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!)
There are introductory chapters devoted to cabins of increasing size, from the three-sided Adirondack shelter up to a wilderness club house for a hunting or fishing group. Subsequent chapters deal with kits vs custom builds, options for toilets, heating and cooking, lighting, beds, security, water supply, managing woodlands, legal aspects of land ownership, setting ground rules for visitors, and choosing a name for the cabin. Some of these details are specific to North America but many are applicable to huts and cabins in UK woodlands and other off-grid sites too.
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.
“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.