“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this”, wrote Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862).
One such island of opportunity is the wild and beautiful Isle of Erraid, located south-west of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. Erraid is home to a spiritual community, part of the Findhorn Foundation. Time spent here offers visitors the opportunity for a genuine retreat from the stresses and uncertainties of modern life; the possibility for self-reflection; the chance to breathe.
If you take public transport to Erraid then consider yourself fortunate: while someone else takes responsibility for the mechanics of your journey, you are free to enjoy the gradual unravelling of “normal life”. Whether by plane, bus or train, you will pass through Glasgow and head north-west to Oban. Centres of population become smaller and less frequent, the landscape more dramatic, the air cleaner.
Oban will be your last sighting of a supermarket so stock up on anything urgent before you catch the ferry to Craignure on Mull. As you cross the Sound, keep an eye out for dolphins, porpoises and otters. Bus links at Craignure are good. Before you know it you will be flying down the single-track road to the Ross of Mull, watching for Golden Eagles and grateful that you are not having to negotiate the oncoming traffic.
After about an hour and ten minutes you will arrive at Fionnphort. There you will be met by a friendly resident and transported by minibus and boat, weather permitting, to Erraid.
Staying on Erraid
People stay on Erraid in different ways. Some live there as long-term guests or members for anything up to ten years. Others visit as short-term guests for between one and four weeks. Short-term guests can either spend time in retreat or more actively join in the life and work of the community.
As a working holiday or retreat guest you choose what you wish to pay within the range £165 to £375 per adult per week. This includes meals and accommodation. Children aged five to fourteen are half price; under-fives are free. For longer-term arrangements it is best to contact the Erraid community directly.
All residents and guests are housed in shared stone cottages with running water, electricity, wood-burning stoves and refreshing outdoor composting toilets. Most meals are eaten together.
It is possible to visit Erraid at most times of the year apart from Christmas and a six-week period in July and August when the Dutch owners of the island arrive for their annual holiday. For good weather, April to June are usually the best times to visit!
My family and I stayed on Erraid for two one-week holidays in 2007 and 2008, followed by time as members from January 2009 to June 2011.
Erraid’s residents live and work together much like an extended family with roles that, as far as possible, reflect their particular skills, interests and life stages. Daily duties include gardening, child-care, looking after animals, cooking, cleaning, transporting people and provisions, fishing and candle-making, to name but a few.
The Erraid community was founded over thirty years ago with an agreement between the island’s owners and the trustees of the Findhorn Foundation. The role of the community members is as care-takers of the island and its dwellings, as well as continuing to put into practice the vision, formulated in those early days, of self-reliance and harmonious living.
The community generates as much food as possible from the gardens on Erraid, from the sea and from the island’s livestock. Favourite meals include freshly-caught and barbecued mackerel, with garden-grown potatoes, broad beans, peas, carrots and salad. Living on an island makes the drive towards self-sufficiency a practical solution as well as a philosophical ideal.
The tradition of growing food on Erraid probably began hundreds of years ago. In various parts of the island there is still evidence of “lazy beds” which were used by crofters in Scotland for vegetable production.
More recently, the original cultivators of the walled gardens and previous inhabitants of the impressive stone cottages were lighthouse keepers and their families. From the 1870s to the 1950s, Erraid was a shore station, home to the lighthouse keepers who manned the Dubh Artach and Skerryvore lighthouses.
The lighthouses and cottages were engineered by the famous Stevenson family and built from local granite. The granite for Dubh Artach and the cottages was quarried on Erraid itself.
A Holiday for the Soul
On the side of a hill, near the disused granite quarry, stands the community’s sanctuary. The tranquility of this location is in stark contrast to the noise that would have emanated from the quarry one hundred and forty years ago. This peacefulness and the stunning views of the sea and mountains are a source of inspiration for meditation practice. During led meditations, guests are invited to look inwards, to focus on breathing, to release persistent thoughts, to make space.
For those who struggle with formal meditation, mindfulness practice is a thread in Erraid’s daily rhythms. There is a gentle focus on living in the present; appreciating the beauty of nature, being grateful for where food has come from, valuing work, being thankful for a connection made with another.
To spend time on Erraid is less about escaping and more about re-connecting with what makes life worth living.
To visit Erraid email email@example.com.