Scottish campaigners set out to revive hutting in 2012

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Fri Jan 6 09:40:17 GMT 2012

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Scottish campaigners set out to revive hutting in 2012

Scandinavia is an influence on the rise in rural retreats for city dwellers, 
leading to the Thousand Huts campaign

Severin Carrell, Guardian On-line, Thursday 5th January 2012

Gerry Loose calls it "the long view". Standing a few yards from his moss-
carpeted wooden hut in a Stirlingshire forest, Loose gestures towards the hill-
line of the Campsie Fells, their peaks and flanks dusted with snow. The air is 
crisp, sharpened by the winter chill.

The hut is Loose's retreat from urban Glasgow. Built about 80 years ago, its 
weathered green paint now peeling, the cabin has three small rooms and an 
outdoor privy built from salvaged timber. Still lit by prewar gas lamps, it has 
no electricity, no mains water and a brisk walk takes him to the nearest 
standpipe, which frequently freezes in winter.

Proud to be a "hutter", Loose is a leading member of a new campaign called A 
Thousand Huts which has sprung up to champion and revive hutting as a way of 
life. Widespread in Scandinavia, its supporters say hutting promotes low-impact, 
ecological living and rural regeneration, and puts city dwellers back in contact 
with the countryside.

In 2012, hutters, landowners and environmental activists will launch a new 
Scottish hutting federation to spearhead a campaign aimed at reforming planning 
and land rights laws, to give hutters proper status in the planning system and 
protect them against eviction and exploitation by landlords.

As the secretary for the Carbeth Hutters in Stirlingshire, Scotland's best-known 
and largest hutting colony, Loose says the attractions are immediate and 
obvious. A poet, playwright and garden designer, he and his daughter Marie first 
got their hut 13 years ago as a weekend retreat and an escape from Maryhill, a 
tough neighbourhood in north Glasgow.

"I was living in a 22-storey high-rise and the local lads were fond of Buckfast 
[tonic wine]; a lot of broken glass around. I had a wee daughter. I didn't 
necessarily want her to see this was the only possible way to live in the 
world," Loose said. "And just getting the hut meant that there was an avenue of 
escape; just mooching about, getting away from the city.

"As Marie grew older, she came out here with her chums and I knew she was 
perfectly safe. Everybody keeps an eye on the kids here. It sounds corny or old 
fashioned but it's true. Everyone knows who the children are; they go around 
building gang huts and the older ones look after all the younger ones."

Peeping out from a stand of conifers as Loose arrived at Carbeth was a young 
female red deer; the hutters often see woodpeckers, birds of prey and hosts of 
woodland birds. Morven Gregor, Loose's partner and chair of the Carbeth Hutters, 
said that harvesting the colony's profusion of wild raspberries for jam-making 
was a tradition.

And many regulars descend on Carbeth over Christmas and Hogmanay when the 
Carbeth Inn, the local pub which sits on its doorstep, gets inundated. The 
hutters hold dances in the village hall, and impromptu music sessions in the 
summer. "It's just a magic, restorative place to be, for all its quirkiness," 
Gregor said.

Many take inspiration from Norway, Sweden and Finland, where hutting is central 
to family life. In Norway alone, there are nearly 430,000 cabins and holiday 
chalets. Propelled partly by the Wallander detective novels by Swedish novelist 
Henning Mankell, Scandinavian writers have brought that culture – of remote huts 
overlooking lakes and beaches or in forest clearings – to British horizons.

In Scotland, the only solid estimate, made in 2000 by the then Scottish 
executive, suggested there were nearly 650 huts scattered across the country, 
some in established communities such as Carbeth, which has about 140 huts dotted 
across 90 acres of woodland, some in smaller colonies near towns such as 
Peebles, others in more isolated alternative settlements in remote peninsulas 
such as Assynt in the north-west.

Hundreds are believed to have disappeared in the past few decades, going out of 
fashion or being pushed out by rising property prices.

In an accidental parallel with the hutting campaign, the Forestry Commission has 
just launched an initiative to set up legally protected "woodland crofts", 
giving foresters and rural people land and a building plot next to their conifer 
plantations and woodlands across the Highlands and Islands.

Ninian Stuart, the hereditary keeper and steward of Falkland Palace in Fife – a 
medieval hunting lodge and palace which is now a crown property – and one of the 
main forces behind the campaign, believes there has been a marked shift in mood.

"If you look back 100 years or even 50 years, there was a strong tradition of 
hutting in Scotland," he said. "Over the last 25 years, there has been a serious 
decline, but the Thousand Huts campaign has shown there's a real thirst to 
revive hutting. For me, 2012 looks to be the year when the curve turns upwards 

One important model is legislation introduced in the Welsh assembly that 
promotes low-impact and low-carbon housing, said Maf Smith, former director of 
the Sustainable Development Commission, and a campaign adviser. The Welsh now 
treat these cabins and huts as a specific class of dwelling in planning law. 
"That has been a game-changer in Wales," Smith said.

In Scotland, campaigners want hutters to have legal rights of occupation and 
tenure after several notorious cases where communities have been evicted or 
faced with huge rent increases.

The 140 hutters at Carbeth – a community founded partly by socialists and 
communists from Glasgow and Clydebank before the second world war – famously 
began a rent strike 14 years ago after their landlord tried to double and triple 
rents. After forming a co-operative company, they have struck a deal with the 
owner to buy their land under Scotland's community buyout legislation and have 
until January 2013 to raise £1.75m. They have raised nearly £520,000 so far and 
are preparing to bid for public grants to help meet the shortfall.

Hutters at Barry Downs near Carnoustie in Angus were less lucky. A handful of 
residents in the prewar hutting community have been fighting an eviction order by 
their landlord, the neighbouring caravan site owner. In south-west Scotland, 
there are uncorroborated reports that a hutting colony has been bulldozed by the 
site owner.

Daye Tucker, a rural affair campaigner who is prominent in Scottish Land and 
Estates, the body for Scotland's most powerful lairds and landowners, said 
landowners and farmers were beginning to welcome hutting as way of reviving 
rural areas, using poor quality land and generating income. "Lots of us 
understand there's a dangerous disconnect between urban and rural people," she 
said. "We're at a very early stage. It's just about dropping a pearl into a 
pool, and watching the ripples form."

- -- 


"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

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