How to live off grid in Scotland

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scotland How to live off grid in Scotland

Scotland is a small nation of 5.4 million in the United Kingdom. 

Many of us picture kilts, Braveheart, celtic music and majestic castles when we think of Scotland, but it’s also a growing destination for those who want to live off grid. 

If you’re considering doing the same, here’s a guide for how to build an off grid life in Scotland. 

Choosing your spot

First and foremost if you want to know how to live off grid in Scotland, you need to choose your spot. 

There are various great locations for going off grid in Scotland, including: 

You can also get a taste of off grid living in Scotland by staying at some ecological inns and off grid bed and breakfasts.

If you’re more into roughing it, you can also try living in a tent, or go half-way by trying to live in a yurt in Cromarty, near Inverness.

If you’re going to try being out in the wilds or even building your own yurt or living in a large tent, be sure that you have good land with access to water and good soil conditions that won’t erode on you.

And don’t try to half-a** it! As veterans like Davey McDonald point out, living off grid in a tent isn’t easy and you need to do it right. He should know: he’s lived off grid in a tent for over 12 years!

One place that’s also become very popular is the remote Isle of Eigg in Scotland’s Small Isles. 

Located near the Hebrides Islands and about five hours north of Glasgow, this small community has gone almost completely off grid.

After being purchased by residents and turned into an environmental trust, Eigg now has about a hundred people who live off-grid and coexist with nature using only renewable energy systems.

As Daniella Zalcman writes:

“Through a combination of wind, water, and solar power, Eigg has become one of the world’s first island communities to implement a completely renewable power grid.”

Once a week a ferry from the port on the mainland delivers a few vital supplies that Eiggers can’t produce. 

But apart from that they are fully self-sufficient!

Choosing your home

In addition to choosing where you want to live off grid, you will decide what type of home you want to be in. 

Ensure that you have good road access that doesn’t wash out completely during bad weather. 

Options include: 

  • Living in a travel trailer
  • Living in recycled Douglas Fir whiskey vats (Findhorn!)
  • Constructing a log cabin or cob house
  • An off-grid small holding
  • Building a tiny home

Ready for Scottish weather

Scotland has long winters and gets a lot of rainfall. 

As such, you need to be paying attention to various priorities when it comes to cold and wet off-grid living. 

In particular:

  • Make sure your living space is well caulked and wind-proofed around doors and entrances. 
  • Get a good heater such as a propane heater so you can stay warm on chilly nights.
  • Make sure your structure is well insulated and waterproof. If you live in a tent, ensure you have thermal sleeping bags that are able to withstand cold temperatures and keep you dry and warm.
  • Keep extra propane on hand for heating and for cooking if you’re using a propane stove, which I recommend.
  • Store water and food so that you have enough if you get cut off from supplies. Keep non-perishable items enough to last for a month or two. 
  • Dress warmly and learn to layer for maximum warmth. Use body heat if possible as well on those cold Highland nights!
  • If you’re using firewood or a wood stove, store your wood in a dry place that’s off the ground, and make sure to keep at least a few month’s worth in reserve for very wet and miserable winters. You’ll appreciate that dry wood. And don’t forget kindling to get the fire started!
  • You should also look into getting ahold of fire logs, which are sold at a steep discount from old wood that can’t be sold. These will save you money on wood and keep your property forest’s intact and you can drive it in on a trailer and stock it for your fireplace in the winter. 

A look at pioneers who have gone before 

Scotland has quite a history in the off grid movement, including communities like Findhorn which have made their mark. 

Individuals have also headed into the Scottish wilderness to make a life for themselves and have become well known for their efforts to stake out a claim in remote places and live a different way of life. 

Scottish hermit Ken Smith, now 74, is one man who made a go of it on his own and hasn’t been back to “normal” civilization since.

As Heather Greenaway notes:

“For 40 years he has lived a life of solitude and simplicity: no electricity, no phone signal, on the banks of a remote loch in the Highlands.”

Smith’s journey has inspired various people and curious travelers to come visit him and find out about his way of life and how he hunts and fishes on his own land, where he lives in a small cabin he built. 

Other such as off grid legend Jake Williams, ended up inspiring various others to go off grid, including young documentary filmmaker Elliot Caunce. 

Caunce did a documentary on Williams and eventually decided to go off grid himself in Dundee after marrying a young lady from the area. 

Williams, for his part, headed to a remote small home in the 1970s after a dispute with his landlord, and ended up living off grid since then, continuing to stay after the end of his marriage.

Another prime example in Scotland’s off grid community is religious fantasy writer Sara Maitland, who moved to live off grid in the early 1990s when her marriage broke up.

She resides in a small cottage in a remote area of Galloway, which she enjoys immensely and has gotten more in touch with the roots of her Catholic faith.

As Maitland says of her decision to leave regular society behind:

“I went to live in the country. It was here I started to practice solitude and it grew from there. I found I loved it.”

Rising popularity

Going off grid is becoming more popular around the world, but especially Scotland and Wales have seen a sharp rise in Google searches and interest.

As Sarah Wilson notes in a piece on the Scottish off-grid movement:

“The burgeoning off-grid movement, however, is about more than temporary escape from the rat race

“The housing crisis, the pressures of modern life and ever-growing concerns around the climate crisis have led thousands to seek out an alternative way of life.”

Scotland has a very old tradition of people living off the land, which is called “hutting,” and it’s being rediscovered now in the modern age. 

While the countryside has been dwindling and people have been moving to the cities, that’s now beginning to turn around. 

People who want to experience a different way of life are deciding to move to more rural and remote places or to stay there if they area already there.

From 2011 to 2017, Scotland’s countryside had an increase of population more than any of its cities or small towns.

The cost of rent is a direct motivation, with young people in particular losing interest in working day and night just to afford basic accommodations. 

Instead, you can set out to live off the land, often with something as simple as a small croft, a windmill and a generator and some firewood to keep you warm in the winter. 

The rising popularity has especially manifested in tiny houses, which are allowed in various municipalities in Scotland. 

Places like Eigg, as I mentioned, are also a big inspiration and show how an entire community can go off grid and generate its own power from wind, water power and solar energy. 

Their “micro grid” is an inspiring example of what can be done with some dedication and ingenuity.

Scotland the brave

Scotland is a beautiful and unique country full of opportunities and unique places to go off grid and live life the way you envision. 

It will take planning, work and some patience, but living an off grid life in Scotland is very much possible with the right research and preparation. 

As long as you’re prepared for some challenges including the wet weather, cold temperatures and isolation, Scotland can be a brave frontier in a life lived on the edge. 

Going off grid in Scotland isn’t for everyone, but the movement is growing.

More and more are deciding that they want to take a long romp in the wild mountain thyme all around the purple heather…

And then do it again next year, and the next.

Who knows, you might even fall in love.

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer. His book Cultworld was published last year. Follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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