“And I Bring You FIRE”- A pyromaniacs dream come true

OK, call me a whimp, but, solo wild camping in winter doesn’t deter me, I love been out in the snow and ice, it’s the 8 hours of daylight that’s the disincentive, the thought of the isolation, in sub-zero temperatures is one thing, the thought of having to spend up to 16 hours of it in total darkness, simply lacks the appeal to me as it may not to others, even with the potential of watching downloaded films on the Ipad, the fact remains, I’d still be stuck within the confines of a bivi or one man tent for 16 hours, exposed to the elements, in the middle of mist filled cloud, and possibly, snow, ice and constant rain or sleet absorbing the terrain, it really doesn’t sound like much fun. There are only so many spoons you can whittle in one night, besides, once the shavings fall inside the sleeping bag, well, it would be worse than the Highlands and Lake District midges.

So, as I have rediscovered my love for the outdoors, I  needed to discover a new alternative. I’ve been a devotee to Ray Mears for many years, and, Paul Kirtley certainly knows his stuff too, as do many others. With the assistance of the marvelous YouTube, and, so many hours of watching many publications, I decided to venture to the woods and make an attempt at the first and foremost necessities of the outdoors, fire-making, with a ferro rod, steel, tinder and kindling, which, in January, in northern England, one of the wettest and frozen parts of the UK, the testing challenge certainly was awaiting me.

Storm debris covers the footpath on the Ebor Way

Another, and probably one of the biggest challenge, was finding some secluded woodland which doesn’t have, ‘Private’, ‘No Camping’ or ‘No Fires’ signs daubed all over them, especially, been situated so close to a major English city. What little woodland there is available, much of it really is littered with heavy traffic, I’m not the only one who enjoys the benefits of wild woodland.

The greatest natural ally for fire-making in the outdoors is the deciduous Silver Birch. I’m not going to pretend I’ve magically transformed into some kind of woodsman overnight, I certainly haven’t, but, this particular tree offers bushcraft, amongst other things, a bark which can be used for both tinder and fire-starting, a nutritious sap which can be tapped and drank, the bark can be heated and the resin collected, which is useful as a waterproof glue and again, helpful for fire starting. Plus, if you visit Canada with Ray Mears, he’ll take you to a native American who, minus instructions or a plan, can, transform the bark and timber into a traditional canoe.

The caveman returns, but next time, the Kuksa will be replaced by a bigger and modern equivalent, a metal outdoor mug, simple reason been, although the Kuksa looks and feels the part, this particular one is far too small, I want a mug full, not half a portion of hot coffee.

Now let’s be realistic here, if my memory serves me right, man has made fire since forever and a day, and even earlier than that, which, really does pre-date Swan Vesta, Ronson or the legendary Zippo, not to mention the 10 for £1 disposables readily available on any swag market stall in the country, so, it’s fair to suggest, that today’s modern hi-tech equivalent, old Homo Sapiens, [citation needed] should easily equal and surpass these ancient people’s, we’ve progressed, haven’t we?  In my new Swanndri shirt I felt like an oversized Hobbit but, the question remained, could I step back in time 4,000 years and equal primitive man? That, was the question. Who fears progress?

This is how it’s done, (not the fire, she’s cheating, but the rest, the shelter, bedding and cooking, she’s good), the thing is, where on earth, around my neck of the woods, would it be possible to find a traffic free spot, in the woods, where you could construct something as good as this? Thank you Survival Lilly 🙂

The landscape I was searching for was heavily wooded, close to running water, isolated and free from traffic, and hopefully, containing Silver Birch and dead standing trees, I’d no intention of destroying anything living, that wasn’t on the agenda.

The tinder pouch, a circular piece of leather, punched and threaded with paracord, a simple but robust piece of kit, handy for a variety of tinder

The location I found, was close to the Ebor Way footpath, far from been isolated or free from traffic and as far as silver birch were concerned, there wasn’t one to be seen for miles around, but, the decision for the location was simple, it was tucked away down an embankment, adjacent to the river, an area, which on viewing, was frequently flooded and an over flow for the main river, and, absolutely abundant with dead driftwood, there was more dead wood around me than in a timber yard, and, even without the silver birch, this was a superb spot to practice fire making, especially as I was now using my own tinder and nothing more, the challenge awaited.

Not my photo, but, an example of how I initially made a base and platform of almost equal length logs to build the fire on, thus, allowing oxygen to flow into the fire from beneath, raising the fire from the cold ground and slowly contributing to the overall structure once the fire had become established. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it needs to be effective and, the deeper the log platform base, the longer and hotter the fire will burn.

The next step probably was the most time-consuming of the entire manufacturing process, that been, the collection and distribution of the required materials.

“The greater the need for fire, the greater the difficulty in its manufacture”

Preparation is imperative and following the simple initial procedure really does ensure the end result flows smoother, I had a tinder pouch with a variety of potential contents, old man’s beard, silver birch bark, cotton wool, cotton wool soaked in fat/dripping, old bicycle inner tube – cut down into small pieces and a piece of magnesium block, I’d yet to find and prepare any fatwood. The ferro rod and striker were itching to make their debut.

“Manufacturing fire really does warm  you three times, the first, collecting the firewood, the second, igniting the tinder, and third, the fire itself!”

It took me, probably, the best part of an hour to prepare the location and collect all the wood, due to the terrain it wasn’t difficult, dry and dead wood littered the area, dead bracken lay everywhere, to say I was only yards from a river, a river that floods and can be treacherous, the debris it had gifted me during its last flood was abundant.

I was too busy preparing everything to remember to photograph the early stages, but, this is the result in the fires second stage of ignition, once the tinder and kindling had ignited and taken shape, the second elements were added, the middle range, the  roughly 10 to 20mm thick pieces and finally, the heavier, thicker logs, the ones that really do make a fire burn with a raging warmth and comfort.

Excluding the tinder, the 3 required stages are as follows, 1:- a pile of dead twigs, dry leaves, bracken, or anything small and combustible enough to take a small flame, 2:- a second pile of bigger twigs, small branches, roughly between 10 and 20mm in diameter, then, 3:- the bigger and substantial content for the fire, the dead and hopefully dry logs, if they seem too wet, take the axe to them and split them into smaller, dryer pieces, usually, the centre of random logs will be reasonably dry, the more the merrier.

Home made belt attachment for fire making. Contents include:- water bottle and metal canteen, multi-tool, ferro rod and steel, magnesium block and steel, various tinders and water purification tablets.The possibles pouch was intended as simply that, but, it was a wonderful surprise when I discovered the water bottle and canteen fitted perfectly  within, so, I added a belt loop at the back, an additional pocket and loops for the knife/multi-tool and the ferro rod, thus, ensuring it’s complete fire kit purpose. When ever possible I use leather for any outdoor kit, handcrafted and recycled leather, for me, adds to the outdoor wilderness feel and a subtleness for the primitive  alter-ego.

So, the moment of truth finally arrived, the preparation completed and a pile of twigs and dry leafs collated on the surface of the base logs, the neat piles of the following stages located at arms reach, some cotton wool and rubber inner tube placed within the kindling, and, we’re off. Had they still failed, I could have soaked the cotton wool tinder with the used cooking fat, I had in a tin in my rucksack, or shaved and feather the centre of a piece of the thicker logs I’d collected, adding more dry and combustible content, but, fortunately, it deemed unnecessary. The ferro rod sparked immediately, and the cotton wool ignited, and, for a moment I thought I’d achieved immediate success, not this time, unfortunately the kindling didn’t immediately take to flame. With my second attempt, I ignited the rubber from the cotton wool, and, although everything was slightly damp, the kindling took to the combination or rubber and cotton wool, and, hey presto, I had fire, a wonderful feeling.

Tools of the trade – The axe, I found the rusty and discarded head in an old ammo box with various other clear-out tools outside an antique shop in Whitby, a little challenge to renovate it, so I cleaned off the rust, had the blade ground and added a little paint and a new shaft, the banco folding saw; a must for bushcraft, the Spyderco folding pocket knife, a fixed blade knife; this one been the Norwegian Helle Viking Bushcraft Knife; a wonderful piece and, the wire saw. The guitar to the right, unfortunately, not part of the kit and something I simply don’t have the patience to learn, and, sadly, because it would be an ideal situation to hear it been played, after cooking over an open fire, in the woods, with a few beers or a bottle of wine, and some good tunes been strummed away, sounds truly wonderful. A pair of work gloves, although not included in the photograph, really are advisable to wear throughout the procedure.

I’d anticipated the result to take longer and be more difficult, but, I’d made it easier, simply by preparation and planning, by collecting all the required elements, having them close at hand and available. If I can do it, anybody can do it. Referring back to the base logs, it’s also useful to lay two more stage 2 bits of wood between the base and the tinder/kindling, if the 2 pieces are laid in an inverted V shape, hanging beyond the fire so the two ends could be used as handles, should the kindling require a little air blowing inside to encourage the flame to emerge, it’s possible to, relatively safely, lift everything, using the V shaped sticks, and blow at the kindling to assist the flames to manufacture.

Summary, for a first attempt I was quite satisfied, there are things I could have done to have improved it, such as increase the base platform by adding more logs, it’s something I’ll take with me for next time, I could have stockpiled more reserve fuel, but, I wasn’t intending to stay too long, my challenge was simply to build a fire and, I achieved it, and, it was superb practice, my methods worked for me and I learnt a lot, so, with this little extra knowledge gained, next time, I’ll be there to advance myself a little more, I’m looking forward to it.

The result, a raging fire, plenty of additional fuel at hand, waiting to be added when required and a billy tin with water inside awaiting to make a much required coffee.

And finally, the golden rule applied, Leave No Trace or Leave Only Footprints, even though the area where I’d been, will, without doubt, flood in the next few weeks or even days, my conscience dictated my decision, so, I scattered the ashes and covered the location with wet leaves and mud, conscience cleared.

No trace remains 🙂

Published by

Jurgen Tischler

My interests are mountaineering, buschcraft and leathercraft, not necessarily in that order. Being outdoors is the real buzz. I'm not trying to set any records or achieve any real targets, simply taking every opportunity to go out there and see what happens, this, is hopefully, a catalogue of the aforesaid pursuits.

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