Robert Louis Stevenson visited Erraid during the construction of Dubh Artach Lighthouse. Visiting with his engineer father, Thomas, he was so inspired by the island that it was here where he first wished for his dream as a writer to come true. The ‘wishing stone’ on which he stood is regularly visited by others hoping for similar dreams. One of Stevenson’s most famous novels, Kidnapped, is partly set on Erraid; the book’s young hero, David Balfour, is shipwrecked and washed ashore here.
The cottages, quay and outbuildings were all built for those working on the lighthouse construction project. They were built on the sheltered side of the island, facing Mull. Once the lighthouse was complete, Erraid became the shore station for Dubh Artach Lighthouse. The cottages became homes for the families of the lighthouse keepers and the attending boatman.
On Tiree, the Hynish work yard became the shore station for the keepers and their families for Skerryvore Lighthouse. In 1892 the Skerryvore families were moved to Erraid to join the Dubh Artach families.
At the top of Cnoc Mor, the island’s highest point, a white cast iron observatory was built. An off duty keeper would walk up to the observatory each evening to check that both lights were on. In the days before radio, it would signify that “all is well” if the lights were exhibited. Given the distance, Skerryvore would have only been visible on clear nights. If there had been a problem at Dubh Artach, the keepers would have made a visual signal to Erraid. The Skerryvore keepers would have to signal to Tiree and hope someone on that island or a passing ship saw it.
When the lookout was in use, both lights were significantly more powerful than they are today. Following automation, their lights were reduced in intensity.
The off duty lighthouse keepers and their families lived comfortably on the island. A school was built to educate the children and those from the croft and surrounding areas.
‘The Street’ on Erraid consisted of eight granite built cottages. Built in pairs and attached to one of the cottages was the washroom. The Principal Keeper’s house had a larger doorstep than the others, and a high stone wall surrounded the area to protect the vegetable garden.
Gradually the more remote shore stations moved to larger population centres. In 1952 the families from Erraid were moved to new purpose-built accommodation at Pulpit Hill, above Oban. This shore station provided housing for the families and off duty keepers of five of the west coast lighthouses until automation.
The cottages on Erraid remained abandoned for many years, and ownership of the island changed hands several times. It was bought by a Glaswegian businessman who used it as a holiday home and inspired a children’s story entitled ‘The Island’, written by his wife.
In 1977, the Van der Sluis family from the Netherlands bought the island. A year later, the Findhorn Foundation was invited to become custodians, provided they could return to the island for one month each year. A small group restored the cottages and started the community that now live there.
The Findhorn Foundation, a self-sufficient community that enjoy the solitude of the island.
Visitors to the island are welcome as day visitors crossing the tidal causeway or staying for a week or more with the community for retreats.