Just back from a great experience with two friends, Donal and Paul from N.I Survival School. We
decided many months ago to enter the woods on a Friday with nothing but a
knife, a metal cup and the clothes on your back. For me this meant a Mora
companion knife, a metal crusader cup. Clothes included a t-shirt, fleece and
water proof jacket, trousers, socks and boots. In an emergency bag I had a
first-aid kit but I intended to treat what i could with what nature could
provide. I had further emergency kit in the car but it would be very stupid not
It went very well. All 3 people on the challenge were knowledgeable and
had plenty of hands on experience of the skills we would need to survive. Lets
be clear. A person in good health will not starve to death in 3 days but there
are a number of concerns, the provision of good shelter and water being
The weather on Friday was sunny but humid within the wood. Donal arrived
before i did and put together an excellent lean to shelter with fire pit and
reflector for warmth.
When I arrived we got on with the task of making fire. First we went about
gathering the materials for a hand drill set. I selected a straight piece of
Elder and Donal prepared a hearth of Ivy.
We quickly set to work and produced plenty of heat and smoke but the
humidity beat us the first few attempts. We then decided that it would be a
better use of our energy to make a bow drill set to use mechanical advantage to
overcome the issues with damp. We used Donal’s shoe lace as a string for the
We gathered a number of different drills, Ivy, Sycamore and Lime and a few
different boards too. Paul had arrived and we set about the task as a team,
everyone playing a crucial role.
3 hours later we produced fire from a set of Lime drill and Ivy
hearth. The final few attempts where made in pitch darkness which was a
challenge in itself.
During breaks in the preparation myself and Paul set about improving
or building our shelters. Again in the dark. This was by choice as I wanted to
see what could be done with little light. You do not always arrive at your
destination in the day light after all.
Myself and Paul decided to sleep in our shelters without fire due to
limited space. We covered ourselves with bracken(not ideal) and debris.
The fire was now going well and we decided to turn in.
I awoke in the night just before first light and re-stoked our main fire.
Then i went for a wonder. I was treated to the sight of young foxes practising
pouncing in the adjacent field.
The morning brought rumbling stomachs and thirst.
First came water. I went out into the field with my jumper as a sponge and
gathered about half a pint of dew from the fields. I then wrung it out into my
cup and boiled it before drinking. It tasted quite fresh and was slightly
flavoured by the grass.
We then went to the nearby river and using an old litre vodka bottle we
found (with a teaspoon of vodka in it), and our cups collected about 2 litres
of water. This we boiled in the bottle and the cups. We made tea from Doug Fir
needles which was good and refreshing.
We went out and foraged for our breakfast. The land was surprisingly forthcoming
and we managed to gather Burdock roots, Cat tails roots and stems, Wild
Raspberries, cleavers, thistle hearts, Meadowsweet among other plants.
The roots were roasted and tasted great with a boost of energy soon
following from the carbohydrates. The raspberries were small but delicious.
Donal put together a vegetable stew using everything he had found and it was
surprisingly good indeed.
My feet were getting cold and damp due to a hole in my shoe somewhere. I
dried my feet and socks by the fire, which was a good boost to the comfort
The rest of the day was spent roaming around looking for food, tending the
fire. We then decided to rebuild the shelter to incorporate a fire for warm and
improve water proofing.
Donal did the same with his shelter too.
We then went out at dusk and attempted to hunt a few rabbits. Unfortunately there
was very little cover and we could not get close enough to hurl throwing sticks.
The rabbits in this area were constantly hunted and were wise. If we had more time we would have caught them I think.
That night we sat by the fire, drank tea and laughed until it was bed time.
In the night it rained very heavily and I awoke to the creeping cold. The
fire had been extinguished in the last down pour.
We tried to get an ember to rekindle but there was nothing left after the
rain storm. The crown of the tree overhangs well not the first time I have been
a bit cold and wet. The sun would be soon up and we went out for a dander to
see what was about.
An experience like this is not something a person has to do, it’s a challenge
plain and simple. You like challenges or you don’t. Personaly I like to see
what I can do under difficult conditions. I am lucky that I have two friends who
feel the same way.
One thing that I did notice is that we had great moral through the whole
adventure. There was no bickering. Fair enough as time went on we could feel our
bodies start to metabolise fats and blood sugar was low but we were fine.
All 3 of us worked well as a team. We were all independent in our way and
there was no leader. No one had to tell someone else to do something which
helps a massive amount. If the fire needed wood you went and got it and you
often found one of the other guys bringing some back too.
Anyway I look forward to part two which will be in the depths of our winter.
Donal is part of the Irish bushcraft Club IBC