I spent two nights of the Easter weekend at our off grid log cabin at Century Wood. I’ve made this video about staying there, and I also talk through the basic 12V electric system, the kitchen sink and drain, and how I use the wood stove.
Last week I read Michael Finkel’s book about Christopher Thomas Knight, the “North Pond Hermit”, who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years from 1986 with only two incidents of human contact. I wasn’t so much interested in Knight’s way of life, but rather the description of the community of cabin owners that he stole food and basic supplies from.
I’ve found it very difficult to find photos that I can use of Knight or his ramshackle encampment of tents and tarpaulins hidden amongst a cluster of huge boulders in the woods. However, this short video from a news report shows the state game warden and the state trooper who caught and then arrested Knight, and his encampment.
Anyway, with that out of the way, what was the area like? This Google aerial photo shows:
Most of the cabins targeted were around North Pond, with some also by Little North Pond. Knight’s camp was to the west of Little North Pond, and in fact only three minutes walk from the nearest cabin. Knight lived there for the whole of his decades in the woods, within earshot of his neighbours voices at times.
He only ventured out to steal from occupied cabins, eventually becoming an expert burglar, able to get in and out without leaving obvious signs. He chose midweek nights, ideally during rainstorms, to cover his tracks and avoid accidental contact with cabin owners. But people gradually became certain that the food packets, propane bottles, and batteries that they were certain they’d brought were in fact stolen and not just forgotten. This led to a huge amount of nervousness and fear, and for many people spoilt the joy of owning a weekend cabin by the lake.
He also regularly stole from Pine Tree Camp, which provides outdoor education and experiences to people with disabilities, and that’s where he was eventually caught, after a silent alarm set of Sgt Terry Hughes, a Maine state game warden, woke him up at home in the middle of the night. Reading Finkel’s description it sounded very like Broomlee that I went to myself as a child.
Finally, this documentary video has interviews with several cabin owners, showing their cabins, and giving a sense of what the community there is like: a mix of locals and regular weekenders who know each other as neighbours.
I’ve always loved Lego and this time of year is a great time to build things together. We have the 5766 Log Cabin set from 2010, and have been building the three different huts it has instructions for. I’ve also rebuilt it as Thoreau’s cabin in the woods by Walden Pond. As you might expect, I photographed the whole lot.
You can see the three official designs here, as Lego’s own description says: “Escape to the LEGO countryside in this 3-in-1 Log Cabin! Packed with great details, including an open fire with rotisserie, wooden logs, tree and opening doors and windows, this log cabin is an ideal wilderness getaway. Minifigure included and ready for backwoods adventure, with backpack, paddle and canoe. Rebuild into a country retreat or a river hut.”
Next is the Log Cabin itself in more detail, with lift-off roof, canoe, and joints of venison roasting above an open fire!
The second design is the Riverside Retreat, and is hinged at the side so you can open it up and see inside.
The third design is the River Hut, with a A-frame design and a bridge over a stream. Again this has a lift-off roof.
Finally, my Thoreau cabin built entirely from pieces in the set. It has a lift-off roof again, and I reused the tree design from the Log Cabin instructions. The last picture is the base layout to get you started if you want to build it yourself.
Here’s a slide comparison of my effort in Lego vs a reconstruction of Thoreau‘s:
Even though the Log Cabin set is discontinued, Lego still have a page about it with PDFs of the instructions to build the three official designs. If you have a good Lego collection already, you may be able to put it together without the set – especially if you have lots of sloping roof pieces. Second hand sets can be found on eBay and here are links to Amazon for some similar sets and the Log Cabin itself – I get a percentage of Amazon sales, which helps pay for the website 🙂
Lakeside Lodge 31048
Mountain Hut 31025
Log Cabin 5766
The cabin-in-the-woods is part of the folklore of North America and it’s not surprising that there are a lot of videos about them on YouTube. Some are quite conventional second homes that just happen to be built of wood, but at the other extreme are basic log cabins built by the owners using the surrounding forest. This post is a collection of some of those YouTube channels that are worth looking at, and that might be relevant to woodland hutting in Britain.Continue reading “Log cabins on YouTube”
“I’d planned to spend most of the weekend at Century Wood before the warnings about Storm Alex started, and after a close look at the forecasts I went ahead. Despite 18 hours of continuous rain, the overnight stay was comfortable and I got a lot done on Sunday which was dry.” more …
“Last month I invested in a wooden rocking chair for the log cabin. There have been benches there for years but on an evening you want something you can sit back in. Henry David Thoreau famously had three chairs in his cabin in the woods: ‘one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society’. ” more …
We went to this year’s Glamping Show today at Stoneleigh Park near Warwick. Glamping has expanded over the years to include camping pods, newly-built shepherd’s huts, and tiny houses as well as the luxurious tents, yurts etc. I’ve included a gallery of some of the photos I took which gives you a flavour of the event, and points where glamping now overlaps with hutting.
The show is explicitly aimed at landowners wanting to diversify into glamping, and had stands from everyone from wood-burning hot tub makers to online visitor booking software. In the main hall were (mostly) smaller stands and three seminar spaces. Outside were a wide selection of the kinds of tents and cabins on offer.
Hutting tends to be about having the hut or cabin or shed or whatever for much longer than glamping, where you might just hire it for a week. Most hutting is about owning the structure and maybe even the land it sits on. However, there’s now a lot of similarity in the buildings, even if the glamping huts are quite neat and commercial. They’re a lot more soulful than caravans though.
So it was really interesting to see a fun talk by Max McMurdo about upcycling and glamping, and the idea that you might furnish or even construct glamping huts or tents with reclaimed materials to get away from a manufactured feel. He also made some good comments about the experience of glamping which resonated with the experience of hutting: such as the way daylight becomes so important when man-made light is not just available at the flick of a switch; and how satisfying the most ancient human technologies such as lighting a fire can be, especially when you’re living free of wifi and “being connected”. During the questions at the end Planning Law reared its head (as it always does sooner or later), and there was also lots of good advice (like looking for materials to reclaim in skips!) Max has also got a new book out about upcycling.
Back in the outdoor area, I was really pleased to have a chance to look around the tiny house from Tiny House UK. This is the first time I’ve seen one in person and I hope we see more of them in Britain. Since the ones on wheels or liftable by a crane count as a caravan in planning law, they have the potential to make all those situations where you’re allowed a caravan to be a lot more attractive. One of these is forestry, where you’re allowed to live on site in a caravan when doing forestry work as long as it’s “less than a season”.
If you’re at all interested in doing glamping as a business then I’d recommend looking at the magazines Open Air Business and Glamping Business for the adverts and articles. There are a lot of options, including DIY approaches all the way up to companies who do all the work and share profits with you in return for use of your land.
It’s been more than a fortnight since the grand final episode of Channel 4’s 2015 Shed of the Year competition but the #shedoftheyear tweets are still being posted, and there was a lot of newspaper coverage in the day or so after the final was broadcast.
The episode began with the “Cabins/Summerhouses” and “Workshops/Studios” shed categories. For the first category, I liked Teasel’s Wood Cabin and the Pixie Cabin. For the second category, I liked the Cabin of the Green Man, and its mention of chainsaw carving. I always like anything about the Green Man anyway.
My overall favourites were Cormac’s Bothy and the Corrugated Cottage from the first and second episode, but the judges’ choice and series winner was the Inshriach Distillery from the previous episode.
During the programme, #shedoftheyear was again one of the top hashtags for the UK, and this itself generated some confused responses:
Stories about the result appeared across the spectrum of newspapers, including the ones in The Independent, in The Scotsman, in The Daily Mail, and in The Daily Star. The Telegraph produced a gallery of photos from the competition. As a pub shed, the winner was also picked up by the drinks trade press.
This breadth of coverage was itself reflected on Twitter:
Businesses made use of the hashtag, some with interesting content to promote:
As did Glasgow University Archives:
And beach hutters:
Finally, the hashtag prompted this gem from the city of skyscrapers:
Last week we were at the log cabin for Sunday and Monday, and I brought my computer which has a plug-in TV tuner so we could watch Episode 3 of Shed of the Year. It was good to watch it, but it felt very out of place.
Our log cabin is deliberately simple and it gets us away from the kind of urban, electronic environment we have at home. There are no electricity, water or sewerage services, and very patchy cell phone reception. So we have a wood burning stove, a sink with water from a water carrier, and camping gas for lighting. Nearby is a composting toilet with another water-carrier wash hand basin. We do have a digital radio for the cabin which we can play music from our phones through too, and it runs off 12V batteries charged by a solar panel.
Once it’s getting dark after we’ve finished whatever forestry or tinkering or sitting in the sun we’ve planned for the day, entertainment in the cabin has been a mix of reading, listening to music, cooking and eating and drinking, listening to the radio, and above all talking to each other.
It’s hard to explain but really simple things like keeping the stove going and boiling a kettle become interesting: when it’s more than just flicking a switch and waiting for the click, because you have to split the logs you set aside a year ago, then keep an eye on how they’re burning, and wait for the slow build up of the whistle. Everything in the cabin is at a slower pace and we manage to enjoy doing nothing in particular for hours on end.
But as I said, last week we had television as a guest for an hour. It was like having one of the visitors that come to the wood, say hello, have a chat, and then head off in their car as soon as they can. The ones that don’t want to get muddy and wander off through the trees.
So we finished watching “Shed of the Year” then put some music back on, and later the radio. Radio seems to “get it” somehow. It doesn’t expect you to look at it when you’re messing around with the hotplate from the stove for a start. It’s usually our only connection to the outside world while we’re there.
Sunday was the day of the Greek bailout referendum and we tuned in to hear what was happening. No fancy graphics and footage of leaders getting in and out of cars. Just one person at a time talking to you over the airwaves about what’s going on. Very fitting for the log cabin again. Before the midnight news on Radio 4 was Mark Tully’s “Something Understood” about “Desire Lines”. It included Peter Seeger singing “Little Boxes” in 1963 which starts:
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
Which is very much what we’re not about too.
The log cabin photo that I use as the header image here and on Facebook is one I took at the Forestry Commission’s Grizedale Forest not far from the visitors’ centre. Grizedale is between Coniston Water and Windermere in the Lake District and covers two and a half thousand hectares. It’s one of the most wooded landscapes in England and even on the high ground you’re mostly looking out across trees.
Here are another couple of pictures. First showing a dead tree against the backdrop of forest going off into the distance. And then a windblown tree showing how shallow the root plate is and how near the surface the rock is.
Grizedale is a very accessible wood, with lots of provision for car parking at various points, and well mapped and sign-posted walking and cycling tracks. It’s also been the location for outdoor sculptures since the 1970s and there are now about 50 of them. You can track them down with the map of them you can get from the visitors’ centre or website, or you can just follow the tracks and come across them unexpectedly (but risk missing some of the harder to spot ones though!)