I recall a chat with an American friend who couldn’t get his head around the idea of going camping and not having a fire.
The fire, he insisted, was central to the camping experience… it provided a focal point for a group, a contemplative fix for a lone camper, and something to tend to and nurture. Good fire building was ‘an art’.
He was alarmed that most campsites (or ‘campgrounds’, to use his terminology) in the UK don’t allow fires. Although acknowledging the risks in some areas (dry peatland, for example) he felt it was more a product of over-cautious health and safety or planning regulations.
This conversation got me thinking. How many UK campsites have I been to where fires are allowed (I could count them on the fingers of one hand) and why hadn’t I bothered sparking up, as it were?
On most occasions, I’d be travelling solo and light and not all available wood supplies would be sodden. So, for my last trip to a fire-friendly site, the quirky Red Squirrel in Glen Coe, I planned ahead and purchased dry, sustainable sourced fire wood from a garage.
’Fire building is an art,’ he’d said. Damn right.
Given the edited exploits of the various survival experts on TV, it is all too easy to become blasé about getting that tinder to light.
I was accompanied on this trip by my other half and her brother, the latter optimistically armed with a Light My Fire steel and some treated wood chippings.The steel kicked out a hefty (and hot) spark, but the flames never came.
Aware of his growing frustration, I remembered an old North American fire lighting trick showed to me by a fellow RV-er in Canada a couple of years ago.
Seeing me struggling to light up, this indubitably experienced outdoorsman produced a can of petrol and, with grin, doused my pitiful pile with high octane.
I grabbed a lighter and a bottle of lighter fluid from the boot of the car and we were soon drying (or smoking?) soggy socks.
But lighting the fire is only half the battle. We then embarked on an engaging and ultimately rewarding campaign of balancing oxygen flow with fuel levels for the next three hours.
Fires are a great addition to camp, no doubt, but in the right context. Many larger sites could not tolerate fire pits given the addition of inquisitive children and ‘lads or lasses camping weekends’.
Naked flames do demand greater responsibility.