The McClung clan story
Janie and I were both brought up on farms, Janie on a 2,000-acre hill farm in Roy Bridge, near Fort William; my father was a potato merchant and farmed at Swanston on the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh, 5 miles from where we live now in Lasswade, Midlothian. Janie has been a shepherd all her working life (we’re both in our early 50s now), and I’m a civil engineer.
Most recently we’ve been working together on my family’s diversified farm at Swanston, 6 miles due south of the Edinburgh city centre. Since the mid-90s, along with my brother, we’ve transformed a mixed arable farm into a centre of outdoor activities (golf, livery yard, cycling and walking etc) plus renting out the transformed old farm buildings as offices and holiday cottages.
In 2007 we opened a newly built golf clubhouse that doubled up as a 100-cover bar, restaurant/brasserie. Janie was chef/head chef for 8 years and I ran the golf club and brasserie. In 2015 we chose to leave my brother to run that business and pursue our own interests in agri-tourism. We have one 18-year-old daughter who’s currently studying Zoology at Glasgow University.
Why we got a self-build shepherd’s hut from Blackdown.
It was Janie’s 50th birthday in March and she announced she didn’t want a party or a holiday, just a shepherd hut! I researched the options, and wanted a high quality finish that would last and also be able to move with us if we choose to relocate – which we plan to do once we find the right mix of stock farm and agri-tourism potential. I was planning to start an extension to our house so figured that having the skilled trades on-site would be a good opportunity to be able to double up with the self-build shepherd hut construction at the same time. I managed both jobs concurrently but also ended up doing most of the shepherd hut construction, along with a local friend who is planning to renovate a removal van into a motor home for himself. Together we not only built the hut but installed the 12v electrical circuits, solar PV and all the plumbing. Janie completed the hut with her painting and interior decorating skills. The choice of self-build vs bespoke complete hut was mostly influenced by the desire to learn as we went along (we plan on adding at least 3 or 4 more huts once we find a suitable site), but also cost (I knew I had the time and skills to make some savings on the labour costs).
About the self-build process.
It’s been a very rewarding process from start to finish with many challenges, but none that was going to defeat us! We started construction the day before the ‘beast-from-the-east’ hit us at the end of February and finished it in mid-May with the commissioning of the Chilli Penguin stove which also heats the water for the shower and basins. It was not a full-time build but more something that I turned to when able.
About the guest experience.
The hut is located in a 1-acre paddock/field in front of our house only 200 meters from the centre of Lasswade village, as a result guests can enjoy the peace and quiet of a country lane, but are close enough to walk to the local pub/restaurant. The local bus service also runs every 10 mins and takes about 30 mins to the centre of Edinburgh.
We are on Air BnB – here’s the lowdown!
We’ve set up the hut with a queen-sized double sofa bed, but think we may add another single bed above this, suspended off the wall, for a child to enable families to stay. The hut is off-grid with solar panel charging two 12v leisure batteries, which are wired to lighting and 12v USB charge points as well as extract fans in the toilet/shower. The heating is from a Chilli Penguin stove that also includes an oven and water heater. An 80-litre tank holds a reserve of hot water which is also topped up by a solar water heating panel. We hope that this will appeal to people wanting to experience 5*comfort but also a challenge of managing the off-grid challenges of managing power and heating inputs/outputs.
Mains pressure water supply provides the pressure for the cold and hot water outlets. The hut was located on the site of an old horse field shelter on the south-facing bank of the River North Esk. The old field shelter has been moved along the slope and is also available for anyone staying to use. It is fitted with a gas BBQ but useful for storing wet jackets, boots etc after a long walk. There is a deck of similar 18ft x 8ft dimensions to the hut, on the south elevation.
About the hut design.
With the help of Alan Hetherington from Blackdown we based the hut internal layout on one of your tried and tested layouts. We stayed in a 12ft x 7ft hut in the Lake District last year and noticed that they had to build a separate cabin for a kitchen and bathroom, to enable 3 beds to fit into the hut. We didn’t like this compromise as we felt that the whole point is to have everything in one hut/building. We’re very happy with how the layout has worked. Janie stipulated that she wanted the French-style doors on the side (south-facing) elevation but that still left plenty room for the bed/sofa to the left, kitchen unit (converted from the base of a pine Welsh dresser!) straight ahead under the window, wood-burning stove to the right and the small but adequately sized bathroom with full working shower enclosure and composting toilet. The internal design was a mix of planning (mostly just the layout) and evolved as we went along, once the basics were taken care of (bed, kitchen cabinets, toilet, stove, hot tank etc). There’s an interesting mix of new (retro lights, stove, shower, toilet, taps etc) and ‘up-cycled’ old items that gives the place some character (Welsh dresser, metal outdoor furniture and copper jam pot toilet basin).
What we love about shepherd’s huts.
The peaceful surroundings and simplicity of living in it work for us. Janie has said on numerous occasions that, despite it only being 50 meters from our front door, it’s like being on holiday when she takes a cup of tea around and sits on the hut’s front door steps or decking chairs in the sun. Our lives are so busy and cluttered that it’s very tempting to sell all the clutter from our busy lives, remove all our financial commitments and live more simply in a shepherd hut.
About the delivery and general customer service from Blackdown.
It was all excellent from start to finish. The options were clearly explained, the choices made and the journey started. The backup was there if we needed it and when I did make a mistake (I forgot to order a floor but in my haste used some of the wall boards on the ceiling and ceiling boards to form the floor) we quickly realised what was wrong and worked through to a sensible solution (I sourced some similar timber boards from my local builders merchant).
Why we recommend Blackdown.
You may find cheaper huts if you search on the internet, but it was obvious from the start of my research, when I came across Blackdown, that their customers all praise the quality of the entire package of service and materials from Blackdown. It’s obvious that everyone who works there loves their job and puts a lot of passion into their work. We would certainly buy another hut from Blackdown if we chose to expand our rental business in the future.
Come and stay with us, you can find the McClung Clan on AirBnb!