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The Findhorn Foundation review | personal growth retreat, Scotland

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Experience life in a spiritual community

The Quick Read: A remarkable charity that started life in a caravan in the 1960s, The Findhorn Foundation is a spiritual community, an ecovillage and an international centre for holistic education run by committed staff and long-term volunteers. Its most well known offer is The Experience Week, which runs all year round to give people looking for an alternative way of life a flavour of community life and has inspired people from all walks of life, including Mike Scott from The Waterboys. The Foundation also runs other community programmes and hosts courses on a range of spiritual, environmental and health topics.

Budget: £

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

You’ll join in with aspects of daily life at Findhorn

More on Experience Week: Experience Week was one of the first programmes created by Findhorn Foundation. It gives individuals a chance to meet, engage and share in community living. You join in with aspects of daily life at Findhorn by spending four mornings in one of the Foundation’s service departments such as the gardens, maintenance, kitchen, homecare or dining room. The week also includes meditation, sacred dance, a nature outing and being part of a supportive group. The programme runs from Saturday to Friday evening, and includes seven nights’ accommodation and all meals, from the first Saturday lunchtime through until breakfast on the Saturday morning of your departure. Read a word from the queen on her experience.

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

The Universal Hall arts centre at The Park

More on Cluny Hill: Experience Week takes place in the former Cluny Hill Hotel, a rather grand Victorian building perched on top of a hill in the outskirts on Forres, in North-East Scotland. It’s surrounded by rolling hills and landscaped gardens and has a chakra garden, where flowers match the colours of the individual chakras. Cluny Hill has a lounge, a sauna and an impressive ballroom with stain-glassed windows. It also has a sanctuary room where you can meditate. Taize singing is held in this room every morning before breakfast. The dining room has beautiful bay windows overlooking a lawn and woodland. There are paths leading to a glade where you can swing on a hammock or quietly sit down in the wooden hut overlooked by a drawing of Pan.

More on the bedrooms: There are 69 rooms in total but none are single rooms. If someone takes a single room, then they take a room with two beds in it. Cluny has four double bedrooms. None of the bedrooms have en-suite facilities.  There are several communal showers on the ground and first floor.

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

The original Findhorn site

More the Findhorn Foundation: The Foundation was started by a couple called Eileen and Peter Caddy and their friend Dorothy Maclean from a caravan in 1962 in Findhorn Bay in North-East Scotland. Peter Caddy found it difficult to feed his three young children on unemployment benefit, so he decided to create a vegetable garden. Under guidance from Dorothy and Eileen, the dry and sandy soil started to produce out-sized vegetables such as a 40 pound cabbage. Their intention to live a spiritual lifestyle and the extraordinary abundance of their garden attracted visitors and other thinkers from all around the world and a community was created. In 1972, the community was formally registered as a Scottish Charity under the name, Findhorn Foundation.

The Foundation brought Cluny Hill Hotel in 1975 as a centre for its workshops and for staff accommodation. Long-term volunteers and staff work in service departments such as maintenance, gardening, DIY, housekeeping and the kitchen, and Findhorn Foundation runs almost 200 week-long workshops every year as well as conferences, events and an outreach programme of workshops taken around the world by its workshop leaders.

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

A ‘whiskey barrel’ house at the eco-village

More on The Park near Findhorn Village: The Park is a 30-acre site that was once a caravan park but over the years has transformed itself into a cross between an eco-village and a spiritual community. It may have unglamorous origins but its location on a peninsula with Findhorn Bay on one side and the spectacular coastline of the Moray Firth on the other cannot be bettered. The Park sprang up around Peter and Eileen’s original caravan and garden, which is still gloriously intact and one of the highlights of the tour of the Park given during Experience Week. There is a community centre where volunteers, programme guests and residents of the eco-village gather to eat as well as a wonderful entertainment venue, Universal Hall, which comfortably seats 300 people and has featured well-known musicians such as Joan Armatrading, dance and theatre perfomances. Findhorn Foundation runs many of its community programmes at The Park such as Experience Week and Living in Community Guest programme, the latter invites individuals to live in the community for a month or more.

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

Lunch is the main meal of the day, made from home-grown or locally sourced ingredients

Food and drink: Food is healthy and hearty at both Cluny Hill and The Park. Vegetarian dishes such as mushroom risotto would always be accompanied by a huge variety of salads with accompanying pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Lunch was the main meal of the day and all meals were served in the oak-panelled dining room with its impressive bay windows. Some of the salads at Cluny Hill came from Cluny gardens but otherwise it was sourced from local producers. A variety of herbal teas, black tea and instant coffee is available all throughout the day with toast and spreads if you’re feeling peckish. Gluten, dairy-free and vegan options could be provided for on request.

Fellow guests: Guests are an international bunch with people flying in from all corners of the globe including Japan, Brazil, Australia and closer to home, Germany and Holland. The age range is diverse as well starting from the mid-20s to late 60s. Mike Scott, the lead singer of The Waterboys has been on Experience Week and actually wrote a song about his time in Findhorn called ‘Experience Week’. It wouldn’t suit a guest who is looking to be pampered and waited upon nor someone who is not remotely interested in spirituality or environmental concerns.

crownWhat’s queenly: Nature is the star of the show here. Cluny is nestled in woodland and has beautiful glades where you can find peace and quiet.  This is the place where you can get in touch with nature and spirituality –a magical combination. It’s a stark contrast to City life.

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

Guests come from all over the world to experience Findhorn

What’s lowly: The accommodation won’t suit those who  prefer not to have to share a room or who need an ensuite bathroom.

Getting there: There are good rail and bus links to Inverness from all over the UK, with further connections to Forres. Findhorn Foundation buses meet three Saturday morning trains at Forres station, one from Inverness at 11:26am and two from Aberdeen at 10:11am and 11:56am. Alternatively, guests can fly into Inverness airport from major UK cities using Easyjet and Flybe and take a connecting number 11 bus just outside the airport terminal straight through to Forres high street. Taxis from Inverness airport cost approximately £45.

Costs: Prices for Experience Week are income-based and range from £460 to £720. The pricing system works on the principle that the individual pays what they think they can afford. The single room charge for the week is £140 extra. The cost of Experience Week covers food and board and the two excursions during the week but doesn’t include any holistic therapy treatments.

© Queen of Retreats

Reviewed by Karen Higginbottom  Other personal growth retreats

Findhorn Foundation Community Living Scotland

This is the place where you can get in touch with nature and spirituality –a magical combination.