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.
Once upon a time, people across Britain had the freedom to build a weekend hut or a cabin-in-the-woods on land they rented or bought for a few pounds. All that changed in 1948 with the Town and Country Planning Acts. In Scotland, there is a growing movement to get some of that freedom back. How can we do the same in England and Wales? I think the first step is to start with cabins-in-the-woods and “Woodland Hutting”.
“Woodland Hutting” involves a hut or cabin-in-the-woods which satisfies the following conditions:
- It is built within plantation woodland or in accordance with a management plan which protects an Ancient Woodland site.
- It is not visible from outside the wood, or if in new woodland, it will not be visible when the wood matures.
- It is largely built of renewable materials, especially timber.
- It has no formal foundations and can be removed leaving little or no trace.
- It has an internal floor area of about 30m2 or less.
- It is owned and primarily occupied by the same individual or family, whose primary residence is elsewhere.
These conditions are designed to address concerns about ecological damage and impact on the local environment and neighbours.
Read more on the Hutters.uk page about Woodland Hutting, which covers legal routes for increased hutting, finding land, and next steps.
“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 …
Last month (March) I was able to visit Walden Pond in Massachusetts and the site of Thoreau’s hut in the woods from 1845 to 7. I’ve posted about it in detail over on the Centurywood.uk blog. (I went back in September, and took more photos and videos of the pond, hut reconstruction and the wider area.)
I’ve posted to the Century Wood blog about a five day stay in the log cabin this month to start on the drying barn, which might be of interest to some hutters: https://centurywood.uk/2018/06/18/five-days-at-the-wood/
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.
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:
Others questioned whether the entrants were really sheds at all!
On Monday, Patrick Barkham’s Guardian story was getting retweeted with the #shedoftheyear hashtag too:
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:
Tonight we’ve created Hutters, a new group on Facebook for people interested in huts, cabins, sheds, and chalets!
This year’s series of George Clarke’s “Amazing Spaces” features a log cabin being built in a woodland clearing. In the first episode, shown tonight, George visits this larger riverside cabin in the Lake District, built with larch logs taken from the surrounding forest. This is the plan with the smaller cabin he’s going to build, and there was a mention of identifying diseased trees to take. (Ramorum?) This episode also has a house built around a wooden railway carriage, and a couple of amazing locations (pod on a mountainside) and recycling (private jet body turned into a living space.) People in the UK should be able to view the episode for the next month on Channel 4’s 4OD catch-up service.
Those of you who read “Living Woods” magazine may be familiar with the regular articles from its editor, Nick Gibbs, about his one room riverside hut in northern France. Google turns up some of his blog posts if you want a flavour of what they do and a few more pictures, and one of the best posts is from November 2011. Not really a substitute for reading the articles in the magazine though.
While searching around for this post, I found out that Nick had been in a serious traffic accident this summer and has been spending the months on his recovery. He’s blogged about it all and it sounds like he’s been through the wringer, but thankfully he’s coming out the other side now.