Although many people bring food and eat a picnic without the need for cooking at the site, the idea of cooking outdoors, or at least of boiling a kettle for tea or coffee, can add much to the experience. In North America or Australia, making a fire outdoors is part of a long tradition connected with frontier life and the quality of self-reliance in wild places. In Europe this is not as pronounced; in fact lighting fires except at specially permitted places such as picnic sites or campsites is generally discouraged. To many people the flavour of food cooked outdoors is quite special, although there can be hygiene risks if grills are not clean or food is not thoroughly cooked. Portable stoves may be safer, and may be preferred by some authorities instead of open fires.
Some furniture made from more natural
materials: (a) Rocks placed in such a way as to offer themselves as a picnic table and seats. (b) A log sliced across to give a level surface becomes a bench.
Facilities for cooking outdoors are ubiquitous in North America and quite common in Europe, but relatively rare in Britain. Many picnic places in America have a fireplace of some sort with them. Perhaps the better climates of continental areas make outdoor cooking a more reliable activity than in rainy Britain.
Fire risks to the landscape are so high in many areas that the choice of suitable sites for outdoor fires and their safe use is fairly important. Fireplaces give a clear signal that lighting a fire is welcomed in that spot and nowhere else. The type of fireplace can vary, and can be related once again to the degree of wildness or civilization offered by the site. In the most primitive areas, if lighting fires is permitted on environmental safety grounds, then the visitor would be expected to cut out a sod, build a fire, make sure it is extinguished after use, and replace the sod to leave few traces. Alternatively, a portable safety stove can be used. Elsewhere some form of hearth can be constructed, with varying degrees of sophistication. There are two basic varieties: low-level campfires and waist-level or altar fires.
This low-level campfire has a stone surround and an ingenious grill/hotplate, which can swing over the fire once it is hot enough. Mount Orford Provincial Park,
This type generally consists of a circular hole surrounded by stones, or a steel hoop or drum in which the fire is lit. Food is cooked on a metal grating, plate or from a hook on a pole which may be provided. The grill/hotplate/kettlehook can be an integral part of the construction, arranged to be adjustable for position and height. Ugly varieties to avoid include those
This is a range of excellent campfire designs to
suit many places: (a) A simple circle of large stones to contain the fire. This is the most primitive, least developed variety, and is suitable for the wildest areas. (b) This example from a 1930s US Forest Service design is made of several rocks placed together. Steel rods set into the side sections form a grill, which cannot be moved or stolen. (c) This version, also from the 1930s, has a firebrick lining to prevent weaker rocks from cracking. A grill secured by a chain can be placed across the firebricks. (d) This 1930s design has a special chimney notch to help the fire draw. A specially shaped hotplate can be laid across, fixed to a chain to prevent theft. (e) More recent examples
where the stones are cemented together (the cement will crack in the heat), and ones made crudely from old truck wheels. Some excellent proprietary makes are simple to use, with attention to detail such as stay-cool handles and the correct spacing of the grill bars. If wear and tear to the immediate surroundings is a problem, crushed stone or gravel may be laid around the fireplace.
A second version of these campfire types is constructed from larger pieces of rock laid in a U shape, with fold-over grill plates and rudimentary chimneys to help the fire draw. These can be lined with firebrick to prevent the stone from cracking. The large stones can be used as seats or for warming plates, and they look very rugged in rocky terrain. They may not work too well if the wind is in the wrong direction.
The choice of stones or rock is important. Larger rocks usually look better than smaller ones in the large scale of the outdoors. Flatter or more regularly shaped pieces are more stable, and better for warming surfaces or places to keep the coffee pot than round ones, unless these are typical of the area, say a river bed. Hard stones that are less likely to crack in heat should also be chosen if possible.