This was it. My first trip out in the wilderness with the goal of starting a fire and cooking lunch on it. Our secondary goal was to find all the caches on an 11 cache Geocache trail.
Heading south-east from Winchcombe, we were looking for a small, inconspicuous turning at the top of Cleeve Hill. And after travelling through a narrow country road and passing multiple farm houses, we arrived at our destination. A tiny car park, big enough for just five cars. Somewhere on Nottingham Hill.
We headed through the gate, following the Geocache loop that would eventually pass through the forest. After finding the first cache, the route was blocked by a gate. We had no idea to what extent this was private property but did spot some dog walkers beyond the gate. So we climbed over and carried on the trail.
We made our way to the first forest, collecting a couple of caches along the way. The cache loop took us off of the large trail and onto a smaller and more direct route to the forest.
We spent a good amount of time searching in an area of the forest for one of the caches. It was really well hidden and the trees were messing with our GPS. After finding it eventually, we looked for another cache on the outskirts of the forest.
During our search for this cache, we found some hard black fungus that is commonly used as a tinder for firemaking. These fungi are commonly called cramp balls or coal balls. They can smoulder from a spark for a long period of time and tend to be really dry inside. Unfortunately, the cramp balls were too wet inside to be able to light.
This was a common problem throughout the day. Everything was just too damp to keep an ember going. It had rained a few days prior and everything in the shade of the trees hadn't yet had a chance to dry. I had also suggested that we hold off on collecting tinder material before we got to our camp. This turned out to be the wrong move. There were plenty of dryer materials out in the open earlier on the trip.
About half way through the second forest on the trail, after the fourth cache, we turned off the trail and into the wild areas down the hill. We aimed to find somewhere to setup camp in the middle of the section of forest we were in. This only took about ten minutes.
Once a good location was decided, each of us divvied out jobs to start collecting resources for a fire. We gathered tinder, kindling and some larger fuel logs and started putting them together. I also hammered a long stick onto the ground so that our cooking pot can hang over the fire.
About ten minutes into our gathering, we found an old camp fire about 30 foot away from ours. These people had left litter around their camp and had used some fence posts from a farm nearby for their fire.
I really dislike this kind of thing. Plastic bottles and metal cans were scattered on the ground in a large area and the ground was scorched where a larger than necessary fire had been. It was all just left to damage or kill the wildlife. We picked up a few bits of litter from here as we had brought a bag for rubbish but weren't able to take it all.
After about thirty to forty five minutes of trying to get our fire lit, two of our group went back into the fields to find some dryer materials. We had made significant dents in my ferro rod with no flame to show for it. Even after gathering the dryer, sun-baked grass and leaves, we still couldn't get an ember to stay longer than a couple of seconds.
So we cheated.
We hadn't thought to bring any other means of fire starting (a lesson learned). But we did find some bits of paper on the food cans and in one of our bags. This lit within seconds and we were able to get an actual fire going from the flames.
Time was starting to run out by this time so we threw a couple of cans of mac and cheese into my cooking pot and stuck it on the fire. The pot was too heavy for the stick I had set up so we just balanced it on top of the fire wood. It did tip over because of this once but we didn't loose anything.
Another item we could have used here is something heat resistent to pick up the cooking pot. We used a stick to take it out of the fire but that left a few bits of bark in the food. And there was no way of tipping it up to dish out the food. I burned a finger and more bark seasoned our food that we'd had liked but we managed it in the end.
Note to self, bring something heat resistent to hold hot things.
Now, only 10 minutes before we needed to leave, we wolfed down our lunch, packed up and headed back to the car.
I would have liked to leave less of a trace than we did. There was a bit of charred ground after the fire was put out and a few half burned sticks left over. We made sure everything was put out and hid as much as we could. But I would have liked to bury the smaller bits and leave our area looking like it was when we got there.
Have more time
We only had a few hours to complete our goals of collecting 11 caches and cooking lunch. Most of that time was taken up trying to get the fire going.
Collect tinder sooner
There may not be good tinder at the camp site, so start gathering stuff from the beginning. Or even keep a tinder box in your bag from previous trips.
Bring more than one way of lighting a fire
Sometimes a ferro rod just won't work. Bring some matches and some charred cloth.
Have a way of handling hot cooking pots
I'm not sure what I would use here. I don't want to bring oven mitts with me so I'll have to find something smaller.
Dispose of firewood better
Only use enough wood for your tasks so that as little as possible if left by the end. Then bury any burnt wood after extinguishing it to leave no trace that anyone was there.
I'd also like to be on the lookout for large flat stones to put the fire on so that we don't char the ground.
We didn't manage to collect all of the caches due to our time constraints. So I will try to get time to go again and focus on getting the caches.