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January 28, 2020

Hooked on hutting

With the changes to Scottish Planning Policy that were introduced a couple of years ago, the dreams of many people to construct a simple, low impact hut somewhere out in the woods, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, were made slightly easier to realise. There are however many other barriers in the way – not least access to land. The Thousand Huts campaign is convening a Hutters’ Rally in February at which this will be a core theme. One committed hutter explains why she has become so hooked on hutting.

Mark Smith

THE first time she saw the site, Louise Witter wondered what she’d let herself in for. But an idea was taking shape. A place to escape from towns and cities for a while. A community in the woods for people who want to get away – and give something back. And a new addition to one of Scotland’s growing environmental movements.

Eighteen months on from that first visit to the site near Lanark, the community envisaged by Ms Witter is now starting to take shape – the planning permission is entering its final stages this week and applications are now being invited to build and occupy the 14 huts that will eventually form the heart of the site.

It is called the Encampment – after the remains of the Roman fort that once stood in the forest – and the plan is to offer long leases on the huts of at least 15 years. Like the hundreds of other huts spread around Scotland, they will be pretty much off grid: no wi-fi and no toilets. They will also offer a chance for the hutters to get involved in the management of the 32-acre wood and contribute something to the local community.

Ms Witter, from Aberdeen, who works as a legal advisor in the chemical industry, says she first became interested in establishing the community because she was drawn to the idea of hutting as an escape from some of the more stressful aspects of life.

“It’s the ultimate mindfulness,” she says. “You can spend hours in the forest and realise you haven’t thought about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other.” However, Ms Witter was also looking for an investment and will spend around £120,000 getting the wood ready for the huts, one of which will be set aside for the use, free of charge, of community groups and charities.

The Encampment also appears to be part of a growing trend – the first residents of another new hutting community near Saline in Fife have just been selected and the campaign group A Thousand Huts has successfully lobbied for a change to the planning rules which has made it easier to establish hutting sites.

One of those interested in taking on one of the huts at the Encampment is Karen Smith from south Lanarkshire. The 44-year-old single mother of four says she would like her and her four children to spend more time in nature and a hut is the ideal way to do it on a tight budget.

“It’s been a lifetime ambition,” she says, “but I’ve had a recent change in my living situation where I was going through a divorce and I’m now in quite a pokey wee flat so this is an obvious way to have a place to get away and de-stress.

“Being part of a small community was also a huge attraction for me – the idea of being part of a new group of like-minded people. We could enjoy the space and look after it too. I’d like to be involved a bit in the management of the wood. It’s a unique opportunity. It’s also affordable – I’m a single parent of four and I can’t afford to buy a house. The hut is something that can be a little more long-term.”

Donald McPhillimy, who works for the Thousand Huts group, says the Encampment is part of a definite trend towards more hutting in Scotland, helped by the group’s campaign for the planning regulations to recognise the concept of a hut, although he says the approach of individual councils to the idea is still patchy.

Mr McPhillimy also believes there’s room for a range of hutting projects, from an individual hut on a patch of land to much bigger projects like The Encampment and one of the most famous sites in Scotland, Carbeth north of Glasgow. But he emphasises affordability is important. The idea of hutting developed from a working class movement that sought to provide people with a patch of land they could call theirs and Mr McPhillimy thinks hutting should stay in touch with that ideal.

Affordability is also important to Louise Witter, although she too was looking for a change of gear in her life after many years working in the chemical industry. And now she’s looking for like-minded people to join her.

“A lot of people have said to me they played outdoors when they were kids and they want to spend more time outside and want their kids to play outside,” she says.

“Now they will get the opportunity to put their hut up in this lovely forest. Some people will just want to sit in their hut and mind their own business and they’re welcome to do that, but really I’m looking for people who want to put a bit of energy in the project and get out into the wider community as well.

“I’m looking for people who want to sign on, commit to the project and get going.”