Walkers heading up the track behind the grand old Peebles Hydro are often intrigued by the scattering of dwellings nestled within the folds of the hillside along the Soonhope Burn. The Soonhope huts (or chalets) as they are known represent a piece of local social history, as well as a nod towards a simpler way of life that perhaps more people would like to embrace.
Some are little more than rustic, ramshackle sheds, while others are beautifully kept, with wood-burning stoves, ornate verandas with decking, and well-tended gardens. The range of colours and styles never ceases to amaze, from mock Tudor timber to a wonderful old railway carriage – the ‘Soon Up Sleeper’.
The huts are representative of a wider social movement that took place a century or so ago when landowners were encouraged to provide places for miners, industrial workers and ex-servicemen to breath fresh air and enjoy green space. The building of these simple, temporary bolt-holes – very much off-grid and in touch with nature – have a direct line to the mountain bothies and shepherd’s huts found elsewhere in Scotland, and in turn the huts and wilderness cabins found in Scandinavian countries.
Perhaps the most famous hut community in Scotland, and certainly the largest, is at Carbeth near Glasgow. The origins of the Carbeth Hutters can be traced back to providing access to the countryside for soldiers returning from the First World War, although Carbeth also had close ties with the ship-building industry on the Clyde, with workers able to escape the grime and pollution of the city. Now under community ownership, Carbeth is as strong as ever with the site home to well over 100 huts.
The group of huts at Soonhope is much smaller, around 50 in total, although the sense of community is no less strong. The huts here and elsewhere at Eddleston just north of Peebles are believed to have been built by miners from Rosewell in nearby Midlothian.
As with Carbeth and other hutting communities around Scotland, the huts at Soonhope provide a tranquil environment in which to get away from it all for a few days, the only noise being the sound of bird song and the babbling waters of the Soonhope Burn.
One of the routes in this year’s Scottish Borders Walking Festival (Dunslair Heights Circular by Shieldgreen and Glentress) passes the huts. However, we’d recommend heading up for a nosey any time, perhaps as part of a longer walk into nearby Glentress Forest or up onto Venlaw Hill.
Do also check out Reforesting Scotland’s A Thousand Huts Campaign – the charity’s push to celebrate and expand the world of hutting in Scotland.
Photograph: Rich Rowe