Watching the stove vs watching TV

Last week we were at the log cabin for Sunday and Monday, and I brought my computer which has a plug-in TV tuner so we could watch Episode 3 of Shed of the Year. It was good to watch it, but it felt very out of place.

Our log cabin is deliberately simple and it gets us away from the kind of urban, electronic environment we have at home. There are no electricity, water or sewerage services, and very patchy cell phone reception. So we have a wood burning stove, a sink with water from a water carrier,  and camping gas for lighting. Nearby is a composting toilet with another water-carrier wash hand basin. We do have a digital radio for the cabin which we can play music from our phones through too, and it runs off 12V batteries charged by a solar panel.

Once it’s getting dark after we’ve finished whatever forestry or tinkering or sitting in the sun we’ve planned for the day, entertainment in the cabin has been a mix of reading, listening to music, cooking and eating and drinking, listening to the radio, and above all talking to each other.

It’s hard to explain but really simple things like keeping the stove going and boiling a kettle become interesting: when it’s more than just flicking a switch and waiting for the click, because you have to split the logs you set aside a year ago, then keep an eye on how they’re burning, and wait for the slow build up of the whistle. Everything in the cabin is at a slower pace and we manage to enjoy doing nothing in particular for hours on end.

But as I said, last week we had television as a guest for an hour. It was like having one of the visitors that come to the wood, say hello, have a chat, and then head off  in their car as soon as they can. The ones that don’t want to get muddy and wander off through the trees.

So we finished watching “Shed of the Year” then put some music back on, and later the radio. Radio seems to “get it” somehow. It doesn’t expect you to look at it when you’re messing around with the hotplate from the stove for a start. It’s usually our only connection to the outside world while we’re there.

Sunday was the day of the Greek bailout referendum and we tuned in to hear what was happening. No fancy graphics and footage of leaders getting in and out of cars. Just one person at a time talking to you over the airwaves about what’s going on. Very fitting for the log cabin again. Before the midnight news on Radio 4 was Mark Tully’s “Something Understood” about “Desire Lines”. It included Peter Seeger singing “Little Boxes” in 1963 which starts:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Which is very much what we’re not about too.

Grizedale Forest

Grizedale log cabinThe log cabin photo that I use as the header image here and on Facebook is one I took at the Forestry Commission’s Grizedale Forest not far from the visitors’ centre. Grizedale is between Coniston Water and Windermere in the Lake District and covers two and a half thousand hectares. It’s one of the most wooded landscapes in England and even on the high ground you’re mostly looking out across trees.

Here are another couple of pictures. First showing a dead tree against the backdrop of forest going off into the distance. And then a windblown tree showing how shallow the root plate is and how near the surface the rock is.

 

Grizedale is a very accessible wood, with lots of provision for car parking at various points, and well mapped and sign-posted walking and cycling tracks. It’s also been the location for outdoor sculptures since the 1970s and there are now about 50 of them. You can track them down with the map of them you can get from the visitors’ centre or website, or you can just follow the tracks and come across them unexpectedly (but risk missing some of the harder to spot ones though!)

“Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties” by D.C. Beard (1914)

“Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties” is a quite remarkable book from 1914. Daniel Carter Beard was one of the founders of scouting in America and wrote and illustrated the book based on his first-hand experience organising scout camps. It is packed full of sketch plans and practical details of structures that can be built in woodlands with nothing more than axes and knives – and an army of fearless, enthusiastic teenagers. The designs are also readily adaptable to those of us engaged in 21st century woodscraft, now armed with chainsaws. Some of the details of felling trees and handling heavy logs would also need updating to present-day ideas about safety and acceptable ways of working – not to mention planning issues when building the various designs of log cabin!

Since the book is out of copyright it has been reprinted by various publishers, including the good-quality reprint you can get from Amazon.

The Log Cabin in Old Copse Wood

The log cabin in Old Copse, Sussex: http://www.oldcopse.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/cabin (picture kindly provided by the owners.)
The log cabin in Old Copse, Sussex.

Old Copse is a 30 acre woodland in Sussex whose management since 2009 has been documented in an excellent blog by Sarah, one of its owners. In 2014 they built this Polish-style log cabin using Scots Pine trunks from the wood itself. I’m going to pick out some of the many interesting details about building the cabin, and link to her cabin posts and videos so you can dig deeper yourself.

Like many woodland owners, they wanted a shelter from bad weather when doing forestry work that would double up as a social space for themselves and visitors. In 2013 they obtained approval from the local council to build a cabin under their forestry permitted development rights. They wanted something sturdy and secure, and settled on a round wood design which is common in North America and Eastern Europe. Although they could find some Scottish and Welsh companies building them in the UK, they couldn’t find anyone nearer to Sussex and hit on the idea of looking for contacts through local Polish clubs, and were quickly put in contact with a group of log cabin builders from Poland itself who had the experience already. By February 2014 the 45 Scots Pine trees were felled and logged, and work had begun on removing the bark.

By mid and late March 2014 the logs were notched and put in place to make the walls, and the roof frame was up.

April 2014 saw the building of the roof itself. They had considered several options, including a green roof with self-seeded plants in soil, wooden shingles or “tiles”, birch poles over a waterproof membrane, and finally a “tin roof” of sheets of dark green corrugated iron. They went with this last option because they felt that it would be more in keeping with the look of a forestry building, especially once weathered, and also the least risky design. This video shows the state of the cabin in April, and it’s location in the wider wood environment:

Later in April 2014, Sarah made two posts about the process of “chinking” the gaps between the logs with little rolls of pine bark fibres to keep the wind out. This seems to have taken a long time, and she does mention some of the alternatives used elsewhere. The first post also has a picture of cast iron wood burning stove they installed and this video shows the process of chinking in more detail:

By May 2014 the stove and chimney were installed and working, and in June 2014 they were sorting out the odds and ends that make a cabin or hut more comfortable, including bits of furniture, shelve, and kitchenware. They held an official opening ceremony for friends and family, which is also shown in this video:

They seem to have got a lot out of the whole process of planning and participating in the build, and Sarah explains how having the log cabin has changed their relationship with the wood:

Already the cabin has given an idea of how managing Old Copse will be easier. BC (Before Cabin) each visit was a matter of arriving, un-packing, working like billyo, and then packing up and leaving – in a hurry if it’s started to pour down Either that, or having to stand under a dismal tarpaulin waiting for the rain to stop.

We appreciate the difference in pace now – we are visiting more, staying longer, getting a lot more essential work done, but also enjoying ‘cabin life’ – taking time to sit out on the deck with a sun downer, while listening to and seeing wild-life in the wood and on the pond.

The team of Polish log cabin builders are now set up to do more builds in the UK, and have a comprehensive website at www.sussexlogcabins.com.