Island!

If you open your eyes very wide and look around carefully, you will always see a lighthouse which will lead you to the right path!

Mehmet Murat Ildan, author and playwright

The cottages that were home to generations of lighthouse keepers

The cottages that were home to generations of lighthouse keepers

If your inner whispers of knowing are being drowned out by the clamour and busyness of modern-day life, how about a soul stopover on the Hebridean Isle of Erraid?

Here on a sometimes wild and windswept tidal island it is the natural rhythms of nature and ebb and flow of the tides that dictate the day, rather than the pressures of a rush-hour commute or the need to keep up in a competitive and materialistic world.

Time seems to stand still and it is easy to imagine that life was like this in the 1800s when Erraid welcomed acclaimed Scottish author, poet and traveller Robert Louis Stevenson, whose family of lighthouse designers and engineers lived in the row of stone cottages. Today they are home to a tiny working community and a handful of guests.

It is a place where you can slow the pace, quieten the mind and enjoy a leisurely exploration of inner and outer landscapes.

Many visitors report a deep yearning for a different and more meaningful way of living, and few arrive by accident, most undertaking a deliberate and extensive road journey that includes at least one major ferry crossing to the Isle of Mull before catching their first glimpse of the island. Then it’s a short boat ride or even a stroll at low tide.

Happy family ... Steve and Julia Pittam with Jack and Libby

Happy family … Steve and Julia Pittam with Jack and Libby

Was it divine guidance or a happy coincidence that Julia and Steve Pittam chose to park their caravan in the campsite on the opposite shore, where they met a friendly Erraid islander who suggested they come over for a cuppa?

It was a glimpse of a world they’d barely dared to dream of, and just to be sure, they booked a retreat over New Year at the height of winter. “I wept,” Julia recalls. “I didn’t know there was a place in the world like this.”

Both had been involved in successful careers down south and now Julia is the island focaliser, while Steve fills a variety of essential roles. “It was a big jump leaving our careers as teachers and all we’d been brought up to believe in, although I don’t miss that life.

“The main reason we came here was to bring up our children together,” she says, rejoicing in the safety and freedom of being on an island with like-minded people. “There’s a lot of love in the group.”

Jack is now eight and Libby six, their devoted Dad boating them across to Mull and back each day for school.

Wouter de Jong in the candle-making studio on Erraid

Wouter de Jong in the candle-making studio on Erraid

“They love it here,” Steve insists, and so does he. “It doesn’t feel like work, but love in action. I love being so close to the elements and to the water, to be in a place of raw nature and out of the rat race.”

Remembering their move to Erraid five years earlier, he says: “It’s as though something had told me we needed to go to Erraid – perhaps that small still voice within.”

During school holidays Jack and Libby get a taste of that other world of towns and cities, so they’re reasonably street smart, while learning through osmosis to care deeply for people, animals, plants and the Earth.

When I asked the youngsters what it was like living on Erraid, Jack was emphatic: “It’s great. I love it,” while Libby was adamant: “I never want to leave.”

What’s not to love?

The island measures just a mile across but is postcard-perfect with many highlights – Balfour Bay where a white sandy beach meets shimmering blue waters; the Wishing Stone with its panoramic views towards distant horizons; and the modest building known as the Sanctuary where one can go within to the accompaniment of bird calls and the occasional munching of grazing sheep.

Claire Turner is a candle-maker, cook and gardener

Claire Turner is a candle-maker, cook and gardener

Former resident Wouter de Jong, who is visiting from Amsterdam, says: “Living here for three years has nourished my soul and was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Claire Turner, a 26-year-old Yorkshire lass who grew up on a farm, proudly describes herself as a cook, candlemaker and gardener.

“Erraid is a beautiful place to relax into the joy of being,” she insists. “It’s a place to strip away the layers, let go of the unnecessary, and just be. I appreciate working with my heart and with my hands to share love and sustain life. It is enriching living together in this way, a fulfilling way of being.”

At 23 Matt Shepherd from Cheshire is the youngest would-be resident. “Erraid is the first place I’ve found that harbours both an energy and a community that actively encourages me to be open and authentic and to share the joy that that feeling brings to me.”

My friend Adelle Horler and I chose to join the Love in Action volunteer programme where we immersed ourselves in community life, weeding and planting in the organic gardens, chopping wood and sharing kitchen duties.

The routines are familiar to me as Erraid enjoys close links with the Findhorn Foundation and neighbouring island of Iona, where the Foundation has the Traigh Bhan retreat house.

Matt Shepherd with the postbox that's purely decorative these days

Matt Shepherd with the postbox that’s purely decorative these days

Some visitors choose Erraid for a personal retreat, while most opt to explore community life in between savouring the outstanding natural beauty of the rugged Hebridean landscape.

It is also an ideal setting for a family eco-holiday that allows children to explore in safety while developing their sense of freedom and adventure.

Many arrive and depart on a Foundation bus that travels between the two islands and the Findhorn community each Saturday.

The island is owned by a Dutch family who holiday here for a month each year, entrusting it for the remainder of the year to members of the Foundation who cherish their role as custodians and count themselves incredibly blessed to live simply in harmony with this natural world. Their daily rhythms include tending the organic vegetable gardens, caring for the chickens and a retired cow called Morvern, harvesting firewood, planting new trees in the woodland, preparing healthy meals and periodically engaging in the meditative manufacture of magnificent rainbow-hued candles that supplement the community’s modest earnings.

The main request from the Dutch owners is that the community maintains the buildings and land within the settlement.

ErraidCandlesChat to any Foundation member who has tasted a significant slice of Erraid island life and there is a love and longing to return. “It is a place where you can not only have dreams, but live them,” says Paul Johnson, who shared nine wonderful years with his partner Debbie and the latter years with their son Josh. “We hadn’t planned to have a child but after living on Erraid for a year couldn’t imagine anywhere on Earth better to raise one. Josh loved being there.”

Geoff Dalglish

This entry was posted in Articles. . Bookmark the permalink.