Thursday, 23 July 2009


Findhorn is a 'spiritual eco-village' on a remote North Eastern corner of Scotland.

It's been going for 47 years and consistently draws an international crowd.

It's the first community I've been to that has a combination of residents who support the visitor centre, and independent residents who own their own homes on land here and draw income from outside of the visitor centre.

There are some interesting things. In no particular order:

How to avoid the planning permission issue

Yurts got turned into permanent buildings by cladding them in wood. As buildings they're technically mobile or non-permanent so they don't need planning permission.

This is Rolf inside his yurt (above).

He's the main guy at Findhorn developing and applying ways to clad yurts. He lived in yurt for years before getting pissed off with cold winters.

They've got buildings made out of old whiskey vats which the distilleries use for about 40 years then throw out:

A straw bale home:


It's powered by wind, solar and ground energy.

They've got four wind turbines for electricity- 3 x 40m and 1 x 30m - which provide more than enough electricity for the entire community. The wind doesn't always blow though and there's no way of storing excess electricity so they sell it to the grid for about 2p / kwh when they're getting too much and buy it from the grid for about 12p / kwh when they're not getting enough.

Most buildings have solar panels - for water heating, I'm guessing - and wood burning stoves for heating. Many also have ground source heat pumps that send water down into a borehole. It comes back up 4 degrees warmer and something technical does the opposite of a fridge to that heat increase, getting more heat out of it.

The man who told me all this said his annual energy costs were about £50, for everything.


Some people keep bees but there are no chickens, goats or other livestock. They've got a big biodynamic food garden which serves on-site kitchens, the shop and a box scheme. They're not totally self sufficient in fruit and veg but they're aiming to be.

Youngens and oldies

There's a creche for 0-4 year olds and a Steiner school nearby. There's a surplus of elders which is putting an economic strain on the community, a resident tells me, and a green burial ground for when they're done.

Visitors tend to be older too, because it's pricey. There are about 100 people on my course, for example, mainly Europeans and Brazilians in their 50s, who've each paid £500-£900 to be here for a week sleeping and eating and singing and dancing and sharing, and contributing about 1.5 hours each to the kitchen.

They need to make it pricey, they say, because of the financial model. But that excludes many people from participating.

Money and Ownership

The Finhorn Foundation is financed through a mixture of private donation and guest fees, I'm told. The foundation takes care of events and the visitor's centre, and a good deal of property that Foundation workers live in. In addition there are private homes on private lands that are financed privately, whilst adhering to the norms and values of the overall community. I don't know how this happens practically - if there are a set of principles you sign up to in order to get approval, what the approval process is or what.

How it started

Eileen and Peter Caddy "got guidance" to place their caravan here back in the early sixties, and to start planting here.

The land was dry and sandy. They fed it with compost and Seaweed and today every inch is bursting with plant life.

People joined them and the community grew. They had a community centre. Then Eileen "got guidance" that more people would come so they built an enormous centre with 400 capacity.

I find this challenging. It's into the 0.5 part of the 2.5 things I mean by the term 'god' and goes beyond the limits of my knowledge and beliefs. Strategically it makes sense if you see growing demand, you can explicitly or intuitively judge that demand will soon outstrip capacity, that the entire process of creating a big building takes time, better get started. Then if you see the world through a spiritual or religious framework, this judgement can be experienced through that lens too.

Why it works

Rolf has lived there for 12 years. He thinks it works because of flexibility - it changes, and it's allowed to change. It's good to have a blend of people working for the foundation, he says, and independent people, and good that everybody doesn't have to earn the same, for example. You can make your own life there.

Everyone comes together regularly to meditate upon their shared intention, I'm told.

Why it doesn't work so much for me

I'm not in love with the central focus of healing and spiritual development: it's too intense and a bit icky. And a bit boring. I'd appreciate more diversity of what's going on in the minds of people here. I don't like the relative lack of young people, and the comparatively sombre approach to spirituality. Every song I've sung here so far has been in the minor key, for example.

I love that it's by the sea: the garden is good: there's a feeling of a well oiled machine: I like that there's a shop. And a hot tub, though somehow it's not very accessible or accessed. It's in a bad spot for starters. I would also have: a hub office, and much more fun stuff.

It's interesting that there are a bunch of different ways to participate. Loads and loads. Experience week, little courses like this, big fat courses in a college, a proper retreat centre, temporary resident, a whole process for gradually becoming a resident - that is expensive to begin with, hence the reason why older people do it... I would like mixed access. And more fun stuff! And being closer to an interesting city.

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