Last Sunday Channel 4 showed the first episode of this year’s Shed of the Year competition, with the “Normal Sheds” and “Eco Sheds” categories. “Eco” included Cormac’s Bothy (follow the link for lots of photos) which is a handbuilt, round-log cabin in the Scottish Highlands. #shedoftheyear was trending on Twitter during and after the programme, with thousands of people posting tweets with that hashtag.
Twitter lets us get a sample of what the audience thought, and many of the comments about Cormac’s Bothy were what hutters might expect:
That highland bothy shed is just the most magical building I've ever seen! It's like a dream! #shedoftheyear
During the week the tweets have continued, with a mixture of people watching on catch-up, and other people using it to reach target audiences, whether that’s Cuprinol or Yale advertising their products, people proudly showing off their own sheds, or exhibitors at events like Woodfest Wales:
“Rustic Retreats” is an American book from 1998 and has twenty four designs for wooden structures you can build yourself. These include ten types of hut, but also lean-to shelters, tree houses, lookout towers, and rafts. There are also sections on basic skills including making joints, doors, window frames, skylights, and using living trees as structural elements in tree houses.
The full list of huts in broadly increasing order of complexity is: Garden Cordwood Hut, Bent-Pole Hut, Bark Pyramid Hut, Hillside Hut, Sauna Hut, Ivy-Covered Grow Hut, Stacked-Log Hogan, Log Cabin, Writer’s Retreat, David Hense’s Little House.
Each design is accompanied by detailed advice about the building process including some tips based on the authors’ experience and a fully itemised list of required materials. Both the materials list and the explanatory diagrams include dimensions.
Holtsfield and Owensfield are two of the chalet fields of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, originally dating back to the decades before the Second World War that saw similar “hutting” and “plotlands” developments across Britain. The chalets were holiday homes and weekend retreats for “weekenders” from south Wales including the nearby city of Swansea, but over time they have become people’s full time homes. Both chalet fields are adjacent to Bishop’s Wood Nature Reserve which leads down to the coast at Caswell Bay and its beach, and the area has the caravan parks that are often a tell-tale sign of pre-war coastal plotland areas.
In Holtsfield’s case, as you can see from this photo from the early years of the site, the progression was from camping to weekend huts, to a refuge from wartime bombing, and eventually to residential use – and to a much more wooded site as a by-product.
The 14-acre site passed from the ownership of Mr Holt in the 1990s but the new landowner has sought to evict the owners of the 27 chalets to develop the land for much more expensive conventional houses. The Undercurrents.org and The Land Is Ours websites have more about the protests and legal steps the residents took in the late 1990s which has helped they survive there to the present day, although not without some remaining threats to their situation.
Here are two films made around the time of the eviction dispute in the 1990s, first by Undercurrents and then by BBC Countryfile:
The last film is from BBC Wales’ The Slate arts programme:
This Google map shows the two chalet fields, with Holtsfield to the northwest of Owensfield. Holtsfield is at the end of a roadway from Mansfield Road, and Owensfield is at the end of Summerland Lane. If you zoom in, the chalets are quite distinctive in their size and layout when compared to the conventional houses nearby.
“Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties” is a quite remarkable book from 1914. Daniel Carter Beard was one of the founders of scouting in America and wrote and illustrated the book based on his first-hand experience organising scout camps. It is packed full of sketch plans and practical details of structures that can be built in woodlands with nothing more than axes and knives – and an army of fearless, enthusiastic teenagers. The designs are also readily adaptable to those of us armed only with chainsaws and smaller groups of enthusiastic hutters. Some of the details of felling trees and handling heavy logs would also need updating to present-day ideas about safety and acceptable ways of working.
“Cabinology” is an American book that aims to cover every aspect of planning, owning and enjoying a cabin. It is well-illustrated with everything from log-cabin huts to grand, multistory cabin houses. Realistically, most of the advice in the text is aimed toward the latter and many of us hutters are not burdened with dilemmas like whether or not to have a “mud room” specifically for removing boots. However, there is also some useful advice and reminders, including the point that a covered porch or verandah is really useful when quickly unloading a car in the rain.
The book doesn’t deal with the details of designing a cabin or provide building plans. It is very much the kind of book an architect would give to a client to read when deciding what kind of cabin the client really wants to pay for. This should be no surprise, as the author is an architect who has built over 50 cabins for clients.
Old Copse is a 30 acre woodland in Sussex whose management since 2009 has been documented in an excellent blog by Sarah, one of its owners. In 2014 they built this Polish-style log cabin using Scots Pine trunks from the wood itself. I’m going to pick out some of the many interesting details about building the cabin, and link to her cabin posts and videos so you can dig deeper yourself.
Like many woodland owners, they wanted a shelter from bad weather when doing forestry work that would double up as a social space for themselves and visitors. In 2013 they obtained approval from the local council to build a cabin under their forestry permitted development rights. They wanted something sturdy and secure, and settled on a round wood design which is common in North America and Eastern Europe. Although they could find some Scottish and Welsh companies building them in the UK, they couldn’t find anyone nearer to Sussex and hit on the idea of looking for contacts through local Polish clubs, and were quickly put in contact with a group of log cabin builders from Poland itself who had the experience already. By February 2014 the 45 Scots Pine trees were felled and logged, and work had begun on removing the bark.
By mid and late March 2014 the logs were notched and put in place to make the walls, and the roof frame was up.
April 2014 saw the building of the roof itself. They had considered several options, including a green roof with self-seeded plants in soil, wooden shingles or “tiles”, birch poles over a waterproof membrane, and finally a “tin roof” of sheets of dark green corrugated iron. They went with this last option because they felt that it would be more in keeping with the look of a forestry building, especially once weathered, and also the least risky design. This video shows the state of the cabin in April, and it’s location in the wider wood environment:
Later in April 2014, Sarah made two posts about the process of “chinking” the gaps between the logs with little rolls of pine bark fibres to keep the wind out. This seems to have taken a long time, and she does mention some of the alternatives used elsewhere. The first post also has a picture of cast iron wood burning stove they installed and this video shows the process of chinking in more detail:
By May 2014 the stove and chimney were installed and working, and in June 2014 they were sorting out the odds and ends that make a cabin or hut more comfortable, including bits of furniture, shelve, and kitchenware. They held an official opening ceremony for friends and family, which is also shown in this video:
They seem to have got a lot out of the whole process of planning and participating in the build, and Sarah explains how having the log cabin has changed their relationship with the wood:
Already the cabin has given an idea of how managing Old Copse will be easier. BC (Before Cabin) each visit was a matter of arriving, un-packing, working like billyo, and then packing up and leaving – in a hurry if it’s started to pour down Either that, or having to stand under a dismal tarpaulin waiting for the rain to stop.
We appreciate the difference in pace now – we are visiting more, staying longer, getting a lot more essential work done, but also enjoying ‘cabin life’ – taking time to sit out on the deck with a sun downer, while listening to and seeing wild-life in the wood and on the pond.
The team of Polish log cabin builders are now set up to do more builds in the UK, and have a comprehensive website at www.sussexlogcabins.com.
Oxwich Leisure Park has one of the chalet communities of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, and they had the result of their appeal to the Supreme Court yesterday and unfortunately it was bad news. Their service charges will continue to increase by 10% a year, and whereas currently they pay £3000, by the time the leases expire they will each need to pay over £1,000,000 every year. On hearing the outcome, residents were describing their chalets as now worthless.
The court sympathised with the residents but upheld their annual service charge contracts which were signed in 1974. These contracts agreed to an increase of 10% per year, when inflation was 16% and when 10% looked attractive. However, the various measures of inflation have been much less for almost all of the intervening years and in 2015 the CPI measure of the cost of living is actually falling. Against that background, 10% per year leads to eye watering increases: £90 per year in 1974 has now become £3000 and will be £1,025,004 each by the end of the leases in 2073.
Despite the harshness of their situation, the judges observed that signing a fixed rate of increase amounted to placing a bet about inflation which could equally well have benefitted the tenants rather than the landowner if things had been different. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of a better outcome, as the landowner repeated her offer to renegotiate the terms of the contract in the tenants’ favour.
The Gower Peninsula has several “chalet field” communities, and the Oxwich chalets appear to be quite modern in style and (re)built in brick rather than the wooden huts I’ve blogged about elsewhere and that are well represented on other Gower sites which I’m planning to blog about in the future.
Last month we visited Braystones on the Cumbrian coast, within sight of the mountains of the Lake District and near to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site. There have been huts on the beach here since before the First World War and two or three dozen remain. Locally they are referred to as “beach bungalows” but they are clearly part of the tradition of wooden huts and chalets we see across this island.
I found out about these huts from this striking photo on Flickr taken by Gordon Edgar (which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce here.) You can see the beach bungalows in the foreground on the shore, a train on the single-line coastal railway, some of the Tarnside caravan park behind, then the industrial buildings of Sellafield, and then finally the high ground that eventually becomes the mountains of the Lake District.
Behind the huts is Braystones railway station, and there is another cluster of them a bit further along the coast at Nethertown.
While we were photographing the huts, we got talking to Jack, the owner of The Lobster Pot and Summerville semi-detached huts. You can rent Summerville during the summer and it’s very nicely fitted out and comfortable. Definitely a bungalow rather than an unfurnished hut now! Jack has lived here for decades and in the short time we were there he told us lots of stories about living on the beach, including being able to take his boat out to catch fish and lobsters whenever he felt like it. He also has a collection of photographs of the huts in the past, some of which you can see in the Henson Collection on PastPresented.
There first picture in this blog might give the impression the beach bungalows are rather precarious and might be swept away, but sand and pebbles are banked up to create a breakwater and they are well above the high water mark. Behind the breakwater is a roadway that was good enough for Royal Mail to make deliveries while we were there.
Even so, there was one ruined hut at the end that was in the process of being destroyed by the elements. The front wall had come off and the foundations were being eroded, leaving some of the wall posts hanging from the remains of the roof and gently swaying in the sea breeze.
Braystones is definitely the harshest hutting environment I’ve visited, but if you compare my pictures with the historical photos on PastPresented you can see much of the original structures have survived.
There are other styles of hut elsewhere on the Cumbrian coast. One community I’ve yet to visit has been blogged about by Alen McFadzean: the Black Huts on dunes further south near Barrow in Furness.
I’ve been blogging here on WordPress for almost a year now, and today we’re moving from ukhutters.wordpress.com to hutters.uk . The new name is shorter, better describes the content, is easier to remember, and above all is easier to scribble on a scrap of paper when you’re talking to someone next to their hut!
Originally I’d planned to blog more about woodland and forestry topics, and they will still appear now and then. I’m also hoping to do more about the cross over between huts and woods, and continue cataloguing the plotlands, log cabins, huts, chalets etc etc we have in this island and beyond.