While the average British summer brings more rain than we would like, it’s the chill that tends to deter us from making the most of the lighter evenings.
But there are ways to keep warm, and if it’s not actually raining they’ll help you stave off the worst of the cold and help you make the most of the long summer evenings. Of course, adding some heat will enable you to extend the season too and it might even mean you can spend the odd evening sitting out there in the winter too; just imagine how romantic an al fresco barbeque in the snow would be!
Gas-fired heaters might be quick and easy to use but they aren’t an environmentally sustainable option. Wood, on the other hand, is carbon neutral, completely sustainable, and ecologically sound. It also smells wonderful and there is nothing like huddling around a real fire to bring out your inner caveman and woman.
A fire basket is the smallest and cheapest way to add some warmth to your summer evenings. The Ikea BROKÖ is only £25 and while it won’t be the solution if you regularly entertain large numbers of people, at 50cm high and 41cm wide it’s a cheap and easy way to get started if there are just the two of you.
Pros: cheap and its size makes it easy to store away when you’re not using it
Cons: probably not that durable and there is a danger that sparks and ash will fly out.
The next step up is a fire pit. They’re widely available and you’ll even find them in your local DIY superstore. B&Q, for example, sells one for £65 that comes complete with a cover to catch any stray sparks and ash.
You can also buy larger fire pits and spend up to £1,000 on one that’s built into a table, which might be ideal for anyone who enjoys throwing large parties.
We settled for a Kadhai fire bowl from the British Ironwork Centre. It’s a couple of feet in diameter and we sometimes light it just to watch the flames flicker outside in the dark when we’re snuggled up in the conservatory. We’ve also made a mesh grill for it so we can use it for barbequing and heating a kettle.
Pros: still quite cheap if you stick to one of the smaller sizes and the 360-degree design makes it a focal point for people to huddle around in any social occasion.
Cons: Not that easy to store and a large one can be very expensive. Also, you will get covered in ash if you use it when it’s windy unless you buy one with a fine-mesh cover.
The traditional chiminea has a lot going for it, not least the fact that it will direct the smoke away from your eyes and help ‘draw’ the fire to get it going.
Chimineas come in a variety of sizes and styles, and can be made from metal or clay. Prices start at around £50 for a small, simple metal chiminea rising to £250 for a two-metre tall monster that will tower over you and your guests.
Pros: the design means that smoke is rarely an issue and the chimney helps the fire draw better
Cons: you can’t gather round a chiminea as the opening is generally only on one side.
Wood burning stove
The most expensive option, but possibly the most versatile, is the wood-burning stove. A small one like the Frontier stove can be packed into a bag and taken on an impromptu picnic as a cooker and a source of heat. Initially designed for use in humanitarian situations, it’s versatile enough to be as useful at home in your back garden as it is on the beach.
For those with deep pockets, the top-of-the-range Fintan stove would be a fabulous investment. It’s much heavier and more expensive than the Frontier stove, but it’s designed to be a multipurpose solution that can be fitted in the home, shed, or workshop but is still portable enough to be packed away in the optional metal travelling box and taken away with you and used in your yurt, tent - or even as a freestanding stove on the patio or beach.
Alternative ways to keep warm
Of course, you could go all-out Scandinavian and throw some reindeer skins about the place for your guests to wrap themselves in. They’re wonderfully warm and stylish but do tend to shed their hairs rather easily, so you might prefer to use sheepskin throw instead.
If you’d rather not use an animal skin there is a wide range of synthetic alternatives to choose from including furry fleeces and super-snuggly blankets.