It seems fitting that Nic and Ady Goddard have named their pair of breeding pigs Tom and Barbara. But forget Surbiton. They’ve taken their aspirations to live ‘The Good Life’ to a whole new level – ditching their careers and fairly conventional life in West Sussex and upping sticks with their two children (Davies, nicknamed Dragon, aged 15, and Scarlett, nicknamed Star, aged 13) to the remote Isle Of Rum, on the West Coast of Scotland.
In her former life Nic was a self-confessed career chaser whose biggest ambition at one time was a BMW by the time she was 30. Ady was a sales manager with a company car. But gradually their perspectives shifted, as Nic left her job in retail management and turned Home Educator to her two children, and got a part-time job at a library, an allotment, a garden full of chickens, ducks and quails, a passion for camping and a volunteering role as a shepherd. Home educating included incubating some hen chicks, which in turn led to keeping and rearing hens, visiting farms, learning about where their food comes from (‘ie not from Tesco!’) and an interest in self-sufficiency, recycling, peak oil and carbon footprints and a hankering after a simpler life. Buying a smallholding in West Sussex was out of the question and so an idea was born – a ‘try it and see’ experience to determine whether the cold, hard graft of lambing, failed crops and living sustainably could turn into a reality instead of a dream.
After a year of WWOOFing (see my post Live the Dream for more info about WWOOFing), they decided to take the plunge and applied to be crofters on the Isle of Rum. After a tough interview (by Rum’s Crofting Committee), they were accepted and so it began. They started their new life in April 2012.
Fast forward to the present (though if you want to read about the family’s experience in more detail, I can’t recommend Nic’s blog highly enough – it’s brilliantly well written, thoroughly absorbing and addictive reading. See www.wonderingwanderers.co.uk)
Nic and Ady and their family now live on an 8-acre bareland croft in their off-grid static caravan. Their long term aim is a permaculture-inspired self-sufficient croft using alternative technology, green building and low-impact methods. They have pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl. Crops are grown in raised beds, and they have a soft fruit and orchard tree fruit cage and a small polytunnel they built themselves from foraged and beachcomber materials. Power is limited and by wind turbine and solar panel. They use a compost loo.
What has been the biggest challenge? Says Nic: ‘Island life has logistical challenges but after nearly four years we have more or less mastered those. The croft keeps us tied to Rum most of the time with rare trips back to the mainland and you quickly learn never to run out of vital resources such as flour, loo roll and animal feed, and to be flexible about travel arrangements. We have to keep a close eye on the weather and we’ve learned to love long-life milk!’
Nic adds that the biggest high and low of their new life is all about people. ‘The lack of a wide social circle is something all four of us find tough at times and we miss family and friends. That does mean that the 30 other people who live here on Rum become your everything. The plus is the sense of community and knowing you can always rely on each other, which is something we never experienced back in our old lives’. They now accept WWOOFers themselves, to work on their croft in the summer and love meeting and working with the volunteers of all ages who come to help. ‘We’ve found that everyone, no matter what their age or experience, has something to offer. Some people may lack strength and fitness but more than make up for it in terms of ideas and motivation for example.’
The biggest challenges in setting up their croft has been all about logistics. ‘Getting livestock here is expensive and complicated, getting deliveries of animal feed and building materials for example, requires a lot of planning and more cash than would be the case on the mainland. It’s hard work. We took on what was essentially an 8-acre bare field. In four years we have tamed just a small corner of it. We have water (which we redirected from the river via filters), and rely on a small wind turbine and solar panels for our limited power requirements. We have no vehicular access to our front door so everything we buy or need has to be lugged by hand or wheelbarrow! The climate and weather conditions on Rum are very challenging too – it’s wet and windy in the winter, midgey in the summer. Roaming deer eat our crops and crows and even eagles predate on our livestock and eat our eggs if we don’t get to them first.
‘We keep about 30 chickens, 20 ducks, 4 turkeys, 10 geese and 3 guinea fowl, mainly for the eggs rather than meat and we breed from them. We do rear turkeys for Christmas dinner though! Almost everything has a dual purpose. Geese and ducks, for example, are great for grazing the land – a goose eats as much grass as a sheep every day – and they are useful for weed and pest control around the fruit trees as they eat bugs and slugs. The birds all create plenty of manure which is great fertiliser.
‘We bought Tom and Barbara, our first pair of breeding pigs, from a nearby croft on the mainland. They had their third litter this year and we rear the piglets for meat for our own consumption. The pigs are dual purpose too as they eat all the food waste and any failed crops and condition the ground for us as they dig up roots, aerate the ground and help the drainage as they tread in their own manure and enrich the poor soil. It is an idyllic life for the animals as they have plenty of space to exhibit natural animal behaviours such as foraging and rooting. The birds roost in trees and the ducks and geese swim on the river which borders our croft. There are challenges, ensuring the animals cope with the poor weather conditions for example.’
The family grow a wide range of crops including tomatoes, herbs, chillies and peppers, salad, peas and root crops such as carrots, parsnips and potties as well as onions, links and garlic. They grow strawberries under plastic which do well with the long daylight hours in the summer.
‘We have a long way to go before we are self-sufficient in fruit and veg but we are pretty close in our meat and protein. Almost all our meat, fish and eggs come from Rum, either from our own animals providing meat and eggs or from the red deer on the island proving venison. And there are plenty of opportunities for fishing too. The lack of food miles in our diet, along with the high quality of the meat and knowing the animal welfare standards are so high, is very pleasing. We have learnt to butcher and process meat ourselves and experimented with wet and dry cured bacon and ham, sausage making, smoking and drying.’
They sell produce from the croft, along with home-baked goods, jams and preserves, as well as knitted, crocheted and crafted items, wonderful photography and artwork, from their ‘shop’, a done-up shed! See www.croft3.co.uk
Nic says they miss their family and friends as well as going to the theatre, cinema, museums and art galleries as they once did in Brighton and London, but ultimately they’re thrilled they embarked on this adventure. ‘All of life is precarious,’ says Nic. ‘and no-one knows what will happen to them next, and although our lifestyle here has rather more uncertainties than most, we are all enjoying it for as long as it lasts.’
For more information about the Isle of Rum, visit www.isleofrum.com, a great website with news, events, places to stay, things to do, information about its wildlife (including red deer, their famous ‘Rum ponies’, feral goats and Highland cattle, Golden Eagles and other rare birds), as well as its heritage – and how to get there! It’s definitely on my wish list of places I’d like to visit.
And don’t forget Nic Goddard’s brilliant blog at www.wonderingwanderers.co.uk.