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The Spirit of the Campfire.

When outdoorsmen get a little misty eyed and start talking about “The Spirit of the Campfire” it is easy to imagine they have been enjoying another kind of spirit a little too much.

Yet it is something upon which nearly all agree, there is something special about gathering around a fire with good company.

It may be just a simple human need for warmth, light and companionship or perhaps it is an ancient connection between our earliest ancestors and the mysterious flames that made their lives possible in hard times.

A simple fire below the tide line on a beach.
Even in snow, a real fire can be enjoyed in the form of a Finnish Candle

Theories abound, but it can be observed in cultures and places far and wide. Even in our modern centrally heated buildings, we try to recreate the living flame with gas effect fire places. 

It is little surprise then that many abuse the landscape by lighting fires in unsuitable places, drinking heavily and leaving their rubbish scattered around many popular beauty spots. It is actions like this that quite rightly discourage landowners from allowing access and this  impacts even upon responsible campers as a result.

Remember, an open fire should only used where it is safe to do so and with the permission of the land owner. It is not an excuse to say you do not know who owns the land, if you don’t have permission, do not use an open fire.     End of story.

Even in places where I have obtained permission, I usually use a fire tray simply because it causes less damage.

A metal tray like the one shown here, can be raised off the ground and used for cooking but also allows for a reasonable fire for sitting around in the evening.

The ashes and any remaining charcoal should be bagged up and removed with the rest of your rubbish when you depart so that you leave no trace of your camp.

Never cut living trees for firewood, they are full of sap and don’t burn well anyway. Only take dead wood if there is a plentiful supply,  many species of insects and fungi live on deadwood and it is actually becoming a rare habitat in many places.

Again, I often take my own supply of fuel  from sustainable supplies if I know I intend to have a campfire.

The wilderness is not an endless resource that can be just plundered without concequence.

A well built fire tray reduces the impact of having a fire in the woods.
A fireside gathering under the shelter of a parachute canopy.

With all that aside, there are ways to enjoy the Spirit of the Campfire in a responsible way.

Although few, some campsites still allow the careful use of campfires. Always check the rules and abide by them. Often there is a curfew time so that noise is reduced for the sake of other campers.

Another way is to get involved with an organisation that has access to other sites and arranges meet ups for it’s members.  Again rules will often apply even if they are more like a loose form of etiquette.

Most are just simple consideration for others, things like removing your own rubbish and not approaching the fire circle with head torches shining in peoples eyes.

If it is a large communal fire, help to make sure there is a good supply of firewood. It shouldn’t be left to just one or two people to do all the work.

If you are joining someone’s smaller camp fire, it is polite ask and to bring some fuel with you if possible.

Don’t start poking around with someone else’s fire unless asked to do so. They may be letting it burn down for embers.

A large Bushcraft UK meet up.
The fireside banter at a bushcraft skills weekend.

Never burn plastic on a fire used for cooking and do not throw cans onto someone else’s fire. If you are burning food out before putting it into a rubbish bag, do it on your own fire.

If you are putting a brew on, ask if anyone else would like one too.

When someone is cooking for the group, ask if they need any help or firewood.

Try not leave dirty cooking pots or other accumulated items around the fire where people can trip over them in the evening.

None of these things are particularly onerous, but they all contribute to the smooth running of the campfire and good manners go a long way to creating the enjoyable atmosphere and hospitality that is the true Spirit of the Campfire.

Even a large tent can enjoy the cheery glow of a wood stove and a few candles.
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Bushcraft and wilderness skills should always be practised with respect for the environment and other users of the outdoors. Leave No Trace.

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