Monday 26 April 2010

Survival weekend with Landrock Survival Training

Last weekend we spent two days and one night in the woods - without a tent! We were on a "Wilderness Weekend" with Landrock Survival Training, learning the basics of how to survive if you become stranded somewhere. Our instructors were John Hayward and Antony Quinn, both of whom had military training. They were both excellent teachers, demonstrating, explaining and assisting without ever being condescending. Below I'll explain what we got up to, but if you want more detail then you need to go on the course! :-)

When we arrived, along with Joel and Chris who were also on the course, there were already some example shelters set up, and we sat down for an initial briefing.
The key acronym we had to remember was PLAN:

  • Protection (i.e. shelter and fire to keep dry and warm)
  • Location (how to make sure a rescuer can find you)
  • Acquisition (of water and food, in that order)
  • Navigation (with and without a compass)
To start with we looked at the example shelters, such as this lean-to shelter. The wooden screen in front of it reflects heat from a small fire back into the shelter.
Here's a couple of ways of putting up a basha (a kind of tarpaulin), either low to the ground:
Or higher up, with brash to keep wind out at the edges:
the poles for the basha can easily be made from wood, and the guy ropes can be made from the strands inside a piece of paracord:
Then there's an A-frame shelter, which is smaller but well-insulated:
This is the one we decided to build, but the first job was to set up our wire saw. You can use this just by holding the two ends:
But it works better if you put two notches in a bent stick:
Anyway, we soon had some poles to make our A-frame:
using a bit of paracord to secure them:
and then we collected and cut lots of branches to make the roof:
Here it is inside - although you can see a bit of light through, it did actually keep the rain out.
Joel and Chris went down a different but equally effective route:
With the shelters up, the next step was fire, and we saw how to light a fire from sparks using different tinder materials, such as these "feather sticks and birch bark:
Here's a video of John demonstrating:

after which the fire was quickly burning:
It wasn't long before we all had chopped some dead wood and got small fires burning by our screens, ready to use for cooking and later on to keep us warm:
Chris and Joel set up a little tripod for cooking:
and as the night closed in we had a nice atmospheric glow from the fires:
We walked around the woods in the dark looking for wildlife (especially the edible variety!), and chatting about different survival scenarios, then settled in for a pretty comfortable and warm sleep, to be woken up by the dawn chorus a few hours later...

While we were having breakfast, John suddenly announced that he could hear a "spotter plane" - this was our prompt to go and light the signal fire we'd prepared the day before as fast as possible:
I should have put more greenery on top, to keep the smoke going longer, but you only learn by practice...

Then it was on to acquisition. We saw various ways of fishing, though it was pointed out that these are not legal as a fish could be stuck on a hook for many hours until you come to check it, so they are only to be used in real survival situations. If no hooks are available there was also the option to make a net (again from the ever-useful inner threads from some paracord):
We also how to set up saw several snares, but just for demonstration purposes, we didn't leave them out to catch anything. Most of them use a hook mechanism like this to hold them in place:
and some used a weight to fall on the catch at the same time as lifting it up:
Here's a video of one in operation, but remember this is just a demo - if it was being done for real we'd have used a thicker and higher branch - the catch needs to be lifted high enough off the ground that a fox doesn't get it:

The we looked at water filtering using materials like ash, charcoal, leaves and moss. We used a spare water bottle:
In went some muddy water:
and it really did come out cleaner than it went in, though several passes would be required to get it properly clear:
The last activity was navigation, where we learned how to accurately judge distances by pacing, even if you can't go in a straight line, using a compass and also how to precisely find North without a compass, using a stick and a cleared piece of ground!
I'm not going to try and explain it here, you need to see it, but basically it's a bit like a sundial.

We finished up the weekend seeing how to gut a squirrel (which John had shot for us), but I'll spare you any pictures of that. Instead, here's the finished product roasting over the fire. It was quite tasty but tough, and John told us it would be better to stew it.
Anyway, that's about it. There was a lot more detail of course, but I'm not going to try and put it all down here. We came away with a very nice Mora survival knife and a Web-tex survival kit, so we can carry on practising - I've already got a mini expedition planned in a few weeks time!

So, if you like the sound of it, and I strongly recommend it, contact John and book yourself in!


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Sunday 18 April 2010

A new improved firewood shelter (part 1)

Inspired by watching the full length version of Alone in the Wilderness, we set off to the wood to start on a new improved firewood shelter. The old one is covered with PVC sheeting, which only lasts about a year before the UV in sunlight causes it to fall apart.

The first thing to make was a "shave log" as I've chosen to call it. At some point we'll get a brace drill and auger and put some legs on it then it will be a crude shave horse... I started by planing off one side of the log:
but stopping just before the end, then cutting it off to make a step:
A bit of tidying was then needed to make it reasonably flat:
To test it, Tracy cleaved a small pole using a froe a couple of times to make a rough plank:
which she then shaved using a draw knife on the log:which produced a nice looking piece of wood:
Now we knew that bit would work, we selected some strong poles from wood we cut a year ago, and I sharpened them to make stakes. We also picked out two long straight poles to form the edges of the roof:
Then we banged these into the ground using the post driver (I had to trim the end of the one on the right as it was too fat to fit inside the post driver!):
We started cleaving some poles to make planks for the roof, this time using the cleaving break we made a couple of years ago:
Then each planked needed shaving with the draw knife to get it roughly flat:
We only had time to make a few, but it was at least a chance to see how they would look on the roof of the shelter:
We'll continue with the shelter over the next couple of weeks as time allows.

Now, here's some wildlife pics from the weekend. I got what I think may be my best photo yet of a Peacock Butterfly, I've uploaded it full size, so click this link to see a big version:
Lots of birds around too, though now the leaves are coming out it's harder to see them. Here's a wren:
a Great Tit:
a Blue Tit:
and several of a Coal Tit:
There's also one mystery bird that I didn't recognise. Is it a Nightingale? Please leave a comment to tell me if you know for sure...
As I said, the leaves are coming out now, especially on the birch. A few of the Chestnut are coming on well:
while the ones we coppiced in Sweep Wood last winter are beginning to show new buds:
and there are swelling buds up in the oak trees:
Down on the ground, the boar have been digging!
but in other places the first bluebells are coming out:
Finally, back at home we've been looking out for nice sunsets with all this volcanic ash around. There hasn't been one as nice as last Thursday yet, but I did get some good pics of gulls flying in front of the sun:
That's all for now...


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