14th September - Perfect autumn days...and some big storms ahead!

On the Dibidil trail, looking across to the mainland...

...and to Eigg
There have been some perfect autumn days recently.  Walks up to Coire Dubh, on the Dibidil Path or (more ambitiously) across to Harris in the sunshine are like gold dust now though - things are changing and the weather can turn at any moment!  But not only the weather changes - everything on Rum is moving with the seasons.
Baby foal Fraoch ("Heather"), in this picture just a month old
At two-and-a-bit months old, the foal in front of the castle is filling out and becoming a foal teenager. But she still follows her mum and aunt around the field copying everything they do and occasionally kicking up some high jinks of her own (literally).  At the moment, she is doing her regular "I've been shot!" pose collapsed on the ground - it's exhausting growing up! The ponies are getting moved to the field behind the castle instead so soon we won't be able to watch them while we have breakfast.  The baby robins which are everywhere on the island are also getting older, gradually losing their brown spots and starting to get orange fluff on their chests (a bit like teenage boys growing their first "beards").  They are not very shy and will hop up to see what you're doing, staring at you from their tiny black eyes.

The mountains across the "channel" are mostly hidden in mist still, but every now and then one will emerge, then fold back into the clouds.  The heather is out across the island - a medley of different purples - and the rowanberries are bright orange.  The burns are in full spate with all the rain that's come down off the mountains. People are doing the chores that need doing in autumn.  We are hoping to use our fireplace and so we asked "Mr Reese" to chop up some firewood for us - he kindly obliged so we had to go and fetch it in with a trolley last Friday morning.  Three trips back and forth to the woodland behind our house - all done by hand! 

Finding the logs...

and filling up the trolley!
There is no landfill or paper recycling here, so we also lit a bonfire to burn our cardboard collection - it was a cheery sight with the robin that lives behind the castle flitting about watching us.  Other islanders are making jam and preserves and, more urgently, sorting out their (and their animals') accommodation for the winter.  Not everyone here has a proper home yet.  One family is in a static caravan until their house sale in England goes through and they can finally build their croft; another couple is desperately hoping the weather will keep fine enough for them to get their croft finished by November, when their first baby is due - until then they're staying with friends or in their yurt.  Others are repairing their houses (or yurts) and making them wind- and watertight, or arranging to stay with other people temporarily until housing can be found. 
Taking out the rubbish...and keeping warm!
There is other autumn work too going on here, more invisible.  The ghillies are here for the deer cull and most evenings will bring a deer or two off down the mountain, with the Rum ponies to help them.  The Rum ponies have done this work for generations and are bred to it.  The other evening I was coming back from the pier on my bike when I saw the two ponies gently ambling down the lane ahead with the stags tied to their backs, the ghillies leading them.  It was a sight that you could have seen a hundred years ago when the deer were being shot for sport as well as to keep the population stable (the rationale for the cull is that deer left unchecked are a bit like possum in New Zealand - they eat all the vegetation; also, if the weaker-gened stags are not removed, diseased and deformed animals become more common.  But it's also a business - selling venison is important here).  

Bringing a stag down from the mountains
It was an awe-inspiring sight, because I knew the work that had gone into it and the care taken to kill the deer as quickly and painlessly as possible - our resident "hunter"  Marcel is an outstanding shot.  The venison is sold on the island and beyond.  If you are going to eat meat, then it's a good way to eat it - much as if you're going to eat fish, the best way is to go out and catch it yourself, as many people do here.  I am to be sent an eight-foot fishing rod I've inherited from my grandma (I never knew she or my grandad fished!) and one of my many projects is to learn to catch my own mackerel from a sea canoe and try to avoid buying fish that's come off a trawler.  Not quite Lady Monica catching her own tarpon in the Caribbean off a 200 foot yacht - but almost.
So while autumn here is stunningly beautiful it's all about the work as well.  Even the foal will have work to do one day.  Yesterday Marcel visited the ponies, leaving a deer skin on the fence around their field, getting them used to the smell of it.  He was with them for a silent hour, letting them become familiar with him and the dog.  The ponies are not quite tame and not quite wild, but they are friendly.  Our friends met the ponies living wild(er) up at Harris - they were followed by them for quite a way, as they are very curious, but they live their own lives up there with their own social hierarchies - when we went up there was an obvious leader of the group that came to us first, checked us out and made sure we were "safe" before the other ponies could come over.
Teenage foal learning..."that could be me one day!"

I like the way that animals and people live alongside each other here and with their own tasks.  I like knowing that we're all involved in making things happen and everyone has a part to play, even if my part is so far limited to writing a list of "Things I want to learn on Rum" and contributing to the island coffers by spending wisely at the tea shop...and I like the fact that although the island is so beautiful, the beauty of it can change in hours to scary storms. 

Our guests have to leave early because the forecast for the next few days is "Magenta" - winds of up to 60 mph mean that boats might not be able to get here, especially the universally loathed "Bhrusda" - the replacement "ferry" that takes over when our CalMac Loch Nevis is off for her yearly repairs.  This year the repairs are earlier than usual, due to the Nevis being needed at half-term in October, and so "the Brick" as the Bhrusda is lovingly called, is on duty from 14th September.  Mel and I have been checking the weather forecast all week but it only seems to get worse.  Luckily there is another option, the "Orion", a sea safari boat that whizzes across the waves to Mallaig in 45 minutes, as opposed to rolling up and down for six hours while everyone is sick, like the Bhrusda. Our guests have decided to go with the Orion option and we make sure we are at the pier early - the boat is likely to leave fast as the storm approaches.  We are there by 6.45 and the boat arrives just after.  Everyone scrambles on while the boatsman exchanges gossip with our "harbourmaster" Dave in broad Scots that I can't always make out.  Stood on the slippery ramp with their ciggies hanging out of their mouths they exchange cynical remarks about the state of the Bhrusda, the general lateness of tourists and the fact that the ferry company has been selling "trip only" tickets for those who don't want to disembark but just want to have a nice journey around the Small Isles.  "There's not enough places for those who need to get off the islands as it is...although I heard the Bhrusda only picked up six this morning from Eigg, I've got 31 now, there'll be no more room soon.  Can't understand why."  I say that probably it's because the islanders tell everyone not to go on the Bhrusda if they don't want to be stuck in a box in a Force 6 gale for six hours. "Ah, you could be right there at that, but I've no seats left if any more get on."  Two tourists arrive in a sweat, explaining there are still two to come who are straggling.  "Tuh, they said they wanted take some pretty pictures...can't believe it, I told them to pull their fecking finger out and get a move on."  The Orion skipper nods.  "Was there a female with them by any chance?" "Aye, there was." "Ah, well, that explains it.  But you can't swear at females now, can you?"  "I can," volunteers Dave.  "Ah, but that's the Irish in you.  I'm from the Scots mainland, we don't do that kind of thing." "You're never from the mainland Rob. You're just trying to make yourself out a gentleman for this young lady here" (me).

Two more hikers arrive and stand about chatting about who might still be on the island.  We tell them they'd better just get on the boat.  The skipper is now getting worried.  "I know it says 7.30 on the schedule but I need to get off.  There's a storm coming."  And you can see it across the bay - Mallaig and Skye are already covered in cloud. I suggest that I cycle back to the village and tell any stragglers still on their way to hurry up.  "Yeah, tell'em to get the feck on with it or they'll be left here for the next four days."  I pass one sweating hiker who is nearly there.  "The boat's wanting to leave, there's storm coming, is there anyone else?" "Er, my mate wanted to take some pictures of the castle, can you go and pick him up in one of your trucks?" "Um, no, we don't have enough people, sorry..." I continue on, eventually passing the unfortunate man who is already hurrying along. It will take him another 15 minutes at least to get to the boat and I dread to think what reception he'll get!  Some time later, having arrived at the community hall for the Quiz Night, I see the boat departing in the distance...hopefully they'll make the mainland before the storm hits.

Storm's a-coming...


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