I remember as a teenager going to see the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone. The typical stone-built whitewashed cottages on the Ulster side were nice enough, hunkered down against the weather with small windows.
Then you went through a mock-up of one of the emigrant ships and emerged in America. There it was all different, the houses were made out of wood. Small hut-sized cabins where often large families were raised. I remember clearly how they all felt so dry and warm, with a lovely resinous smell. They were usually raised off the ground so you walked up a couple of steps to go in and the wooden floors had a drum-like quality.
I think I have loved huts since that moment. And I am not alone. Wooden huts are just a recent manifestation of small buildings to dwell in. It used to be that everyone in Britain lived in huts, except for the select few who lived in larger lodges and castles.
Go back far enough and most dwellings were round, an efficient and strong shape to build from natural materials. Over time, the homes became rectangular, built mainly of stone, or of turves in the case of the summer shielings. Why not wood as in America? Well, the straight-stemmed pine was a limited resource and the technology did not exist in the distant past to saw and cleave timber. Then, when it did, people just carried on building out of stone, which they were familiar with.
Our ancestors lived in huts whether built of stone, turf or timber. So when we get the chance to go back to living in a hut, one with a fire, it is very appealing, and strangely familiar. Part of the appeal is its smallness, a bit like a boat; you can’t have too much stuff so you bring the essentials. Even small houses today are really big by comparison and we fill them full of stuff: books to read, surfaces to clean, projects to finish, projects to start. Then add children or elderly parents into the mix. It can be quite overwhelming. Put the TV on, have a drink, check Facebook, distractions, distractions.
The great escape
Alternatively, get away to your hut. Arrive on a Friday evening and breath a big sigh of relief. Put the stove on, cook something simple, hear the sound of the wind in the leaves and the crackling logs. And relax. Return to the land of your ancestors but with free time on your hands. Next morning, make a coffee and throw open the door, let the sunshine in, sit on your chair outside, make a plan for the day ahead.
In a few years’ time, thanks to the achievements of Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign, hutters all over Scotland will be going through the same rite of passage from busy work lives to relaxed rural retreat, catching up with themselves for a weekend or a few days, emerging from their huts to sit in the sun or to shelter from the rain rattling on the roof, after a really good night’s sleep. The day will unfold. Hutters all over Scotland will join northern and eastern European hutters who have been enjoying their hytte, sommerhus, mokki or dacha for as long as they can remember. For them it is normal to leave the city most weekends and travel, not too far, to their weekend huts to indulge their interests and lead a simple life, returning ready for the challenges of the work week ahead.
In future there will be many more opportunities to find a site to rent or buy to build a hut on or to commission one of the many small hut building firms to build it for you to your design. The site will probably have planning permission already and planners will be well used to dealing with applications. There will likely be a few huts up already, wood smoke curling from the chimney. You or your builder will have a copy of Reforesting Scotland’s Good Practice Guide to Hut Construction, the bible when it comes to building a compliant hut. You will have already signed a contract with the owner of the ground and an agreement with the other hutters on the site. It is good for your peace of mind to know what will happen should things go wrong. Hutters are always prepared!
So, huts are about to start popping up all over the place, tucked away up farm tracks, on the edge of woodlands, deep within plantations, beside remote lochs, hidden in quiet glens where nobody has lived for generations. Clad in wood, surrounded by natural vegetation, the huts blend into the landscape; some cannot be seen until you are quite close. Couples are going to long walks or chopping wood, children are climbing trees and playing make-believe games, authors are writing their best-sellers, poets are music, musicians are composing, painters are capturing the landscape. The smell of onions frying is in the air. In the evening there is a light in every window. There are people living in the glen again.
This article was first published as a personal view in Reforesting Scotland Journal
More information on A Thousand Huts HERE
Images by Ray Perman