Saturday, 30 June 2012

This could change our lives

No, not the moving to a remote Scottish island, setting up a brand new life as crofters, as a family unit being 10% of the island population, dealing with midges on a daily basis, coping without electricity or running water or flushing toilets.

Not living alongside wildlife such as eagles, deer, dolphins and whales.

Not finally getting the static on our croft land, waking up each morning and being relieved anew that the challenge of getting it here is over, amazed and inspired anew at the stunning and ever changing views out of every window and overwhelmed anew at the sheer beauty and wonder of the landscape around us.

What is really likely to change our lives is being able to sit on our bed and get mobile phone signal and having broadband internet connected today to our static. Oh yes, welcome to crofting and roughing it 21st century style. I can research the best building methods for a compost loo, purchase our piping to sort out water supply from the burns online and finally make contact by phone again with family and friends without having to stand in the dark / rain / cold.

It's all suddenly gotten ever such a lot easier in our world. And even better we have had our holding number and business registration paperwork come through so can start looking at grants and funding and really make some headway with our plans.

Life is good :)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Static Abuse

It's all been a bit quiet hasn't it? It's been a Very Big Challenge the last couple of weeks which accounts for the silence.

It's ironic that we last year we travelled the UK, this year we did the 600 miles and a ferry crossing from Sussex to Rum but the part of the journey that has posed by far the most challenges is the final mile from the village to our croft.

If we knew now, what we knew then and all that....

Our decision to buy a static as a temporary home for our family on the croft was for various reasons - an instant home complete with all furniture and furnishings and appliances. Ady and I felt very strongly that Dragon and Star deserved bedrooms of their own. After a year on the road, sharing a bunk with just a small cupboard each for their stuff we really wanted them to have their own spaces again, their own beds, their own walls to decorate, their own floors to leave stuff all over - what sort of childhood would it be if they never got nagged about keeping their rooms tidy?!! We knew building would be a very long project that would take planning, researching, learning about first let alone the actual build so we wanted a proper base to come 'home' to while we were setting up the croft and creating our home.

There is a serious lack of housing on Rum, we have dwellings with single people or couples in with many spare bedrooms but in terms of accomodating a family of four there is nowhere so renting was not an option and of the various possible temporary housing choices a static seemed the most logical. At our interview we talked about a static and were told 'oh yes, you'll get a static up there on the croft'. When we purchased it and showed the delivery driver pictures and measurements and described the route to the croft we were assured he'd get it there.

How naive were we?!

We realised when we arrived back in April that it would be a far more challenging task that we'd previously anticipated during our very brief visits here before and sure enough when the static arrived on the lorry the driver took it as far as he could get it and then it stopped. About halfway between the pier and the croft. A gorgeous location certainly, but slap bang in the middle of the nature trail, just offset from the road to Kilmory and Harris which anyone leaving the village and going into the reserve takes; on foot, cycyle, quad bike or vehicle. For somewhere pretty remote we got a lot of passing 'traffic'. Bonnie would bark and chase (as puppies learning about territory and protecting their 'pack' are wont to do), we'd feel rather like we lived in a goldfish bowl and it became a proper walk to the croft twice a day to feed the animals rather than just stepping outside.

Many plans have been hatched, many brilliant brains have been picked, many crazy suggestions have been posed - my favourite was Star suggesting we sail the static along the river or tether red deer to pull it for us :). Yet it remained there, along the nature trail for our first two months here. Finally it was suggested by a fellow small-isle-r that one of the residents of neighbouring Eigg could come with his tractor and trailer and get it there. Many phonecalls, a video clip and expensive booking of the ferry trip later (nearly £300 for a trip from Eigg and back, less than 20 miles round trip!) last Sunday saw us embarking on what proved to be the darkest day of our lives here on Rum so far.

The static was hitched up to the tractor and reversed back onto the path then pulled along the track a little way.

looks long doesn't it!

Then came the scary bit - the track to the croft was an impossible path for the static - it was not wide enough thanks to a bank of bedrock with a drop to the river on the other side. It also contained a twisty turn that 32 foot of static attached to another 10 foot of tractor simply would not bend around. So the only other option was to go down the bank instead. A very steep, very muddy bank. Trees were chopped down to make a path and down it went.

it didn't get very far before the tractor was stuck. The digger was called into service to get the tractor out. This did not bode well.

It was every bit as scary as this picture makes it look. The static caught on every tuft and rock and tree stump. The gas and plumbing pipes all got ripped out, we lost three of the metal bars that make up the chassis and the axle got bent with the nearside wheel bent at a crazy angle. We'd hit the point of no return by then.

Imagine this was your home...
Friends came - bringing tea and coffee, sandwiches, hugs and moral support aswell as muscle and creative thinking. Finally we were off the bank and assessing the damage. It didn't look good and the next big challenge was crossing the culvert. A broken down bridge constructed from falling stones and sleepers with a drop down on either side that we didn't want to consider the consequences of falling into.

will it make it?

creaking, groaning, splintering, I've never been so scared!

I was on this side and knew we were right on the very edge when the shout came from the other side 'whoa! can we go over more the other way?' we couldn't, but a tree was pressing against the front door on the other side.
The only answer? Leaning on it from this side (knowing how close we were to pushing it off the edge if we leant too hard) while the tree was cut down.

yet more power tools, testosterone and scary stuff
That done we finally were across the culvert and thought we could all breathe a sigh of relief that the worst was over.


The bent wheel gave up and fell off. With a sickening thud the static dropped down on that side. We all crouched down to look underneath and the other tyre exploded from the pressure. Ady got a cut on his head - I think he was lucky not to lose an eye. Cue another thud as the static balanced itself back on that side.

Which was where it had to stay, even more in the middle of the nature trail, wonky, with a door that had swung open and wouldn't shut, all interior doors not opening, the shower door at a crazy angle and all of the underneath in tatters.

This photo sums it all up.

and the carnage we left behind. On a nature trail around a National Nature Reserve.

Everyone was lovely. Claire brought us up dinner, Rachel brought us up beers and then we went and stayed at the castle for the night as the static needed a lot of levelling and straightening to be safe to be inside, let alone comfortable to sleep in. This was when the feeling of being in a community came good. Neighbours, friends, fellow islanders.

The next day, with help from Sandy we got the plumbing and heating sorted and the static level. We moved out stuff back in and resigned ourselves to staying where we were for a while longer. An expensive set of replacement wheels were ordered online with further cost of next day delivery to the highlands bumping it up even more. It was arranged for Alastair to come back the following weekend and meanwhile we tried to work out how to straighten the bent axle so that the same thing wouldn't happen to the new wheels when we tried to move it.

To say it was a tough week would be an understatement. My usual positivity and airy 'it'll be fine' attitude had been proved wrong, dented, battered and bruised. We kept reminding ourselves of all the ways it could be worse but we were spending yet more money we don't have on something we had no confidence would actually work with worry about impacting further damage and still not getting to the croft. The isolation of island life became a real reality and although our fellow islanders have been a huge source of support we still feel way too new to be leaning quite so heavily on friendships that have not yet had time to develop to that level.

Further kicks were dealt when the wheels did not arrive on Wednesday's ferry. Further phonecalls (always made more difficult when you have no phone signal so are asking yet more favours to use landlines) resulted in chasing the wheels and learning they had definitely arrived at Calmac on Thursday so should be on the Friday ferry. Alastair arrived with two others from Eigg on Friday morning and we waited expectantly for the ferry to bring our wheels. But they were not on the boat. They were on the list of things that should have been on the boat but not there. We rang around again - to the office on the mainland and to the other islands to check they had not come off the boat elsewhere. Finally at 5pm we found someone who had them, opened the box to check what they were and loaded them on the van ready for the boat on Saturday.

Saturday dawned and sure enough the wheels arrived. By 10am they were fitted to the newly straightened axle and then the grafting began. A team of six men, two women, six mats to smooth the way, a tractor and driver, a few million midges (who didn't help in the slightest and meant we all wore midge nets, sprayed ourselves constantly with midge repellant and kept splashing in the river to deter them so certainly made their presence felt) and lots of swearing, hoping and yelling 'whoa!'.

starting to move. The track is made of the sharpest rocks and is a challenge to even walk on let alone pull a 3 ton static on a pair of little wheels. These mats took the impact of the stones and spread the weight. We couldn't have done it without them.
Round the first corner with much manouvering and onto a slightly less scary terrain of bumpy rocks but one full of ridges and ruts that needed further careful negotiating and some filling in with stones as we went.

It was really hard work - the teams on either side had to keep dragging mats from the front to the back while also watching and anticpiating problems. I was on 'whoa' duty at the front as with the noise of the tractor it was hard to hear what was happening. I was also taking pictures, which felt like tempting fate really but of course now we're happy to have the record.
That bit of the track done we faced the next big challenge - crossing the river. Although we have had a few heavy rainfalls in the last week the river is very low at this point still. You can walk it in wellies. But it still dips down and turns a slight corner so the worry was as the wheels hit the lowest point the front and rear of the static would ground out and get damaged.
debating the best plan
We decided on sleepers to bring the ground up more, covered with the mats to help spread the weight. Cue everyone carrying sleepers over the rough ground. Not easy work, I'm still aching three days later and have impressive bruises on my arms and shoulders. It was like WWOOFing all over again!

most impressive was Ian who managed two at a time!
It worked. But the gtractor didn't! Half time oranges all round while the technical issue with the tractor was sorted and the static had a rest in the river.

water feature?

Vikki, me, Kate and Ian
Back to work, it felt like we might actually get there now, the mood lifted and hope was starting to flicker once more.

the croft land is on the left, we are in sight!
 Next we needed to turn the final corner, which should have been easy but naturally it was not. A rusty metal bar set in a HUGE boulder was in the way. Much forwarding and backwarding and finally three of us bouncing the whole static as we passed it and we just scraped by. It was *very* close.

a whisker away.
And so on to the croft. Cockiness and confidence came into play and we did away with the mats. A cheer went up as we came through the croft gate and onto our land.

welcome home
But cocky and confident comes with a warning. Straight into a soft bit of ground and nearly on it's side in a ditch!
we got the mats back again. Sharpish!

view from inside the ducks run. The birds and the pigs were most disturbed by this great big procession of people and vehicles noisily coming across the land!
Up the hill, slowly, slowly, slowly...

And then, finally, against all odds and with sighs of relief all round the static arrived where she will now forever stay.

Ian came and helped Ady level it up. We need to do some repairs and we will need to get it secure against the winds.

It has been the most testing and daunting experience, one I never want to repeat and will no doubt be dreaming about for a long time to come (the cries of 'whoa' still haunt me!), every time we walk or drive the track we are reminded anew of what a crazy idea it was to ever dream we could get a static along there. But we have the best views and I've never felt more at home than I do sitting watching the sunset, the birds fly, the clouds pass over the ridges and the deer wander across the croft.

I can't thank our friends here enough - for the support and cuddles, the bottles of house warming juice we've been presented with, the sharing of our load and becoming yet another chapter in the stories to be told about Rum and about us. We've most definitely been tested, I'm hopeful we can say we passed.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rocking our (very small) world

One of the first things we realised about island life and being in such a small community is how intense life here is and how magnified and blown out of proportion everything can feel. The smallest thing here feels so much bigger than it would back on the mainland with more people, more distractions and more of everything to put it into perspective.

We're a few 'men' down at the moment with several people off island for one reason or another. With such a small population every person counts and leaves a gap. We have just welcomed back one of our number who had a stay in hospital after an accident, another couple are off having treatment for illness, another on holiday, another away for a short break and yesterday we waved a tearful goodbye to another leaving forever to return to her homeland. Although we've only been here a matter of weeks it already feels like a big family, sure there are frustrations and things which annoy you about people, those you have a real affinity and closeness to and those who you just bimble alongside with a nod and a hello when you pass them. You need every single one of those people to make it feel just right.

Croft 2, next door to us is being advertised currently. I know of a fair few applications and would happily have any of them as our new neighbours :) If Rum is to achieve all it is capable of and dreaming of then we need more people, more ideas and more diversity. More dreamers, more thinkers, more crazies!

This weekend is a big one for us - we are hoping to move our static onto the croft. We have a tracker and trailer coming over from neighbouring Eigg and along with a hefty dose of helping hands and a massive chunk of luck we may well be sitting in our home, on our land by this time next week. I am hardly daring to imagine it will happen while at the same time barely able to contain my excitement at the possibility of looking out over our croft when I pull the curtains in the morning.

Paperwork is still a slow and painful process with forms going back and forth between us and the crofting commission. Eventually we'll have our land registry changed, our holding number sorted and be in a position to start looking at grants and funding. First on our list of projects is a compost loo, then a shed to house a washing machine, then a solar power shower block or woodburning bathhouse, then a pizza oven and firepit area. I'm gathering books from amazon on various subjects and getting very excited at the prospect of all these projects. Alongside that we are also researching alternative technologies including hydro, wind and solar and working out the best methods of getting water. We have become WWOOF hosts and had our story in the WWOOF newsletter this month which was very cool. We're already getting a steady stream of potential WWOOFers contact us so I am putting together a very clear set of information about who we are, what to expect both of us and of Rum and quite how it all works in our rather unique little corner of the world.

Other exciting news is that we may even have internet access before too long up in our static. For me this has been the biggest struggle so far as I feel out of touch with family and friends and am itching to upload photos, blog our experiences and research stuff online so having to come down for an odd hour here and there to the village hall is far from ideal.

When we arrived I blogged about normal service being resumed as soon as I worked out what that was. We are not quite there yet but it's feeling a lot like home and if all our short term plans fall into place I think we may well be approaching our own brand new version of normal before too much longer.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

One for her Maj'

Even on remote islands we celebrated the jubilee. Loads of the islanders came out to sit under the bunting, braving the midges and consume Pimms, cucumber sandwiches, jelly and cake.


Monday, 4 June 2012

Crofting for beginners

And a more positive 'where are we at' type posting if only to push the one below back where it should be, firmly  underneath all the many great things we have been getting up to.

More Shearwater trips - we've managed every week so far and this week just gone was the most exciting yet with a glimpse of a minke whale by the skipper and a full on sighting of part of a superpod of dolphins that have been exciting folk in the area. We saw about 10 of them playing around the boat for about 10 minutes. So magical with everyone just smiling and pointing and feeling thrilled at the close encounter.

We walked up Hallival! Thanks to Vikki, who celebrated her first year here on Rum last week for taking us along with her. We scaled the very top, added a couple of stones to the stack, almost broke poor Bonnie who required carrying some of the way back down and enjoyed the most magnificent panoramic view of Rum, Skye, Eigg, Canna, Muck and across to the mainland. Quite breath taking - in more ways than one!
On the croft the hens are all laying and Dave the cockerel is doing his thing. The ducks have not started laying yet but are getting nice and heavy and healthy so I'm sure it won't be long before they are. We've started selling our eggs to the Rum shop so the chickens are starting to earn their keep and I've been doing baking for the teashop which is both using up eggs and earning me a bit of money. I am busily crafting to build up a stash of items to sell at the upcomming Rum craft fayre later this month and anything left over will go up for sale in the Rum Craft shop too. We have some plans for a couple of other money making possibilities so are hoping to start breaking even with our spending before too long.

In other news we feel very much at home here with the community and have been attending lots of meetings, events and informal chats over a beer or two. We've had various people round for tea, drinks, dinner and rather memorably on Friday night an 'after hours session' which Dragon and Star are referring to as 'the party' which went on til the early hours and left lots of people looking rather delicate on Saturday morning! This week sees our second community association meeting since we arrived and we are looking forward to getting stuck into some of the exciting projects and ideas that are being talked about for making Rum an even more exciting place to visit or even move to.

Predators and parasites

Not a comment on the other islanders - honest!

An observation on some of the other challenges of island living though. Please don't carry on reading if you are eating or of a sensitive disposition!

Here on Rum we share our gorgeous island with some pesky non-human types including microscopic menaces such as ticks and midges and some rather larger nusiances such as the hooded crows (known as 'hoodies') and deer. Not all wildlife is great all the time.

We've been losing eggs to the hoodies, blood and sleep and sanity to the midges and ticks and if we are not very cunning we'll be losing crops to the deer too.

There are solutions - Bonnie has been tick & flea treated, we've been burning endless incence sticks and midge net proofing the static, we have a tick removal tool and everyone reeks of midge repellant and is getting good at self checking for ticks.

We've all had some worms - both us and the pigs! Inevitable with the level of animal handling I guess but a hassle getting the treatment sorted by post and the expense and wait. The pigs had already been wormed so this was the passing of the worms rather than anything new.

I've also been having some internet woes - I can't get into my emails and although it is more or less sorted out now the combination of reduced time to spend online anyway and very reduced electricity means it's been far less straightforward to deal with than it might have been.

Someone said to us when we arrived here that everything feels magnified way beyond the perspective you would have on the mainland. This is partially true just because you are able to give things way more focus than you might have time or energy for in a 'normal' world and partially due to everything genuinely being more of an issue to put right and deal with.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Atypical Home Ed Day

Just about when it was still May we photo documented our day for our annual photo blog. We've been doing this since 2005 and I don't want to miss a year, particularly when our life has changed yet again and Home Education and a day in our lives is different again. As ever there is no such thing as a typical day so here is an atypical day of being Home Educated for Dragon and Star.

Dragon - in his lair!

Star - she'll kill me for this shot!
The day starts in bed! It's daylight here til gone 11pm which means going to sleep doesn't really happen very early. Which means getting up doesn't happen very early either. Not really a problem, just a readjustment of the day - besides Dragon is a teenager in training anyway so laying about in bed til mid morning is only round the corner for him!

Ady heads up to the croft to feed the animals, taking Bonnie the dog with him.

I was busy frosting this carrot cake and cutting up flapjack as I've been selling baking to the teashop on Rum this week

And drinking tea       

Ady returns, carrying the empty pig feed container ready for refilling with kitchen scraps

Dragon tucks in to his two shredded wheat! The cereal was part of various food items kindly donated to us by the group we talked to last week. It was like early Christmas when they left us a food parcel containing all sorts of goodies.

after breakfast a quick 3DS session.
Ady de-midging in Star's room. It's been a really bad week for midges and the static has been a haven for them. We think we have it better midge proofed now.

Bonnie in her crate. We were off to the ferry so left her behind

Down at the pier. The boat is coming in. We've filled up our water containers and are hoping for various deliveries on the ferry.

if you squint you can see the first glimpse of the boat.
the islanders gather to await the arrival

and start unloading the lorry - food supplies for the castle, pet supplies, stock for the Rum shop and more

this ferry also brought kittens!

taking our stash back home

for us it was food from the CoOp and a screwfix direct order 

strimmer line, masking tape, superglue, ear defenders and smoke alarms

we used some of the food shopping supplies to try teaching Bonnie some new tricks - inspired by a book we'd been reading we're trying to teach her jumping!

she's okay at jumping but rather better at just being gorgeous!
time for lunch - home made bread (we're making it every other day), cheese and fruit (our fruit and veg order comes on a Monday)

To the croft! It's a midgey afternoon so we don our midge jackets

can you tell which Wonderer this is?

Ady lights lots of insence sticks to smoke out the static while we're gone to drive the midges away

and we're off! with ditch digging spade (arrived on the boat), pig feed scraps, a tub of clean washing to hang out and some cardboard ready for our next campfire.
Eggs! The hens have started laying, we are now getting 5 a day every day and have already arranged to sell excess to the shop.

they are buggers for roaming outside of their pen though, so Bonnie does lots of rounding them up. We are worried we are losing eggs to the crows (and potentially the hens not laying in the pen).

who needs sheep to herd!

the ducks - if they are laying we are not getting the eggs!
me hanging out the washing

Dragon gathering up the chickens

pig love :)

with Tom & Barbara
on the way back to the static we gathered some broom flowers - I have various plans for recipes using them and they are abundant here just now. Elderflower is just starting to bloom too so there'll be more potions brewing with that soon.

back at the static the kids do some colouring while I read a story to them. Here they are colouring in bookmarks to be sold in the Craft shop.

I got another loaf of bread on

and then back to reading while the kids moved on to drawing

we were all deeply amused that the piece of paper I grabbed to swat a very persistant fly happened to have this written on it.

Dragon's gallery - he is doing pictures of all our animals, it might take awhile!
we got a bit slack with the camera after that but here is how our day ended - after dinner with a film. We've joined Lovefilm and are getting through a couple of films a week.

So - plenty of outside time, some creativity, lots of animals and some baking and brewing, socialising with the other islanders, getting our food parcel on the ferry and a hefty dose of midges. A pretty fair reflection of how most days go here just now.