised house and pet sitters and booked very cheap, long in advance train and bus tickets for transport into London. We tied in our visit south with an overdue visit to family in Sussex too.

Having house and pet sitters meant not only were we confident that Bonnie, Kira and the chickens were being well cared for in our absence it also allowed some dear friends of ours the opportunity to have a well deserved break. We are lucky to have a lovely house in a lovely location just now and having someone else enjoy and make use of it while we were not there made perfect sense.

While in London we walked miles and miles and miles. We were lucky (if you can call unseasonably warm weather at this time of year lucky?!) to have mild, dry weather so we walked from the train station to the hotel, walked to the theatre, walked around seeing the sights and walked to the coach station for our trip back. For entertainment we spent hours crossing the Thames by various bridges, past St Paul’s cathedral, through Trafalgar Square, into Covent Garden, to St James’ Park, into Parliament Square, past Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben. We watched people at the skate park, enjoyed the buskers and street performers – and contributed accordingly to their upturned held-out caps, took refillable water bottles and coffee cups, packed picnics and found interesting things to see and do for free.

It was a trip of over 1000 miles but we used public transport where possible, made sure when we did use a car it was full and packed in as much as we could to make the trip worthwhile.

In London aside from the show (which was amazing, I seriously can’t recommend it highly enough. I cried three times and through most of the second half, it was so good) we clocked up about 25 miles of walking around.

Back in Sussex for a few days with family I had also arranged Ady’s belated Christmas present. One of the few TV shows we had managed to watch while on Rum was Masterchef. A hangover, along with a couple of other shows from our old mainland life which we had enjoyed and tried to keep up with thanks to iplayer when internet connection allowed. Having come from Worthing ourselves when Kenny Tutt, one of the contestants was from there back in 2018 we had cheered for him right through the process. We were so pleased when he won Masterchef Champion that year.

From afar we’d carried on following his career and been delighted when he opened his first restaurant in Worthing last year. So when deliberating on the right Christmas gift for Ady last year I had realised our usual habit of deferred gifts and experiences would be perfect in the form of a romantic lunch for the two of us in Kenny’s restaurant. So I booked the table for while we were down in Sussex and got a voucher for the set lunch for two for us.

Davies and Scarlett came into town with us and had their own lunch of their choice courtesy of a well known fast food retailer, followed by a look round the shops and a very productive hour or so spent in the amusement arcade at the end of Worthing pier. Not dissimilar pursuits in the very same locations I would have followed at their ages….

While Ady and I had the very best lunch ever at The Pitch Restaurant.

The decor was stunning, the service outstanding, the food as beautiful as it was delicious. It was truly as much of an experience as we’d hoped it might be. But as the absolute icing on the cake Kenny himself was there and came over to say Hi.

We had a great chat about being on TV, about knowing the origins of your food, about the reality of the behind the scenes side of filming a TV show, about being yourself and about staying true to what you believe in. What a lovely bloke and what a pleasure to meet him and congratulate him on achieving his dreams.

Sometime in the last few months I seem to have become something of a saltwater addict and I have to confess I was missing my fix. The sea has always been important to me and the English Channel is the body of water I grew up with. Paddling in as a small child, driving alongside on my way to work each day, taking my own small children to paddle in, using as a gauge of what the weather was doing. It felt only right to immerse myself in it while we were there. So I had a quick dip one afternoon.

After Highland lochs the air and water temperature was positively balmy and it felt like stepping into if not a warm bath then at least an indoor heated pool. It was delicious though and the paddleboarder passing by and chatty couple walking their dog along the beach all added to the startling comparison to my near daily dips back home.

London sights, shows, lunches out and swims aside the highlight of the trip as always was spending precious time with family. We are very close to my parents and a 7 month gap between last spending time with them was far too long so it was lovely to be with them, as well as seeing both my brother and Ady’s brother.

Because when all is said and done, when it all comes down to it all we really are is memories. It’s the things we’ve seen, the places we’ve been and the people we have spent time with who make us who we are.

We will continue to find our path through life treading as lightly as we can, leaving the smallest footprints, the least impact on the world. But I endeavour to leave the biggest traces, the loudest memories, the longest lasting imprints of my kisses on the cheeks of those I love.

I’m 46 you know

It’s all relative obviously, but that is starting to sound almost like I should be a grown up…..

It was my birthday on January 6th. I am the last of the four of us to celebrate a birthday here in our new mainland life.

As usual, in a tradition which now spans close to 40 years the day before my birthday I jumped three times. Depending on where I happen to be I conduct those three jumps in various ways. This year I was at the jetty for a group swim with local friends. I decided to go with three jumps off the jetty and into the loch. As there were three of them I went for one in my wetsuit, one in my swimsuit and one…. not as my swimming friends suspected in my ahem, birthday suit, but accompanied by Scarlett, who is always my favoured partner for all the maddest pursuits.

Later in the day I showed Davies, Scarlett and Megan how to use fabric to wrap gifts. I’d been on a workshop for it and wrapped all the Christmas gifts that way and promised to teach them all how to do it. There was a need for birthday gift wrapping so the skill was shared.

In what was probably quite predictable it was a small step from wrapping books and boxes to wrapping bottles to wrapping Davies! I guess if you use reclaimed bedlinen as your wrapping material then it is not a surprise when they take the size of the material as a personal challenge to find a suitably large thing to wrap!

My actual birthday was perfect. I got to eat. drink and do all the things I most wanted to.

I had a swim, in a rather choppy loch which swirled around me and offered me seaweed as a gift. A couple of years ago Ady and I went to saltwater seaweed baths in Ireland. Yes, that was a warmer experience and there was a very nice steam box too but saltwater seaweed bathing in a loch is freer, both physically and financially!

Back at home we had birthday pancakes followed by (beautifully fabric wrapped) gifts of nice drinks and chocolates and the most wonderful art from Davies, Scarlett and Megan. All three of them had created a picture for me and all three featured me swimming in my loch.

And all three of them made me cry <3 with the beauty of their talent and with the heartfelt lovely things they had written.

They then took charge of the obligatory birthday brownies

Later we had home made burgers for dinner and played a game of the Escape Room challenge our friend Mairi had given us for Christmas. We got out with seconds to spare!

A perfect start to being 46. Another year older, possibly another year wiser but certainly no more grown up!

Bad, Good, Learned in 2019, hopes for 2020

2019 was quite a year. We started it still on Rum with hopes to move on but no real idea quite where yet. We end the year very settled into our new lives with various work – self employed, employed and voluntary, new friends, new hobbies and interests and plenty to look forward to in 2020.

As always we have enjoyed visits from and to family and friends, getting to Manchester, Northern Ireland, Sussex, Edinburgh, Glasgow, North Berwick, Inverness, Rum (obviously!). We’ve had cinema and theatre trips.

We have continued to do crofty type things, bringing over chickens and some crops from Rum, dispatching our sheep and having a mammoth fruit picking and jam making session. We have still sold from our Rum croft shed as well as craft and produce fairs here on the mainland.

We have started new jobs, new businesses, new studying and new voluntary work – some in very exciting brand new areas, some in things we already knew about, some fulfilling long-held ambitions.

Without further ado, here are our individual round-ups of 2019 – the bad, the good and what we learned. Along with our hopes for the year ahead.

This year we are five – Davies’ partner Megan joined us for the whole of August and is here again for all of the winter celebrations – Solstice, Christmas and New Year. As a big part of our lives and a member of our family now Megan joined in with the bad, good, learned, hopes sharing session too.


  • I still miss Rum friends – although I have started making friends here I miss the connections of people who we shared our lives with on Rum.
  • In most recent visits to Rum it has been sad to see the croft falling back into nature’s grasp. I feel guilty about not doing stuff there.
  • Although I love the house we are nearly five miles away from the village so can’t just pop out. Over Christmas we have been to the local pub a couple of times for an evening meal and a New Years Day event but one of us has to drive so the option of popping in for a drink of an evening is not there.
  • We are still a long way from family. Although it is much easier to get to us than when we were on Rum it is still a very long journey from Sussex where our families are. I’ve particularly missed seeing family this Christmas.


  • I am still feeling like we’re in a honeymoon period with the house and where it is. I love still being remote and gathering firewood from the land and having privacy. But we’re in a lovely house now without the hardships of being in a caravan. Luxuries such as being able to drive right up to the door of the house, have a bath, not worry about the weather have not worn off at all.
  • I’m really excited about my new job. It is a really good fit of a part time role doing something I really want to do. I love the idea of it not interfering with our family life and other things we want to do but I am really looking forward to learning new things, being part of a team and meeting people.
  • I am really pleased that we still feel part of a community. It was something that was important to us on Rum and within a year I feel we are now part of this community here – both the smaller area within our village, where I now almost always spot someone I know to chat with and am known in the local shop, but also in our bigger nearby town where we usually bump into someone when we go in for bigger food shops, petrol or other things.
  • Christmas in the caravan on Rum was really special and I will treasure the memories of those years but this year was magical with a big tree, so many lights, a big table to have Christmas dinner and festive TV to watch.
  • We are able to be more spontaneous and act on impulse more now. Financial limits obviously apply but we have been to the theatre and recently decided to go to the cinema just the night before rather than having to plan for weeks, arrange animal sitters, book ferries and organise accommodation.


  • From working at the tearoom I learned so much. I had never previously waited tables or set up tables. I got to work with and learn from a qualified chef and understand about catering rather than home cooking.
  • It had been 15 years since I last went for a job interview. The application process and the actual interview were all new experiences for me, particularly in an area I have never worked in before.
  • I learned lots on the Marine ID workshop and surveys. I didn’t know before about the various strand lines and the seaweeds on the shores around here.

Hopes for 2020:

  • That I settle in well into my new job and it all goes well.
  • That with more money coming in we can carry on having experiences like the cinema / theatre and other trips this year.
  • I hope that now we have room again to play hosts we are able to have lots of visitors here.
  • I hope that all of the next stage of their lives plans that Davies and Scarlett have in terms of studying, business ideas and relationships continue to thrive.

Special bonus wish for 2020: To visit America again, particularly someone I’ve not been before like Universal Studios, or a return trip to New York.



  • The internet at our house is really very bad. It is often slow to the point of being unusable, particularly for things like whatsapp calls when the audio and video quality is really poor.
  • Bonnie is visibly aging – she is slowing up and is no longer up for the long walks her and I used to do together.
  • All of the good walks with easy access and decent paths require a drive. Although we have woodland around the house and the loch at the end of our lane all require walking on poor ground or along roadsides.
  • I miss having the livestock, particularly the ducks. There are lots of sheep around us here and of course we have our chickens but I miss having creatures that come to you for feed.
  • I am really noticing the effects of climate change with this very mild winter. So far this winter there has been no snow even on the mountain tops and I like the marked changes of the seasons.


  • I’ve really enjoyed seeing the wildlife here on the mainland that we don’t have on Rum. I’ve seen foxes and pine martens here at our house. I got a trail cam for Christmas and saw a pine marten on the very first night.
  • Although the internet here is poor it is still good having internet and electricity to charge devices all the time.
  • It’s been good having friends to stay and be able to host properly here.
  • The Welcome to Nightvale live show in Manchester in January. It was another really good live show and it was really good to have Daddy join us for the first time and all being together along with our friends Ali and Freya too.
  • It’s been good to spend even more time in real life with my friend Elinor – we’ve been to stay with her twice, she has been here twice and we met in Manchester too.


  • I learned about doing surveys and throwing quadrats and laying transects, as well as lots about different seaweeds from the marine ID surveys. I already knew a fair from Ranger Mike who we spent a lot of time with back in our early days on Rum but it was good to use that knowledge and expand on it.
  • From doing the craft and produce markets and fayres I have learned that people buy cupcakes more based on how they look than what flavours they are which surprised me as I would have chosen on flavour first.
  • I had a taster session of kayaking at the water festival in the summer, which was something I had not done before.
  • At our tour of the sandmines I learned lots about mining, about sand, about how much that mine had changed in it’s processes over the decades since it was first opened.
  • I learned quite a bit when giving blood from the nurses. Everyone there was very lovely and had lots of time to talk about it. I held the pouch of my own blood and was surprised at how much you can donate and how warm it felt. It was like it was still alive somehow.
  • I got my food hygiene certificate earlier this year, which meant a few hours of online learning to pass.

Hopes for 2020:

  • Carrying over last years wish to visit somewhere outside the UK and see animals in the wild we don’t have here.
  • To go to a cosplay event with friends. My friend Elinor and I almost got to one this year and I’d love to do that with Davies and Elinor this year.
  • To put together a business plan for my baking business and understand all of the stuff around like profit and loss, pricing and marketing etc.
  • To spend as much time as I can with my friend Elinor, whether online or in person, with as many visits as we can manage.
  • I’ve been missing beach cleaning here as there is not much litter on the shores of the loch. I think this is mostly because we are a long way from the open ocean rather than an indication of the marine litter issues however. I have noticed some litter along the roadsides though and would like to organise some litter picks.

Special bonus hope for 2020: To get involved in volunteering with some sort of animal charity or shelter.


  • Because I have spent every free moment in 2019 talking to Davies I have not made any new friends and have maybe lost touch with some of my older friends. Because it’s a long distance relationship it has been even harder to combine spending time with Davies and friends and I feel I sometimes don’t have people to talk to or spend time with as much as I would like.
  • Being in a long distance relationship comes with some real challenges, such as not being able to have a hug, or always be there when you need each other. I’d definitely choose this LDR over no relationship but it is tricky a lot of the time.
  • I struggle to talk to my parents and wider family about things that we don’t agree on. I choose to stay silent rather than create conflict.
  • In getting close to Davies this year I have recognised some aspects of myself which I don’t always like. I feel I am improving myself but I realised this year I still have things to work on.


  • A highlight of this year is my relationship with Davies and getting to actually meet up with him and spent real life time together. I would extend that to meeting Davies’ family and feeling like I have a new family as well as my relationship with Davies.
  • Although Davies and I were close for a few years it is only since becoming a couple that I have realised he is my best friend too. It’s great to have that sort of relationship where someone so totally gets me and is so good for me. I think so many of the positive things I have done this year have been down to having someone supporting me to be the best version of myself.
  • I did a summer job to raised funds for my two trips to the UK this year. Getting a temporary job was something I had been considering for a while but not motivated to do before. Although there were bits of the job which I didn’t always love I did get a lot out of it, from feeling like I had done something productive and helping myself, as well as raising the money.
  • A huge highlight of this year has been in taking control. I always felt as though I was headed in an inevitable direction in terms of not looking after myself physically or mentally as well as I could. This year I have really changed that and almost reinvented myself. I have started to exercise and change my eating habits and to take better care of myself in personal hygiene. I have also altered my attitude towards things – I used to think ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I am afraid to do that’. Now I tell myself ‘I’ll still be afraid anyway so I might as well go ahead and do the scary thing too.’ I’m proud of what I’ve achieved this year.
  • This year I re-evaluated some of the people in my life and realised that I had some relationships which were more bad than good and quite toxic at times. I found the courage to cut those people out and while it was not always easy and there were parts of our relationships which I missed I know that it has been better for me to not have them around and influencing me.


  • I learned a lot about how much power I have over my own self control this year. I used to see people who I identified as like me and think that if they could not do something then I could not either. In taking the big jump towards changing myself I realised that actually once you make a change it becomes easier to carry on making it.
  • I have always questioned who I am and spent time trying to label myself or consider myself either A or B. I have also at times been frustrated when I feel people don’t recognise what I consider the ‘real me’. This year I have had a bit of an epiphany in realising actually it’s fine to be both A, B and C and explore both sides to myself and worry less about how people view me.
  • New things I have learned and discovered: New TV shows, a dance group at my athletics group, learning about anthrapology and evolution expanding on science I already love and enjoy. I discovered Scotland and have really enjoyed exploring the bits I’ve seen. I have also learned new skills in singing, public speaking and cooking. We don’t have cooking utensils at home so coming to the Goddard home and learning some cooking and using kitchen equipment has been new.
  • I have been learning about genetics and recently did a DNA testing kit and got my results back. I learned loads both about genetics as well as learning more about me and what makes me who I am. It was so exciting to hear about what my roots are and how I got the physical traits I have. I was really excited to do the test and so thrilled to get the results before I set off for my trip here.

Hopes for 2020:

  • I would like to gain confidence and be able to speak freely. I feel I spend too much time worrying about how I might come across rather than just talking to people and can be awkward. I’d like to work on overcoming that this year.
  • I’d like to work out this year what I’d like to do with my future, both as part of my relationship with Davies and for me too. I’d like not just to work out what I want to do but also work out how I’m going to do it.
  • I’d like to try and achieve a better balance between being productive and having fun. I can be inclined to focus on one thing without giving other things the opportunity to come to the fore. I would like to get better at being flexible to change my mind and make sure I have a good all round balance of things. This includes being open to making new friends.
  • I’d like to spend more time with Davies this summer than last summer and stay for longer. I’d also like to visit England. It would also be great if Davies came to visit me in America.

Special bonus wish for 2020: to have some sort of big milestone in my relationship with Davies.



  • The first month here in the house was a bit of a limbo situation, We had no internet, no phone signal and had not settled into the house properly. I was only a few months into my relationship with Megan and wanted to be talking to her all the time but we were driving to sit in a carpark each day for an hour or so and connect to 4G signal to do all the various online things I wanted and needed to do including studying. Initially it felt like all of the promised benefits of leaving Rum had not appeared and we’d actually lost some of what we had there in terms of internet and phone signal.
  • Even when we finally did get the internet sorted it is not as good, fast or reliable as we’d hoped. It has settled down a lot now and is mostly usable but things like uploading and downloading videos and games, and playing movies are sometimes impossible.
  • Being in a long distance relationship is sometimes hard. I miss having a real life hug and making proper eye contact. A live chat through a screen means you can’t look at both the camera and the other person.
  • I found the interviews and phone calls with the job centre and work coach to be really stressful. When I am actually in the interview I am fine but I still get anxious in advance.
  • As per last year I have not accomplished everything I had hoped to do this past year.
  • I sometimes feel conflicted about the choices and the path I am on. I find the deadlines of studying and the assignments quite stressful and some of the content feels repetitive and a bit pointless which I find frustrating. With my art in order to make something sale-able I sometimes have to do pieces which are not what I would choose to do which can remove some of the joy of it.


  • My relationship with Megan. Having a best friend and someone I know is always there to talk to and be on my side. Megan’s two visits to me in the UK have been the best thing.
  • The house. Although there are compromises to the location and internet it is so good to be in a cosy house with electricity and internet. Having two bathrooms is brilliant! Having a bigger bedroom with space for my stuff.
  • Being on the mainland. Being able to visit the town, go to the cinema, go out for lunch.
  • Another year of stuff which was all good included: friends visiting, trips to see live shows, visits to friends and family.
  • My results on my studies this year. I passed my first year with honours and got a really high mark on my first assessment so far this year. Within a few weeks of setting my art business I had made my first sales.


  • I attended lots of courses this year for my voluntary work – training for being a helpline listener for a local mental health charity, a suicide prevention awareness course and a women’s aid domestic violence awareness ambassador course. The course content was really interesting and the skills that were covered were ones I feel will be really useful. Some of the information and statistics I heard on the courses were surprising and informative too.
  • From being in my first relationship I have learned so much. I have learned about Megan but also more about me and how I am in a relationship. Having Megan stay for a month each visit has been intense and meant we have learned lots very quickly.
  • I have learned lots from the course content of my OU studies, particularly psychology. I’ve enjoyed the case studies and been inspired to investigate further into some of the stuff I’ve learned.
  • I put together a business plan for my art this year and it was very similar to the academic writing of essays for my assignments for my studying. It involved using evidence to support your point and writing introductions and conclusions. It was good to have a practical application outside of my studies to use that skill.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time this year watching, reading or listening to reviews of films, commentaries on films and why they are good or bad and similar things on games. I have also watched and listened to similar things about debating political issues and contentious issues. It’s been interesting to understand other people’s views and see how they contrast or match my own and expand a little more how I form opinions and views.

Hopes for 2020:

  • To spend more time with Megan. Both here in the UK and visiting the US. I’d like to travel more and see where Megan is from too.
  • I hope to do a piece of art for every day of 2020. I have some strategies in mind as to how to make that happen, I will now start doing it.
  • To continue donating blood. I’ve done it twice in 2019 and despite the rather spectacular end to the second time (I fainted and fell to the floor from standing) I want to carry on.
  • I’ll carry over the two things which have been on my list for a few years but not happened yet – learn a musical instrument and post videos to a youtube channel.
  • To be earning an income from my art by the end of the year as per my business plan.

Special bonus wish for 2020: To go to America. It would be good to see any of the big landmarks I have heard about or seen like New York, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, California or Disney.



  • When we stepped outside of the rest of the world for our initial WWOOFing and then our move to Rum it felt like we were embarking on the start of something new and exciting. We began to mix in circles of people who all thought along similar lines to us and a lot of our rather ‘out there’ ideas all began to feel quite normal and sensible. In returning to mainland life and living in a house we have stepped back in ourselves to some habits which I had been glad to leave behind. I know that having done without things like TV and always on electricity and internet it is unsurprising to enjoy them to the full but a little part of me is sad that they have so quickly become seen as essential. In many ways the world has moved on in the last decade and people have started to wake up to the big issues facing us. In so many others things are worse now than ever. It was easier to feel that we were at least not part of the problem when living our low impact off grid lifestyle.
  • Another lifestyle one – although I am enjoying all the various things we do as I recently blogged it is so easy to get caught up in ‘the glorification of busy’. I am determined to keep re-evaluating what I’m doing to make sure that I keep my priorities straight around what I spend my most precious resource – time – on. Necessities of ensuring we were able to pay the bills and settle in to our new life with the expense that came with it have meant I have taken on a lot this year and there have certainly been times when I have felt the balance has been off. I am fiercely protective about my time and how I spend it. This year has maybe involved slightly more compromise on that than I have been happy with. I have done less crafting, less playing my ukulele, less listening to podcasts which inspire, educate and inform me this year than in previous years.
  • The above both feed in to what I miss about Rum. Freedom over my time, little to worry about outside basic survival and everything having meaning. I am managing to find my meaning and my connection to the things I personally feel are the most important to me, and to the world, but it takes a conscious effort and a degree of offsetting things to ensure that happens, whereas in our Rum life it was just the way things were.


  • I am massively proud of the four of us and what we have achieved in such a short space of time. I am proud of our ability as a family to be a team, to talk about our wants and needs individually and collectively and work out the best path forwards. I am proud of how we have managed to land here with no jobs, no friends and no real knowledge of this area and so quickly find work, opportunities, friends and make a space for ourselves. I feel both heartened that we have made this work but also reassured that if and when we need to we could do this all over again. I hope we have been good role models for Davies and Scarlett and shown them how to achieve this and make things work.
  • Individually I am loving all of my various jobs. I am so pleased and proud to be writing for the paper. I love finding stories, interviewing interesting people and working out what the best way to present a story about them is. I love the thrill of seeing my name in print as a by line next to stories I wrote and I have been so chuffed to have such great feedback, from the editor and from local people too, about what I am writing. I am enjoying the youth work I do, despite sometimes feeling frustrated I can see a real difference in the way things are happening as a direct result of my input and again have had some great feedback. I have had a lot of different jobs over the years and always found joy and pleasure in aspects of all of them but as Ady said in his bit it was about 15 years ago that I last did a proper interview, particularly for work I had not previously done, so to go to the various interviews, perform well and be offered the jobs was a real boost. To be doing them well and enjoying them is even better.
  • I have loved watching the others blossom here. It has been great seeing Davies in his first relationship and meeting Megan. It is lovely to watch your son be such an amazing partner and I am so proud of his loving, respectful, affectionate and caring manner towards his partner. I am also hugely proud of his setting up his art business, his voluntary work and his continued studying. It is wonderful to look at your 19 year old son and see a man, with echoes of the toddler he once was. Scarlett has done so well with her cakes and will continue to develop that too but she has been amazing this year in her mature and responsible attitude towards our new lives here and such a massive part of our team in making everything run smoothly from quietly spotting what needs doing to suddenly appearing with a cup of tea, announcing she has done the thing you were fretting about still needing to be done, dealing with crises and just really stepping up as another adult around the place to fill in the gaps when we’ve needed her. She has impressed so many people whether it’s been coming along with me on interviews, getting involved in the marine ID surveys or coming along to swim. She has been offered two jobs just by people who met her and thought she was great. I’ve already talked about how proud I am of Ady and his new job and how proud I was of him back in the summer taking on the work at the tearoom too.
  • My wild swimming has been a real highlight of my year. I have loved the group swims, both the big organised events I went to and the smaller regular swims with locals I do weekly. I love the camaraderie and support of the groups, the acceptance and cheerleading and always looking out for each other. I also absolutely adore the solo swims I do. I love the feeling of oneness with the loch, the sky and the mountains. I love the wildlife encounters I have had with seals, with eagles, with gulls, herons and oystercatchers grazing the waves and screaming at me. I love the sense of personal challenge, the connection to nature and the changing seasons. It has become my new hill to replace the one I was missing on Rum.
  • Despite my earlier bad about getting sucked back into mainland life closer proximity to cultural and educational opportunities has been a real plus. I have to mention Ady and I going to Glasgow to see Hannah Gadsby and Edinburgh to see Richard Herring and Tony Slattery as huge highlights of this year.


  • I have gotten loads better at spinning this year and while a spinning wheel remains on my wish list I have mastered the drop spindle. I also started experimenting with natural dyes and really enjoyed both the process and the results I got from that.
  • I have learned a new style of writing from my work with the paper. I have never had my words edited before and it is interesting to see where things get chopped, changed, cut out and moved around. I used to think I would hate having my words critically appraised and altered but actually I have found it really interesting.
  • I have learned all sorts of things about swimming, both in terms of actual stroke and technique and in terms of wild swimming, various kit and how big a thing it is in the UK.
  • Living in a very small community on Rum taught me so much about people, about small scale politics, about how communities work and people interact. It also taught me a huge amount about myself. Starting over in a new community has been fascinating and seeing how people slot into almost pre-ordained roles. I am continuing to learn about what makes people tick, what motivates them and about myself and what I am prepared to accept, what I am not willing to put up with and where my boundaries are. I am definitely better than I was and much more inclined to aim for straightforward and honest stating my case and being prepared to walk away if things don’t work out.


  • I’ve not quite made the sort of friendships and connections I miss from Rum but I am starting to build them. My swimming and my work at the community centre along with the volunteering I do and the couple of craft fairs we’ve done have begun to throw up connections with people who are now definitely more than just acquaintances. I am looking forward to deepening those into lasting friendships over the coming year.
  • I hope to strike a better balance over the course of this year with how I invest my time – in bringing in money, in volunteering and in my creative outlets.
  • I hope to continue to support, encourage and cheerlead the other three in their endeavours, hopefully striking the balance between gentle motivation and adding too much pressure, while helping them see what they are capable of.
  • I would like to have more house guests. We have a spare room in a lovely home and it would be amazing to have more people visit us.

Special bonus wish for 2020 – I would like some sort of exceptional adventure (of the good kind) – a special trip, an amazing wildlife encounter or a personal achievement of a noteworthy kind.

All was merry and bright

Our first Christmas here in this house. It’s been a perfect Christmas house – lots of space, lovely high ceilings to accommodate a nice tall tree, lots of light so Ady has been able to have poinsettia, hyacinth and amaryllis bulbs all ready to flower for the big day. We have a stair case in the open plan downstairs living area which we have strung with lights.

It’s been lovely heading into Fort William which is our nearest big town every 10 days or so to get a dose of festive countdown madness and see the Christmas lights in the high street.

I’ve been in to the lovely local independent shop which sells fair trade, ethical and no waste items for a furohiki workshop and learned the skill of fabric wrapping so all of my gifts were wrapped with recycled fabric – mostly brightly coloured bedding sets from charity shops along with some fabric from my own stash.

All now tidying folded ready for re-using, The others all used up previously bought wrapping paper but I’ve promised to teach them all to fabric wrap too and will aim to carry on picking up suitable fabric from charity shops to wrap future gifts with. I think things like tea towels or scarves will be perfect as they will become part of the gift too.

We’ve always managed to make our own Christmas cake and mincemeat in autumn ready for Christmas but it’s been a juggling act in limited space finding room for it in the caravan. This year we had plenty of space and were able to make extra mince meat to sell at the local Christmas Fayre. I also made some festive flavours of granola to sell too. Davies had three designs of Christmas cards printed out to sell and Scarlett made some amazing festive Christmas cup cakes. I also made some little santa hats to go on my crochet midges. We had a great day at the fayre, which was held at the local community centre where I work in aid of the high school. It was fab to be feeling part of the local community, realising how many people we already had gotten to know, selling our various wares and getting in the festive groove, albeit still back in November!

We even managed to attend a couple of Christmas staff parties. We had been invited to four different ones for our various self employed, volunteer and other roles but chose just two.

It’s been fantastic to add these new things to our run up to Christmas. It’s also been lovely to continue our closely held little family traditions too and all the more special to be sharing them with Megan this year for the first time.

The first of which (after Solstice celebrations) was Christmas cracker making. In the style of The Good Life, which regular readers will know is a source of constant inspiration to us, we make our own crackers and shout ‘bang!’ when we pull them. We make the hats from newspapers, write our own festive jokes, make a small gift to go inside and stuff it all into a loo roll inner.

This year, having saved our very favourite Christmas movies to share with Megan we cleared a big floor space on Christmas Eve and laid out all the supplies. Pens, packing paper, supermarket weekly specials leaflets, loo roll inners and our badge machine to make the gifts. Davies and Megan particularly took it very seriously and were still hard at work many hours after we started creating cracker masterpieces.

Scarlett decorated the Christmas cake, going for a melted snowman theme this year. As ever she amazes me with her skills in cake decoration and her vision for her designs.

We all ushered in Christmas Day staying up past midnight with carols on the TV – which reminds me Ady and I also managed to attend a local carol service with mulled wine, mince pies and the chance to sing along – bliss!

The big day itself was beautiful with sunshine. I went for a morning swim in the loch where I found the best Christmas star!

while the others opened their Christmas stockings. Then after a festive breakfast we exchanged gifts. A fantastic mix of thoughtful and lovingly chosen presents. As ever we have gone for some experience type gifts to be enjoyed through the year – for Ady a lunch at a restaurant he is very keen to visit, for all four of us a show in the spring, for Davies, Scarlett and Megan photo calendars of some of the best memories of their 2019s to take into 2020. For Scarlett a trail cam which she set up and captured footage of a pine marten of that same evening, for Davies a set of headphones, for Ady a couple of ‘toys’ to play with including a crystal ball for photographs, for me a good supply of lovely gins and fancy chocolates and a non-leaking travel cup to replace the very unsatisfactory one which has leaked tea over me on the last few car trips I’ve taken it on.

We had replaced Scarlett’s now too small Christmas jumper and found one for Megan in charity shops over the past few weeks so once all the gift giving was complete we headed outside into the sunshine for our now traditional Christmas jumper photos.

And took Ady’s new crystal photo ball for a first try out too.

Dinner – as cooked by Ady – was delicious.

Our Boxing Day, along with many people, saw us all venturing out for some much needed fresh air and vitamin D. For Davies and Megan that was a brisk walk. For Ady, Scarlett and I it was a slightly wetter experience as Ady finally took the plunge – quite literally – and joined us in the loch!

Super brave of him and he assures me he was not entirely put off and would definitely do it again. I’ll let you know if he actually does!

We continued our traditional Boxing Day dinner of bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese and leftover turkey but this time Davies and Megan took over the bagel making duties. It felt slightly strange teaching an American to make bagels!

It’s been a fabulous Christmas so far. We’re looking forward to seeing 2019 out, welcoming 2020 in and seeing what the year ahead will bring.

To all our readers we wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever winter festival you celebrate (or indeed summer if you are in the Southern hemisphere!) It is so lovely for us to know that so many people are sharing our story.


One of the most amazing things in our country is our health service. We have been incredibly fortunate – so far – to have needed to call on it fairly few times but both Davies and Scarlett were born with NHS midwives in attendance, Ady obviously had his emergency operation and both he and I have had routine or non-emergency appointments over the past few years.

It can be tough to give back, outside of national insurance and income tax contributions and not using up precious resources unless necessary. On Rum we participated in a long running survey being interviewed 3 times over several years about the service the islands received. We ensured we attended any first aid and