It was the first seven words of the advert that grabbed me:
“Off grid hut farm 5 miles from…”
Then the photograph; a wooden hut with four windows to the front, four makeshift steps to reach the front door, a rough driveway with higgledy-piggledy paving stones atop gravel and a garden shed at the back. A few more words – “Off grid hut farm 5 miles from … new generator battery multifuel stove annual rent…!…price is negotiable”.
Mac sent me the ad via Facebook messenger late one Wednesday evening with no comment, just those few words and a photograph. I was intrigued. I scanned the rest of the photos, hastily taken with a phone and in stark contrast to the polished images on AirBnB and property websites; clutter in plain site, awkward photos of small rooms and a toilet surrounded by varnished wood panels. 29 minutes later I clicked the ‘I’m interested” button, not knowing quite what that did. The owner replied a few minutes later to say he had a buyer but despite the guy having visited 4 times and promising money, no cash had yet appeared. If he didn’t come up with the money by Monday it would be back on the market. Ah well, I thought, remembering my Gran’s words as I often do – “if it’s for you it won’t go past you”. Maybe it wasn’t for us.
His next message said “this is an off grid hut in a small hutting community…”. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what off-grid was, and certainly didn’t know what a hutting community was…I even wondered if it was a spelling mistake and he meant ‘hunting’? I’m a sucker for a bit of research and within minutes the Thousand Huts Project website gave me a whistle-stop tour of Scotland’s hutting heritage and outlined plans to re-establish hutting in various spots across the country:
We had tentatively been looking for a place together for a while, but hadn’t quite found what we wanted. We discovered Iceland in 2015 and both instantly fell in love with the remoteness of it. Every time we go back we dream of living there permanently and self-sufficiently, admiring small houses dotted around the barren landscape, wondering if we could truly give up our comforts back home. This off-grid hut might just be the perfect step in that direction; a taster menu, just to see if we really like it.
The owner messaged again to say we could go and check out the hut whenever we wanted – the spare keys were under a bucket at the back. It was a 25 minute drive from where we live so on Saturday we did just that and fell in love. There was no address. We knew it was the third hut down a farm track. We knew the nearest village and as we approached Mac asked me where it was. I’d searched google maps to no avail and had to admit I didn’t know where we were going, but I followed my instinct.
We turned down a road I know a little from dog walking, picnics and a friend’s 40th birthday where around 30 adults and children wild camped for a weekend, me with a broken wrist in plaster. It was probably the best birthday party I’ve been to. One group set off into the forest to gather wood for the camp fire and the rest of us set up tents, awnings, tables and barbeques and we ate and drank and laughed and climbed the hills and drank cans of juice at the top and sang happy birthday into the wind.
There were others camping at the same spot and across the road we noticed a couple of large vans being unpacked and what looked like a stage being assembled and connected to generators in the vans. An enormous camp fire was built at the back of the small field, more people arrived and we were treated to a live punk band until late in the evening. It was surreal – we were at a picnic spot in the countryside miles from the nearest town, beside a single-track road with no light pollution, surrounded by 100 or so people listening to live music. No electricity pylons, no car parks, no houses.. so, when we were looking for the hut that first Saturday, my nose told me to head down the same road.
As we reached the top of a small hill and the road twisted, we noticed to our left we could see the top of what looked like a wooden hut. We had found it! We tentatively drove down the track past an array of huts, some with extensions, some with TV aerials, some being worked on, some locked up and empty looking. A small burn followed the track and on the other side of the water we saw a small tree-house and what looked like a memorial garden with a picture of a black Labrador. I lost my own Labrador 8 months ago and felt a pang of sadness that he wasn’t coming to explore with us.
We found the keys under the bucket as promised and made our way inside. We didn’t expect to find a fully fitted kitchen, large living area, flushing toilet, shower room etc. We knew we wanted it straight away. We didn’t look in the shed but looked round the garden (nettles and grass) and talked to a neighbour who told us a bit about the arrangement with the farmer and what was expected of hut owners. As long as you respect your neighbours, respect the land, don’t do anything too out of keeping with the rest of the huts, and pay your annual rent on time (he usually pays when the lambs arrive) we would be just fine.
As we drove home we agreed we wanted the place, but knew there was already a buyer who may come up with the money at any time. We phoned the owner to say we were very interested and asked him to let us know what his situation was with the buyer. He said he still hadn’t received any money so it was officially back on the market. We needed to know a bit more about the place so said we would phone him when we got home.
We had a list of questions for him – parking, bins, planning permission, insurance, solar panels, generators, batteries, legal status, contents, septic tank, water etc… he answered them all. He had only owned the hut since the previous October and had added a wood burning stove in that time and had plans to make other changes, but unfortunately had to sell in a hurry. Mac used his Arabic heritage to barter an extremely good price and we agreed to meet the owner at his house the next day to agree the sale and complete the paperwork.
Less than 70 hours after first seeing the advert we had agreed to buy our new place. And we loved it already.