Hutting set for Scottish revival

Small rural holiday chalets can provide city dwellers with the benefits of nature and fresh air at an affordable price. Interest is growing across Scotland, as a traditional hutting site in Carbeth leads the way with a community buyout

You might be a little surprised if you were told that the mythical Himalayan utopia known as Shangri-La could actually be found roughly 10 miles north-west of Glasgow. Not so Jimmy MacGregor, one of the current residents of the Carbeth Hutters Community.

“As a lad, my idea of Shangri-La was a wooden hut in Carbeth. Our parents came out, partly to attempt to live off the land, partly to ease the financial burden on their families, and partly to escape the crushing hopelessness and boredom of unemployment.”

After the grim realities of the first world war, the idea of an escape from a dirty industrialised city burned brightly in the minds of people whose everyday existence was a struggle. Each weekend, men, women and children made their journey to Carbeth, often walking from Glasgow, sometimes carrying the building materials which allowed their huts to be built piece by piece, weekend by weekend.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the success of Carbeth Hutters Community Company (CHCC) in winning the right to buy the 90 acre site is another example of the indefatigable Carbeth spirit. CHCC members have always owned their huts, with rent being paid to the landowner for the site (designated a Conservation Area by Stirling Council). The hutters have until January 2013 to raise the £1.75m necessary to buy the land outright. To date, they have raised £520,000 and are currently looking at funding options to help them achieve the buyout target.

“The community was an oasis offering the people of Glasgow the benefits of nature at a price they could afford”

The move represents the first community land buyout in Central Scotland and the first hutting community buyout in the UK. It comes at a time when interest in hutting is growing across Scotland – encompassing approximately 37 sites with around 630 huts. This resurgence is due in part to the successful A Thousand Huts campaign started by the charity Reforesting Scotland.

The campaign has given rise to the soon-to-be-launched Scottish Federation of Hutters, which aims to support the restoration and expansion of Scotland’s hutting culture. The Federation will focus, in part, on an attempt to reform planning and land rights laws, to give hutters status in the planning system and protect them against eviction and exploitation by landlords.

CHCC hopes that the community buyout will inspire other communities to consider exercising their ‘right to buy’ under the Land Reform Act Scotland (2003). Carbeth itself has taken inspiration from countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, where hutting is central to family life and part of the rural landscape. In Norway alone, there are believed to be nearly 430,000 cabins and holiday chalets.

Gerry Loose, secretary of CHCC, is clear about the purpose of the planned buyout: “Carbeth operates on a larger scale than other Scottish or UK sites and has a unique heritage and continuity of presence, which it is vital to preserve. The community was always an oasis from overcrowded and unwholesome living conditions and offered the people of Glasgow the benefits of nature and fresh air at a price they could afford. Carbeth continues to perform this function today.”

Most hutters, like Gerry Loose, who are commonly on the site at weekends,  live in densely populated urban areas across Glasgow and the surrounding area; the huts are not simply second homes for rich urban dwellers. They are, instead, a vital escape from the challenges of living life on a city housing scheme. As one hutter says when asked what Carbeth means to him – even without running water or electricity: “Serenity. I don’t know what I would do without it.”

The role that the Carbeth huts play in the life of those on the site is a key element in the drive behind the planned buyout. The spirit of CHCC is recognised even by those who don’t own a hut but simply serve the community by providing essential services, such as the fuel shipped by local coalman Lenny Smith, who has been delivering to Carbeth for the past 50 years.

“Hutters are brilliant, they are great characters. I don’t make any money doing this but I don’t want to let anyone down. I enjoy coming here so much and performing a service for the hutters. My wife tells me I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s costing us money, but I love the place”.