Last weekend I spent half a day in the lovely Maryhill Burgh Halls in Glasgow at the Hutters Rally. The second half of the day was a trip to the huts at Carbeth, somewhere I’ve been many times and therefore didn’t tag along to. I’ve owned a hut in the past and have spent lots of time there researching for Mavis’s Shoe and Rue End Street, both of which spend a substantial amount of time there. The ‘rally’ was part of the Thousand Huts Campaign which is run by Reforesting Scotland, an organisation whose tagline is ‘restoring the land and the people’. Who could fault such a philosophy? And to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room where so much consistently good sense was spoken by so many people. I don’t know the true numbers but we were certainly well in excess of 100.
"A Hut: a simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (i.e. not as principle residence) having an internal floor area of no more than 30 square metres;constructed from low impact materials; generally not connected to mains water, electricity or sewerage; built in such a way that it is removable with little trace at the end of its life."
I’m writing this from the Tak Me Doon road over the hills between Kilsyth and Carron Bridge, a view which is impossible to catch on camera because of its sheer size so I won’t bore you with a picture. Actually yes I will.
Go up Tak Me Doon with a good pair of binoculars and you can spend the afternoon spotting familiar places, or simply gazing out in wonder. Suffice to say all life is out there, Falkirk and Grangemouth Refinery; the Firth of Forth and the Forth Railway Bridge; wind turbines dotted in the middle distance and rows of them over to the West on the hilltops; also in rows, little houses in estates and high rises in a ring; field upon field, perfect cultivated and perfectly wild; thick dark bushy trees too distant to distinguish size let alone type; marsh reeds in the foreground along with the obligatory barbed wire and rusting sheets of corrugated iron: lots of space, lots of nooks and crannies and as far as I can see, no lack of opportunity for putting up huts, hideaways from the grit and grind of ordinary life, of individual travails in spirit-breaking environments; places for families to congregate, extended and nuclear. Room for all without really causing each other any harm, surely.
So what are we afraid of?
If you’re a hutter or a hut enthusiast, or if you’re just vaguely interested, you’re probably afraid of spending time, effort and money on building a hut, including the building of the relationship with the person who ‘owns’ the land, building your knowledge of how all this works, this living close to nature, and so on. The hutters movement is not about who can build the fanciest hut ie who can pay for the best. It’s about the land being available to everyone including people with not particularly good incomes, and it’s about living in such a way that little or no trace is left behind. In other words preserving what is around us, being respectful of our world. And all that stuff. But at the centre of it is family and community, which according to the research is the most popular reason for having a hut: getting together with kith and kin.
Hutting is an egalitarian sort of concept. Egalitarianism is by its nature counter-capitalist, and seeing as there’s a largely accepted norm now that capitalism is the only way (despite evidence to the contrary) it’s no wonder that most people feel some level of anxiety when they consider acting against those norms. Those who think they have a lot to gain from capitalism, and therefore much to lose, seem to oppose hutting the most. But really there’s more than enough to go round, even for some people to have a little more than others, if that’s what they want, just not the whole lot. So why not break out and have a little piece of the earth to sit on and call home-from-home?