The series due to launch tonight on BBC Channel 4, will chronicle the successes and failures of a new social experiment in Ardnamurchan, near Lochaber, in Scotland’s wild western Highlands.
Using only natural resources to build shelter, hunt for food and cook.
Making up the rules of their new society as they go along, the 23 contestants in the rather unoriginally named “Eden” will spend a year getting to grips with the remote countryside and learning to live with each other. The series shows that the appetite for life in the wilderness — both experiencing it and watching it — remains strong, and really gets to grips with the idyllic notion of self-sufficiency.
the series bills itself as an antidote to the usual trivia you see in reality shows, but the early signs are not good – the press releases stress that the inmates got drunk and flirted with each other. And the idea that they would be cut off from their nearest neighbors makes it more of an unreality show.
In reality, trying to forge a community from scratch can be a lifetime’s work. There are, however, a number of alternative settlements in Scotland in place that eschew conventional ways of life in favour of an existence focused on the land, spirituality, or making a living from traditional crafts and techniques.
Experts say that many of these communities are finding favour with burnt-out city-dwellers looking for a break, a new business opportunity or a complete change of scene.
We look at some of Scotland’s most interesting rural villages and settlements where it is possible to buy — or acquire membership — into a different way of life.Findhorn Ecovillage, MorayConceived in the 1970s by the Findhorn Foundation, a community began to evolve on the north coast of Scotland. It includes an on-site theatre and concert hall. Governed by members of businesses within the eco-village, such as a publishing house and an arts centre, the settlement can be found to the south of Findhorn, on the Moray Firth.
Andrew Yeats, a partner at Eco Arc, has seen the settlement flourish. “When I was an architecture student it was my thesis to design the concept of a sustainable eco-village,” he says. “Initially I went to Findhorn for six months, and ended up staying for six years. I’ve been working on the eco-village ever since.
“Originally, the community group bought a 35-acre caravan park and sought planning permission to change the use of the site to house permanent dwellings. The idea was to build a village that translated their ecological aspirations of being lighter on the Earth.
“The eco-village now has some of the most environmentally efficient buildings in Europe, with electricity produced from wind turbines and the ability to treat sewage. Residents grow a lot of their own food on site. They co-run a Rudolf Steiner school and a number of independent shops and businesses. It started with around 200 people but now there are more like 5,000 in The Park and in peripheral villages.”
The key to Findhorn Ecovillage’s success, says Yeats, is its appeal to those who have tired of the rat race: “A lot of people experience urban isolation or discontent with a city lifestyle. Being part of the community and living in a supportive environment is very attractive to many.”
While Eco Arc is responsible for 18 residential houses, there are about 100 in the development. They bear many shared qualities: individualistic design, brightly coloured cladding and timber frames more reminiscent of Scandinavia than the Scottish seaside.
“If you were to characterise the residential properties, they all have super-insulation and triple-glazed windows,” Yeats explains.
The village has also kept abreast with modern advancements. Eco Arc is to begin work on the first on-site Passivhaus this week, a strictly low-carbon-footprint template of housing inspired by German design credentials. It is to be the most northerly property built to Passivhaus standards in the UK.
“The clients are a woman and her daughter from London who have sold a small flat and wanted to build an eco-house to live in,” Yeats says.
Established properties in Findhorn Ecovillage come to market relatively infrequently (Cluny Estate Agents has recently accepted an offer on a four-bedroom bright orange house that was on the market for offers in excess of £400,000), but the preference within the settlement is for build your own. Even after employing the skills of specialist architects, prices are keen: Eco Arc has worked on projects beginning at £15,000 for a small roundhouse (now rented out through Airbnb from £40 a night), to a four-bedroom property costing £220,000.Brodgar and Skaill, Orkney An archipelago of 70 islands, Orkney is one of the UK’s earliest neolothic sites and has a number of ceremonial stone circles, tombs and settlements. Unsurprisingly, each year it attracts scores of visitors keen to discover more about its history. A number of sites have also been excavated in recent years, including the Ness of Brodgar in 2002, where annual digs have led experts to conclude that the islands were a hub for trade and worship in neolithic times.
Orkney is now home to a strong spiritual community living and working on its islands. Many are centred on the Mainland, the archipelago’s largest island, working in the craft and tourism industries around Brodgar, near the stone circle and the Unesco World Heritage Site, and Skaill, where the Skara Brae neolithic village was discovered in the 1920s. Many offer tours of Orkney’s most famous sites and stones, which can also be used as locations for weddings and blessings conducted by humanists.
The smaller islands are home to a number of significant sites. ASG Commercial is marketing a business package for offers of more than £950,000 on a clifftop site in Cleat, South Ronaldsay. It includes the Skerries Bistro, three holiday lets and a stone-built three-bedroom property. The star of the sale is the Tomb of the Otters, a recently discovered Stone Age chamber excavated in 2010 next to the bistro. In season, visitors can pay to visit the tomb, providing a steady flow of clients to the bistro.
In Harray, on the Mainland, there is a chance to continue Orkney’s historic ceramics industry, which dates from neolithic times. A pottery studio and shop is being marketed through Lows Solicitors for offers of more than £250,000. It includes the three-bedroom Fursbreck House, which has an office, dining room, kitchen and bathroom.
For house-hunters looking to enjoy the islands’ small communities, rather than to capitalise on their historic industries, Savills is selling a seven-bedroom property in the town of St Margaret’s Hope. Roeberry House features a snug, games room, library, two secluded gardens and a 150-year-old wood. Its price is available on application and it is close to the A listed Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war in the Second World War.Isle of Erraid, Inner HebridesAn experience quite unlike any other, the tiny Isle of Erraid, west of Mull, is home to a transient group of “caretakers” who are responsible for looking after its buildings and gardens for 11 months of the year. The island’s owners, a Dutch family, struck a deal with the Findhorn Foundation in 1977, and in exchange for being able to return for one month in the summer to enjoy Erraid, a small community of self-sufficient residents are permitted to live in cottages for lighthouse-keepers built by the Stevenson engineering dynasty at the start of the 20th century.
Residents adhere to traditional ways of living off the land, with a focus on growing fruit and vegetables, crop tending and herding Erraid’s native flock of Blackface sheep. Members subscribe to the principles of the Findhorn Foundation and promote mindfulness and connecting to the natural world.
There are about ten people on the island at any given time, with many moving on after about three years. Annual activities focus on a number of festivals where guests are welcomed to sample island life. While it is not possible to buy property on Erraid, membership to this uniquely Scottish existence is permanently open to new residents.
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