About the Trees is a new venture to deliver craft workshops and nature connection experiences to adults and youngsters in rural Fife. 'The Bothy @ About the Trees was created to provide year-round shelter and working space for delivery of craft workshops, green woodworking and woodland skills. Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs' cites shelter as being fundamental to the needs of any learner. And, ultimately, we're in Scotland where the weather is hardly reliable! The users will be private individuals, educators wanting to up-skill, and school-age youngsters keen to learn new crafts.
The Bothy was an ambitious build - a space to accommodate 10+ people doing practical activities. It was conceived and built by Jonnie Crawford and Peter McLaren: two good pals who share a passion for trees, timber, chainsaw milling and craft. Since 2019, the pair had been milling and setting aside structural timbers without knowing what the huge beams - some 8" square and 14' long - might become, but knowing surrounding yourself with raw material is rarely a wasted endeavour.
The project was conceived and completed entirely without drawings/plans. On 31st March, Jonnie and Peter laid out timbers to map out a footprint: 3.6 x 4.8m. The aspect was to exploit an existing track through the property to the front, views South towards the Forth estuary, and views West towards two ancient standing stones in the field behind. One corner post went in, then another, then the others. At each stage, the pair assessed the structure and agreed a rough plan for the next stage: floor joists, window sills and lintels, roof timbers, and so on. From the off, the plan was to maximise daylight - the ideal for craft work, and essential to an off-grid workshop; the vision was to avoid the common dark interior of cabins, and end-up with a building which almost glowed when you looked in from the outside.
The build put a very strong emphasis on sustainability. The timbers for the main structure were milled from trees within 10mi of the site; the windows are old bus shelter glass, diverted from landfill; the floor is retired scaffold boards; the roof ex-MOD and diverted from landfill; the outer walls corrugated iron from a barn demolished in Hawick; the inner walls western red cedar grown in Scotland and milled by a small company in West Lothian. Even the stove and flue are being given their second life.
The finished Bothy (including cantilevered roof) measures 6 x 5.7m. And the build includes the Tree Bog - a second structure built as to house a composting toilet. Constructed from the same materials (many offcuts from the Bothy) and mirroring the design styling of the main workshop. A nine-pane traditional sash window rescued from a skip offers views to the standing stones. A room with a view…
Jonnie and Peter both work full time, so the build was restricted to time outside working hours, numerous late evenings, and every weekend. But on 27th May, only eight weeks after the two laid out the footprint on a muddy site, the Bothy hosted its first public workshop.
The Bothy was built out of a passion for timber and woodwork, and a fearless determination to succeed despite the daunting scale of the build. The Bothy would be the crux of Jonnie getting his small-business off the ground, and this absolute need was the motivation required. It used self- taught skills, imagination and initiative in place of drawings, a kit, and an install team. And the eight week build undertaken in time outside the day jobs is testament to the passion with which the project was approached. The sustainable approach was genuine - no green-washing required here - and the use of reclaimed materials has resulted in textures and patina which look gently aged from day one, fitting the landscape sympathetically.
The building is surrounded by nature: songbirds, hares, pheasants, deer, buzzards, owls, woodpeckers, squirrels. And the Bothy's creation has far from disturbed this; only 20ft from the front windows is an owl box, with nesting tawny owls. As an unexpected twist, the Bothy in the early evening acts almost as a hide - the tawny owl was seen at close quarters, bringing a young rabbit home to feed its chick - an event that wouldn't have been witnessed without the cover the Bothy provides. Nice proof that this low impact building far from disturbs the nature-rich landscape, but positively adds to it.
The process won't end with the Bothy and Tree Bog; planting of native plants (flowering weeds, ferns and shrubs) around the site has begun. And in two weeks, two bee hives are being delivered; a nice addition, given the Bothy itself is built from the ultimate hive material - western red cedar.
The project doesn’t end here. Plans are already afoot for the ‘Bus Shelter’ (the nickname given as that’s the rough form in our heads): an auxiliary structure which will use the remaining surplus timber frame materials and tin roofing. It will be sited directly across the track from the Bothy, and provide overspill workshop space, and fair weather working.