Yorkshire wolds version of the Indian smoke trick as featured in the Yorkshire Post February 14, 2011. Click here to see article on the Yorkshire Post website THE FIRST
snows of winter arrived quite suddenly in November, making many of us think carefully about our fuel stocks. It followed an equally cold winter last year which had prompted me to be better prepared this time around. Rising fuel prices have meant that more people are looking for alternative ways to say warm
Thankfully this winter I joined the new trend for log burning stoves and replaced my two open fires with two new log burners to supplement my oil central heating boiler. They were installed just one week before the snow came and so far they have reduced my fuel bill by 80%. But I now face a new dilemma. Since the popularity of these stoves has increased, logs have become more expensive.
My problem has been compounded by the fact that I herniated a disc in my spinal column a year ago and wasn't up to the job of wielding a chainsaw or an axe for a while. But last spring I hit upon a solution to my problem in a very unlikely place. My physiotherapist had suggested doing some squats - bending my knees to strengthen them up.
Like most of us I have never lifted in the correct way, hence the bad back.
I have never been a gym-goer and can't abide the idea of exercising without doing some thing useful at the same time. So I decided I would go and collect some kindling, bending properly for each piece, of course, in spite of my cracking knees.
I drove to a row of large sycamore trees in a valley close to where I study badgers for my paintings. There were a lot of dry sticks on the floor, perfect for lighting this winter's fires and they were easy to collect as Highland cattle had over-wintered in the field and the grass was short.I soon filled three log baskets and was busy collecting more when I picked up a particularly good stick.
Deposited on the end of it, however, was a large pile of dried Highland cow dung. The sight of it transported me back to a trip I took to India in 2003 to see tigers. There cow dung is almost currency. People build their houses and livestock sheds out of it, they burn it to heat their homes and even cook over it.
As deforestation has left the countryside starkly empty of firewood, dung has taken on a whole new significance. In the dry season they collect as much as they can and carefully dry it in the sun, turning it when necessary.
They then store it for later use. And they don't simply chuck it in a shed, but make elaborate storage spaces for it. Each region that we travelled through had its own particular way of storing it. Some built dung towers with thatched roofs and others made small sheds made of cow dung, of course, which they decorated with elaborate patterns stippled in the walls with straw. I even saw one decorated with the pattern of a peacock fanning its tail.
Great care and pride is taken in the storage of these pats. For a man in rural India, having lots of cows is a status symbol, and if you have lots of cows you obviously have lots of dung. The pat piles are proudly placed at the front of their houses for all to see. The piles may not look as neat as a stack of hard wood logs stacked in a shed, but there are some distinct advantages.
Firstly, there is no chopping required and secondly, whilst not necessarily carbon neutral, it is definitely organic.
I decided to try it. I had lit a fire before heading out and, because I'm not the sort of person who does things by half, I set about collecting a large log basket full and loaded it up into my car, plus some extra piles of pats. But I didn't stop there. I soon collected so much I had to return with my trailer.
I decided that if it didn't burn I could always use it on the vegetable patch.
When I arrived home with a large grin on my face and a log basket full of poo, my wife Victoria eyed me suspiciously. "What have you been up to now," she asked as I carefully stacked the fire with my newly collected eco briquettes. "We'll just see how these burn before I tell you," I answered, evasively.
The fire quickly sparked to life and was blazing away happily before I proudly announced that we were burning Highland cow dung. "Tell me why and how I managed to end up with you?" was her response. But as the heat poured out from the fire she conceded: "It burns quite well, doesn't it? Does it burn for long?"
Thankfully, once dry, these briquettes are totally odourless, and it wasn't long before Victoria added: "How much do you think is down there?" "Well," I said, "there's probably a never-ending supply."