Updated: Apr 25
Whilst I love hiking and feel at home in the outdoors, I have never actually been camping. Well, I have, but not where I had to cook my own food on an open fire.
Over the past year, I have been feeling a connection to nature more and more and know that I want to experience camping outside for a day or two. Therefore, when I saw a Campfire Building course, I jumped at it.
When one thinks of learning outdoor skills, it brings up images of the countryside, beautiful woodlands collecting deadwood, brought to a clearing where you can set up camp and build your fire.
Therefore, I am almost certain that central London is not the location that would naturally spring to mind. That is why seeing the event organised by Hyde Park came as a lovely surprise as it meant a simple journey along the Piccadilly Line.
I arrived to the Hyde Park Lookout, just a few minutes before 10am. Walking in, it was wonderful to feel instantly warm and cosy in such a modern room. This was particularly impressive given it's an Edwardian building.
There were 10 of us in total, predominately female and a range of ages attending the day for a range of reasons from finding something different to do on a Saturday morning to wanting to be able to learn a skill to take it out into the countryside. We were greeted by Alison, another member of staff and a volunteer, all very welcoming who's manner put any anxieties about whatever challenges the morning would bring well out of the way.
After a hot cup of tea, we were taken to the outdoor area where we would be building our fire. We were reminded of the 3 elements that fire requires to live:
We set off into the park to collect fallen branches. We were informed that we should be looking for dry wood which snapped rather than bent (as this would hinder a fire, making it crackle and putting it out, rather than burn). We found things along the way, but the real goal was to head to a cluster of Silver Birch trees as these are the best trees for fire building.
Silver Birch is ideal for starting a fire due to the oils it contains.
It will start a fire even if the branches are damp.
The bark is also brilliant as a fire lighter. It can be striped from the tree, but of course, be careful in only taking a small amount and never strip around the circumference as this can result in long term damage.
We all got to work collecting very fine branches which had fallen on the ground. Following the weeks of various storms, this wasn't too difficult.
We headed back to the Lookout and were shown how to start a fire. We made ourselves comfortable to sort the branches into 3 sizes, small, medium and large
Starting a Fire
Safety first: always wear a base layer of natural material as man made fibres burn well and will stick to skin. Secure clothing so it is not hanging over the fire.
We paired up and got to work on building out fires.
Clear an area of ground (we used foil trays for ease and to contain the fire).
Before starting the fire, make sure you bend one knee to give you more stability.
Make a 'waffle' out of larger sticks as a base - this helps air to get under the fire.
Fluff out the cotton ball.
Place the cotton on the 'waffle'
Create a spark using the iron and steel, holding the iron as close to the cotton as possible to aid the spark to catch.
The cotton will burn very quickly so keep the wood at easy reach. You will start with the smallest branches and add the larger sizes as the fire grows.
Add a little birch bark as a fire lighter. (remember that this happens quite quickly so you have to work fast).
Hold a bunch over the fire and only once it catches, place them down gently onto the fire. Then get another bunch and repeat until you are burning the larger bundles.
It's pretty easy to create the spark and set something alight, it's keeping it going that's the problem!!
I found it funny by how disappointed I felt when the fire went out just as quickly as it was lit, but how satisfying it was to keep the fire going. Whilst not impossible, it really is a skill.
Once the fires were going, we transferred them to the larger fire bowls and added logs to them.
At this stage I had noticed that at the beginning of the day, we were all pretty serious about it, but as we got to grips with things, people started to relax and have a lot more fun. It definitely had a lovely communal feeling which comes with trying something new and achieving together.
Additionally, I feel strongly that getting our hands dirty and creating something so vital and archaic as fire brings in a very innate joy, but what I hadn't realised was that the excitement was to come.
Baking Bread on an Open Fire
With all the fire building excitement, I had forgotten that we were due to be making bread! The recipe was simple and took minutes to make. Once the bread was kneeded we rolled the dough into a sausage shape and coiled it around a branch so we could cook it over the embers.
The mood had definitely stepped up a gear and we all joyfully headed outside.
The ease and absolute wonder brought out the child within and a feeling that there was nothing more wonderful than making a fire and cooking your own home made bread on it.
Jam and butter was provided and the (small) effort involved and any nervousness at the beginning of the day was long forgotten now that the prize was in our hands.
I am not sure if it is simply because we made everything with our own hands but I can honestly say that it was the BEST BREAD I HAVE EATEN IN MY LIFE!!!
Our instructors were amazing and seeing how much we were all enjoying ourselves didn't seem in too much of a rush to move us on, but I think we all soon realised that there is only so much bread (and butter!!) that one person can eat. :D
Unfortunately, I learnt that they only run this course once a year but the Royal Parks run wonderful courses and events all year round so take a look and find one which suits you!!
Course: Bushcraft Skills: Campfire Building
Date: 22 February 2020 - 10am - 1pm
Location: Hyde Park, Lookout
CAUTION: Remember that creating fires can be dangerous and must only be done if you know what you are doing and do it safely. Small fires can spread quickly. Even when it looks like it's out, it can continue to burn and the heat can spread underground. There are many places in the UK where fires cannot be lit.