Yorkshire Wolds’ version of the Indian smoke trick

THIS winter, I joined the trend for log-burning stoves. Replacing my two open fires reduced my fuel bill by 80 per cent.

But the popularity of these stoves has driven up the price of bought logs and since I herniated a disc in my spinal column a year ago, I’m not wielding a chainsaw or an axe.

My physiotherapist suggested squats – bending my knees to strengthen them. I have never been a gym-goer and can’t abide the idea of exercising without doing something useful. So I decided to go out collecting kindling.

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I drove to a row of large sycamore trees where a lot of dry sticks lay on the floor and were easy to collect because 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 was a large pile of dried Highland cow dung, and the sight of it transported me back to a trip to India to see tigers.

Over 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.

Deforestation left their countryside empty of firewood and so dung took on a whole new significance. In the dry season, they collect and dry it in the sun, turning it when necessary.

Each region has its own way of storing it. Some build dung towers with thatched roofs, others make small sheds made of cow dung decorated with elaborate patterns stippled in the walls with straw. I even saw one decorated with the pattern of a peacock fanning its tail.

Cows are a status symbol and the pat piles are proudly placed at the front of houses. They aren’t as neat as a stack of hardwood logs but they have advantages – no chopping is required.

I had lit a fire before coming out and because I’m not the sort of person who does things by half, I soon collected so much I had to return with my trailer. If it didn’t burn, I could always use it on the veg patch.

Arriving home with a grin on my face, my wife, Victoria, eyed me suspiciously.“What have you been up to now?”

“We’ll just see how these burn before I tell you,” I answered, evasively. There was a good blaze 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, 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.”