Don’t stop me now….

A fab couple of days. The midges are back but thanks to some glorious weather they are not troubling us until the sun starts to dip around 8pm by which time we are happy to have an end to our working day called on our behalf.

Wednesday saw me having a meeting-tastic day with the design team for the Rum Bunkhouse visiting between boats for the first time since they were the successful tender-er for the contract. As director for Rum Enterprise I went along to be part of the on-island meet and greet panel. It was great to meet with such enthusiastic people, really excited about coming to work here on the island and help us take things forward. I’ve been to a few meetings like that of late – really credible people visiting Rum who are only to happy to give their advice, support and assist us in making the next wave of great things happen. It is really heart warming to know that we are a bigger community than just the 40 odd people who live here all the time…

After that was a Community Trust Directors meeting, which we had sitting out in the sunshine. Professional and conventional it was not. Productive and meaningful it managed to be just the same.

Thursday was Sheerwater boat trip day and our first dolphin experience of the year. Dolphins have a special significance for our family as for several years it was Star’s biggest ambition to see them. We planned several holidays on the basis that they were in places we might see dolphins and spent money on boat trips and dolphin spotting quests to no avail. We did finally see them when we came to the east coast of Scotland and it was a magical and memorable experience. We’ve since returned to that spot (Chanonry Point) twice more and it will forever be a special place for us but nothing ever quite compares to seeing dolphins with Rum – our island – in the background. This weeks sighting was a pod of 10, all sizes, which played around the boat for ages, bow riding and displaying. I think I will never tire of the wonder that is connecting with these awesome creatures as we get a peek into their environment.

Yesterday was an exciting day as we had more livestock coming on the morning ferry. Much email communication and planning completed meant we had ten turkeys and six goslings arriving. Star came with us to collect them and couldn’t resist having a cuddle in the car.

Once home Dragon joined us for The Big Release. The other animals were interested in the commotion and Margo and Jerry, the original Croft 3 geese came to find out what was happening. They were so interested we let them in the pen with the new geese and they seemed more maternal. We didn’t keep them penned as we intend having the goslings in for a good few days yet but early indication suggest all birds will be fine together.

The turkeys are really cute. I’ve never had much to do with turkeys before although Ady worked at a turkey farm long ago so he is resident expert here for them. I always think of adult turkeys as rather ungainly and a little ugly, if magnificent with all their odd wobbly bits. But the wee turkey poults are very elegant, graceful and emu-esque. They have the cutest little song that is reminiscent of the cute gremlin and beautiful plumage.

They have all settled into their respective pens well and had an uneventful first night. The idea is that once they understand this is where they live we will let them free range with all the other birds. We clipped the turkeys wings this morning as they are a little flighty. We have already sold two of the ten and will be wanting one for ourselves so early indications suggest they will be a worthwhile idea. We want to be sure we can rear them successfully here before moving on to larger numbers.

In the afternoon the kids went down to the village to meet up with C, a fellow islander who is up for holding a weekly art club with them. They had a great time and have plans to make a film complete with props and scenery over the coming weeks. Ady and I put up the completed honesty cupboards at the top and bottom gates. They look amazing, I am really pleased with them. And we’ve already taken money from egg sales at both gates.

I’ve filled nine of the ten raised beds we built so far. I’ve sheet mulched them with cardboard and then filled them with the rich pig-processes soil and bedding and have put tatties in two of them which should give us a great green manure and a crop. I have some marrow seeds germinating in the polytunnel ready to do the same job in a couple more of the beds and maybe some other crops that will do well in that soil to finish off conditioning the ground.  One more to fill and all of my tasks for this week will be ticked off.

Today I finally achieved one of my long term aims to create a herb spiral. Herb spirals are fairly standard installations these days but have their origins very firmly rooted in the permaculture movement. They idea is a circle with a raised wall within in the shape of a spiral (clockwise in our northern hemisphere) made of rocks or any other preferably scavanged or recycled / reused building material. A sheet mulch goes down first and the wall is built up with soil to create a 3d structure of raised bed for growing herbs. The idea is that within a fairly small area (mine is about 5 foot across) you create lots of growing space with many microclimates. You have north facing shaded, moist ground, south facing well drained sunny space and everything inbetween catering for the diverse needs of various herbs. The plan is you have the spiral close to your back door so you can nip out for a handful of fresh herbs to add to cooking as you go.

Four bags of compost later mine is looking good and I’m planning to finish it by planting up the various herbs I have ready tomorrow, I have bought in some small pots of herbs which don’t grow well from seed, taken cuttings of some more, grown some myself from seed in the polytunnel and have plans to forage a few more from Rum’s wild larder this week.

It’s still a work in progress but I’m delighted with it so far 🙂

We had distractions today in the shape of various visitors – the Ranger came to call and spent an hour or so with the kids sketching landscapes, then he returned to join us for dinner later. The Friends of Kinloch Castle came up with a bottle of fizz to officially open the community polytunnel and admire all our new livestock which was very lovely. Vikki stayed for a cup of tea and a chat afterwards too, I do love a sociable Sunday 🙂

Finally we got the compost loo up and running at last. After much logistical planning to get it here at all we discovered it would not actually fit in the static and debated various outside structure options before deciding that the horse box was the best plan. So now it is installed in the horse box, fully set up and in use. This will make a huge difference to us and actually means we can have people to camp on the croft without needing to tell them we have no facilities because now we do!

Hurrah for sunshine, friends, getting things done, new livestock and herb spirals!

Island of Opportunities

I was talking to the headteacher of the school here last week about Home Education. I was also talking to a journalist last week about Home Education here. Home Educating Dragon and Star here on Rum is very, very different to Home Educating them back in Sussex. I can’t envisage what life might have been like for us if we’d lived here from when they were tiny and to be fair as we are such different people in such different points in our lives now it’s an impossible imagining anyway. But doing HE the way we have done was made loads easier by close proximity to so many diverse opportunities in Sussex. We were just 50 miles from London – when Dragon showed an interest in dinosaurs aged 4 it was an hour or so by train and we were there in the Natural History Museum walking around that iconic skeleton in the foyer. When he was interested in art we did the same and headed to the National Portrait Gallery. Before our kids even reached school age they had walked around all of the major landmarks in our capital city. Star’s interest in animals was more than met by visiting zoos, safari parks, animal sanctuaries, pet shops, open farms etc. We had art galleries, museums, libraries, theatres, cinemas on our doorstep. I ran social groups for Home Educators and organised camps, day trips, outings and workshops. I did a lot of driving, a lot of emailing, researching, booking and coordinating but it was all utterly do-able given our geographical location.

We’re at a different stage now -one where their passions and interests are more focused and have definite direction. It’s the chief reason why we’re here on Rum really – because we decided it ticked enough of the kids’ boxes to make up for the loss of some of the potential opportunities. We decided that forging close relationships within a community was more important than passing contact with a larger group of people. That having eight acres of his own and eight miles across of island to explore and adventure in was better than forest school and bushcraft camping experiences for Dragon. That living on a National Nature Reserve, home to the longest running large mammal research project and location of countless wildlife documentaries made up for keeper for the day zoo experiences and monthly trips to the events at the local RSPB reserve for Star.

In the last week we’ve been out on the Sheerwater trip with the Community Ranger – identifying birds and watching out for mammals.

We’ve been growing food – Star comes down to the polytunnel with me daily to water, harvest and check the crops in there along with growing her own stuff. She also helped build the raised beds. Dragon and I are planning a herb spiral and he is wanting to learn more about the medicinal benefits of herbs and have a go at growing his own, learning to identify them and find out about their culinary uses too.

They’ve played with the piglets, fed the birds, helped plan the pens for the next lot of animals arriving and spent time with the dog. It’s been a very outdoorsy week!

The piglets have been tamed to such a degree that they are now cuddle-able. This will mean their ultimate status as food is way easier in terms of a stress free ending, but rather trickier in terms of emotional attachment. Star tells me this will still be fine because she knows how happy a life her bacon will have had. I’ll let you know how that theory pans out…

On Sunday we took part in the Big Lunch – a nationwide event getting neighbours and communities to eat lunch together all across the UK. We had a great turn out of residents, bringing food to the table to share. There was bread, jam and cakes from us, pasta salad, soup, rice, pies, cheeses and more from other islanders and the school had been learning about healthy eating and made bread to bring and share too. We had kids activities and bunting. And balloons!

Last night we had a surprise visitor in the shape of a fellow islander. He’d been out fishing and caught two brown trout so brought them up to barter for produce and see if Dragon and Star would like to learn about gutting them. As it goes they have done fish gutting before a few times but this involved a biology lesson including finding the swim bladder, the heart and liver and then investigating the contents of their stomachs. The female (definitely so as she had a belly full of eggs) had nothing of great interest but the male contained 11, yes 11 complete newts. Dragon squeezed them out of the stomach and lined them all up. It was amazing!

And then we had them for dinner – the trout, not the newts! And very delicious they were too. Next he has promised to show them a deer’s stomach contents – the cull begins again in a few weeks.

Today the Reserve Officer showed me an eagle pellet – it was enormous! I took a photo to show Star who massively impressed me by taking one look at it and proclaiming it ‘an owl pellet’ then amending it to ‘eagle pellet’. To the casual observer it looked more like a cat’s toy mouse but Star knows her stuff! We’re hoping to do some bat surveying in the coming months here on the island and participate in a seal pup count later in the year too.

There are the experiences we traveled far and wide, paid lots of money for and were so desperate to provide for our children. Now the tourist season proper is upon us we are once again answering the same old questions – three times today I was asked how many children are in the school here and all three times I was told what a wonderful place this must be to raise children. Rum is not without it’s faults and downsides. Our current lifestyle is not without challenges and pitfalls but it is certainly an amazing place to grow up, surrounded by people, wildlife and opportunities way beyond even what we could have hoped for.

Don’t stop movin’

April continues even though today is June with sunshine, showers and still no midges to speak of (sshh!)

Since last I blogged we have been getting further into our summer groove. Thursday was Sheerwater trip day. We did this two hour boat trip every week last summer and fully intend to do the same again this year. It is a fabulous way to leave Rum for a brief period each week without actually landing anywhere else, thus getting all the good bits about the amazing views of our island from out at sea without actually having to really go anywhere. Ronnie, the skipper is so gifted at spotting sealife and taking us off on weekly adventure safaris and as the weather warms up and the summer gets closer you can feel the marine life moving in. Last year we saw regular dolphins, including our amazing superpod experience (‘the sea is alive’ remains an on-island catchphrase) and minke whales. Loads of seabirds including gannets (my favourite), great skuas, puffins, shearwaters, guillemots and all sorts of gulls including kittiwakes (the true seagull). I love how much the four of us have learnt about sealife and how able we are to spot things and identify them now.

So far this year we have just seen birds although there have been sightings of dolphins and porpoise already this season so they are about. My dream is to spot basking sharks and killer whales, maybe this year…

We’ve been losing eggs off our honesty tables to the hooded crows or hoodies as they are locally known. Despite best efforts they have decimated whole table-fulls of eggs so we have temporarily removed them while planning a solution. I tried covering them with a sheet of polythene weighed down with stones but the crows pecked through the polythene and actually as the weather warms up we would be selling cooked eggs that way. Our current thinking is some sort of cupboard at each table which will help protect the eggs from the wind, rain and sun and also mean the crows can’t get to them. We’ve put word out on island that we’re looking for some suitable cupboards to re=purpose so we’ll see if the cosmic supply company provides again…

Meanwhile we’re doing a storming trade providing the shop, teashop and B&B with eggs. We’ve sold six bags of salad through the shop already so I’m glad I’ve been sowing more every week or so to keep that coming as we’ve decimated the first two trays now. We’ve got posters up at the castle, the shop and hopefully soon the campsite advertising our eggs and fresh produce for sale and I’ve also advertised freshly baked bread, cakes, pies etc to order to see if there is a market for that at all. I am able to do some sale or return stuff for the shop so may look at that once the school job is finished and I have a little more time on my hands. I reckon some Rum venison pies would go down well…

Star and I noted some elderflowers just starting to bloom this evening so preserving and bottling season is just around the corner again. I can’t wait for the brambles this year – I have boxes full of jam jars waiting AND a freezer this year. We are down to our last three jars of homemade jam from last year and I could have sold those were they not in rather random jars! Half my scarves have already sold from the craft shop so I need to get knitting too!

Ady has been doing more plumbing – we now have constantly running water thanks to a header tank and the grey water is taken away from the static, down the hill and into a series of gravel filters into the ground. We don’t use any chemical cleaners anyway but it’ll be good to take it further away from the static. My willow fence is doing really well around the static and will hopefully also be sucking up some of that surface water.

Meanwhile down at the polytunnel, neighbour Gav has dug a big hole and drainage channel which should both remove water from the entrance and give us a pond to collect water for the plants. It’s raining now so that should have filled up by tomorrow :). I’ve been in there today sowing more peas and salad and celebrating more germinations of sweetcorn, borage, cucumber, nasturtium and cabbage. I’ve thinned the carrots, given up on another tray of beans and considered chanting or waving my arms about over the comfrey which clearly needs some form of magic to help it along because sunshine and watering just isn’t cutting it!

I’ve also filled five of the ten raised beds with a cardboard sheet mulch, gorgeous pig treated soil and pig bedding. Five down, five to go. I have a blister on my thumb from the fork despite sensibly wearing gloves today otherwise I may have done more.

The compost loo finally made it here – thanks so much to Ed and Carina, WWOOF hosts extrodinaire and to neighbours Gav and Laura for bringing it. We have had to rethink our original plan to install it in the static simply because it won’t actually fit. It won’t fit through the bathroom door and then it wouldn’t fit in the bathroom. But we’re planning to set it up in the horse box and have the quirkiest compost loo going 🙂 A bit more work to do there to get it sorted but another huge leap along the way to getting things done.

We have a date for the turkeys and more geese arriving too so more bird housing on the agenda for next week. We already have our first Christmas turkey confirmed sale – one down, nine to go!

This week I gave a telephone interview with a national press journalist (will link to that story if it actually runs, a follow up to the coverage we had this time last year when we arrived on Rum), exchanged emails with a film researcher who is planning to visit to do a programme on Rum as part of a series on Scottish Islands and arranged to send photos, a write up and get Dragon and Star to make a short film for The Big Lunch which we’re taking part in tomorrow down at the village hall. More on all that after the events.