The hut at Walden Pond

In 1845 Henry David Thoreau built himself a hut beside Walden Pond in Massachusetts and started the process which led to “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” in 1854. This book has gone on to become a classic of American literature, held up by advocates of self-reliance, resistance to the power of the State, naturalism, and conservation; and studied by generations of school children. Even in the UK, it’s often quoted, with its mixture of philosophy and the outline of Thoreau’s efforts to lead a self-reliant life from the land around his hut.

I’ve been meaning to write about Walden since I started this blog, but the more I thought about it, the bigger the task became. Walden is a treasury of ideas connected to hutting and nature, and a single post or even a sequence written at the same time won’t do it justice. So instead I made a page about Walden and will make blog posts as I add material to it. For now that page has a collection of key passages I selected while reading the book, with a focus on hutting.

A few of them give you a flavour of his intentions:

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth,  for timber.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.

Walden Pond is now a Massachusetts state park and visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. There is a reconstruction of Thoreau’s hut near the car park and the footprint of the original hut is also marked out.

As well as the obligatory Wikipedia article, there’s also an excellent episode of Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” radio programme dedicated to Walden.

Posted in Books, Hutting, Walden | 1 Comment

The return of the plotlands and prefabs?

Interesting article by Geoff Beacon on the possible return of plotlands and prefabs, and the background to how we got into the current house price mess stoked by the planning system:

Just imagine, as we do in the York Plotlands Association, that individuals could buy a plot of land for, say, three or four times its a agricultural value (e.g. £2,000), be given planning permission for that plot and put a home of their choice on it. For the individual that would cut out the £50,000 to £100,000 planning gain that ends up on the price of their new home.

Posted in Plotlands | 3 Comments

Urgent request to help Humberston Fitties

In 2014 I made one of the most popular posts here: “Humberston Fitties: magical but under threat“, describing one of Britain’s few remaining plotland sites on the north east coast of Lincolnshire. It was under threat from the continuing uncertainty surrounding the council’s intentions, and the possibility it might be sold to the adjacent commercial caravan park. Since then, things have just got worse and some of the chalet owners have put out a request for help.

The chalet owners have formed the Humberston Fitties Community Interest Company and have offered £1.5 million to the council, who are determined to sell the long lease for the whole site. The adjacent caravan site (Thorpe Park) had first refusal but declined to buy it. Problem solved? No, the council don’t want to sell the long lease to the chalet owners. (Who are voters and council tax payers and people who spend money in the local economy remember.) Instead they are in secret negotiations with an undisclosed company, believed to be another commercial caravan site company.

This seems unbelievably bloody minded and high handed by the council.

I had this email from the C.I.C. yesterday and wrote this blog in response:

NELC put the leasehold up for sale in Oct 2016, inviting expressions of interest. Our Community Interest Company submitted an offer to buy at the asking price of £1.5 million. NELC have very regrettably rejected our offer, in favour of their ‘preferred bidder’, who is believed to be a commercial static caravan site company.

Given the bizarre secretive way in which our landlord NELC are going about things, we as a community really do fear the worse. As such, and given that we feel that we may well be about to loose this much loved piece of Utopia that happens to be a Designated Heritage Asset, we are trying to increase awareness of what is going on across the length and breadth of this land, by whatever means (and media) possible.

We have formed an online petition that I hope you will sign. See link :- https://www.change.org/p/north-east-lincolnshire-council-petition-opposing-north-east-lincolnshire-council-s-proposed-disposal-of-the-fitties

Feel free to circulate this message and spread the word generally, to your friends, family, associates and colleagues!

So, please consider signing the petition and telling your friends. If you have media connections and might be able to help, please get in contact with the C.I.C. via their website.

(The site also has a really interesting page about the Fitties history too.)

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Observer story about hutting in Scotland

Another positive story, from last week’s Observer:

Now a ‘hutting’ revival is predicted after the Scottish government signalled that later this month it will change legislation to exempt huts from building regulations, allowing people to put up these most simple of second homes in the countryside wherever they can rent or buy a plot of suitable land, subject to planning permission.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/15/how-scotland-back-in-love-with-hutting

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Guardian story about woodplots

Story in the Guardian today about people buying woodplots and doing interesting things with them:

If you go down to the woods today … you might find a school, a photographer’s studio, or a carpenter’s workshop. Britain’s forests are getting a new lease of life

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/21/place-country-new-woodlanders

Posted in TV, Radio, Newspapers, Woodlands | Leave a comment

The Glamping Show

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.

dsc_0021Back 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.

 

Posted in Hutting, Log cabins, Sheds, Tiny Houses | Leave a comment

Tiny houses, legally

I came across the video “Living Tiny Legally, Part 1” due to a post in the Tiny House Community UK Facebook group. It’s a really interesting insight into how people have been persuading some local authorities in the US to allow Tiny Houses. You do need to mentally translate “zoning” into “planning permission” and “construction codes” into “building regulations” for the UK system of course.

At 19:30 in the video there’s a slightly awkward moment where one of the city managers finds a diplomatic way of saying they wanted to avoid creating trailer parks that would reduce surrounding house prices. This has always been one of the key worries of local authorities in the UK when faced with plotlands or hutting development: how do they know this isn’t going to turn into some form of shanty town? Quirky colonies populated by artists and software engineers are mostly welcome. Traveller sites usually aren’t.

This is the first part of a three part project, but there are already lots more videos on their Tiny House Expedition YouTube channel.

 

Posted in Tiny Houses, Videos | 1 Comment