I have just finished running our 70th Wildwood Survival Weekend! Over the past 8 years we have held these courses in woodlands of Sussex, in the Trossachs near Glasgow, and on the West Coast of Scotland. It has proved a popular concept! Take people away from their technology-driven lives and spend a weekend living off the land and getting to grips with the basic realities of life! Activities like collecting water, finding food, creating shelter and lighting fire - all things we take for granted at home, but are vital skills in the wild.
Why do so many people seek out this Survival Weekend experience? It takes some motivation to forsake the comforts of modern life and spend a challenging weekend living frugally in the woods! Many people tell us they want to reconnect with nature and to attain a degree of self-sufficiency and simplicity. I guess we are going back to our neolithic roots and there is something deeply satisfying in that - something that is missing from modern life.
Some folk joining the course are concerned about climate change and sociological breakdown and feel they will be better placed with the skills they can learn on a Survival weekend. Others are just looking for a challenge, an adventure or a new experience. They are tired of watching others doing it on TV and want to have a go themselves!
So what happens on a Survival Weekend? For a start every weekend is different, coloured by different people, weather and seasons. We also like to mix things up a bit!
Our Survival Weekend Course in Sussex or the Trossachs is based on the idea of surviving in one place rather than navigating out or seeking rescue. It has a strong bushcraft survival element. The course is open to novices as well as those with more experience - I think the course works well for both levels, as those with experience can build on existing skills and test themselves, while for novices it is a real adventure.
We want to give our students a taste of living off the land without it being an endurance challenge or boot camp. Some modern-day, basic ingredients and game are provided at the beginning. After all, it is a learning experience and we don't feel this would be served by challenging people too hard at the start. As the course unfolds we remove and phase out the brought-in ingredients.
Some of the first tasks students get to grips with are: spark firelighting, setting traplines, collecting and purifying water, gutting and skinning rabbits, foraging for wild plants and fungi and of course building a shelter for the night. It is common for people to hit the wall a bit on the Saturday afternoon due to tiredness and withdrawal from sugar and caffeine. However by the evening when we are tucking into our spit cooked rabbit and foraged vegetables morale has usually lifted! This is a great opportunity for stories and banter round the fire.
Most people get a better night's sleep on their second night - aided by fatigue and their new improved shelters. On Sunday we usually cover wet weather fire lighting, fire by friction, fish preparation, improvised traps, cordage and carving. It is interesting that even after a day or so, you start to acclimatise to the diet and way of life. Sleep patterns begin to follow the day-night cycle, and routines are established like water collection and trap checking.
Recently we introduced a two day add-on to the Survival Weekend which we call the "Survival Challenge" course. After learning the skills on the weekend course, we spend a further two days living entirely off the land. During this phase we only eat what we forage or catch and only drink what we collect. In some ways it is a more leisurely phase, as we have done the ground work building shelters and establishing trap lines. The time is roughly shared between foraging, fishing and resting! It is nice because we have done the withdrawal phase and have settled into a simpler diet and mode of life.
As the course draws to a close, perhaps we view modern life from a new perspective. Taps, kettles, fridges, hot showers and comfy beds! Most of us will return to the comfort and convenience of our lives with renewed appreciation, but nevertheless part of us remains forever connected to the simplicity, self-reliance and beauty of life in the wild woods. Many of us will return. I hope you enjoyed reading, and hope to see you on a course soon!
all the best,