Eight days a week

 As the days get longer, tempers get shorter - at least as far as this particular resident of Rum is concerned. I remember this from last year. Spring is on its way - but not quite there yet; tourists are starting to visit - but we're not quite prepared for them; those last-minute jobs that need to be done before the season starts (little things like mending the electricity, stopping the castle flooding and filling the giant potholes in the roads that winter storms have caused) are living up to their name and the last minute is ticking unstoppably on...in fact those sixty seconds appear to have expanded into something like a couple of months, and we still can't fit everything in. Even if it did feel as though we'd had an eight-day week this week, with two sunrises in the course of a few hours on Friday...

But things are happening. And it's not just the strange appearances in the sky that herald the start of spring (besides the solar eclipse, Rum had its first northern lights since we've been here, although we didn't notice, due to falling into a deep slumber at 10 pm and not waking till 8 the next morning...we had a good excuse though...). The frayed tempers, frantic organising and general sense of underlying panic are just the price we pay for Getting Things Done - as though we'd suddenly been hit by a burst of sudden energy that we're not really sure what to do with. Also, of course, they are down to Rum itself.

Eclipse skies

Over the past few weeks I've noticed that all of us here talk about Rum as if it were an entity in its own right, with an overpowering personality, capricious moods (oh yeah) and the ability to throw you off your course just as you were getting comfortable. Comfortable? We can't have that! It'll be complacency next! We groan and sometimes want to throw things back at this island that throws so much at us; but in the next minute, Rum does what it always does and entrances us with its wonders, so that part of us thinks we can never leave.

This past week, we've veered between exhaustion and exasperation on the one hand and exhilaration and excitement on the other. And some general "just nice" stuff in between. Gearing up for the season to start, and for the Rum Open Day on Tuesday, some of us launched ourselves at the Village Hall on Saturday, to remove the months of mud, cigarette ends, bits of old candle, sweet wrappers, broken toys and empty wine bottles that have accumulated there over the winter. The usual suspects turned up - Claire, Nicola, Sean, Debs, Trudi and eventually Mike joined Mel and me in a determined assault on the chaos. I scrubbed the fridge and freezer, cleaned the oven and did my best to create a kitchen that doesn't offend against any hygiene regulations, while Nicola cleaned all the windows til they sparkled, Claire painted the toilet doors and Mel donned full protective apparel to clean the toilets themselves. Meanwhile Debs scrubbed the stage, Trudi rearranged and polished all the furniture and Sean moved the internet to the pulpit which unaccountably lives in the hall, so that we have re-christened the internet station the "Pulpanet".

The decking outside the hall - now clean and fit for eclipse-watchers!
It was a cold sunny day and after a while, as rubbish bags collected and wood began to shine, the hall began to look like an inviting and even cosy space again. With a sense of triumph we cooked a meal for us all and ate it by candle-light in the hall, feeling not only slightly smug but also that nearly forgotten sense of what it's like to do something as a team on Rum and to enjoy celebrating our achievement with each other, not just alone. And it paid off - on Tuesday, as the visitors arrived and Steve and I served the lunch we'd made for them (baking and cooking frantically on Monday), our guests from Fort William, Skye and further afield seemed to feel at ease and told us how much they were enjoying seeing our wonderful island. True, they had wonderful weather and - a bonus - saw a sea eagle after they'd been on the castle tour - how could they resist us after that? But I'd forgotten how nice it is to see people from "the outside" and see how much they marvel at Rum and at our ability, which I sometimes doubt, to live here. I feel the usual pride mixed with a need to tell them what it's like when the sun isn't shining - but also a need to see myself through their eyes, and to wonder at what we've managed to achieve since being here. It gives us a way of measuring ourselves - how far we've come, where we might be heading.

FAM event (Open Day) in our shiny Village Hall
But I'd forgotten how truly exhausting it is to run the tea-shop...a taste of things to come!

On Wednesday I thought I might start to relax, and a hot sunny day led to me taking an adventurous route off-piste, leaving the Nature Trail to find my way across the glen - sploshing through the bog and the overflowing burns, I realised after about a mile that I was never going to make it all the way to the junction. Nonetheless, it was the first time I'd been on a "new" path for a while, and I felt that excitement mingled with apprehension that still accompanies me when I go off the beaten track (although all the tracks here are beaten, usually by deer or goats; it's how they come into existence in the first place). Returning to the castle, I was all set to sit and drink tea and fall asleep over my book - but Rum had other plans. "Mind if I just come up and test the cooker, Em?" Colin greeted me. Within a few minutes, I was learning that our cooker - which Colin only installed twenty months ago, when I first arrived - has now met its fate. Colin is finally condemning it! "It's giving off poisonous levels of gas," I was informed.
"Oh, dear," I murmured. I looked at Colin despairingly. "How am I going to cook?" I had visions of my cake-based livelihood slipping away...
"I'll see what I can do," promised Colin.
For the next couple of hours he ran back and forth telephoning various people, coming back to re-test things and tell me about his progress with the oven suppliers. Then the fire alarm went off.
Colin flew into a panic looking for Mel, who was looking for the room that the alarm had gone off in (with twenty bedrooms or so, it's not always easy to remember which room is which). Meanwhile I ambled gently down the corridor, inured to these false alarms - I should definitely try to feel a greater sense of urgency, but it's hard when the usual reason for the deafening sirens going off is "There's a spider in the alarm box".
And so the day went on. The next day was lively too. We were expecting the Friends to arrive (Friends of Kinloch Castle), a little group who tend to take over the island for a few days cleaning, tidying and asking lots of questions about what's going to happen next to the castle, the community and Rum. We were all slightly nervous; that view from the outside and that wonderful enthusiasm that can be so encouraging, can also be daunting; maybe this is how old-timer residents on the island feel when people like us, who've been here for only a matter of minutes really (two years is nothing much on Rum) make excited suggestions about how things could be different...I'd been mentally preparing myself for their arrival, while physically getting the hostel ready for them. Among other chores, I'd been enlisted to clean a freezer that had been left by Billy and the contractors and had defrosted itself and filled up with stinking water. Mel would have done it but "I'm not tall enough," she said. Just as I was coming to deal with it, dressed in an ancient fleece and armed with bits of old sponge, poor Colin came running down the corridor towards me. "Take a look at this!" he cried. The laundry room was flooding with water and more water was pouring out of a cracked in-pipe. I broomed and mopped the water away, while Colin wound reels of gaffer tape around the offending area. Then the Friends started to arrive...
Having dealt with the broken washing machine, the malodorous freezer and the arrival of our visitors, I thought I could shut myself into the study and get on with some work. But just then Mel turned up on the quad bike with a trailer of boxes - it was boat day, and the Co-op order had arrived. I dragged on my boots again and we lugged the heavy boxes upstairs, scissored through the twine they use to tie them up and discovered that there must be someone new on the Co-op team. Not only were there two of everything I'd ordered, but our shopping was packed in the most unusual fashion, with pesto next to butter and biscuits next to washing up liquid and frozen chips. The Co-op had also sent several packets of biscuits we hadn't ordered; a nice touch, probably because they didn't have something else that was on the list; they like to compensate us for these things, but it didn't make up for the chaos that was now ensuing. The corridor was full of boxes, the kitchen was full of things that needed to be put away, and seeing that I was on the verge of tears, Mel kindly volunteered to re-organise the freezer for me. Then she went back to work. I sipped my tea thoughtfully, looking out of the window and noticing there was a rusty iron skip outside the castle...why? Half an hour later a lorry came and took the skip away. A van bearing the name "FilPump" also stood outside the castle for a few hours – I still don't know who it belonged to...

Eventually I got the flat into some kind of order, but just as Mel got back from the hostel and had started drinking her tea the buzzer rang on the flat...during the enthusiastic cleaning that the Friends had been doing in the castle, one of the leaves of the dining room table had come loose and part of the electoliere that stands on the table had broken...Then it was time to go and get our veg from the shop in the rain. So we did that, and decided to have chips for tea – it seemed the only way. But Rum had one more surprise in store ( though by this time it wasn't really surprising) – just as we had got comfortably into our viewing of "The Good Wife" and the plot was developing nicely, the power went off. All around the village. The hydro has stopped working properly...so I washed up with my headtorch on and decided to give up on trying to relax. Sleep seemed the only thing to do...

A new road...

These are the things that can dominate our days at times - seemingly little things that can make you want to tear your hair out, or more likely just go to sleep. And this was why we missed the Northern lights. But the end of the week made up for everything. This is where the exhilaration comes into it...

Besides the eclipse, which we watched from the back of the hall, seeing a strange evening light falling across the mountains and hearing the birds start their night-time calls at 9 in the morning, we went to Kilmory. No, scrap that; we went to Kilmory! The McGowan boys, having worked all through the winter in the worst of the storms, up at 5 am every day, have nearly completed the new track to the other side of the island. 

and the digger that made it happen!
 So rather than walking for two hours down a rocky, awkward road, we can now freewheel down a smooth, exhilarating road in just half an hour to the huge deserted beach, walk over the headland and picnic in the sun before cycling (with somewhat more effort) back home again. With the added marvel of seeing two golden eagles on the way. At those moments, the power cuts, the broken washing machines, the uncomfortable politics, the stinking freezers - they just don't seem to matter quite so much, somehow. Though we may need a lot of these days out over the next few weeks...

Kelp beds and Canna in the background

Winter castle update

Things are looking up for our castle, despite the storm anticipated for tonight (80mph gusts...)

The scaffolders are here, and are finally taking down the scaffolding that has been covering the castle for the past few weeks. The tarpaulin has already gone, either blown away or unpinned to be taken off for recycling by resourceful villagers. Billy and his gang have done amazing work on the turret and roof, and it turned out our floods had nothing to do with missing tiles, but were due to a blocked inside gutter! "Wherever we go next," I said to Mel, "I don't think much is going to faze us in future."

Let's hope that's true! Here are a few pictures 

Kinloch Castle back in January, before the storms and after the hail


The castle with its scaffolding intact - note the large bits of tarpaulin that blew down in the gales

THE shaft with pump pipe that we had to fix to a pump and feed into its special tube in the middle of the night - in a gale

These planks got flung to the other end of the field by the wind!

More tubes, pipes, poles...where the water got in (Billiard Room ground floor, Room of Doom upstairs)

but spring seems to be arriving, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Through the Wardrobe?

March, aka Winter sunset
"What's that noise?" said Lucy suddenly. It was a far larger house than she had ever been in before and the thought of all those long passages and rows of doors leading into empty rooms was beginning to make her feel a little bit creepy. [...]
"It's an owl," said Peter. "This is going to be a wonderful place for birds...I say, let's go and explore tomorrow. You might find anything in a place like this. Did you see those mountains as we came along? And the woods? There might be eagles. There might be stags. There'll be hawks."
"Badgers!" said Lucy.
"Foxes!" said Edmund.
"Rabbits!" said Susan.
But when next morning came there was a steady rain falling, so thick that when you looked out of the window you could see neither the mountains nor the woods nor even the stream in the garden.                                                                                            
                                                                         C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I never realised before how very like Lucy I have sometimes felt here on Rum.

For one thing, the rain hasn't let up for over a week, except when it turns to snow, sleet or hail. Today is the first patch of blue sky we've seen for days, and although Billy's mended the ceilings and the castle is drying out, the island is full of water, wherever you look. Puddles up to our knees flood the path to the shop and we nearly have an authentic moat around the castle. The wind and rain has driven the deer and even two of the wild goats further down off the mountains and towards the village; I walked round the sodden Nature Trail and past a stag grazing in the pony field, but the rain and wind were so loud, he didn't even notice me.

The weather has its own excitement, if you can get past the fits of depression it inevitably causes when there is nowhere else to go and nowhere dry, except home, to sit. There may not have been much blue in the sky recently, but we did have a purple sunset the other day, and a visit from ten singing seals...and there are other magical sides to Rum, too.

On 2nd March we experienced big, whirling clouds of proper snow for the first time on Rum, and after tea-time we went out into it, hoping for snowman weather. But we only made it as far as the avenue before it stopped. Mel was disappointed, but as the snow settled we noticed that an extraordinary colour had filled the island. The hills and woods were dusted with powdery white, but beneath this the green, russet and grey of the trees and moorland had turned to a deep purple, the pool of Loch Scresort reflecting them in a silvery shimmer. The bay was suddenly calm, and as we turned back along Shore Road we saw the ten grey seals that Mel had earlier noticed, two of them swimming up to check us out, while others dived and dipped and flourished their flippers in the water. We never see them do this – they usually drift with the tides, bottling up to get the air before disappearing down again. This time they were playing, and as we watched them they suddenly started to sing. I've never heard this before, and we stood entranced listening to their strange mooing, groaning call, which turned to a deep churring or growling at times, like a dog suspicious of strangers. As the moon came out above the mountains and it got darker, we walked home, leaving the seals still singing and playing behind us. They continued to come in and out of the bay for a few more days before leaving us; now we have only four again.

This short interlude was a happy break in the monotony of the rain. Will it ever stop? Even Mel is succumbing to rain-related misery, and immersion in Games of Thrones only helps up to a point. But we've been busy. On 17th March we're holding another open day on Rum – I was drafted in to ring round potential interested parties, other people running tourist attractions in our area, cruise organisers or people whose businesses are inevitably bound up with ours, like Calmac or Mallaig's tourist information office. Or, indeed, whisky distilleries. I rang one and spoke to the stressed manager; he explained he'd love to come, but doesn't know if he can get away: "The distillery's been bought up by a Japanese company, and the Japs like to do spot checks...they can turn up at any time." 

Despite his worry, he was very happy to sit and chat for a while; not my usual experience of cold calling. It's always nice how how people's normal suspicions of other people - in this for example when effectively ringing them up to try to sell them something - tend to be instantly allayed when we say we live on Rum. Wherever we are, somehow the confession that we live on a tiny island has an extraordinary effect; as if we were somehow outside the politics, pressures and tensions of everyday life in the Real World.  Perhaps they're so intrigued they forget to tense up, worrying what we might want of them. Perhaps they think of us as a kind of mythical being, come from a wintry Narnia far away, with no attachments to human life. Perhaps we're seen as harmless innocents who, like the early saints on Iona or Lindisfarne, have retreated to a more spiritual home and moved far beyond all the scheming, arguments and feuding of normal human relationships.

Ah, if only that were true! It would be more accurate to say that here on Rum, the – let's say compactness– of our community acts as a magnifying glass on human nature, in all its complicated glory. Here kindness, selfishness, nosiness, an utter lack of interest, greed and altruism, idealism and cynicism are frequently to be seen all at once and all in the same person.

Our most recent community meeting left me utterly frustrated, with decisions made that not only seemed to me unwise, but that clearly made all the rest of the attendees uncomfortable too – to put it mildly. Yet at the same time, not one of those attendees seemed able to raise an objection, to voice what they were feeling (though I did try...).  How can we all sit there and know exactly why a certain decision may raise immense concerns, yet at the same time feel unable to question it? I spent the entire next day puzzling over this question, although in some ways the answer's obvious: it's hard to confront people you have to live with day after day after day, hard to be courageous in the face of potential conflict.  But a more complex answer, perhaps a more truthful one, came as usual in the form of having the exact opposite experience with the exact same people in the course of the following week...

To celebrate World Book Day, sparkly Mrs Ingram, our Acting Head Teacher now Stuart has left, bicycled through the village in the rain with her two enthusiastic pupils to invite us all to the school on Friday for coffee and cake and to talk about our favourite books. Eve and Joss had made posters and despite the grumpiness induced by the meeting, I was looking forward to the event. Clutching our carefully packaged Favourite Books (wrapped in carrier bags to keep off the torrential rain), Mel and I duly got on our bikes on Friday morning and set off through the downpour to the school. There we met Trudi and Nicola, also wrapped up against the weather (though not in carrier bags), and soon afterwards the girls were kept continually busy running to the door to welcome their guests. "Count how many teas we want, Joss!" Deb encouraged the children, and soon there were about sixteen of us, kids and grown-ups, mums and dads, friends, and general reading enthusiasts holding tightly to warming mugs of tea or coffee and chatting passionately about the books we loved, what they'd taught us and what we wanted to share.

I had brought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – the first proper book my dad read to me along with The Hobbit, and thanks to C.S. Lewis' writing and my dad's amazing talent at telling the story, the one that really made me want to read, so that I could read it faster and on my own. I met with many cries of recognition and memories of Puffin Club excitement in the 1970s; several of us remembered buying all seven of the Narnia books, in a special box, for just 50p.  Mel had brought one of Dr Seuss' lesser known stories, The Many Mice of Mr Brice, a tantalising pop-up tale of mice that get up to all sorts of tricks when you pull the right bit of cardboard. Despite all Mel's care and attention, Mr Brice's Mice didn't get off entirely unharmed from the Book Day – there were too many eager little hands trying to turn the cardboard wheel and make Harriet Mouse vanish and come back again.

Some of the adults had brought grown-up books – Brian Patten's Love Poems or To Kill a Mockingbird being more than one person's favourite. Others were more practical, citing John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It  or a book on quilting as being their steadfast companions on Rum.  Claire had brought her own book, a self-published guide to the island with her own lovely illustrations of eagles, stags and otters. Nicola's choice was the deceptively simple children's story of the Soul Bird, a creature that lives in all of us and holds the key to all our many moods.

Rather than simply talk abour our own books, we were asked to tell the group what we'd enjoyed learning about other people's choices. I found that Nicola's book had made the biggest impression on me. The point of the book is not to judge our moods or to tell you which is best, happiness or sadness, compassion or anger, enthusiasm or laziness. The point is to tell us that we all have all of these feelings, and all of them have their own special place inside us, even if there are some that we don't want to show other people, or let out too often. 

It was lovely to see everyone come together and talk about something that had nothing directly to do with Rum, nothing to do with our daily struggles and our worries and our jealousies and our anxieties. Just to talk about the things we love, and tell each other why we love them. But in a way it had everything to do with Rum as well. It made it easier for me to understand what had happened at the meeting the previous week, if not to agree with it. We obsess so often about how other people are behaving, but as the Soul Bird reminded me, do we really care about what they are feeling? Maybe if we felt safer, in a place we could all really say what we felt and thought without hurting others or ourselves, if we could all talk about what we love and feel passionate about as honestly and kindly as we did about our books, then maybe our democracy here on Rum would work far better.  And maybe we wouldn't struggle with our little island quite as much as we do. 

So thank you to Deb, to the children and to everyone who brought their books – books really do open up new and magical worlds, and they can open your heart as well as your mind. And not that I'm saying my book's the best or anything, but in these difficult, rain-filled days it I'm glad to say that as so often, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is right: winter won't really last for ever!

A diverse community flourishing on Rum

Quick nurse, more towels!

Doom? Here?

I wasn't going to write this blog again, but so much is happening, and besides – our relationship with Rum isn't over yet...

Is it really March already? Could it be - gulp - nearly spring?
The answer to that, judging by the weather, is a resounding No. Since Saturday, storms have brought so much rain that water is now pouring down the walls...and if you think that sounds cosy, with us perched in our armchairs in front of the fire, while the storm howls outside - try imagining it with the water pouring down inside the walls rather than outside them.

On Saturday night about 10 pm, Mel shouted to me to come fast, the Billiard Room was flooding. I ran downstairs and while we manoeuvred the Japanese lacquer screen, the delicate Mah Jong set and the Edwardian chairs out of the way of the leaks in the ceiling, Mel told me that the cover Billy had left over the roof wasn't enough and rain was coming through where he'd taken the tiles off. He's away til Tuesday...
And above the Billiard Room, we soon found, the water was flooding down from the roof into the Court Room (aka Room of Doom) which we never go in, as one of its walls is black with rot from long-ago floods and the ceiling is disintegrating. Rain was drip, drip, dripping from the torn wallpaper, and in the light of our headtorches (there is no electric light in there) we saw how it shone prettily as it cascaded down the once-pink walls, straight into the floorboards and out the other side on to the Persian carpets downstairs.
I ran for towels in the laundry room while Mel performed emergency operations with towels and buckets. As I was down there, I glanced down at the cellar; and as I returned all I had to say, in an off-hand manner, was "Mel, the cellar..." It was flooding again. Of course. We looked at each other and laughed; what was a catastrophe for much of the winter now seems like the least of our problems; practice has taught us how to fix that!

You should always know where your towel is
But the water was three inches deep, approaching the boiler ignition again, so something had to be done. While Mel in all her waterproofs went out in the gale to get the pump going, I ran back and forth between the old hostel kitchens. Inspired by the giant metal roasting tins, still stacked up idly in the old kitchens, I lined them up against the wall to collect the rain, then did the same upstairs, while Mel arrived and cunningly put jaycloths in place all along the generous Edwardian skirting boards, to help guide the drips into the pans.

We have a system!
Once we'd dealt with the most immediate emergency, the rain started to fall even harder and Mel ran downstairs again, before shouting up to come and help with the pump. By this time it was midnight, and donning my waterproofs and a headtorch I went out into the gale. Where on earth was she? Over in the distance, a small figure only just visible in the rain and wind was shouting at me: "Can you help me with the pipe?" We strode out into the night, view restricted to the few metres ahead but with our ears full of the noise of the storm in the trees all around us which worryingly, we couldn't see at all.  Sinking into the mud with each step while the rain blew into our faces, we eventually found the old concrete pipe next to the giant kerosene tank.
 The pipe may not look special - just an old, raggedy concrete pipe - but secretly, it's part of our hi-tech kit for making sure the plastic tube that comes out of the pump doesn't just blow away. It was heavy - not to mention chipped at the edges - and we struggled back  through the mud with it before lining it up with the pump.
Now the really cutting edge technology was needed... a big stick that we could tie to the pump tubing before dropping it into the concrete pipe and hoping it came out again at the other end...I cleverly inserted the stick into the blue plastic tubing, feeling rather medical as I did so, and made sure it didn't fall out of the tube by tying it up with some old baler twine. "Lift the pipe at one end!" I bawled at Mel over the roar of the wind, and as she lifted as high as she could, I dropped in the tube with its stick...
"Wiggle it about a bit!"
"Ooh, Matron!"
So Mel wiggled and I pushed and, in a scene that might have been straight from Call the Midwife, Mel yelled, "Can you see it coming out yet?" and I ran to the other end of the pipe and knelt down nobly in the mud (although I was wearing Mel's trousers, so it wasn't really very noble). "Yes! I can reach it!" And with a last effort I managed to grab onto the stick and the tubing and triumphantly pulled it out so we could remove the stick and attach the tube to the pump. Once all was in place, Mel pulled the starter string and the engine revved...it was pumping!

Covered in mud (and some petrol) we returned full of virtuous pride to the castle. We'd not only saved the Billiard Room from disaster, but possibly the heating too. And despite the rain, the gales and the cold, I felt warm and toasty, and even quite excited...although Mel was less excited knowing she'd have to check the buckets and the tins every few hours to make sure they weren't full yet...

And for the rest of the night, the next day and the next night we honed our system of tins, buckets and jaycloths, pouring off a gallon of water every hour at one point as the rain reached new volumes and hailstorms hit us. At around 5.30 pm on Sunday, as Mel gave up and went for a nap, I ran down to the Billiard Room with more towels just in case; everything was fine, but as I looked out of the window, the sky suddenly lit up.

I went upstairs again to look out properly, and it was as if a huge floodlight had been turned on, bathing castle, mountains and sea in a dramatic, ominous mood. A storm light was turning the Sound to a lowering dark orange grey colour with a line of dark blue at the horizon, the sea's surface wrinkling and shimmering like a thickening sauce, as if the currents beneath the surface were pushing it into uncomfortable, cramped folds. Meanwhile the sky and the hills were a dirty gold, the grass on the meadows a shiny bright unnatural looking green. I was nervous. Then the hail struck in a huge storm, and instantly the water on the glass roof of the covered walkway turned to thick ice.

But at least it had stopped raining. For a few hours.

Our vigil continued throughout the night until today, when instead of pouring rain or hail, we had a blizzard! Actual snow swirled around the castle, for the first time I can remember.

The winter is coming into its own at the moment; these storms have been going on with no let-up for nearly three weeks now, and there's no end in sight just yet. It's a strange feeling, as despite the weather, the days are getting longer, and birds are starting to sing again. It's odd to think that this time last year, I was still caught in an awful spiral of depression, darker and less definable than the sea out in the bay this morning, unable to see a future, hardly able to sleep. But now, despite the winter, I am happy. 

Though in a way it is sad to lose the sense of shock and naivety over Rum. Without it, I wouldn't have changed anything in my life, and I almost grieve for the loss of that newness. Almost, not quite; I'm glad I no longer feel that terror, am no longer lost to myself.  Now Rum feels familiar, the things that happen here month by month are anticipated. I understand (sort of) what the weather is likely to do, how the paths change, how the earth behaves. I have adapted. I no longer try to walk every day no matter what the weather; I slow down, I stay in the warmth. I eat as much as I need to, I do what is needed to keep us warm, safe and comforted, as far as possible. I recognise my sense of alienation from the islanders, but rather than blaming them or myself, I also recognise that this will change once I start to actually do something for the island again. Once spring is here, and the season starts, we'll all start coming together again – things will happen, our isolation, each in our own small fortress against the winter, will change.

We've talked a lot about what may happen when we leave, and there is so much to do before then. The castle's current vulnerability makes me realise how much I still want it to be saved, how much work I still need to do, to tell people what it means, to write it all down, talk to the people who might be able to help. The brevity of summer makes me realise how despite my sense of familiarity with the island, there's still so much I don't know, so many places I haven't been to – up mountains, along lochs, down pony tracks. There is still a season to work through, tourists to welcome, a tea-shop to run, an archive to catalogue (half done now!).

But most importantly, we've said, we don't want to lose what we've learnt here. We fear returning to our former mainland selves – the discontent, the lack of resilience, the laziness (why not just drive to the shop!), the continual sense of disquiet and restlessness. I guess we won't know until we go back, but I think, I hope, we won't lose anything we've found. And there's still six months to go – six months to be surprised at all the other things you can find on Rum.