Friday May 12th was a Danish holiday called “Store Bededag” or “Great Prayer Day” in English. My two sons and I took advantage of the spare time and spontaneously headed for the forest.
The original plan was to let my kids take care of everything by themselves and so they did, to begin with at least. They had planned the trip themselves deciding which things they wanted to bring, what food and how much. They did very well and I was surprised how little they actually brought. I guess it was partly because they had to carry everything themselves too.
We took off Thursday afternoon right after school as the rain fell slowly from the sky. The next day was supposed to be fair according to the weather forecast. It had been a while since we all went on a trip together and we were all in a great mood as we finally left “civilization” behind and headed into the beautiful Danish beech forest.
We had taken this trip before but not all of us together. My sons are now 10 and 8 years old and we talked about how they used to demand a rest along the way when they were younger. Now they were way ahead of me as well as making fun of my enthusiasm with nature by impersonating me.
We were heading for a spot next to Lake Esrum where we were to set up camp for two nights and do nothing but enjoy spring in the forest.
We arrived quite late and immediately started building our shelters. My kids were supposed to make their own shelters like they had done it before, but my older son decided that he would rather build one with me so we could sleep next to each other. My younger son still wanted his own shelter but right next to ours. So we decided to build them in connection with each other. Unfortunately the wind picked up and we were right in it’s path. We had turned our shelter the wrong way. Although we had great view towards the lake, it was a really cold night.
The next morning I woke up early and thought I’d start a fire. I didn’t have much time for it the night before. On top of that everything was wet so it was a struggle trying to get it going. I was tired so I gave up and hit the sack instead. Now I was set on getting a fire going however so I headed out to find some proper tinder / kindling to be able to cook some breakfast.
I stumbled across a tree with withered leaves that was standing in a clearing right where the sun was shining. I collected some totally dry leaves from it and proceeded to forage some withered stinging nettles from last season standing right next to it.
The old stems stood in between the new shoots coming up. A great place to forage for both kindling and wild food. Had it been a survival situation or an Undepend Challenge I would have been well off in this place. Every step I took I had to take care not to step on escargots. There was plenty of wild food growing here too. From stinging nettles to dandelions, Broadleaf plantain and Oxalis Acetosella to name a few.
I went back to our camp with a couple of handfuls of withered stinging nettles and my pockets full of dry leaves. A few minutes later I had a fire going. My kids had fallen asleep the night before without getting a proper meal, so they were really hungry by now. The older one roasted a sausage over the fire and I cooked some tortellini for his brother. Now everyone was happy.
The kids were playing so I decided to go back to the clearing and forage for some stinging nettles. I had brought some frozen chicken on our trip which was just about thawed now. My plan was to do a bit of wilderness cooking. An improvised chicken / nettle soup.
I took my time picking only the top leaves from all the young nettles. I was really enjoying myself knowing that I had all the time in the world. After I filled my pot with nettles I headed on to pick up a few Oxalis acetosella to add to my soup as well. On my way back to camp I thought for a second that I had just run into bunch of wild garlic which would have been perfect. It turned out however that it was Lily of the valley. A very poisonous plant that you should be careful not to mistake for wild garlic (one important test is to rub the leaves and if they don’t smell like garlic, then it isn’t).
Back in camp I took two nice pieces of chicken thighs, put them in the pot and covered them in nettles. I then added a stick of butter or so, some salt and pepper, and some dried basil that I had also brought with me. I then added just enough water to cover the chicken with, put the lid on the pot and hung it over the fire to boil for about half an hour.
I know that everything tastes better in the wild but this soup seriously turned out delicious. Even my kids liked it, which is quite the recognition.
The rest of the day we just hung out. It was a truly great trip with no rush at all. We just talked and had fun playing.
As evening approached I re-arranged our shelter so that we all slept together in one end. I put a wind shield in the front of that end and used the rest of the shelter as a dry storage for our firewood and kindling. It is always nice to have some dry kindling in storage if it starts to rain over night. After all this is Denmark and you never know what the weather will be like the next day.
I had gradually been building a wind shield by our fire place from natural materials so our camp was getting really cosy now. Too bad we had to leave the next day.
I felt so well rested when I woke up the next morning. We had all slept comfortably without freezing. I got up in order to get the fire going which had burned out during the night. But my younger son insisted that he should do it. I had promised him before we came that he would be allowed to build his own fire. He is quite skilled with a ferro rod but he wanted to use his waterproof matches. So I told him he could only use one match to light the fire with then. Instead he would have to prepare everything properly.
I had filled my bushcraft tinder pouch with dry leaves the day before and we had also kept some dry stinging nettles under our shelter to use this morning. We talked about how to prepare the kindling and I told him to have some firewood ready as well. And without any problems he had a fire going in a few minutes.
I believe that lessons like this really teach you how to make fire. It’s not enough learning just how to use a fire steel or even a bow drill. It is also the understanding of organizing your materials properly and being patient enough to allow the fire to catch on before you add more firewood.
I made a warm cup of cocoa for the kids and a cup of coffee for myself before cooking a last meal. After that we packed up and headed back home. On our way we passed a small herd of Shetland ponies. We fed them some fresh grass. Unfortunately my older son accidentally cut himself on a grass straw so I had to get my first aid kit out and patch him up. This little incident aside I think this was probably the most pleasant trip I have ever had with my kids so far. We just connected in a way we haven’t done in a long time.