Summer’s here and the time is right….

For doing the Midgie Dance, in the street, in the garden or wherever you happen to be in the Highlands really.

Yep, June marks meteorological summer here in the UK and the end of May / beginning of June marks the start of the midge season here on the west coast of Scotland. I have to say here on the mainland is definitely nowhere near as midgey as Rum, and here in a house is positively, definitely, markedly nowhere near as midgey as a caravan! We can shut windows and doors and create a genuinely closed-house in a way that a vented caravan with ill fitting doors and windows never managed. We can put fans on to waft away any sneaky intruders and double glazing and an extractor fan mean we don’t get that damp, humid feeling every night when we are cooking. In short summer, as I imagine winter will be when it comes, is all the easier for being here.

Before you start thinking we’ve gone all soft and namby-pamby though let me assure you we’ve done plenty of midge dancing (a unique and particular style of dancing, no music required, specific to the highlands and islands involving much waving of arms around one’s face, often accompanied by swearing, a strong smell of citronella and sometimes the last thing spotted just before everyone leaves an area). Given how happy we are here in our new house life has gotten very busy and we don’t seem to have been spending an awful lot of time in it these last few weeks.

So what have we all been up to then?

Davies has finished this academic year’s studying and submitted his end of module assessment. He is already enrolled and has funding approved for starting the next module in October but that’s him done for the summer. At which point his thoughts have turned to other things to fill his time. He is still waiting on the necessary but lengthy lead time of paperwork coming back for his volunteering to start but has been thinking about other pursuits to sit alongside his studies and volunteering. Namely something income generating. While we are more than happy to support Davies (and Scarlett!) in every area while they study he is beginning to think of things he would like to do which will involve spending money and is also keen to contribute to the ‘family pot’.

We have always operated on a family pot style financial basis with all incomings going in and all outgoings covered before collectively deciding what to spend any leftover funds on – more often than not this has been our family trips to various places, sometimes investment into things to make life easier (like solar panels or infrastructure around the croft), speculating to accumulate (livestock, tools, growing props, seeds or plants), materials for crafts or hobbies, books or other leisure pursuits. Sometimes they benefit the whole family, sometimes just one or two of us if the others are supportive of that. When we moved to the mainland it was with an awareness that the family pot was going to have a lot more outgoings demanded of it, so we’d need to up the incomings accordingly, with everyone doing their bit.

So, Davies is hoping to fund some long term travel plans, have some cash for various smaller things like cinema or theatre trips, build up some savings and contribute to general living costs and we’ve been having chats about ways in which he could do that. Life here, while offering more opportunities than Rum for employment is still limited by transport and we are currently a two driver, one vehicle family. Our long term plan over the next year is to become a four driver, two vehicle family (with an eye always on limiting car use, combining travel and only going as far as we have to) which rather curtails the usual ‘starter’ jobs in retail or hospitality. He is also keen to continue the family tradition of doing what you love and loving what you do. On that basis his passion, his talent and his natural calling is to art. While not always his chosen subject matter we do live in a beautiful location and Davies is talented at landscapes, which it just so happens living in a renowned tourist location there is quite a call for.

We started the ball rolling with Davies selling his art early on in part of our croft 3 business development so he already has a grasp of profit and loss, costings, marketing and business planning, market research and so on. So we’ve been exploring that further here in our new local area, checking out the couple of art galleries and studios nearby, the range of art sold in the couple of art and craft venues in the area as well as similar art styles sold online. The next step is an online presence, some real life networking and of course lots and lots of collecting inspiration and creating the actual art. Luckily he has a summer off to get cracking with it!

Fridge art by Davies, indicative of his sense of humour and recreation of his childhood art style rather than his current talent levels. You put magnets on a fridge and it’s only a mater of time before your child sticks a ‘my family’ portrait on it, even when that child is now 18!

Scarlett is working with Ady and I on the holiday cottage cleaning which we’ve been doing loads of the last few weeks, as many as six or seven cottages a week. The early (for her!) starts are not ideal but the methodical, fairly mindless but organised work suits her well as she drifts off into her own head while dusting, cleaning and polishing. Scarlett is loving having a great big kitchen to bake in and has been sending parcels of her beautifully decorated cookies to her friend in Ireland. She is also enjoying plenty of time outside, litter picking on the local beaches of the loch and returning with a camera full of pictures of flowers (her particular passion in photography) and stories of encounters with wildlife.

Sometimes she also returns with the wildlife… in the last few weeks we’ve had a fledgling wagtail resident with us overnight after she rescued it from a river where it had gotten waterlogged late in the afternoon. It was returned back where it had come from the following morning, just as chirpy and reunited with it’s parents and siblings who were hanging around calling for it still.

Little wagtail overnight guest – no rating on trip advisor from it as yet…

We have all signed up for a Shoreline surveying scheme running locally this summer but it is Scarlett who is most excited about it. Having met staff from the local marine community organisation at the water festival we attended a marine identification workshop yesterday and will be participating in various shoreline surveys over the next few months, logging survey results on the plant and animal life on the shores of the lochs. Scarlett adored the very hands on session.

We’ve also been looking at other wildlife and nature related voluntary opportunities for Scarlett locally and I was chatting with the local ranger just yesterday about ideas. I’ve also been tipped off about the many local shows with produce competitions over the summer with baking categories so I think a summer of being either outside in nature or inside with ingredients is on the cards for Scarlett.

Ady has been busy working too. Along with the holiday cottage cleaning he and I have also been doing some shifts at the local tearoom. It’s Ady’s favourite sort of work – varied, with lots of interesting people, plenty of opportunities to clean, tidy, sweep and mop and best of all he is learning new things. The job is mostly kitchen based washing up but also assisting the chef and serving tables when it’s busy. It’s a family run enterprise of tearoom, bunkhouse, crafts centre, events venue and more. Three generations of the family are all local and some are our next door neighbours (if you can call them next door neighbours when neither of us can see the other’s house, but they are our geographically closest neighbours). I met the owner when I went along to introduce myself and find out more about the crafting courses they run (which include spinning and dyeing wool) and it all went from there. So far Ady has done the majority of the shifts we’ve been offered as they have managed to coincide with me working on one of my other jobs, which is perfect as it goes back to that car sharing plan. But I’ve also made a valuable contact who is up for teaching me to spin on a wheel – hurrah!

Ady has also been foraging to build up our winter firewood supplies and planning the design and build of a chicken house as we are bringing over some of our flock of chickens next time we visit Rum. He has got a few longer term plans on the boil too, but more about them if and when they come to fruition.

We’d done the most northerly, southerly and easterly years ago, but despite living to close to it all this time the west had eluded us… until yesterday.

And what about me? Well since our last blog post I’ve started two jobs – the one mentioned above at the tea room and the one previously mentioned as a youth worker. I’ve done four shifts in the youth worker post, so still very much finding my feet, learning where everything is and starting to get to grips with people’s names and faces. Bearing in mind the usual session has many more people present than the entire population of Rum I think I’m doing pretty well at matching a fair few names to faces, places and connections. In a small town like this everyone knows everyone else and the same people keep popping up in different places – myself included! I’m enjoying it a lot though and starting to see how things could develop over time and I can start to add in more bits of me. There is possibly more work at the same place (the local community centre, library, high school and primary school, school hostel for some residential students, library, leisure centre and events venue is all housed in one place) coming up soon which I’ve been approached about and expressed an interest in so watch this space for that. And finally I’ve also got a meeting in a couple of weeks with the editor of the local newspaper group about some freelance reporting / writing work. So I’m certainly being kept busy too.

I’ve started to make some local connections and am hoping some of these new contacts become friends over time and that once we’ve properly found our feet in terms of working out what our regular commitments are going to be I can either find stuff already happening or maybe be the person who makes it happen in terms of things like social opportunities.

One social opportunity we all made the most of last weekend was celebrating the birthday of one of our friends with a lovely overnight stay at their house. We ate, drank and made music, the teens stayed up all night talking, we stayed up very late singing and it was a brilliant, sociable weekend. It’s one of the events we’d have still managed to attend even if we’d been on Rum but driving for under an hour and being able to head back home the following day without having a ferry to catch made it all the more easy to attend, and bring plenty of home baked contributions to the table without fretting about how to get them there!

It’s just not a party without carbs!

Plenty of the afternoon and evening was spent outside, with quite a lot of midgey dancing taking place. Which brings me tidily back to where I started.

The new normal

What a madly busy week we’ve had.

Last Saturday we did our cleaning job in the morning and then as the weather was so glorious we collected Davies and Bonnie and some ice lollies in a bag of ice and headed down to the beach near our house. We are about half a mile up a track through oak woodlands off the ‘main’ road with a loch the other side of the road. The loch is tidal and low tide reveals a beach. It’s rocky, sandy, seaweedy with plenty of good foraging if we wanted a seashore feast but that day we were out collecting rocks to tumble and any plastic or other litter to collect and bring back to the rubbish bins.

The following day was just as glorious which was perfect as it was the local water festival. Organised by the local community it was a day celebrating our loch-side location with a whole host of taster sessions for various watery activities including paddle boarding, skiff rowing, canoeing, kayaking, open water swimming and more. On shore there was food and drink, music, an open tank displaying creatures collected from the deep of the loch including lobster, crabs, starfish, sea sponges and more.

Scarlett had been keen to try kayaking for a while so we had signed her up for a session and as she is under 18 she needed an accompanying adult. Davies and Ady declined which left me signed up too. I’ve never kayaked and although I am a confident swimmer I am not a confident getter in and out of boats so I confess to being slightly nervous. I was right, it was not at all elegant getting in or out (Ady kindly videoed me doing both, I won’t be sharing those clips!). It was however hugely fun, amazing to get that different perspective out on the loch of this beautiful area and excellent to challenge myself with something I was unsure of.

Scarlett adored it and we’ve been googling inflatable kayaks ever since. I forsee a purchase once we have sorted out finances out a bit with some more work.

The next day was Ady’s birthday. 55 years young. His gifts included lots of biscuits, a book and a kitchen gadget! And of course a mention from Ken Bruce on his radio show.

Ady has been desperate to go and find the mines up in the hills above Strontian, which is our nearest village ever since he heard about them. It was these lead mines where strontium was collected and Ady was very keen to see if we could find some. So we googled the route and set off with a picnic. We ended up driving a road we’d not even known existed, let alone realised could lead so far showing our lack of local geography. It was a spectacular route up, up and over the hills and then back down ending near a loch. We parked up and took our picnic for a wander along a brilliantly maintained track which led up and over another big hill for walkers and bikes. We paused a short way in to sit next to a winding river and eat our lunch.

Then we back tracked along the route a little way as we suspected we had missed the landmark for the start of the walk to the mines. Sure enough we happened upon it. We had bookmarked the link to the route on our phones but not anticipated having no phone signal to check it again so were relying on half remembered hastily read through directions which almost had us turning back as we felt we had gone wrong, but we decided to turn one last corner and suddenly we spied the landmark building ruins we recalled so carried on further.

Scarlett was the only one tenacious enough to carry on looking after the rest of us had sat down to rest. While Ady and Davies spent time finding likely looking rocks to contain seams of strontium and smashing them open like people, from Time Team, Scarlett climbed a bit further and was rewarded with the discover of the opening of a mine.

We gathered up quite the haul of rocks showing quartz and traces of the mineral and then walked back the way we had come to the car, retracing the gorgeous drive back home.

Then it was time for cider and cake in the sunshine.

We had earmarked Tuesday as postal voting day. Davies’ first vote. We’ve had postal votes ever since we moved to Rum and although we are now close enough to a poling station to go and vote in person it seemed sensible to stick to a postal vote for now when we all registered living here just incase voting clashes with working or visiting Rum or something else in the way. Davies and I spent several hours online watching videos about what MEPs do, how the numbers of MEPs are allocated to various countries and areas within countries, doing some political compass quizzes and looking at how MEPs had voted on past issues over recent years to see who we would be most aligned with. We talked about tactical voting, how you may vote differently in local, general, European, council elections and in referendums. How you may vote on single issues or feel more closely aligned with the political ideals of a particular party or candidate, how to engage politically via contact with your councillor, MP, MSP or MEP even if you didn’t vote for them and so on. We talked about what votes might mean in this rather unusual European election and how you might want to use your voice to make a statement. It was the sort of exercise I have done with every time I’ve voted but honestly never quite in so much detail and with so much thought.

This was all followed by the complicated origami that is putting ballot paper into one envelope, into another envelope with not all of them fitting without folding and then requiring licking and sticking…. if the political research had not left us with a bitter taste in our mouths then the envelope glue certainly did!

The next three days and two nights were a home alone adventure for Davies and Scarlett left looking after the house, the pets and each other while Ady and I headed to Rum for a couple of days.

We planted trees, dug up strawberries, caught up with friends, checked all was well on the croft, got up my hill, tidied up the shed and removed a wasps nest, sorted out the water, attended to the boiler, changed a tyre and were generally very productive and efficient.

Once home we’ve repeated ourselves with back to holiday cottage cleaning and mammoth volumes of laundry this weekend.

It’s alright you know this new normal. Busy, lots of opportunities for new things, new adventures, new skills and new challenges. Just what we were looking for!

Part time at everything

Life here is starting to shape into what it might look like moving ahead. And it’s a whole lot of part time somethings. Which suits us perfectly. No chance to get bored or feel like we are spending too much time doing any one thing. Life on Rum was a whole lot of part time somethings; working on crops, working with the animals, home education, crafting, writing, working at various jobs including clerical at the school, post office, cleaning, castle tours, ghilly work, directors and other voluntary roles. That life style really suited us there and I think it’s going to suit us here.

Davies is studying part time. He’s about to start working on the final essay of this years module, which is due in at the end of this month. He’s enjoyed this first year and got consistently high scores in all his assessments as he’s worked through the year. He will be starting the Introduction to Psychology module in the autumn and is looking forward to the summer off studying to focus on other part time interests. He has signed up to be a volunteer with a local charity and will have some training sessions for that before he gets started. Another part time role.

Scarlett is working with Ady (and sometimes me) doing cleaning of holiday cottages part time, mostly at the weekends. She has continued her Rum past time of collecting litter, mostly plastics off the beaches here. There is thankfully not too much litter around the shores of the loch here but enough that she has never come back from one of her walks empty handed. Scarlett had her first taster session of kayaking last weekend, something she has wanted to try for a while and she loved it. We’re looking into how she can get more time out on the water doing that along with a couple of other volunteering opportunities that might be interesting for her. She will also do some short online courses over the summer, part – time of course!

Ady is still looking for more part time work. He does the cleaning with Scarlett and narrowly missed out on a cruise guide job which he applied for after we returned from holiday as we were away for a couple of weeks. The reply back was that he sounded as though he would have been perfect for the job, they would keep his details and it was a shame he’d not got in touch before we went away. Ah well. He has been thinking about what type of part time work he would like to do and come up with a few ideas. We’ve chatted to a few friends who work in a similar field, been emailing with a contact they put us in touch with and signed up for various email alerts for work in that area. Ady has also signed up to be a volunteer (with expenses) for a local initiative which is both a little income and something he will enjoy and is helping people. He has also been looking at some courses and training.

I have been helping the others with the cleaning, signed up to volunteer for the same charity as Davies, been talking to a few local retailers about stocking my crafts and been looking at part time work too. I’ve been offered a job working in youth support which I am thrilled about. It is part time, naturally, and is a sessional post (fancy way of saying I only get paid for when I work, bit like zero hour contracts) and while I’m waiting for my references and working with vulnerable groups checks to come through I am yet to start and find out just how many hours that might be before I can look for other part time things too.

Meanwhile we are still part time crofters. This week Ady and I spent a couple of days and nights on Rum. We finally finished planting this years trees, over 1000 this time, with us getting about 400 of those in this week. That brings our total so far to well over 6000 trees planted on the croft, a legacy project for sure. We topped up the stocks in the shed, which is continuing to bring in a trickle of income and Ady chatted to a visitor walking around the croft who asked if she could come in and see around, so she got a personal croft tour and met some of the creatures. The remaining croft 3 creatures are all thriving under the watchful eye of our friend David who is keeping things ticking over while we’re not there. We will be rehoming the chicken flock in the coming weeks – some are coming over here with us for a new mainland life, the rest are going to a friend on Rum, so will migrate slightly east to a beachfront location! The geese and sheep will remain, happily grazing. Sheep shearing is on the agenda for our next visit back.

We checked over the crops still on Rum – mostly orchard and soft fruit which is all doing very well and looking like it might be a good crop this year, so fruit harvesting is also part of the part time plan for the year ahead. We did do the annual thinning of the strawberry bed to allow the plants room to spread. This year though instead of increasing the space for strawberries on the croft we bought the thinned plants back here with us so that we can enjoy strawberry picking part time over here too.

It was good to be back on Rum for a couple of nights, to catch up with Rum friends, to nip up my hill one afternoon, to wake up and pull the curtains on the sunrise over the croft and go to bed after the sunset over the other side of the croft. Good also to remind ourselves of all we achieved in our time on Rum and why it will always be special and have a place in us. Rum can be such a bubble; when you are there it is as though the rest of the world doesn’t really exist and when you are not there it can feel as though Rum doesn’t carry on without you. It was quite strange to have Ady and I there while Davies and Scarlett were here, living simultaneous old and new lives in both our part time locations.

We all walk through life wearing all these part time hats, it’s these many roles and facets to our personalities that make us humans so interesting. We wear so many labels and are so many different things to so many people, all added together to make up our self and who we are. In the end our full time lives on Rum were lacking sufficient to make up a whole life for each of us. It is lovely to still have the part time versions of our Rum selves and our Rum lives to add to the mix of these new versions of us as we find all the new part time components to piece together to make the next incarnations.

All you can’t leave behind

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.

And swoosh, a month went by!

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!

cousins playing from long ago

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.

3 weeks in…

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!

Settling in…

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.

As offices go this one certainly has a good view, even if a steering wheel is an unconventional desk furniture!

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.

The Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another winter done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearly a year back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More as we start to work it out ourselves….