Learn to: Survive in the wilderness

Learn to survive in the wildnernessFamily Bushcraft and Wilderness Survival Day's with GWT

Emma Mercer saw nature in a whole new light on GWT’s Family Bushcraft and Wilderness Survival Day...

Knives, fire and foraging – what better way to entertain my boys in the school holidays than by taking them on GWT’s Family Survival Day at Crickley Hill? Led by Paul Rose from the Stroud-based Survival School, this was a chance for us to test our skills – and learn some new ones – in the great outdoors.

Our first task was to make four tent pegs cut from hazel sticks. As my boys’ eyes lit up on being handed a knife and Laplander saw, Paul quickly headed off any ninja-style antics by giving us a sobering talk about knife safety. Mention of ‘blood bubbles’ (the space around you that you need to keep clear when using a knife) and the ‘triangle of pain and death’ (where your femoral arteries and other delicate organs are located) was enough to get them listening!

To make a tent peg we first had to split the wood and then baton it. Paul wanted to see good knife techniques – working to the front or side of the body, and using correct body position to give strength and control to the blade. We used the pyramid technique to make a durable, three-sided point, which we then bevelled for extra strength adding notches to secure the ropes. To make four tent pegs would take Paul about five minutes – more like an hour and five minutes for our group, but at least we’d learnt, according to Paul, all the cutting techniques we needed “to get us through a fundamental survival situation in the forest.”

After a quick snack break (biscuits brought from home rather than berries foraged from the woods), it was time to light the fire. Not using matches and fire lighters, but the bushcraft method of flint and tinder. The first step is preparation – grading the sticks, clearing a patch of ground and making a log raft to keep the fire off damp earth. The choice of tinder would prove to be hugely important – dry grass and fern work well, as do airborne seeds like dandelion and bull rush, or fungus such as King Alfred cakes. Resin-rich silver birch and pine trees are highly flammable, or if you’re really struggling, try a little Vaseline rubbed onto cotton wool or cloth. After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally created a spark, enough to set my tinder smoking which I then wafted around in some sort of primordial fire dance to draw in the oxygen needed to produce flames. “Fire is a living, breathing thing – it talks to you as it goes on,” says Paul. At that moment in time, my fire was definitely telling me to put it down; the tinder sets ablaze surprisingly quickly!

Foraging was next on the agenda and this is when Paul’s bushcraft knowledge went into overdrive. I saw familiar plants and flowers in a whole new light as he pointed out surprising facts – how acorns are poisonous but if you split and wash them they can be roasted or even turned into flour; how young beech leaves can be used as salad; how white man’s footprint (common plantain) can be used as an anti-coagulant. It was fascinating to discover that these local, everyday plants had hidden properties that might be useful in a survival situation.

Thanks to Paul’s watchful eye, we made it through a fascinating and fulfilling day without being cut, burnt or poisoned! It was a great course to do as a family and we all learnt a lot about living with nature – but I think we were all secretly glad we got to drive back to the comfort of our modern homes too!