Friday, 28 February 2014

Living the Dream

Way back when we were planning our WWOOFing adventure we wrote a list of things we'd like our life to have more of, things we'd like to do, see, experience.

A big thing on our list was rearing our own meat. As confirmed carnivores (we may err more towards the omnivore category these days than we used to but we still have meat or fish pretty much every day in some form) but with high ideals of animal welfare we knew that the only possible compromise (and it is still a compromise, I accept that and will ever have a massive amount of respect and admiration for my vegan friends, however much I love bacon!) is to rear as much of the meat in our diets ourselves. This week four of the dinners we'll eat will be Rum venison, Croft 3 chicken, Croft 3 pork or caught of the coast of Rum mackerel. Today for lunch I had Croft 3 foraged Rum bramble jam and our cakes, pancakes and egg based meals are all using our own Croft 3 eggs too. I still season lots of our cooking with dried herbs grown here from seed last year and the first salad of the season won't be too far away.

We're pretty proud of that.

For the last few weeks we've been observing our chickens. From an inital stock of 10 hens and a cockerel we now have a flock of over 40. Some were bred here from our starting birds, some were rehomed from a friend in the village. Last years chicks have slow grown and hit maturity so we have had the first eggs from hens and the cockerels have been starting to find their crowing voices, sparring with each other and mating with the hens. The crowing is fine. I like the noise of cocks growing and we have no neighbours to disturb. But the fighting between themselves is not great and the poor hens were starting to look a bit hunted - every time they sat down they were getting leapt on from behind by one cockerel or another.

So over the last couple of days Ady and I have been watching and picking out the ones we want to keep. The rehomed bantam cock from the village gets to stay - he is father to lots of the young 'uns and is a nice natured, friendly to people cockerel. He handles Bonnie well and keeps the flock in order. Next on the safe list is a mini- Dave, the original cockerel who died over the winter had a son who looks just like him so he gets to stay. Two of the cocks match hens really nicely - a buff coloured one who has hung out with one of the prettier hens since they were tiny chicks and is always to be found with her still. There is a black and white speckledy boy who has a gaggle of about four matching hens and is very pretty so he gets to stay. There is a brown and black cock who hangs around up near us whenever we are our working on the croft. He can stay. That left eight cocks to kill.

So Ady and I went down and spent time this morning feeding them and doing the deed. We got six of the eight - the two who got away eluded us this time but will be for the pot in the next few weeks. We do the deed with respect, kindness, minimum disruption to all of the rest of the birds. We both plucked, Ady gutted and by lunchtime we had six oven ready birds. Four for the freezer and two for our dinner this evening.

They are small, very lean and browner meat than supermarket birds. The flavour is more gamey than bland and is perfect for curries, casseroles and similar but tonight we just roasted them.

Also high on our list of experiences was seeing various sights - wildlife such as golden eagles, red deer, otters, whales - all of which we see regularly here on Rum. And the Northern Lights - an ambition of mine since I was a girl, now shared by the other three. We came close various times while traveling and often slept with the curtains open in the campervan just in case. I'm signed up to text and email alerts and have stayed up late on several occasions in the hopes of a glimpse. But to no avail. Until tonight that is.

It was the kids bedtime when a text and an email came through from two different friends and Ady glanced at the news website to see the aurora was visible in various parts of the UK so we opened the curtains and sure enough there they were! We all put coats and wellies on over pjs and crowded outside onto the pallets to watch the ripples and dancing lights. The colours were not as vivid as I have seen in photos, pale green and pale pinkish but undeniably the northern lights dancing across the sky above our croft.

We watched until they began to fade and we began to shiver so came inside. The kids to watch from their beds and me to sit on the sofa and carry on watching. It clouded over and went pitch dark outside but is now starting to clear again so I will sit awhile longer and hope they return.

Sometimes dreams take a whole lot of chasing. It tends to mean they are all the magical when they finally come true.

Delicious dinner

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

cockerel cull

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Mainland Lite

A mad 22 hours off island.

A put off too long dentist visit for us all - a six month checkup and some slightly overdue dental work for Scarlett. This is the shortest possible trip off the island you can manage I think - leaving Rum at 2pm on Monday and returning at 1135am on Tuesday. Luckily our dentist stays open late to accommodate such things. It meant hiring a car (with four of us this works out marginally cheaper than a return train trip and means we can stock up at the supermarket and not add stress of catching trains to the always slightly fraught nature of a mainland trip), finding somewhere to stay and keeping everything crossed that nothing went wrong with our arrangements.

One friend looked after Bonnie and fed the pigs and poultry for us back on Rum, another friend picked us up at the ferry and ran us most of the way back with all our stuff. We managed to barter a turkey for a bed and breakfast deal in Mallaig. We offset the cost of the car hire and ferry trip by buying some fruit trees, seeds and other bits and pieces that would have been more expensive to source online and get delivered. We used vouchers from online surveys to part pay for our fast food dinner. It was as frugal a trip as possible.

We had a scare that the boat may not run today which could have had us stranded on the mainland until Thursday and worried us a lot. It was a rough crossing - poor Scarlett was seasick, but we got home, spent the rest of the day marching up and down the hill bringing things home and will all sleep very well back in our own beds tonight.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


This time last year we were positively counting the days and googling 'definition of spring' I have always considered winter to be December, January and February, spring to be March, April, May, summer is June, July and August and autumn is September, October and December. I know it's simplistic but spring always seemed to arrive on March 1st or St David's day when my maternal (florist) grandmother would bring my (Welsh) Dad a bunch of daffodils every year when I was a child.

Last year was possibly our most special spring ever. It marked the survival of our first winter. Certainly there was the whole turn, turn, turn of the seasons, excitement of chickens, ducks and geese laying eggs again, pregnant pigs, sowing seeds and nesting wild birds, daffodils blooming, days lengthening and weather improving. But most of all there was the rather less poetic and noble 'up yours' to everyone who said 'well you've not done a winter yet.' because actually, we had.

This year we will mark March 1st again as our second winter accomplished. In many ways more challenging, more testing and more of a milestone. I was trying to think of an example to offer up for surviving a second winter and I think it is like a second baby. In some ways you dread it more; you know what's coming, you recall how much it hurt the first time, you already are aware of the tough bits and frankly are still sleep deprived, barely out of your maternity trousers and not even thinking about your pelvic floor just yet before the next one is imminent! In other ways you are more prepared and ready to face it head on this time, you have ideas of how you might do it better this time, be more confident and assertive about your birthplan this time around. If you have more than one child this will resonate (hopefully, I am aiming to reach at least some of my target audience with this!), if you don't then maybe you will have had to take your driving test twice, or something....

Anyway, we are edging ever closer to the end of winter 2013/14. It has been universally dreadful across the whole of the UK. It is not loosening it's grip just yet - we had snow not two weeks ago, the last 24 hours have seen sufficient gale force winds to have the wind turbine tethered and visiting friends both last night and this afternoon commenting on it being pretty extreme in the static - all four of us assured them this was 'nothing compared to some of the storms this winter'.

This evening I have been putting together the rota for our volunteer community run Sunday teashop on the island, this afternoon I thumbed through my foraging book to see what is coming into season first, this week we sold our first goose eggs of the season and we are now eying up our wood store and appraising whether it will last the x remaining weeks rather than months of log burning. The curlew is calling, the cormorant that hangs out around the river at this time of year is back and word on the street is that Cadburys Creme Eggs are coming soon to Rum Shop.

Spring.... reckon it's on the verge of springing.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Adventures in cob

And so they begin :)

When we first moved to Rum it was our intention to live in our static caravan for a short while until we built a house. We'd always felt it was really important to get to know the location properly before actually committing to building so planned a full year - seeing where the sun rose and set, where it was most windy and most sheltered, where never dried out during the winter and what happened to ditches, rivers and burns over the course of a year.

Our caravan is sited on the first flattish bit of the croft, oriented east-west to take the smallest amount of the winds. We put a fair bit of thought into it but after nearly 2 years I can give you a full list of the things I would change it I brought it here again (not that I would ever, EVER bring it here again!). It would not put it as high up the croft as it is, it is the biggest pain carrying every single thing up that hill, from 47kg gas bottles to sacks of potatoes and firewood, I estimate I have climbed that muddy hill several thousand times in 2 years, almost always carrying something heavy!. I would keep it east-west as it does indeed not then bear the brunt of the winds but I would spin it round 180 degrees so that the bedrooms are on the south side and the kitchen on the north side. This would mean the bedrooms would get sun, even in winter and probably be less damp and condensation-y and the fridge and sink with storage underneath would be cooler and shaded. Those are the sorts of things you want to have occur to you before you built something permanent!

So we planned a timber framed kit house and even had provisional chat with the local planning department about location and style. We talked to local builders about best siting within the croft and took advice from all corners about materials, design, style, supplier etc. We listened to everyone and everything they had to say and took it all on board. We had quotes for metal agricultural style buildings, log cabins and huts. I think we tried the patience of pretty much everyone as they all seemed to give up on us and stop believing we had any intention of building anything. Meanwhile we quietly observed the land and stuck the odd post in here and there to mark places. Places that had stunning views or made us feel right. We stood facing east in the early morning, west at sunset, south overlooking the river when it was in spate, running fast and furious or just trickling along. We thought about power, water, sanitation. We pondered wind, rain, sun.

For financial reasons (our house not selling) the conventional route to building a house didn't happen. For philosophical reasons a conventional route to building a house is probably not the right path for us anyway. When we set off on this adventure a house build was never part of our plans but having had it come up we are determined that we make the most of the opportunity and build something that reflects us, is beautiful, fits into it's surroundings and is as much of an adventure and learning opportunity to build as possible.

We have a bookcase full of books on green building, regularly turn down page corners on lovely houses in Permaculture Magazine, Mother Earth Magazine and other such publications and Ady and I are always emailing each other links to websites and news articles about alternative buildings. We have looked at straw bale, wattle and daub, log cabins, cordwood, earthships....The one we keep coming back to us cob. For various reasons it speaks to us - the idea that anyone can build with cob, from young children to more mature people, it is not as physical a build as some other options. There is much scope for artistic freedom, cob is a material you can sculpt with, building both the external structure but also the internal features. It seems pretty forgiving - there are some basic rules from which you can't deviate but after that once you understand it there is no need for full on technical engineering level skills. It is properly green - pretty much everything we need is already right here for us to use. It is low cost high labour which pretty much suits our budget and the large number of family, friends and volunteers who want to come and help out.

Finally there is something incredibly poetic about the idea of finding the best possible use ever for all that mud.

So, we're plowing our way through a couple of books on all the grown up, proper stuff we need to understand. We've booked ourselves on a course to go and learn more of the really important stuff. We've been testing our soil, making mixtures up and measuring them for shrinkage, drying times, hardness once set and so on. We have been digging test holes in various places on the croft and doing lots and lots of getting our hands dirty.

The next step is to actually build something. Something small so that if it goes wrong we have only made a small mistake, but something useful so that we are investing our time wisely into both research and developing our croft. So we're building a chicken house. We have a deadline of the cob course so that we can take along our practical experience to know where we need to learn the most.

A big decision was what to use for the roof - we don't want to spend on materials for this and we have plenty of recycled galvanised metal sheets on the croft so they are the logical choice. We need to better understand how the roof will all work which is the current indoors research we are working on.

Meanwhile we gathered the sheets, laid them out and measured them as these are the dictator of the size and shape of our chicken house. That done we worked out the right location for the chicken house - close to where they currently are houses, near to where we sell from, close to a water source and somewhere on a slight slope where drainage will be easy to organise. We drew a set of plans and then measured and marked out the site.

The next step is to dig out the trench which will be the foundation. That is planned for this weekend - I'll let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Optimism as a curse

Friends have pointed out to me before that my optimism can be dangerous. Only ever seeing the good side of things and approaching the world with an unshakable belief that everything will be fine can be setting yourself up for a fall. The fact is that sometimes bad things do happen and no amount of positive thinking is going to make everything ok.

I have in the past been guilty of sticking my fingers in my ears and 'la-la-la not listening' over the voices in my own head telling me to sort stuff out, deal with things, read the warning signs that everything is not ok. Not often and never with any really dire consequences. In the main my tendency towards an airy 'it'll al be fine' response is proved right, but there are times when I have had to stop, face facts and deal with things like a grown up. Not often, obviously, or I'd not be where I am right now, but just sometimes.

Right at the moment we are still enough in the tough winter bit of the year for living conditions to be hard, have just forked out spare funds for this month, next month and the month after on booking a trip off to visit friends and attend a cob course, are in the limbo period between winkle picking and the tourist season / honesty larder income of eggs, jams and crafts. And then the car goes and dies.A week before our biggest ever animal feed bills come in (we have an account so are paying now for the deliveries we had pre Christmas when we were worried about ferries being cancelled and still had six pigs all hungry). Ouch.

We are reminded that even here, in our chosen life away from consumerism and credit card bills there are still times when finances catch up with us and everything just feels a little bit like a house of cards.

So, natural optimism needs to be mixed with a healthy dose of realism and a side order of practicality and some serious consideration as to how to make it all work out. We have some ideas, I'll let you know how they pan out.

In other news today we spent a couple of hours helping a friend pack up a van ready to start moving him and his stuff off Rum. We are excited for him starting a new life but it's been a tough day to keep smiling.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

coffee on the sporan

DSCF9345 by nicgee
DSCF9345, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Kinloch Bay

DSCF9348 by nicgee
DSCF9348, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

snowy peaks on the the mainland

DSCF9350 by nicgee
DSCF9350, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Sunny February Sunday

DSCF9358 by nicgee
DSCF9358, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Happy Second Yes-iversary!

IDSCF9359 by nicgee
It's been a gorgeous day today, as the photos above show - some stunning shots of the view from the sporran as Ady and I enjoyed morning coffee out there today, of Kinloch Bay, the rocky shore and the sea looking towards the snowy peaks on the mainland.

We celebrated today with a beer on the bench down beside the sea our second 'yes-iversary'. It's two years ago today we came to Rum for our interview for the croft and to move here. After a fairly tough grilling from a panel of interviewers we were told 'Yes. We think it will be a challenge, but we think you're up to it'. They had no idea how many times those words would ring in our ears over the next two years. And, I suspect beyond!

A stunningly beautiful February day, low sun in the sky making the remaining snow on the peaks glisten and the sea shine, two loads of laundry washed and line dried, chats with fellow islanders we encountered along the way as we walked from the croft to the pier, to the village and home again. We celebrated and toasted our life here, excitedly got email confirmation of our places on the cob course in a couple of months and discussed plans, hopes and dreams. We watched a sea eagle circle over the peaks, oystercatchers, geese and divers in the loch and a pair of ravens noisily fly overhead.

But our car, which we bought hurriedly in the very brief window of packing our lives up and moving from Sussex to Rum back in 2012 has finally died. It's been ailing for almost our entire time living here and despite best efforts of the mechanically minded few here (we do not number among them!) and a bit of trying various things I think it has now drive it's last. We will bring it to the croft where it will serve purpose as a feedstore for which is will be perfect - dry, almost rodent proof and of course spares such as the batteries will be of great use for electric fencing. But life without a vehicle for us will very quickly prove incredibly difficult. Not least groceries, jerry cans of petrol and the bulk buy purchases we make of flour etc, we also have regular deliveries of animal feed and fencing. Not to mention getting firewood up to the croft. 

I suspect the coming week will be rather dominated by replacement vehicle sourcing...

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Lifelong Learning

This week I joined a new facebook group on freedom in education. It popped up as a suggested group for me and as I miss hanging out with other Home Educators in real life I thought I'd hang out with some online. Some of my best friends are fellow Home Educators but we have all been friends a long time, some of them have chosen school, pretty much all of us are secure in our educational choices and it tends to not be something we talk about any more - just the common factor which brought us together in the first place but long since lost as shared memories and years of friendship take over as the reason we are in contact.

Interestingly I have not really contributed to any discussions about Home Education but have had several chats about island life, WWOOFing, traveling and our general lifestyle. Also this week I answered some FAQs about Life On Rum for a website and I spent some real life time with one of our newest residents so have been doing lots of talking about what it's like to live here rather than anything to do with Home Education.

I actually often forget we Home Educate as it has long since ceased to be the interesting thing about our family to outsiders and it has faded into one of the many things we do as a family which makes us us rather than the single defining thing. Davies and Scarlett are constantly learning but in the same way as Ady and I are rather than any contrived, planned manner.

This week I have been learning more about cob house building, I had my first go on a spinning wheel and I learnt how to knit a sock. Ady has been researching how to provide heating, hot water and cooking for a small cob dwelling using wood rather than bottled gas or other fossil fuels. All self directed and driven by a need or a desire to learn. Davies and Scarlett's learning is driven by the same motivators - a need or a desire. I can't list everything they have learnt this week or even all the methods by which they have learned in just the same way as I would struggle to do so for myself - I know there have been external inputs such as radio, books, the internet - some accidental stumbling upon, some deliberate research. There has been chance encounters with people, conversation, incidents and happenings. Our children learn in the same way that we do, by living alongside us and dealing with things as they come up. There will be gaps certainly, but they will be filled as and when necessary by either necessity or curiosity.

I do know that this week Davies completed a book for Scarlett as a valentines gift (we ignored the romantic love association and all gave each other gifts on St Valentines Day - a mix of handmade and shop bought) and a comic strip to go in the island newsletter, he made a birthday card and used his initiative when the wind turbine was spinning so fast it overloaded the battery and he had to work out what to do as we were all out.

I know that Scarlett spent time coming up with ideas for gifts for everyone and then set about making them - Davies got chocolates, I got a handcarved dibber complete with Mummy carved into the handle and Ady got a catapault for shooting at crows, again handcarved and decorated. She also made treats for Bonnie and Humphrey (her hamster), worked out how old Humphrey is in hamster years, came to work with me and insisted on working out all of the change to give people from the till in her head. She also struck a deal with the shop owner to earn a little walnut deer head badge that she had been coveting.

If necessity is the mother of invention then maybe curiosity should be the mother of education...

I made this - a two part series!

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

My man and my girl off to feed the animals

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Our Herman cake - apple and cinnamon

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Ady's view over his coffee cup

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

It may be winter outside...

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

You got to have faith

Davies and I had an interesting chat the other day about what people believe. He was telling me about a TV programme he'd caught a bit of when we were on the mainland recently. It sounded like either a fanatical religious show or something about conspiracy theories but he said there were some interesting ideas mooted in it.

I don't have any religious beliefs myself but I have always striven to ensure Davies and Scarlett are above all taught tolerance, respect and acceptance of others beliefs (by example, I don't set out to 'teach' any other way) and given them as many opportunities as possible to learn about other views. We have friends of all different faiths and have always encouraged the children to be curious and interested in different religions, festivals, world views and philosophies.

I may not hold any religious beliefs but that does not mean I do not have a spiritual side and I am often touched by a feeling of being only a tiny wee part of something much bigger and greater and more significant than me, particularly since moving to Rum. I catch myself standing and staring often, seeing the beauty in nature and the world around me.

I recently read something that I wanted to share, written by Lynn R. Miller. I found it so moving and beautiful that I had to read it aloud to Ady. It resonated so clearly with me that I wanted to write it here too.
Farming has always worked best as part craft, part mystery. On our ranch we use an open implement shed to stable my works horses. During the summer months, while I harness my teams of horses, I notice the tops of the stalls lined with barn swallows preening and watching. When I go into the field with a team of horses and an implement, those swallows follow in an undulating scattered cloud. It is bliss to do good work with a gentle contented team of horses on land of increasing fertility and crowned by a bug harvesting halo of happy swallows. As the morning sunlight shimmers off their flitting bird bodies and the pungent odours of field and horses and forage draw me in I know I'm where I'd rather be doing what I'd rather do. I know I'm in my church.

looking east

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Looking south west from above Croft 3

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

From above

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Croft 3

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

It snowed!

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Monday, 10 February 2014


I'm not sure if I've explained about the polytunnel on here before. It is not actually our polytunnel although it is on our croft. It is a Community Polytunnel, purchased with grant funding a couple of years ago to boost local food production and greater island self sufficiency.

Sadly once it arrived it found itself homeless when the intended plot became no longer available so we offered it a spot on Croft 3. Holes were dug by various folk and the actual polytunnel went up over two weekends with a selection of community members and visiting volunteers.It was a real team effort and toasted with an official opening and fizz once it was finally up and done. Since then we have done a lot of maintenance on it, a friend helped us dig some trenches around it last summer, Ady laid down lots of stone around the entrance and a team of Venture Scouts came over last autumn and laid a path down the centre of it. It is a community polytunnel in the sense that it was a real community project building it, getting it to Croft 3 and putting it up.

It is a fairly big polytunnel and the idea was that 10 people took a plot each in it to allow everyone in the community who wanted to, to take a space to grow stuff. It has been woefully underused for various reasons. The biggest being that Croft 3 is a mile outside of the village and so visiting to water twice a day during the summer doesn't easily fit into most people's day. Added to that the people who want to grow food mostly already have a polytunnel or version of something similar in their garden already. This meant that last year we had half the polytunnel at our disposal as the other half was used by our Croft 2 neighbours. Until someone else takes a plot we will continue to make use of the space, although we'd very gladly welcome some other users of the polytunnel should anyone wish to come along and grow things.

Through the winter it took a real battering. All four of the doors have been damaged with one blowing right off and across the crofts. The polythene has come loose and the hot spot tape has come off of the bars and is dangling off. Structurally it needs a fair bit of making good which we we attend to over the coming weeks. Inside too it was a bit bleak - rats had gotten to my seeds and eaten loads of them, various things had been blown over, there were puddles in places and I kept going in with the intention of sorting it out and just getting depressed at the state of it and leaving again.

Ady spent some time in there yesterday morning while I was at work and a bit more time this morning and then we both spent the afternoon in there. Until someone else wants a plot we have planned to use half again this year and created five areas. One is our permanent plot which has strawberries directly into the ground. The next is an area with lots of fish boxes and other shallow trays into which we will plant salad. We will start now and keep sowing every 2 weeks on rotation which should provide salad right through the season. Next is the tomato area. Last year we didn't do that well with tomatoes, despite planting loads. Ady thinks we didn't water enough so I will be better at that this year. The next area is filled with containers and will probably be for things like carrots and other roots which won't do as well outside. We may also do some peas there too. Finally the last section has tables and shelves and will be the work area where we plant and sow things but also the seedling nursery where things are started off and brought on before being moved outside or into the correct place in the polytunnel.

It now looks orderly and ready to go to work in once more in there and I am looking forward to spending some time in there over the next few weeks and getting things started.

planting and sowing, bringing on seedlings and tending stuff workspace

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

the undecided area (probably stuff in containers, maybe peas and beans) and potting area in the rear

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

strawberrries (lavender in containers at the back)

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

salad and tomato area

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!

When we were WWOOFing on Eigg we asked our host Neil what the worst thing about his life was. We expected the usual perceived island life challenges - no Tesco, no cinema, lack of access to fast food and takeaways. Or maybe the usual farmers lament of no money, a hard life hard luck story told in a Scottish crofters heavy accent bemoaning the low price of beef, the high price of cattle feed. The answer we got was a flat, single word.


It was a common theme throughout our year traveling. We heard tales of community members who had finally left their romantic woodland dwellings due to the mud. To an organic veg box supplier who spent the entire winter walking on pallets, sometimes three deep where they kept sinking into the mud. We wore mud, got stuck in the mud, slipped over in the mud.

Now it is a characteristic of our lives. We leave the front door in clean clothes and within a matter of four or five steps you have splashes of mud up to waist height no matter how softly you tread. I do not own a single pair of jeans which does not have ingrained mud stains on knee and bum from at least one slipping over incident while wearing them. I have lost a boot in the mud on more than one occasion and it proves a daily challenge to get up and down the hill, almost always carrying something heavy while wading through the mud.

Permaculture principles - and our own philosophy - tell us to view every problem as a potential solution, every waste as a potential resource and to be ever alert for those silver linings. This week we have been learning more about the possibility of turning that mud into a building material and using the mud, along with the sandy areas around the ditches and burns, and the reeds and rushes into cob. And then using that cob to build with.

We've been out digging holes, working out the top soil and the subsoil and where each one starts and finishes. We have been taking samples, playing with the mud, putting it in jars and shaking them to time the sediment settling rates, we've been making bricks and balls and sausages and dropping them, leaving them to dry and harden.

So far it all looks quite promising. We have some test bricks drying down in the polytunnel and some plans afoot to build a little chicken house to test it more.

Turns out that mud could be an asset after all...

Our kingdom

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

test holes

DSCF9329 by nicgee
DSCF9329, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

the crack test

DSCF9328 by nicgee
DSCF9328, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF9327 by nicgee
DSCF9327, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

squeeze it, roll it, pat it, love it!

shake it like a polaroid picture

DSCF9323 by nicgee
DSCF9323, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF9322 by nicgee
DSCF9322, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Thursday, 6 February 2014


I love books. No actually I LOVE books. I was an early reader and I love words. I love reading them, writing them, speaking them and even singing them. I love poetry, stories, song lyrics, fact and fiction. I worked for 5 years in our local library before we went WWOOFing and being surrounded by books was a joy.

At every stage of my life I have turned to books to support, encourage, educate and entertain me. As a child my friends were characters from Enid Blyton novels who were three dimensional in a way that TV characters never were. As an adult I still read a constant flow of fiction and miss the people I have come to know through the pages once the book is finished. In parenting, Home Educating, traveling, living off grid, growing food, keeping livestock, learning about permaculture have been books at ever stage to mark my ideas, inspirations and learning journeys.

In the Great Declutter of 2010 when we were preparing to go WWOOFing we all struggled to say goodbye to various things. For me it was books. I sold lots at car boot sales but found myself wanting to hand over more than just the book to the buyer in that grassy Sunday morning pitch. I talked to teachers, parents and children as they handed over 20p and I handed over a book. I held Book Sale Open Days at our house where we supplied a steady stream of tea and cakes and friends came by to peruse our bookshelves and take armfuls away. The remainder of books that we simply could not be parted from went into storage and are now here with us on Rum. Even in our incredibly minimalistic lifestyle in our caravan we still have a three tier bookcase and books in all three bedrooms. Plus we actually have a kindle now....

When we were planning our travels I embarked on a reading adventure first, seeking out as many books as I could find about people treading similar paths. I have a listmania list of the best reads from that period at Life Changing Years

I have spent most of today curled up on the sofa drinking copious cups of tea and reading well over half of The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage: The Real Goods Solar Living Book. It's been one of those reads so exciting, so inspiring that I have stopped at least five times to read a passage or two aloud to anyone willing to listen. I have been marking pages with post it notes and taking notes to research things. One of those reads where you want meet the author to thank them personally. (I have a habit of thanking authors by email at least, and so far they have all emailed back :) My best author moment ever remains meeting Eric Maddern)

I'm intending to compile another amazon list of all the books currently getting well thumbed as we plan a self build but wanted to share this recommendation.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Soul Feeding

It's been a lovely February day today. Not particularly sunny but it's stayed dry and still all day and been perfect for getting outside, getting things done and starting to feel the promise of spring in the air.

We got some laundry done which still has a massive novelty factor after nearly 3 years without a washing machine that is neither coin operated or a long way from home. Ady fixed a couple of broken slats on one of the pallets surrounding the static, did some repair work to the log burner flue and generally tidied up a bit. I took my axe and a pocketful of nails, some netting, a hammer, a ball of twine and my penknife and headed down to the raised beds. My autumn sowing of garlic has already come up with green shoots and is getting eaten by the chickens. I am not entirely sure how it will fare coming up so early really but want to give it a chance rather than let it be chicken feed! I always did autumn sowings of onion and garlic down in our south coast allotment and they did far better than the spring sowings which tended to bolt and catch up above ground but be smaller and less sweet below ground in the bulbs. This was garlic we had had in the kitchen which had sprouted so cost us pence and was worth a punt. I had another bagful to plant out today too and will do at least two more successive sowings over the next few weeks so I can compare results.

I cut down some long straight switches of wood - some was alder, some was hazel, from some coppiced trees. Very green and easy to work with and bend, perfect to make netting supports. I tried with a couple of different designs and think the hoops work best and will probably be most wind resistant. I will see how they all fare over the next few weeks but have cut down enough switches to net all ten of my current raised beds, three of which now have garlic in.
I have been given some more wood which will make more raised beds, I'd like another ten at least, plus I have earmarked another six wire mesh panels to create another cage like our fruit cage. I think we will make a deer proof orchard tree area with them, just need to decide where. I have my first stash of seeds ready to start planting in the polytunnel but first it needs a really good tidy up and sort out in there. It did not fare well in the winter storms, one door has come off completely, all three of the others are loose. The heat tape is dangling in all areas as the polythene is too loose and a couple of the support struts need further supporting. A rat got all my seeds and various things have been blown about. I need to spend a good couple of days in there working methodically through all of these things and creating a nice space to be in again - at the moment it is more of a scene of devastation and makes me feel sad to be in.

The fruit cage netted cover needs attention too but we had to fix the gate on by tieing it during storms so that needs fixing so that it opens and closes and then I can get in there to attend to that. One good day outside down in the growing area and I am re-enthused to get all these things done. It's forecast to rain tomorrow - I may need reminding of this energy again when it is dry, although I can get in the polytunnel in the rain...

While working down in the raised beds the birds were all around me, mostly the chickens as they love to come and scratch around when you are digging, in search of worms and anything else interesting you may turn up. We have a LOT of cockerels from the massive numbers of chicks we had last year and they are all suddenly finding their voices. The most cockerels we have ever kept for any length of time was four bantams back in our garden in Sussex, it was only when keeping them I realised that every cockerel has his own individual crow, like a theme tune. They have different numbers of syllables and each beat can last a different length. It is not just the standard cock-a-doodle-doo. We lost our original Croft 3 cock during this winter but will be keeping the current king of the croft - Elliot, a refugee from the village. Of the new cockerels we will keep a further three I think, in our chicken keeping experience keeping a couple of extras means they stay a bit less feisty and dominant and keep their attention on the hens and each other. With such a large area to roam there is no real worry about having extra boys and they cost so little to keep. We have been watching them today and deciding which will be keepers - there is a speckeldy boy who looks like his dad Dave so he will be staying, a pretty black and white boy who has a matching hen and there is a creamy one who has a lot of character. There are lots of traditional looking rooster bantams too but I think they are all destined for dinner! We will give them a couple more months of fattening up and enjoying the free range lifestyle before we start to despatch and process them. It was lovely being down among them today and listening to the boys all finding their crows and practising them in a sort of male voice choir.


Untitled by nicgee 

design modification

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Raised bed bird protection

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Saturday morning commute!

This is Scarlett and I leaving home on Saturday morning for my two hour shift at the Post Office. It was one of the prettiest Rum mornings we've seen (and we've seen a lot of pretty Rum mornings).
Untitled by nicgee

Monday, 3 February 2014

A little wind obsessed

I have a dim memory of a picture book I had as a child, it had various stories including one about Bluebeard so I assume it was a retelling of myths, legends and folktales. There was one about a zephyr which was a new word for me and the picture was of a whirling cloud-like little stormy wind with a cross look on his face. I don't recall all of the story but I think it was a version of the Hyacinth and Apollo tale.

I have always been a bit snooty about the anthropomorphism of animals that children's books and TV promotes but here on Rum I find myself joining in with the attributing characteristics to the weather, the landscape and the island itself that we all seem to do. The wind certainly feels as though it has been playing with us a little this weekend. We have had the wind turbine tied up twice as it has been so windy we feared it getting damaged. Yesterday we had so much energy from it we had to plug in an electric heater to dump some of the load to prevent the battery overloading

We are in ferry disruption territory again; Saturdays was late, todays was cancelled altogether and tomorrow we are getting one instead of two. Very high tides have meant the sea is washing over the shore road and last night was another of the nights where we kept being woken by the wind rattling the walls, shaking the roof and drumming at the windows. We have had some impressive snowfalls up on the peaks and on Sunday when I was chopping firewood the logs kept getting blown over before I could swing the axe to chop them!

All of this has meant nice amounts of indoor time though. On Saturday we watched the rugby along with a few others at someone's house. On Sunday Ady went to watch some more, the children and I having tried and failed to understand what was going on at all. Davies confessed to me that he doesn't really understand most sports - I agreed, I don't either. We have spent time today doing a large jigsaw puzzle lent to us by another islander from his large puzzle collection. It meant we had dinner on laps as it is spread out on the table but it was a very nice way to spend the afternoon. Another friend came round for a cup of tea and the visit lasted until after wine o'clock so she stayed for a glass of that too. Scarlett came to work with me on Saturday morning, Davies and I went down to join in with the music practice on Saturday evening so I enjoyed a walk down to the village and back with each of them at different times of day. Scarlett and I marveled at the snowfall in the early morning sunshine and talked about age differences between couples. Davies and I were awestruck by the stars and discussed playing musical instruments and ways of learning to do so.

While all this is going on we are planning for the coming months ahead and getting excited about adventures to come this summer.