We have just a couple of weeks left before we head off Rum for the winter. Currently we intend returning in the spring but we are realistic enough to know that even if we come back we will want to change the way we live, work and exist here. So it feels right, almost six years to the day since we first stepped foot on the island to look back over our time here and sum up what has been bad, good and various other questions that I threw into the mix as we went along.
1. The size of the community. We had hoped it would have grown and flourished in the years we have been here, instead it has gotten smaller and smaller in numbers.
2. We did not build. We needed to be positive and ambitious in order for our move here to happen at all and we had such big dreams and ideas about a build but it has not happened.
3. We have not achieved self sufficiency on growing crops.
4. Being WWOOF hosts was not the success we had hoped here. We love WWOOF and have so much to thank WWOOFing for in our adventures and we have had some great people here volunteering with us but have not been able to offer the hospitality we would have liked or had the numbers of WWOOFers that would have made a real difference to us here.
5. The quality of the land here on the Croft. Despite SNH as landowners before us putting in many drainage ditches and us spending lots of time and effort in adding more and maintaining those ones the land remains incredibly wet.
6. The visitor numbers which we anticipated and saw in our first year or two on the island have decreased steadily with fewer people coming to Rum and walking around the nature trail which means fewer potential customers for us.
7. All of the development focus on Rum is on the village and surrounding area. It’s a chicken and egg situation that without more people living outside of the village there is little call for more infrastructure but people are unlikely to start trying to live outside of the village without that supporting infrastructure.
8. Island life logistics – cancelled ferries, relying on mainland back up for things like fuel deliveries.
1. When the community works it really, really works. People pulling together in emergencies such as when I was helicoptered off and people helping out with animal feeding, the social side of the island with events.
2. The confidence I have found in learning, taking on challenges and trying and experimenting with ideas.
3. I love our set up here – a caravan on top of our croft, sitting outside on a sunny evening or watching the waterfall is all so beautiful.
4. The time we have spent together as a family thanks to our life here.
5. The lack of stress of our lifestyle, particularly compared to our old lives with career pressures.
6. The feeling of belonging and pride about where I live – telling tourists that I live here or going off the island and telling people where I have come from.
7. Learning Scottish culture – events and ideas like ceilidhs, Burns Supper and the Highland ways.
8. How much I’ve learned and experienced with livestock.
Most proud of – to have lived off grid for over five years, how we have progressed, how things have gotten easier to when we first started.
What I would change – to have built a house.
How has it changed you – I am more methodical and considered, planning projects and having a contingency plan. I realise now that I have time, time to consider and do things properly, to stop and stare.
Are you glad we did it? Oh yeah!
Sum it up: It’s been the biggest adventure of my life. So far….
1. My bedroom in the caravan – I have such a small amount of private space to keep my stuff and to spend time in.
2. A lack of social life – I am the only person of my age so I have no peers but also none of the typical activities that someone of my age might want to do.
3. Lack of opportunities – I can’t pinpoint what I’ve missed because I’ve not done it, but I feel that I have missed out on things that I know other people my age may have done.
4. I have had a very sheltered adolescence, not being tested in situations or having time to develop myself. I’ve not really started to be independent from my family yet.
1. This is a good story to tell – I have not had the same experience as most kids my age and I think this makes me interesting and different.
2. I think that I have had freedom to here to pursue interests.
3. Whilst I am lacking in privacy compared to most teens the plus side of that is a really close relationship with my parents and sister. I notice when other people are around and staying with us that we are not with each other as much as we are just now. I think having this time together has been something we would not have had if we’d not lived here.
4. I am very interested in psychology and studying it with a possible future career in it. I think that living closely with a small community of people and getting to know them very well has shaped me and sparked an interest in psychology and individuals and how they relate to each other.
5. I think that I have a good attitude to life and a good outlook on things which is linked to having lived here. I consider myself lucky and good at putting things into perspective.
What I’d change – I would have left Rum earlier. maybe a year ago. Looking back I think we should have realised before that things could be better elsewhere and taken steps to change it.
How has it changed you? – hard to say, I don’t know. When I came here I was still really little, when Mummy and Daddy moved here they were already fully formed people. But I think this has shaped who I am.
Are you glad we did it? Yes. Definitely yes, but I think we should have left earlier.
Sum it up : It will be a great story to tell.
With Davies’ full knowledge, agreement and permission I am stepping in here with a Nic disclaimer. I am aware that this could read as though Davies was unhappy here or didn’t want to be here for the last year or more. This has not been the case. Infact we decided as a family to think about next steps at the start of this year. While Davies feels we didn’t act quickly having made that decision he also concedes that as a family our way of making big changes is slow and with small and considered steps and that it has taken us this long to work out what to do next, manage leaving the croft with organising animal and that we had collectively agreed to enjoy a last spring, summer and autumn on Rum. Our decision to leave has to suit all of us and with much discussion between the four of us this was agreed to be the right time. However for a 17 year old time is relative and nearly a year on from making a decision it is fair to feel it was a long time coming!
1. Not having a place to help poorly animals – no sheds or outbuildings have meant there have been times I would have liked to bring an animal inside but couldn’t because we didn’t have an inside space for them.
2. Davies and I are the only teenagers on the island, there are only little kids here other than us so we don’t get to spend time hanging out with friends.
3. We are really affected by the weather – boats get cancelled and travel plans have to change or things get delayed.
4. Rum is beautiful but can be quite dangerous. I have hurt myself a few times and people have had really serious injuries here so you always have to be aware of danger, much more than on the mainland.
5. In five years here we have seen a lot of people go away. We have become really good friends with people only for them to leave and that is really hard.
1. I have a lot of freedom to do stuff. We can do pretty much whatever we want from building a tree house to deciding to have a different breed of ducks.
2. We’ve met loads of people here who we might never have met in our old lives, really interesting people and got to know them well.
3. We’ve seen some amazing wildlife like whales, dolphins, eagles. People spend a lot of time and money chasing those sorts of experiences and we have had them here.
4. Our family is really close. We all four know each other really well and spend loads of time together.
5. I’ve learned a lot of skills that I would probably not have learned otherwise and found new hobbies and interests that we only discovered here. I’ve done crafts like candle making and things like baking because they have been things I can sell and I might not have even thought about trying them if we didn’t live here and have a shop.
6. All of the livestock experiences – seeing eggs hatch and being there when Barbara had the piglets are experiences I would only have had here in this life.
What would you change? having a house – it would not be such hard living if we had a house and we would not worry so much about the winter
How has it changed you? – impossible to answer as I think I would have been a totally different person if I hadn’t moved here when I was 9
Are you glad we did it? Definitely.
Sum it up: I can’t!
1. Not achieving our dreams of self sufficiency with growing crops. Retrospectively they were unrealistic without spending a massive amount of money, time or energy and we quickly learned that battling nature was a soul destroying fight but I still regularly look at photos of my south coast of England allotment to remind myself that it is not my failing, rather a mighty challenge.
2. The lows in livestock keeping. Failed hatchings, baby birds lost to crows, piglets drowned in mud. I am all too aware of the saying that if you have livestock you’ll have deadstock and on balance I still think we have had more victories than defeats with our animal keeping. However every single dead creature discovered holds a corner of my memory.
3. I’ll say it though none of the other three have – the bloody midges! If you live on Rum you do indeed have to live alongside them and I think we’ve done that admirably armed with midge jackets and midge spray, being as amicable as we can and paying tribute to them with Midgefest events, setting them in resin (maybe not entirely amicable!) and crocheting their image. But I also know that the mighty beasts have removed the possibilities of evening barbecues, sitting out as the sunsets, summer solstice camping on the beaches and many other plans. They have meant ridiculously hot summer nights spent with windows sealed shut against them in a metal caravan already warmed to unbearable temperatures by the heat of the day, four people living inside and cooking dinner. They have actively prevented my parents from visiting us here from April to September and made our planned camping and outdoor activities with friends impossible. They have not ruined my life, but I certainly won’t miss them!
4. People. The lack of people. The impact of living alongside such a tiny (and dwindling number) of people and the politics and pressures that can bring. The saying goodbye to people who have become as important as family members to you having shared your lives to such a high degree and being away from people I love during both sad and happy times.
5. The reality of our island life – When we were WWOOFing we stayed with lots of people who have just as extreme off grid lifestyles as us. Compost loos, lack of mains water, electricity or gas were not at all unusual. But not one was as remote as us – however rural and remote they were they could get to a town with all the resources that offered in under an hour – launderettes, petrol, food, clothes shops, libraries, cinema and all of those facilities were all accessible when they needed them. Here on Rum we live alongside other people living an island life relying on ferries to bring supplies, coping with regular power cuts and wild weather but all are in houses – with vehicular access to their doors and flushing toilets, a grid for water and power, sturdy shelter that mostly keeps the outside elements outside. There are aspects of our life here which are exactly what we wanted but so much of our energy and time has gone into simply surviving that little has been left over for moving forward. I am not sure what I would have done differently to change that – the reality is that even if we had built a house such a project would have been years in the completion so we would not be any further ahead with the other aspects and would still be making compromises on things like having 24 hour power to run appliances which I now realise are essential if we wanted to achieve dreams like hatching birds from incubators, keeping dairy animals and so on. A two mile round trip to take produce to and from the freezer or do a load of laundry has simply sucked more hours of our life than I could ever have imagined.
1. The livestock highs – keeping animals we could never have had the space for without access to the amount of land we have on our croft. Breeding pigs was amazing and being at the birth of a litter and watching them grow was fantastic. The butchering and processing we’ve done of pigs and birds has also been a fantastic experience producing delicious results. The shearing our own sheep was another real high.
2. The experiences that living on Rum has afforded us – the wildlife encounters – seeing eagles soar overhead is an almost daily delight, hearing shearwaters land in the pitch dark and call to their mate and chicks, pulling fluffy chicks from their burrows, experiencing the red deer rut with the sounds of them roaring and clashing antlers, the smell of their urine and feeling so close to them you are almost part of the event. Being on a small boat in the very middle of a superpod of hundreds of dolphins, having minke whales swim alongside us seemingly as curious as us as we were about them. Watching an otter prance along the shoreline, hearing eider ducks call in the loch, noting whether the cuckoo’s call heralding spring is early or late this year, spotting the geese fly overhead honking as they migrate, seeing seals bob about every time we got to the beach. The skies above us – treating us to displays of the northern lights, shooting stars, a solar eclipse, the breath taking quick-run-outside-and-try-and-take-a-photo sunrises and sunsets. Finally the living so close to nature; the experiencing so fully with every sense the moment that spring has arrived, the instant that summer makes her voice heard, noting the very first leaf turning to show autumn has begun and feeling the drop in temperature or hearing the first crunch of frost underfoot that heralds the coming of winter. Being so utterly in tune with each solstice and equinox, living so closely that even one degree of temperature change, millimetre of rainfall or mile per hour of wind speed or change of direction affects your actions and life. Knowing which rock needs to be visible to show the river is low enough to drive a car across. Gaining this knowledge and experiencing these things has been a privilege that I never anticipated, never even knew I was missing until I became aware of them.
3. The doing something different – the fact that tourists flock every year to the island I call home, countless visitors take photographs of our caravan, our livestock, our home, we were the subject of a TV show which has been repeated and syndicated worldwide, people read our blog, we have been on the radio, in magazines and newspapers and inspired and impacted on people’s lives. We have had school trips, university field trips and groups of volunteers and visitors visit us here on our croft. Feeling that we are doing something interesting and out of the ordinary has been a real highlight for me. We are living the sort of life that I used to read about, watch TV shows about and hanker after myself.
4. The opportunities. We have been able to experiment, learn, cock up and achieve all with complete freedom. We’ve dug sand from the riverbed and clay from our croft land to build a cob pizza oven. I have cut willow switches from the woodland to experiment with weaving or creating living sculptures. I have wandered over acres of land picking brambles and played with flavour combinations to make jam, able to put up a shed and open a little shop to sell from. We have ordered car spares off ebay and worked out how to do mechanical repairs, set up and maintained plumbing, learned about green power, foraging and preserving. We have read magazine articles and books, watched you tube clips, been inspired by a random idea on the internet and just had a go at making it happen. We have done it our way, with no one watching unless we invited them to. We are largely free from rules and regulations, prying eyes or judgemental views. That freedom and autonomy is a luxury that our life here has afforded us.
5. The community and a sense of belonging. I have been incredibly proud to be part of Rum’s history, joining the ranks of hundreds and hundreds of years of human history on this tiny isle. We came, we made our mark and we hopefully did good. Rum is an amazing place for giving you a sense of perspective – about your place in the community, the world and the universe. There is a magic here which I am proud to have been a tiny, transient part of.
6. The last six years have felt like an adventure – a rollercoaster of a ride with stories to tell, mad experiences, funny anecdotes and so many snapshot moments of laughter, tears, supporting each other, excitement and magical memories. It has certainly been unconventional and unusual but the fact that the four of have shared it with each other has been fantastic. I have had a very close relationship with Davies and Scarlett throughout their lives having been with them for so many hours each day and Ady and I have worked together in the past but having so much time together in this precious, finite period of the childrens’ late childhood and having it in such unique circumstances will forever be something I am so happy to have experienced. It is the extremes of our life here which will make our memories so very precious.
What are you most proud of? Having done it. Having set out to do something and followed what many thought was a madcap idea. So many people live life wishing they could make a change, do something different or take the crazy option and we actually did. It’s not been without it’s tough times and all four of us can think of things we would have done differently but my mantra has always been that I would rather regret the things I did do that regret the things I didn’t. I really feel that we have grabbed every opportunity that came our way. I love standing at the bottom of Croft 3 and looking up at that space and knowing that every single thing on it was what we have achieved.
What would I change? Honestly? I don’t think I’d change a thing. The tough bits will become part of the tale, the low points taught me things, the challenges made me stronger and I learned so much that to regret or change anything would to be alter what I think has been a remarkable period in my life.
How has it changed you? I think I grew up on Rum. I came here aged 38, married with children, a whole career history behind me and a life already fully lived. I had faced challenges, made mistakes and lived with the consequences and tidied up my messes but I always felt I had ultimate control over my fate. Life here on Rum has proved me wrong. I have learned that there are bigger forces than me responsible for what happens next, that I can’t always just carry on regardless and assume that everything will be OK just because I said it would be. That has been humbling, weirdly reassuring and a tough lesson to learn.
Are you glad we did it? 100% yes
Sum it up: One of the more action packed chapters of a life story – hopefully one of many high points and still somewhere in the middle.