Findhorn, ecovillage on the Scottish coast

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Findhorn ecovillage

Our plan is to head southwards from the Orkney Islands. We can either sail around Scotland via the west coast and the Hebrides, or we can cut straight across the country via the Caledonian Canal. We opt for the latter, as right near the entrance to the canal lies Findhorn, the well-known ecovillage, and we want to take a look around. Our decision to sail through the canal is a good one, given the weather forecast: a series of low-pressure fronts will be sweeping across the country’s west coast in the coming weeks. That’s a good reason for us to seek the shelter of the canal.

For the Findhorn community, the path to loving and sustainable behaviour begins with inner peace. Ivar Smits Ivar Smits Skipper

The bay in which Findhorn is located is too shallow for our boat, so we leave it behind in Inverness and catch a bus to town. We get off a few kilometres before the Findhorn fishing village. The entrance to the ecovillage is in the middle of a pine forest surrounded by sand dunes. We’ve read that Findhorn has one of the lowest environmental footprints of all industrialised communities, and half of Britain’s average. We’re curious as to how they’ve managed to accomplish this. Could the world learn something from this ecovillage?

Special commune

On our tour of the village we learn that Findhorn was established in the 1960s. The three founders lived in a caravan on a plot of land owned by the adjacent Royal Air Force base. In sharp contrast to the violence of the fighter planes, they set up a community based on love and peace. The community expanded quickly, attracting people with alternative lifestyles. It was a place where money and possessions were subordinate to love of nature and humanity.

This love was tangible in the various spiritual spaces we visited: beautifully designed and decorated, colourful, rich with symbols and natural materials. The Dutch are down-to-earth, so we’ve never meditated before, but we decide to give it a go. A feeling of serenity settles over us. We understand that, for the Findhorn community, the path to loving and sustainable behaviour begins with inner peace.

Togetherness and support

Afterwards, we visit a round building made of wood and natural stone. Adjacent to the large kitchen is a room with dozens of tables and couches. Everyone is welcome for the daily dinner served in this common dining room. Sharing a meal is an important ritual in this community – it is enjoyable and it promotes social contact among the residents.

The community grows most of its own food. Amid the homes is a herb and fruit tree garden. There’s also a vegetable garden, where the residents grow fruit and vegetables without the use of toxins or pesticides. All of the chores are shared: cooking, cleaning, gardening, maintenance and PR work are carried out by working groups for which residents can sign up. There are plenty of volunteers, as is evident from the impeccable common buildings and gardens.

It’s all about ecology

Not only the food, but the buildings, too, are all about ecology. Many of the homes and common buildings are made from recycled and natural materials, like wood and natural stone. We even see an upside-down whiskey barrel that has been converted into a house. With a diameter of around six meters it’s not a large place, but it is fully furnished.

In the new section, we see modern homes, most of which are built from wood and are well insulated, face south and are fitted with heat pumps. This community moves with the times. Solar boilers and panels have been installed on both old and new homes alike. Elsewhere on the grounds we see wind turbines that supply electricity when the solar panels fall short. And many homes are heated by the latest addition: a biomass heating system.

Findhorn handles its materials with care. Organic waste is composted for use in the gardens, and all other waste is recycled. The community even has its own sewage purification plant. And, of course, everything is shared among the members of the community. For instance, there is a common tool shed and a system for shared use of electric cars.

Open to the outside world

Another thing we notice is that Findhorn is not an inward-looking commune that wants to be left to itself. On the contrary, the community is very open to the outside world. Visitors and new residents are welcome. We see a home for sale and ask whether there is an admission procedure. Our guide says there isn’t a procedure, but that it’s more a question of natural selection: if you don’t want to live in a community, you won’t feel at home here. Not only new residents come to Findhorn; people who have grown up here and left the community often return with their own families.

Today the ecovillage has five hundred permanent residents. And every year, thousands of people from around the world visit the community – not only curious people who come for the day, like us, but people who participate in conferences and courses. The curriculum is created by the Findhorn Foundation and ranges from the Experience Week (a week-long introduction), Living in Community and Permaculture, to Meditation and Mindfulness. Courses last from one week to several months. There’s something for everyone at Findhorn.

Together they have it all

Full of inspiration, we get back on the bus and return to Inverness. We now understand that the ecovillage is much more than simply a cluster of sustainably built homes. The people in this community are clearly not attached to money and possessions, yet they lead rich lives. Nobody is in want of anything here – together they have it all. It’s also special to see the role that spirituality plays at Findhorn, though you don’t necessarily have to go along with it. In the end, trust and respect are the basis of this sustainable model community – a beacon of hope and an example to the world

For our next blog, we will be sailing to the south of England. Join us in Totnes on the River Dart, the beating heart of the Transition Town movement. We will explore how sustainability and independence are strengthened locally – not in a commune with like-minded people, but in a typically English village.

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