Wednesday 2 January 2013

Wild Hut 12

The Location:
Rattray Head, by Peterhead, Aberdeenshire

I was visiting family in Peterhead in the north-east of Scotland for New Year and decided to embark on another wild hut adventure. The coastal area to the north of Peterhead is patrolled by armed-guards 24 hours a day. They patrol the tracks and fringe-roads surrounding St Fergus Gas Terminal which provides 20% of the UK’s Gas requirements (and looks like a futuristic city).

I was dropped-off in the darkness along a single track road which leads to a solitary lighthouse at Rattray Head, one of the only places to access the beach past the secure perimeter of the giant gas plant. En-route we passed armed police at the shop, in various lay-bys and spinning along the tracks and by-ways. They obviously anticipate the colossal disruption and loss of revenue that a potential terrorist attack would create…even if the terrorists can’t see it. If I may make a flippant statement at this point…it’s far too windy at St Fergus for terrorism – they would be blown onto their bum as soon as they stepped out of their vehicle! I think the best way to ‘take out’ the gas plant would be to steal everyone’s jackets…

The Build:
Unlike the rest of Scotland, the north-east coast has a distinct lack of seaweed. I had planned to use seaweed like roofing tiles and driftwood for the main structural frame. Another thing about the north-east coast is that there is no driftwood!

I wandered along a flooded trail to an exposed beach which was vast and windswept. There was a Long Tailed Duck pottering about in a sand-pool and a Desert Wheatear harbouring in the dunes above (which is apparently a rarity in bird-watching circles). Recent storms had devastated many homes in the area and wiped out a good number of seabirds. The beach was littered with the carcases of these smashed-up unfortunates.

I retreated into the shelter of the dunes as to avoid the high tide. I dug a body-sized ditch in the sand which would form the main sleeping compartment and keep me out of the wind. In the process I also uncovered a family of transparent flies and grubs which must have been wintering deep in the sand. They jumped around the trench like a blur of sandy grass-hoppers. Not ideal sleeping conditions.

After an hour of beach-combing I had managed to find only 5 small sections of driftwood which would allow me to build the basic roof structure. Rather than a jelly-like carpet of seaweed which I’m used to – the beach had a supply of kelp branches: thick tendrils which bind the kelp forest to the sea-bed. They were about 6 feet in length and about as thick as your wrist. There was enough for the roof which was all I needed.

I gathered great bundles of these kelp stalks and carried them over the next few hours high into the dunes. I arranged them along the roof and buried the structure in sand. On completion I sat for a while on top of the dunes - looking south towards the giant gas plant. During the day the terminal looks like a standard bunch of pipes and electrical mess (a technical term), but at night it looks like a bright futuristic city. The lights of Peterhead can also been seen a few miles further to the south which contrastingly looks slightly more 60’s and a lot less futuristic. 

Roughing it:
This particular overnight experience was a lesson on how to cope with beasties. I crawled into the hut for a look and was confronted with heaps of skipping flies and bugs. I scooped out handfuls and tossed them up into the wind for a pleasant journey elsewhere. But there were just too many.

I decided the best way to get rid of them was just to get into my sleeping bag and not look at them! As soon as I lay down to sleep most of them crawled under my sleeping bag to safety. Out of sight – out of mind, I turned off my head-torch and lay down. As my eyes grew accustomed to the light I noticed them all around my head trying to climb to safety or burrow into the sand. I pulled the flaps of my hat around my ears…just in case and dozed off.
The moon spun round from the east to the south-west until it was time to gather my gear and make my way back along the track. The wind had blown a cup-full of sand into my clothing and pants which had the effect of a ‘spa-quality’ exfoliation. This empty and windswept beach was actually full of life and I had the good fortune to sleep with most of them.

Youtube video: Wild Hut 12


  1. Fantastic, though not sure I'd want to spend the night in this hut. Was it cold? Did you actually get any sleep?

  2. Wasn't as cold as some other huts. The coast seems a few degrees warmer than inland. Had a good sleep once I could free my mind from the bugs! Cheers

  3. Hi Kevin, We'd love to feature your project on BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme - what's the best way to get in touch? Thanks, Chris.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. What is the song in the video!?

  5. as creative as this chap was with variation on a theme it still amounts to just that he only used 3 styles of shelter PUP TENT, LEAN TO , AND ROUND HOUSE so only 3 shelters to his credit and no brownie points