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My favourite passage in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped is the episode in which David Balfour is shipwrecked on the island of Erraid. I sometimes think that Kidnapped goes downhill after the Erraid sequence. There is the hike across Mull and then the chasing through the heather, none of which attends the climatic drama of the early chapters, and the plot settles into true road-movie territory. Whenever I read the book, I always find myself returning to that old Erraid magic!
Stevenson would have come across Erraid as a boy, while on trips with his father Thomas Stevenson, who built the lighthouses at Dubh Artach and Skerryvore. Wee RLS must have been fascinated with the idea of a tidal island. It's instantly dramatic; what if you were stranded on the island and didn't know that it was tidal? Didn't even know it wasn't an island! It is an incredible metaphor now I come to think of it, for those shackled by freedoms they do not know they have. Ironic to the last.
When David Balfour signals a passing boat from Erraid, he is horrified when the occupants of the vessel laugh and wave and move on. David assumes they have ignored them while the passing men assume he must know the island is tidal. The result is that David Balfour is angrier with the occupants of this boat than he is with anyone else in Kidnapped; including his uncle, and Captain Hoseason, and any of the many that thwart him.
Erraid is privately owned today, and is home to an Intentional Community attached to the Findhorn Foundation. You can go to Erraid too: "Whether you are called to Erraid because of its outstanding stillness and beauty, to experience community living or to spend time within its powerful loving energy, you will be amazed at how soon you can let go and simply be in the moment." I don't know how I feel about that, but the 'powerful loving energy' bit does make me feel queasy.
The community lifestyle is somewhat exclusive, and suspiciously middle class. Maybe that opinion of mine is born of too many years grubbing about in the cities of the world, where such aspirations towards divinity and community are a joke. Maybe I am jealous of those who 'are custodians of a simple and largely unchanging way of life...' and who 'live in close proximity to each other and work solely within the community.'
The Erraid Community writes: 'We are a spiritual community and the thread that brings us together is our search for a wholistic quality of life and a greater expression of our divinity. ... We also celebrate the Celtic festivals throughout the year, giving us a greater appreciation for the rhythms and seasonal cycles of life.'
That makes this region a religious hotbed, given that the island lies right next to Iona, and its Christian community.
I have my own superstitious reasons for wishing to visit Erraid, for all that can be attained by a brief visit to the island's Wishing Stone. Some biographers have written that it was on Erraid that RLS first dreamed of being a writer, making it a very special place for him (this really comes across in his writing about it).
And he may even have stood on the Wishing Stone and made a wish to this effect. 'I wish to be a writer!' Lo and behold. The magic of Erraid.