A Day at the Races

But no horses were involved! (Or "lil' ponies", as our recent American guests in the cafe said...)

No, instead it's our legs that are aching. We are still only just recovering from the Small Isles Games on Muck last weekend.  This annually observed ritual takes, as I understand it, many forms depending on what island you are on, who attends and the quality of the after-games entertainment.  Last year on Rum I missed it, but Rum was the proud winner of the tug-of-war, coming second to Muck in the other games due to the high number of Muck children taking part (you get a point for everyone who takes part whether adult or child - we think this is very unfair as we only have five children, most of whom are too small to participate...). It sounded like a great day, full of welly-wanging, axe-throwing, three-legged races and a Hill Race for the fitter amongst the islanders.  Only the evening was somewhat overshadowed by the after-games entertainment, namely some Eigg participants drunkenly trashing our benches and driving someone else's car into a ditch...

This year everything was most civilised.  To my surprise, nearly everyone on Rum was planning to go and so early on Saturday morning we encountered the unexpected sight of everyone up, dressed and slogging towards the ferry with huge rucksacks at 8.30 in the morning. Armed with sleeping bags, tents, cookers, changes of clothing, emergency food, cigarettes and dogs the Rum team trudged down the sunny slipway towards a Calmac breakfast and the chance of seeing whales en route for Muck (I mean we were en route, not the whales, although at one point they did seem to be...)

It was a beautiful day and once we had breakfasted we headed up on deck (well, some of us - others took the opportunity to nap in the Calmac cafe or exchange gossip about last year's Games), excited by the opportunity to see Rum from the Other Side.  The Saturday ferry calls at Canna first, then goes round the back of Rum towards Muck before heading to Eigg...a whole different view of our island.  We called at Canna and saw that everyone on the island seemed to be going to Muck - there are only about 12 of them, but normally they don't take part at all, so this was an encouraging sight.  We marvelled at the number of churches on Canna and the strange sight of cows grazing the fields - like a different world compared to Rum - and were to be astonished again by how different Muck is to either...

Rum from the Other Side...
Soon we were heading out past Bloodstone Hill towards the Atlantic coast of Rum.  In the world of exciting marine life, this is where everything happens and we weren't disappointed! Within a few minutes two minke whales had appeared amongst the diving gannets off our coast, seemingly going in opposite directions but clearly visible arcing up in the flat calm surface of the sea.  The Calmac whistle made us all look up but instead of an emergency the captain announced, "Just to let you all know, there's a minke whale off to our left.  To our left..." Passengers who had been near-comatose in the cafe, full of bacon butties and chocolate, hurried up on deck...but by that time they had gone again.  We were very lucky to spot them! Now we just needed some eagles to fly by...

Glen Harris with mausoleum just visible on the left
Gradually we came around the headland of Bloodstone and saw how very different this side of the island is.  The cliffs are gnarled rock, sheer and a pale pink colour in the sunshine, unlike the grassy green boggy landscape on "our" side.  The deep clefts between them invited us to look for caves and eagles perching on the ledges, while the gannets divebombed the waves and flew alongside us in the sun. Out to our right was the Atlantic, where in the far distance we could make out the Uists perhaps, but nothing else...an exhilarating sight when usually our view out to sea is bound by the mainland.  Eventually we came to Harris, the mausoleum just visible as a tiny Lego-type building amidst the mountains, and finally an eagle, even tinier, flying high above Glen Harris and scaring the crows.  By this time though we could see Muck and excitement grew amongst those who, like me, had never been to another Small Isle before.

Approaching Muck harbour, Rum in the background
Muck really is small.  It's about two miles across, with no mountains and the bizarre sight of a fish farm being built outside the harbour.  It's all about farming on Muck generally - a completely different way of life to here.  We speculated whether the fish farms would have to go now that the Small Isles have been declared an MPA (Marine Protected Area) - nobody really knows what this means for the day-to-day practicalities of living on the islands. although we on Rum are very pleased about it - hopefully no more dodgy French trawlers hiding out under Dibidil...

 Shearwaters flew in huge flocks around the ferry as we approached while I looked in astonishment at how imposing Rum is when seen from the water.  We are the biggest of the Small Isles and yet perhaps the least accessible. I thought about how much of the island we could see and how little of it is inhabitable - how hard it is to penetrate into that rocky, boggy interior.  But at the same time, how proud I was to live there.  Perhaps I was becoming a "Rummite" (or "Rummette") after all - or perhaps it was that team spirit asserting itself in preparation for our very own Olympics!

The Rumachs arrive at Muck...
Camp Rum
Getting off the ferry we immediately knew we were somewhere totally different to Rum. The village is all built on a low hill just next to the harbour, all of the houses looking different, some obviously "eco-houses" built almost into the side of the hill, others small stone cottages or wooden sheds containing exciting things: a purpose-built tea-shop and craft room (I can only dream...), a Muck shop with home-grown vegetables and Muck-made artworks, a brand new Community Hall with a library on the mezzanine floor (never mind the library, but a mezzanine! Goodness!), a field of solar panels and a wind turbine, and above all a sense of organisation: we were instantly taken in hand, shown where to go and invited to visit the tea-shop - which Mel and I, having no tent to put up, promptly did.  It was just as well we got in first as pretty soon the whole of Rum and Canna wanted to have lunch...
Tea! And cake!
After tea, we went to explore a little bit before the games commenced, but by 2 pm everyone was milling around the Games Field, in the rain, waiting for it to start.  And soon it did.  A man armed with a megaphone got us all into order: "Men's and ladies' races separate! Form your teams! We will start with the Flat Race! A point for each participant, four points for the winner and three for second place! Are you ready??!!" To our shame only two Rum men lined up for their first race...the rest were too busy smoking and drinking Tennents (just for a change) and despite the Rum ladies urging them on, there was nothing doing.  It was a different story when it came to the ladies' races however - there was hardly room for us all on the start line! Jostling (politely) and full of adrenalin we waited for the whistle...and we were off!
The Men's Flat Race.  Where are the Rum men???
But the Flat Race was nothing compared to what was to come. The "Tattie and Spoon" (egg and spoon in England) came next with Mel nearly second, only to fall at the last hurdle overcome by her own competitive nature ("I should never have looked at what anyone else was doing! It made me drop my egg, um, tattie!").  Certain men in the tattie and spoon frankly disregarded the rules that you had to stop and pick up your tattie if you dropped it, count to 3 and then start again...but we were honourable!
Honourable ladies
By this time we were all on fire to win for Rum. But the next race proved our (and everyone's) undoing...the Sack Race. This was not just any old Sack Race but a "four in a sack" race.  We grouped up into fours, stood in our bags and were convinced we had a great technique...the whistle went and on cue, everyone fell over with their first jump! Within five minutes no-one had advanced more than about a foot...then desperation set in and various groups dragged their sacks to the finish line while another, inspired, put the sack on their heads and ran with it...Meanwhile we were still lying on the ground laughing!



Try again!

Getting ready for the obstacle race...arms OUTSIDE the barrel Lesley...
We hoped to make up for our losses by winning at the Obstacle Course, which followed.  This involved (a) running with a barrel around you, (b) "sledding" where all the team had to march as one while walking on a "sled" and holding the ropes (see picture as it doesn't make sense otherwise!), (c) pushing a team-mate in a wheelbarrow, (d) pushing the whole team on a quad bike, (e) space-hopping to a net and (f) crawling under the net to the finish. It was a punishing routine and although we didn't win, I am proud to relate that we had the only team that managed, under Mel's leadership, to successfully sled as one!
The successful team practises their "sledding" technique - Trudi and Nic are dubious...

...but it worked!

Wheelbarrow Racing
Pushing the quad bike...a well-known Hebridean Sport

The Tug of War should have followed, which we won last year, so we lined up - yes, even the men. This was a point of honour! The tug-of-war was to be Mel's and my last event as we had to go home (Mel was working) with Bonnie the dog (she can't ceilidh)...so we got into place, grasped the rope and...fell over.  The rope had snapped!  While they were waiting for a new one to arrive, we sadly had to leave.  It was now pouring with rain so we sat in the ferry in the "Dog Area", eating chips and going to sleep, while Bonnie took exception to an unnecessarily adorned English Sheepdog ("why are you wearing a stupid bow in your hair?") and children threw cuddly puffins at us (well, one)...it had been an exhausting and wonderful Day Out!

Although we were not there for the evening, reports state that the ceilidh, barbecue and overnighting were lovely despite the heavy rain - so a successful day out was had by all. I was proud of our team and don't think I have laughed so much since coming to Rum...it was great to know that we can literally pull together...even if we do fall over in the process.

That's where we live over there, that is!

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