Onwards and over a rickety fence at the end of open fields. We ran down a slope to the stream below. It sounded loud at night and ripples shimmered under the moonlight. In the shallow valley, it was noticeably darker and easy to move along the banks of the meandering stream toward the distant farmhouse on a hill to the right, beyond the other side of the water. It was approaching 1 a.m. and there was only one light on upstairs as we crawled past the farmhouse. The forest and gamekeeper-country was soon upon us. We were forced to make slightly more noise as the carpet of twigs and leaves cracked and crunched beneath our feet. The going was slow to minimise sound. We traversed over an incline and into the darkness of the forest.
Creeping toward a hollow, it was pitch black. I looked up and could just make out the night sky with branches silhouetted and inter-twined overhead. Shadows engulfed us. With a few clicks, torches were switched on. We cleared the twigs and debris away to form a muddy patch. In its centre, we placed a small pyramid of dry wood and tried to light a fire with matches, unsuccessfully.
I ventured out of the forest to get some silver birch tree bark, which contained flammable oil and made good tinder. I found some birch and began to peel the bark horizontally away. I heard a cough break the silence and hit the ground. Looking around, I couldn’t see much. The field dipped down toward the stream and there were some cattle. A cough again, quite close. My heart was pounding. Was it the gamekeeper? He wouldn’t be stupid enough to cough at night would he? I stared around the meadow and saw a cow. It coughed. I never knew cows coughed. With a sense of relief, I smiled and collected more silver birch bark. Quietening my breathing, I looked around and silently walked back to the dell.
We put a potassium permanganate and sugar mix with the silver birch bark and it lit first time. As the flames crackled and flickered a respite from the creeping cold, we skewered some sausages on sticks and placed them over the fire. It took a few attempts to ensure the sausages were cooked properly rather than burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. When we’d eaten, it was getting late so we carefully put the fire out and removed as much trace of it as possible. Torches off, we waited ten minutes to adjust our eyes to the blackness and made our way back through the countryside, over the now deserted roads and into the tent. By the time we happily zipped into our sleeping bags, it was past 4 a.m.