Family and friends head for the hills.
Many of us will be rejoicing that Summer appears to have arrived at last, albeit with some hesitation. This of course, heralds the desire of most Land Rover owners to head for the great outdoors and revert back to caveman instincts. Sleeping rough, lighting fires and drinking ale! The extended Savage family are lucky in that my son, Matt, owns his very own small piece of Derbyshire that is blessed with all the things necessary to indulge in this behaviour - woodland, babbling brook and space for a few tents. For the last few years, we have managed to find a weekend when a handful of us, along with various children, descend on the wood and camp out for a night enjoying all of the pleasures of the great outdoors and instilling some outdoor values in the youngsters, who have begun to realise that playing is not confined to a computer.
The fun starts as we drive up the lane in my Carawagon and have to negotiate a sharp right turn through the smallest of gaps in the hedge. To the uninitiated it seems madness to drive through undergrowth, branches lightly scraping the paintwork. Then, to alarm virgin passengers further we have to descend a 45º slope of earth to the valley bottom. It is only a Land Rover’s length, but the trees are awfully close and the Land Rover does slide a little with the camber of the slope. With luck this section is cleared, but it is never a certainty! Once secure in the woods, tops are popped, canvas rolled out, tent pegs pushed into damp soil, and within an hour we have a camp established and the fire is lit.
A sonorous burbling from the far end of the lane heralds the arrival of something with a V8 engine and with skill way beyond his years, my Grandson, Teddy, aged 14, manoeuvres his Dad’s 3.5 V8, 80 inch, down through the trees to join us, celebrating with a big blip of the throttle that briefly frightens off most of the resident bird life. Ted has been using the 80 inch to ferry food and drink from the house down to the woods for the last few years and is a dab hand in the old Series 1.
Kids fly high on a rope swing in Matts woods.
With our camp established, beers cooling in the stream and the fire roaring, it is time to start having fun! The beauty of Matt owning his own bit of land is that he is free to make up the rules, or lack of them. Zip wire running the full width of the woods and missing trees by a whisker? Yes - no problem. Three rope swings hung from the highest branches in such a way that it is possible for all participants to crash into each other high in the air? Bring it on! Kids playing in the stream at its deepest point without a Lifeguard in attendance? Of course! Cook food on an open fire without doing a risk assessment and wearing protective goggles and hi-viz jacket? Delicious! The kids learn lots from these weekends - that fire is hot, water is cold and wet, and it hurts if you fall off the swing. That air beds are always flat in the morning and that parts of Derbyshire are infested with large Bears that roam around campsites at night. Adults learn that if you drink too much beer during an evening you feel rough in the morning!
My own role in proceedings has evolved into chief cook and maker of bread. Having watched, in awe, various desert guides muster up a three course meal with virtually no equipment, I have tried hard to emulate their techniques. A big fire with a range of areas offering different degrees of heat is a start, supplemented by a couple of old pans. Nothing fancy. Something bought at a car boot sale for a quid is perfect, then you can throw it away afterwards. A means of suspending the main pan over the fire at a height that can be adjusted is helpful.
Food cooked on an open fire has it’s own unique flavour and the dog waits patiently for the scraps.
Jacket potatoes, wrapped in two layers of foil go around the edge of the fire and into the pan goes a mass of fresh vegetables, chunks of meat and a bottle of wine. A simple bread dough from a vague recipe found on the internet produces flat breads that cook on an old griddle pan and after about an hour you have a great meal. If you are really lucky it should be dark enough that your guests do not distinguish what is cooked, burnt, or raw, but find that washed down with ample amounts of drink and enlivened with good conversation it is a memory all will savour long after the X-Box has been consigned to the old toy box up in the roof.
Copyright Toby Savage