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Counterpoint | fires and marshmallows

What we do…
The ideal…

by Andy Butcher

The reality

2020 was the year when things changed in so many ways. Previous pandemics in recent years died out fairly quickly but as I am writing this, at the beginning of 2021, Coronavirus is more virulent than ever. This however is not about the virus but about the pandemic of bad behaviour we have witnessed that has run alongside it. Our treasured and beautiful places have been invaded by people who have never been here before. It has been said they have come to escape the towns and cities and because they have been unable to go abroad. The question is why come to these places and totally disregard the rules, including those of human decency? That might seem extreme but when before did you see our beauty spots turned into open latrines…our hills mountains and lake shores turned into campsites and our roads lay-bye and car parks covered in motorhomes and van conversions? Litter everywhere, tents and equipment discarded like the aftermath of a music festival?

This is too big a subject to cover in one short article so I will concentrate on one aspect of it, caused by a dispute, conducted politely, with McConks following their Youtube video. I’ve been a hillwalker and climber for years and I qualified as a ride leader taking people out for horse rides in the Lake District but mostly now I Paddleboard and swim in the Lake District.

The cause of the dispute was a section of the video that invited Paddleboarders to seek out areas to light fires and toast marshmallows…Paddleboarding is a wonderful thing and it has certainly been my saviour this year. I have been out every day it was possible and some when it was difficult…in all weathers. It has kept me alive and well and helped minimise the risk of catching the virus. Through going out every day to do something, I have observed every aspect of the bad behaviour mentioned and on a voluntary basis, helped to deal with some of it. The National Trust Wardens in the Lake District have been stretched to the limit and taken away from the work they are supposed to be doing to clean up after people and remind them of the rules. It soon became apparent that people were using Paddleboards and other craft to access areas where they could not be caught by the Wardens or the Police. Tents started to appear on lake shores previously regarded as difficult to access and more often than not fires started to appear. On one particular evening it was impossible to escape from smoke around my beloved Ullswater and the stench of cheap processed meat being cremated.

Although all so called “wild campers” will tell you they leave no trace….my experience is the opposite. Day after day I have helped clean up after these people and although you can pick up litter and leave the area as it was before, fire pits leave their mark for a long time. The people at McConks tell me their fires leave no trace and they have evidenced it to me and I know it is possible, I have friends who teach it as a survival technique. How many times throughout all this has a fire been lit for survival? I would guess almost none, it has simply become “a thing to do”…Going into the outdoors to these people means you have to light a fire…why?

In all the years I have spent in the outdoors all over the UK I have never ever needed to light a fire and I always stayed on campsites. Hot meals have been cooked in a camping stove…a Colman Multifuel being my choice…..I have never ever left litter or mess…so why do other people do it? At one point I was determined to try to find out, to seek an explanation for it but soon gave the idea up. Fires are messy and dangerous, end of. And they scar our beautiful places. Please don’t use Paddleboards or any other craft to seek out places to trash and evade authority….If it says no camping…no litter…no overnight stays and no fires…it means that applies to you….I had hoped the Paddleboarding Community would be better than this…it is a wonderful thing to do…If you must toast marshmallows…toast them at home…..

Follow up by Andy and Jen

We certainly do not condone behaviour such as that observed by Andy and others. There’s no excuse for litter, for disobeying rules. Like there are no excuses for many irresponsible behaviours – such as paddleboarding in nature reserves, getting too close to marine mammals, for paddling unsafely. We could go on, and as anyone who knows us well knows that we tend to go on about these things too much on our website, and in our social media.

We agree with almost 100% of what Andy says. The only area where our opinion diverges, is that we don’t see cooking over a fire as any better or worse than cooking over a multifuel:

A gas or multifuel burns fossil fuels whereas a fire burns renewable fuel. Both release CO2, but fire releases CO2 that has been captured in the recent past not the geological past. So from a CO2 greenhouse gas perspective, a wood fire is more sustainable than a gas/PC fire. But of course, sustainability is about much more that greenhouse gas. And it includes other impacts on the environment, and social impacts as well. Litter, nuisance, environmental disturbance are all possible issues with a wood fire. Litter is an issue that transcends all others, and is an issue irrespective of what is being burned. Someone who throws a glass bottle into the lake will do so irrespective of what they’re cooking over.

When we cook over wood, we will always have something to contain the embers/charcoal, and we mostly boil a Kelly Kettle and then toast marshmallows over what’s left of the dying embers, before either making sure they are fully burned out (which is easy to do if you know how to run a fire), or are cooled with water and then taken away in a bag with us.

So just in case it’s not clear:

Do not use your paddleboard to access areas that you are not permitted to

Do not use you paddleboard to get to islands that you’re not permitted to land on

Do not use your paddleboard to get to discrete places for the purposes of making a mess for someone else to clear up

Do not use your paddleboard to annoy other people


DO NOT BE A **** (insert your own four letter word)


Who wants to work with us on a video about what’s acceptable, and what’s not acceptable to do? We think it’s pretty obvious, but there have been lots of idiots this year who don’t understand the basic rules of how to behave in the environment. So all of our friends who can do #leavenotrace, and all of our friends who have great footage of people being ****s, send them to us, and we can put them together into a video.

This is important to us: We never want to be part of the problem – we only ever want to be part of the solution!

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