The castle captured us...a final goodbye to Rum.

After two years with Lady Monica, it's time to go
It's hard to write about leaving Rum, because that means thinking about it as something that is in the past, But for the past two years it has been the present and nothing but the present in all its demanding, absorbing, confrontational, total reality. Impossible to think yourself elsewhere when you are on Rum; you are too busy concentrating on the task in hand, dealing with whatever person, weather, boat, animal, story, disaster or party is immediately in front of you demanding your attention. You're absolutely and entirely present. And not just for a few minutes at a time or for a lucky zen hour now and again, but for your entire time for two years, from waking to sleeping and even during your sleep, when beneath your dreams the reality of Rum ticks on (will the fire alarm go off? is the cellar flooding? what are the birds making that strange sound outside in the night?).

Now, a few days on from leaving the island, I am lying awake in the stifling and hot semi-dark of a shabby hotel room, and my mind ticks over in quite a different way. The light from the back of the bar outside shines through the thin curtains, while the extractor fan hums out into the artificially-lit yard, and from inside the bar, the faint sound of laughter and conversation occasionally surges up, startlingly loud, as someone bangs a door open and shut and footsteps hurry past our window. The window, which was streaked with birdshit when we arrived (I wiped it off, like the smears on the bathroom mirror) is tightly fastened for privacy, but sounds still filter through. The door into the apricot-hued bathroom squeaks when we slide it open or shut, and the toilet doesn't flush properly. The room is hot and airless. Over in the other bed, Mel sleeps peacefully, exhausted from driving. I contemplate the world around me. Just a few nights ago, the cool silent dark enclosed us in a huge, airy room, while outside the moon rose over a rippling sea and stags wandered through the lush meadow in front of our window. What have we done? I think. 

Then I remember thinking the exact same thing two years ago when I first arrived at the castle.

This time two years ago I would never have imagined that leaving Rum would be this way. Even a few months ago I would never have been able to anticipate how sad we would be nor how strange it would feel. It's not like leaving anywhere else I've ever lived. All our habits, physical sensations, routines and tasks have been adapted to Rum over the past two years; Thursday is veg night, Friday the boat is always late, Wednesday the cafe needs to be open by 11, Monday we'll need to take the wheelbarrow to collect our shopping, today the wind's from the west so we can't cycle to Harris, we need to remember to order a pager for Steve in case the power fails again...Now we're not sure how to un-adapt. Or if we even want to. What on earth will we do with ourselves now? Where will all that energy go? Surely not just into shopping and commuting and worrying about whether we want a latte or an Americano and if so, with what kind of milk. 

It's not like moving from a normal town or place. We know we're unlikely ever to go back to live on Rum again, and even a visit is unlikely; keeping in touch with people will be hard as they continue to be absorbed in Rum while we live in what might as well be a parallel universe.  It's as if we've been given the chance for two years to step out of normal life and been given the choice: you can either plunge into this entirely different life and risk being changed forever, or you can treat it as just a short anomaly in your existence, go on living like you've always lived, neither any happier nor any sadder. Having chosen the first option, we are now, unsurprisingly perhaps, feeling bereft. We've gone from Rum, and in a way it's gone from us.

But what's more surprising is that leaving isn't just sad. What's surprised me most is how much love I feel, not only for the island and the castle, but for the people we've come to know on Rum. And we've had the most amazing send-off. I kind of imagined slipping away in the mists, like the mainland does when you take your eye off it for a minute and the clouds come and swallow it up.  But instead the last two weeks were so busy we scarcely had time to catch our breath, let alone sit wistfully on a mountain and contemplate our last days in an appropriately serious manner. All those careful plans we'd made like "We have to make sure we go up and see the shearwaters at night before we leave", "I'd really like to make it up Hallival just the once before we go", "Let's make sure we spend a last afternoon otter-spotting"....what is it they say again? "If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans".  There was no time for any of it, or if there was, the weather quickly scuppered it...either that or we looked out at the midges or the wind or the rain and then looked at each other guiltily: "Do you mind if we just stay in tonight and eat chips?" "Oh my God, I thought you'd never ask."

"Did someone say we were leaving?" Our send-off outside the shop.  

How will we fit the stags' heads into the Luton?Another send-off...with helpers.
So instead, we had to rely on serendipity. And this is far more fitting for Rum, where my entire life has been made up of last-minute serendipity just when I've been about to give up on it all. This was when it started to sink in that we were really leaving:  the fantastic Elsa Jean McTaggart gig and the ceilidh that followed it with our own Danny and Jed joining in with the music; an "accidental" evening trip out to Kilmory in the sunset watching the terns dive into the turquoise seas; the sudden surprising chance of a trip to Harris on a perfect summer evening when the Landrover became suddenly available, after we've not been able to visit Harris for months; my first and last swim in the sea at Kilmory when we woke up to a sudden, one-off hot Saturday; dinners with friends and a moving party with everyone lining up in a chain to pass boxes along the Great Hall of the castle before drinking champagne and toasting each other in our now echoing and empty castle flat; saying our farewells and our thank-yous to George and Monica in the silent castle at night, when everyone had gone home; and the last day of sunshine and blue skies where Miracle the stallion arrived in our field to get to know the lady ponies of Rum (now that really does sound like a euphemism, but it isn't) and our friends and neighbours gathered on the pier to wave goodbye to us and we cried on the Loch Nevis, knowing it would be our last look at the island perhaps for years (we never have to do that ferry journey again...another strange thought).

As all these happinesses have collected up around us, we've realised how lucky we have been to have made our home on Rum, for just a short time. But we've also realised how lucky we are to be leaving when we still know of our good fortune and haven't grown to be cynical, angry or disappointed with the island.  So many people leave too late, when they've become helplessly frustrated with island politics, disappointed in their own inability to change things or simply fed up with cancelled ferries, empty tins of alcohol littering the hall and the gossip that can so quickly become toxic in a tiny community of thirty. That could have been me. But somehow, serendipity came to my aid; or perhaps it was simply the island itself.  And the fact that despite gossip, the inability to clean up after parties and the sheer pigheadedness of many people on Rum, there is also the freedom, the support, the fun and the love that people share with each other. Which is amazing, given that on Rum we really are like an extended family. I've never known anywhere like it. We will treasure it always. And maybe someday, we'll go back. 

Ready to go

A heartfelt Goodbye...and thank you to everyone who lived through Rum with us.

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