Six months in

Last Saturday marked our 6 month anniversary of arriving on the Isle of Rum. Half a year already.

In many ways it has flown, days whizz by, weeks seem to hurtle past us in a blur. For people who don’t actually have jobs any more we never seem to have a spare moment. I am still to be found biting my lip and fretting over what we have not yet done and desperately writing myself job lists to get on with and deadlines to meet.

But, I want to take stock. To celebrate and congratulate. It has certainly not been six months without challenges and frustrations, this is no easy ride and with every victory and success will come another hurdle to overcome. We are learning all the time and very honest about our lack of experience, knowledge and skills in some areas. We are also very realistic about our strengths, our passion, enthusiasm, vision and eagerness to learn, to take risks and put up with the downs in order to experience the highs.

Let’s look at what have made happen in our first six months:

Setting up our home. 

The arrival of the static to the island – 25th April 2011

Moving the static after 6 weeks cited along the nature trail with daily passers by peering in at us and a twice daily walk to the croft to see to the animals

our lowest ebb

On the croft, with kilt, insulated, bolted down, safe

Power comes by way of two solar panels, water from two water butts collecting rain off the roof. There is more to do and I hope by this time next year to be sitting in a permanent dwelling with the static being used as holiday accommodation, WWOOFers housing , somewhere for family and friends to stay. But it’s a victory to be here at all, certainly many a person declared it an impossibility to get it here at all.

We had very much hoped to have crops in but had not taken into consideration the condition of the soil here. Currently if we were to plant stuff in the ground it would rot in it rather than growing. We need to tackle drainage, consider raised beds, polytunnels, soil improvement measures. We have some fruit bushes in, come the spring we will be ready to launch ourselves at a whole fresh start of growing season and hope to be eating our own harvest come next October.

But what we didn’t sort out in crops we have achieved in livestock: Getting livestock here is not straightforward either. We ordered our birds from Donald ‘the hen’ on Skye. They arrived in crates, on the ferry. When we first ordered them we expected to have been here for about six weeks before they came, in the end due to various nothing-to-do-with-us delays we were only here for a fortnight before the birds came. Not only that but instead of being on the croft ourselves as we’d anticipated we were still stuck halfway down the nature trail track.Cue hurried bird housing construction using foraged and donated materials and lots of creative thinking.

We now have laying chickens and ducks and a very lovely pair of geese – only the cockerel – Davy Cockerel and the geese – Margo and Jerry are named. We did have two chicks hatch already but sadly lost them both to an unknown predator – probably either bird of prey or maybe even otter! Next year we’ll isolate any new hatchlings for a while until they are bigger and safer. Next on our list is a drake for our ducks, another couple of pairs (or trios) of geese and turkeys – lots of turkeys. We’re debating getting young birds to bring on or investing in an incubator and hatching bought in fertilised eggs. We still want goats and I’d really keen to keep bees, but all in good time.

Bonnie, we arrived with her having collected her on our way, the day before we came to Rum. She’s grown a lot and is learning many new tricks and spends lot of her day rounding up ducks and geese

this little girl cites having birds as one of her favourite things about our life here

love a duck!

taking pigs for a walk!

eggs, eggs for sale

she loves geese too

Tom and Barbara pig – hoping they are parents by this time next year

We moved here to be crofters, to use our eight acres for all sorts of different things – we want to build a home, grow our own food and some extra to sell, rear livestock for meat and produce. We want to spend time making, baking, preserving and crafting and have already done lots of bartering produce with other islanders, selling eggs to the castle and the shop, selling crafts and baking at the Market Day to tourists or through the Craft Shop. We have short and long term plans for the croft including getting ourselves ready to take WWOOFers next year, offer camping on the croft and start building a home and developing the land to grow food. In order to do this we need to get a compost loo installed and then work on improving the facilities as and when manpower and funding allows. We have various creative ideas for raising money to do this including our current crowdfunder pitch for our compost loo  but we have other plans for the future including setting up residential training workshops for green buildings, alternative technologies and other permanent fixtures for the croft, getting an expert in to run the workshop and selling places to cover the cost of materials and paying the expert. The plan is to share the croft with as many people as possible, creating a place where people come to learn, be inspired, enlightened and share skills, ideas and creativity.

This is the view from the front door this morning

and this evening

Doesn’t it look like a place where dreams can come true?

Our biggest draw in coming to Rum though was to be part of a community. We wanted to go where everybody knows our name (spot the TV theme tune!). We wanted to be somewhere where we could make a difference, have a voice, influence, shape and have greater control over decisions that affect us. We wanted to be somewhere where we can make a difference. We can’t change the world, but we can change our world. We stayed last year in intentional communities where people had chosen to live with others and created their own vision of what a community should be. We stayed in places where there were many families or just a couple, where decisions were made by consensus, democracy, majority vote, elected council or just heavy handed dictatorship. This model of a community, a society appealed to us most of all we witnessed. An eclectic mix of people, all here for different reasons but by active choice. Not all with the same agenda or vision but with a common goal. Not living every day in perfect harmony rather more like an orchestra still warming up at the beginning – with discord and sometimes jarring notes, a lack of perfect timing and clarity but with the potential to all come together and be amazing, breathtaking, for brief periods maybe even perfect.

When we were interviewed by some of the people who are now our fellow Rumics for the croft we were asked what we could bring to the community. Our answer was that if we moved here we would be expecting Rum to be our everything – our home, livelihood, meet all our social, cultural, educational, emotional needs. In order to expect that of Rum we needed to be prepared to take our share of responsibility in helping it to become all of the above.  We’d need to be putting in just as much as we were getting back (yes, I did filch a large part of that from Mrs Grayling’s welcome speech to the girls joining Malory Towers. It moved me aged 9 or 10 when I first read it and it stayed with me ever since!).

Six months in Rum is indeed our home, it is where we earn our living (or are certainly starting to) and it is our community, filled with our friends. We participate in events, celebrations, commiserations, meetings, consultations. We volunteer our time for various moving-things-forward and developing initiatives. We help with ideas and making things happen.

Blasda food festival communal meal, September

Climbing to the top of Hallival, June

party in the static, May

Midgefest, August

Mike’s birthday, May

Concert at the hall, June

the day the static reached the croft, June

Pimms O’clock Jubilee party, May

celebrating birthdays, July

Midgefest again, August

last Sheerwater trip of the year, September

sunset barbecue at Harris, June

Eagle walk, July

And in true Wondering Wanderer fashion, we have a bad, good, learnt from everyone summing up the first six months on Rum.

Star –
Bad – the condensation in the static is hard. It gets on my toys and books and can make them mouldy if we don’t clean it off. It’s pretty muddy and marshy on the croft (I should point out that mud is not actually a problem for Star, it’s a problem for us but she gets nagged about getting too muddy!).

Good – There are beautiful views and I love having animals. I love watching the seasons change, the hills and trees are all changing colour. I love making models on the croft with the mud and clay (see I told you she didn’t actually mind the mud!) I really like meeting lots of new people – people who live on Rum all the time like us and people who visit like tourists. I’m really excited about our first Chrismas and I think it will be really cosy in the static this winter.

Learnt – lots of different types of birds on Rum, learnt about bird ringing, learnt a bit about venison processing from Mumma and Daddy. I know more about how to look after pigs and I have also learnt a bit more about chickens, ducks and geese.

I asked Star to sum up our first six months in one sentence. She replied

“It is totally wicked!”

Bad Moving the static was stressful. I miss my Xbox (it is only in the horsebox but we have no electricity or screen to hook it up to so he can’t play it) and I do miss family and sometimes friends.

Good I think we fit into the community really well. We did get the static up here although it was hard. I enjoying spending time with the different people here and learning from them. I am really looking forward to the winter, snuggling up in the static doing indoor stuff. I like having my own bedroom again and it is bigger than I thought it would be.

Learnt – From Ranger Mike I have learnt about bird ringing, bird identification and lots of scientific names for birds. From Claire I have learnt some magic tricks and bookbinding. From Jinty I have learnt about shopkeeping, from Steve I have learnt about game design and modelling. From Sandy I have learnt a bit about making stuff from wood.

One sentence:

“Good, epic, fantastic, brilliant!”

Bad –  I worry about the weather and the static, particularly the wind. I do worry about our home getting damaged by the wind. There is a lot of frustration in getting things from A to B here, everything is challenging, getting things up hills, having to carry stuff by hand. The toilet and water situations make life harder than I’d like it to be. These things are more challenging than bad though really.

Good The unity of the community. When things are bad everyone really pulls together to offer support – morale and actual physical support. The views are amazing. I love the freedom to do what we want on the croft. The bareland croft is a challenge but it is also a truly blank canvas to do things our own way.

Learnt – a whole new way of life. We’re getting used to listening to the world around us – we need to get dinner sorted before it’s dark or we’re cooking by candlight, we need to ensure everything is strapped down when wind is forecast, to get stuff in the car across the river before it rises when it rains. I have learnt that people really do still help each other and go out of their way for others here, not like back in the mainland where we are from where although we talked to our neighbours we never offered to lend a hand or just mucked in because we knew what was going on in each others lives.

One sentence?

“Leo Sayer.”

I need to explain this – Ady has a default answer to Popmaster if he ever doesn’t know the real answer of just saying ‘Leo Sayer’. He says he now gives it as an answer to anything if he feels under pressure and doesn’t know what to say! He then came back with:

“This is a pioneering lifestyle in an epic way. To come from suburbia to this is the opposite of what generations before us have been doing.”

Which just leaves me.

Bad – I’m struggling here really because even the frustrations and challenges mean that when you do achieve something it feels all the more of a victory so I’d not want to wave a wand and make it all too easy. Although we do have plenty of friends here and I feel very comfortable in the company of various people here I do miss friends and family. It’s hard being 600 miles away from my Mum, Dad and brother (particularly when he is expecting his first baby very soon and I’d love to be closer to share in that), my sister in law, brother in law, nieces and nephew. I have local friends down in Sussex who I miss and we are out of the loop of getting together as regularly as we used to with other friends too, really relying on them to come and visit us instead of us attending parties, camps, shared holidays and get togethers.

Good I think this blog has pretty much been a tribute to how much I love Rum for the last six months so I’ll not bore anyone with it all again, simply echo what the others have said. It is beautiful, I love the freedom, the sense of adventure, the endless opportunities and possibilities. I am loving building not only our home but also helping to build our community. I love the group events and celebrations and the feeling that we are part of something bigger than us. A real magical moment for me was Dragon’s birthday when so many of the community came out to share his birthday came, sing Happy Birthday to him and give him gifts. It demonstrated to me that in such a short time to feel so much at home and a part of everything meant we are in the right place. Seeing Dragon and Star so free and happy and full of wonder at their world also warms my heart and assures me we have made the right choice to come here.

Learnt I have also learnt lots from Ranger Mike about wildlife. I can identify lots of birds and sealife. I’ve learnt also from Ali and Martyn on the deer project, from Lesley on the Rum ponies. I’ve learnt something from pretty much every person here about island life, the history of Rum. I’m learning all the time about crofting, living in a static, keeping pigs and geese, compost loos, rainwater harvesting. I’m mostly learning about how much I still have to learn!

My one sentence – hmm brevity is not my strong point!

“Rum is everything I hoped, nothing I imagined and more than I dreamed. It’s home.”

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