“Huts: a Place Beyond” by Lesley Riddoch

Lesley Riddoch has been a long standing supporter of the Thousand Huts campaign in Scotland, and an advocate for a resurgence of hutting. For the past decade she was working towards a PhD from the University of Strathclyde on hutting, and her new book, “Huts: a place beyond”, is her thesis reworked into a more popular format. I think the book will be a very helpful contribution to the movement, but there are some significant problems with it.

Continue reading ““Huts: a Place Beyond” by Lesley Riddoch”

Hill Farm chalets near Bewdley

Back in July 2014 when I started this blog, one of my first posts was about Jonathan Meades documentary “Severn Heaven” from 1990, in which he visited the Hill Farm chalet field next to the River Severn near Bewdley. Almost six years to the day I went there myself and it’s still much as it was when Meades filmed it.

There are bits of the film on YouTube and here’s one of the clips, showing the river and the chalets from the air, with Howard Davidson’s rather rousing music.

Continue reading “Hill Farm chalets near Bewdley”

Broomlee Camp

Back in the early summer of 1983, a young Iain McNab went to Broomlee Camp south of Edinburgh with most of his primary school class. They stayed there for a week, playing in the woods, being bussed into Edinburgh and off to Melrose Abbey, doing treasure hunts and an orienteering course around the grounds, and sleeping away from their families for the first time. It was also the first time I stepped into a wooden hut, never mind lived in one for a few days. A couple of years ago I visited on a damp April day just before they opened up for the season and took these photos.

The Broomlee Centre, as it now is, is one of the three Scottish Outdoor Education Centres, and first established in 1939 as part of a network of schools in the countryside for children evacuated from cities to escape bombing during the Second World War. After the war they were converted into residential education centres, used by schools and urban youth groups like the Scouts, as they still were when my school took us there.

Continue reading “Broomlee Camp”

“Win the wilderness” TV series

BBC Two is currently showing a six-part series “Win the wilderness” in which British couples are competing to “win” a log cabin and the surrounding land in Alaska. It’s really an extended selection process to allow the American couple who built the cabin in the 1990s to choose who would be best suited to taking it on. More on the BBC website.

Plotlands story in the Independent

“A last hurrah for plotlanders, Britain’s interwar guerrilla housebuilders.
In the chaos and poverty of interwar Britain sprang up a hardy breed of guerrilla homebuilder: plotlanders. Foreshadowing both trailer parks and modern squatters, they constructed semi-permanent dwellings on land not needed for agriculture – near motorways, in woodland, on cliff edges. Godfrey Holmes celebrates the spirit and ingenuity of true property pioneers” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/a-last-hurrah-for-plotlanders-britains-interwar-guerrilla-housebuilders-a7715176.html

Lake Isle of Innisfree

I don’t know about you, but poetry at school was a hit and miss business. Looking back, it feels as if a lot of verse was thrown in my general direction, some of which has stuck and some of which just bounced off – even when committed to memory overnight to placate a teacher. W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is one that stuck, and a couple of years ago I realised its connection to hutting and to Walden in particular. The poem is short enough to quote in full here:

Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Until I came back to the poem a couple of years ago, I remembered the island but not the cabin. Perhaps as a boy I imagined escaping from the pavements of my own city to the island, but as a man I think ahead to shelter and the cabin. Yeats thought even further, to food, with his nine bean rows and bee hive. Rereading it I then saw the connection to Thoreau’s account of two years living in a hut by a lake, in “Walden”. Thoreau grew his own food, and sold the surplus to pay for other necessities. He talked at length about cultivating rows of beans in particular:

Before I finished my house, wishing to earn ten or twelve dollars by some honest and agreeable method, in order to meet my unusual expenses, I planted about two acres and a half of light and sandy soil near it chiefly with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn, peas, and turnips.

Which is more prosaic and more extensive than Yeats’ nine rows of beans, but represents the voice of experience!

Some digging of my own turned up passages in Yeats’ autobiography which spelt out his childhood connection between Walden and the island, starting with a conversation with his father:

When I said to him, echoing some book I had read, that one never knew a countryside till one knew it at night he was pleased (though nothing would have kept him from his bed a moment beyond the hour); for he loved natural things and had learnt two cries of the lapwing, one that drew them to where he stood and one that made them fly away. And he approved, and arranged my meals conveniently, when I told him I was going to walk round Lough Gill and sleep in a wood. I did not tell him all my object, for I was nursing a new ambition. My father had read to me some passage out of Walden, and I planned to live some day in a cottage on a little island called Innisfree, and Innisfree was opposite Slish Wood where I meant to sleep. (Part I, xvii, p.43)

Years later walking on the grey pavements of London in 1888, he remembered the island and composed the poem:

I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem Innisfree, my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music. (Part II.I, xv, p.94)

One of the impulses of hutting is not just to go to more natural places, but to go back to them. Repeatedly. To maintain a connection to them, even when walking the grey pavements of cities. To carry part of them inside you, “in the deep heart’s core”.