Places & Spaces: Half a Century of Green Living in Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland

Findhorn is a model carbon-neutral community on the Scottish coast, founded in the 1960s.

Fifty years ago, the environment wasn’t at the top of most people’s agendas. Nuclear disarmament and women’s rights were more the topics of the day. But six people in Scotland accidentally found themselves living a cleaner, greener life. Out of work, they – three adults and three children – took a caravan and went to live in a remote fishing village on the Scottish coast.

To save money they decided to grown their own vegetables (including 40-pound cabbages), then plants, herbs and flowers. That was back in 1962.

The garden prospered, and more people came to join them in their own caravans; then cedarwood bungalows were built. Over the next two decades, many hundreds of people came to live at Findhorn, which also welcomed celebrities such as Burt Lancaster, Hayley Mills and Shirley Maclaine.

The ecovillage was founded in the 1980s, with the first round whisky barrel houses (yes, made from reused wooden liquor vats) being built in 1987. Other ecohouses – there are now around 80  – were made from straw bales, local stone and recycled car tires. Some of the houses even have “breathing walls,” made from recycled newspaper or wool insulation, as well as green roofs. (Findhorn, which is a hotbed of expertise in ecodesign, recently published the UK’s first technical manual on ecological building.) The first wind-turbine was added in 1989 – there are now four, which provide 100% of the village’s electricity needs.

In 1992, the first solar-powered water heater was installed; today’s system uses light, without requiring direct sun which is ideal for the cloud-covered UK. The village has pioneered many innovative modes of harnessing nature, none more so than the Living Machine brown water treatment system (below), set up in 1995. It may not be sexy, but it’s ingenious.  The chemical-free tanks break down sewage using an ecosystem consisting of bacteria, algae, micro-organisms, plants, trees, snails, and fish. The resulting bio-filtered water is clean enough to be reused, or discharged into the sea.

One of Findhorn’s latest additions is a biomass boiler (2010), which uses locally-sourced woodchips as fuel.

The vegetables, which started the whole idea off originally, continue to thrive in organic gardens, providing food for staff and guests.

Today this pioneering new-age community, which has its own currency and bank, has 100 resident staff and and around 300 members in the local area. Findhorn has half the UK average ecofootprint – the community uses 50% fewer resources and creates 50% less waste than normal – and is a founding member of the Global Ecovillage Network.

the community also runs holistic courses on everything from astroshamanism and holistic awareness, to permaculture and sustainability, with 2000 people attending  each year. Courses cost from $672 for three days – eco-accommodation and organic meals included, naturally.

Photos: The Findhorn Foundation

Places & Spaces is a travel guide that will inspire you to carve out a vacation on your calendar. All of the gorgeous locations and accommodations in our guide share our concern for the environment. From tent glamping to lavish built environments, fair warning, you’ll feel compelled to pack your suitcase.

Fiona Flores Watson

Fiona Flores Watson covers Places & Spaces for EcoSalon and currently resides in Seville, Spain.