Monday, June 25, 2007

Findhorn, Scotland

Friends: Findhorn was one of the mystical, other-worldly places Andre, of "My Dinner With Andre" from 30 years ago, glowingly describes to Wally during their legendary dinner filmed by Louis Malle. It is also featured in "The Secret Life of Plants" and countless other books and publications. Findhorn has long beckoned me, making it a prime objective of my visit to Scotland.

Findhorn rocketed to prominence back in the '60s when a small group of counter-culturalists on the dole began to miraculously grow 20-pound cabbages and other over-sized vegetables in seemingly infertile, sandy soil near the shoreline in a derelict trailer park in the far north of Scotland. Their success baffled all conventional experts. Their secret was communing with the plants and nature spirits, abiding by their wishes, including soothing them with classical music. When word spread, Findhorn became a mecca for those freed of mainstream strait-jackets, such as Andre. It has grown into a center for the new-age set and has become a virtual synonym for alternative thinking. Its gift store had shelves and shelves of books on the occult and subjects outside the confines of rational science.

The founding member, who had the gift of communing with the nature spirits, is no longer at Findhorn. The plants have returned to normal size, but that does not concern its residents. That was just a means to establish the place, they say. The community of several hundred live in a variety of unique, environmentally friendly dwellings. Few of the original, semi-slum, dilapidated dwellings still stand. The original caravan the three founding members and their three children lived in remains as a shrine of a sort, right beside their miracle gardening plot, still lush with plants, though of normal proportions. Their old caravan, almost as legendary as the bus of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, is presently used as an office.

There is quite an array of original and imaginative living quarters--yurts and bee-hive hexagons and giant whiskey vats. Some have sod roofs and solar panels. Nearly all the community's power is supplied by four mini-windmills. A single full-sized windmill would have sufficed, but the neighboring Royal Air Force base would not allow such a high structure. On the grounds is a uniquely modern theater that seats 300. A cello solo filled it the night before. There are also several buildings and rooms reserved exclusively for meditation. The community offers a wide range of classes and seminars and internships. The members of Findhorn dine communally for lunch and dinner, sharing in cooking and cleaning and gardening and construction.

Being at Findhorn was a superlative way to celebrate my 50th day on the road, just past the half way point of these travels. I've wished to visit Findhorn for years, having heard and read so much about it and having met an occasional person who has spent time there. I was racing to arrive in time for the daily two p.m. tour. I arrived with 20 minutes to spare after coming 52 miles in a non-stop cold drizzle, the temperature not even 50. A couple from Vancouver and another from England and I were led about the premises for two hours by an Australian woman who'd been a resident of Findhorn for four years.

I had camped the night before on a wooded hillside overlooking Loch Ness. Trees lined both sides of the road along the loch, preventing me from uninterrupted peering in search of a serpent's head poking out of the water. At the occasional pull-off, there were official signs describing Loch Ness as "The Loch with a Monster" and "A Monster of a Loch." The signs acknowledged that intense search, even with sonar devices, had turned up no evidence of there being a monster. The myth of the monster goes all the way back to the sixth century, then was hyped in 1934 when an Englishman faked the famous picture with the head of a sea serpent peering from the Loch like a periscope.

But people still flock from all over to this lake, so much so that there are regular signs in four
languages reminding motorists to drive on the left side of the road. Loch Ness is the fourth and largest of a string of long, narrow lakes that extend to Inverness, the largest city of the Scottish north. It is 24 miles long and as deep as 750 feet, deeper than the North Sea. It contains more water than all the lakes and reservoirs of England combined. I was warned not to call it a lake, rather a loch. If I did, I might be mistaken as English and could suffer for it.

Both the air and water temperature were much too cold for swimming. It was barely warm enough to be bicycling in shorts. But the waters of the Moray Firth, which lead into Inverness and extend 31 miles out to Findhorn and beyond to the North Sea, are not too cold for the world's northernmost colony of porpoises. Just as at Loch Ness, there are outfitters who cater to tourists who wish to go out on the waters in search of them.

Its another 125 miles north to the tip of Scotland, but I need to turn south to be back to
London by next Thursday with lots to see in between. I have finally begun to see other touring cyclists, and quite a few hostels catering to them, as the run along the four Lochs is the prime route up to John O'Groats, the terminus for those cycling the length of the UK. After a couple of days of non-stop cold rain, I am happy to be heading south. My super deluxe Gore Tex jacket has been put to the test and has kept my torso toasty dry. I have also been able to test the warmth of my damp sleeping bag in 40 degree temperatures, and survived that as well.

Later, George

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