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Humans have a fascination with fire and the male of the species seem to be particularly affected. We all know that women aren’t allowed within ten feet of a BBQ … well, not unless the men folk have gone off to hunt down more beer. Not that long ago, everyone had a fire in their home. It provided warmth, hot water and if we travel back a little further, a means to cook. People still have fires in their homes today but in the main, they’re encased in a metal box, fuelled by gas and largely ignored until they stop working, which is generally the day before Christmas eve, on the coldest December ever recorded.

The loss of fire from our hearths has done nothing to dampen our enthusiasm for it though. The slightest opportunity or the smallest of excuses are all that’s required to rekindle our desire to set things alight. A campfire conjures up images of the great outdoors, rugged pioneers in the Canadian frontier, cowboys sleeping under a star studded sky, Robinson Crusoe pitting himself against the elements on a desolate island and impromptu renditions of ging gang goolie. Campfires and camping go together like bacon and eggs, Tom and Jerry or Dave Barter and profanity – don’t they?

No, they don’t – once upon a time, a campfire was a real necessity. You cooked on it, you saw by its light and it warded off savage beasts that roamed the night. If you wanted to survive, you had a fire, there was no choice. These days, the once humble campfire has had its status lifted from necessity to one of entertainment … you don’t need one, you just want one and you want one because you believe, it will somehow add a little something to your ‘outdoor experience’. 

Leave no trace … yeah right.

“Leave no trace” should be the motto adopted and adhered to by all those who love the outdoors – many do live by it but many more just pretend to. It’s a mantra which should cast sway on all you do but sadly excuses are easy to come by when the ethos doesn’t quite gel with our preferred actions. 

“Someone’s already had a fire here” … yes, how stupid and the person after you will think exactly the same thing.

“No one ever comes here” … you’d be surprised, we live on a very small island but even if no one ever saw it, does that somehow mean it never happened?

“I need it to keep warm” … no you don’t. Put a hat and coat on and if you’re still cold, get in your sleeping bag.

No one lights a fire at the edge of a dark, midge infested bog because no one wants to camp there. We want to spend our nights somewhere pleasant, somewhere with a view, the scene depicting July in a countryside calendar or from the front of a Highland shortbread tin and we want it as ‘unspoilt’ as possible. Fires leave a long lasting scar on the ground and the earth beneath your fire will be sterile for many years – nothing will grow. Any rocks you used to build a fire-ring will remain blackened for just as long … and while we’re on the subject, you didn’t remove them from a wall did you? These all too obvious signs of a campfire will ‘inspire’ others to follow suit and once the easy pickings have been exhausted, nearby trees will start to receive unwanted attention in the search for fuel. Stones will be taken from walls or streams to extend the fire-ring or used to fashion makeshift chairs for that authentic ‘sitting round the campfire’ feel. People will start to use the fire as a means of waste disposal and that’ll ultimately include cans, glass and tin foil and I think you can probably see where I’m going with this.

If you genuinely can leave no trace, then go ahead and have a fire but if you can’t, there are ways to achieve something similar without leaving anything behind. A fire bowl or fire tray allows you to indulge your primitive instincts without impacting on your surroundings. How about a woodstove for that real back to basics feel? If you really must have the real thing, then I’d suggest leaving the hills early and giving serious consideration to booking yourself onto a campsite that allows campfires. If you still don’t believe that having a campfire where and whenever you choose, is in some part irresponsible or maybe even selfish but you do think, hanging little plastic bags of dog shit from trees is … then, you need to have a word with yourself.

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