Escape London, on a survival weekend.

6 Sep

As far as Christmas presents go, Escape London can think of very few gifts able to rival a survival weekend.  OK, it wasn’t the most exciting thing to unwrap (it was a piece of paper) and admittedly it wasn’t as immediately enjoyable as say, a frizbee.  But the opportunity to be thrown towards the wild and taught how to live using the surrounding environment is about as perfect a present as Escape London has ever been given.

Trueways Survival School are responsible for the running and organisation of the courses.  There are numerous options as to the level and duration of the lessons ranging from beginner (which generally lasts 1 weekend) to expert (up to a week of survival), and they have locations all over the UK that run courses all year round.  More info can be found on their website: www.truewayssurvival.com

Having experienced the course, Escape London feels it necessary to inform all that the most important part of the entire event is the preparation.  Escape London rocked up to the location in the heart of some Hampshire woodland, armed with a thin sleeping bag, a fleece, a pair of walking boots and a penknife.  These few items were DEFINITELY inadequate.  As Escape London started making conversation with a couple of other ‘survivalists’ it quickly became apparent that more gear was required.  Much more.  The very best thing you can do is, at the booking stage read all information on the website.  Trueways have taken the time to write, in great detail and with a commendable use of the English language, the exact equipment  required for the duration.  All us budding Bear Grylls need to do, is read this and then bring the dam stuff.  Simple.

a Tarpaulin a.k.a basher, is an essential piece of kit.

Standing around in a large group in a beautiful meadow it was clear that those attending had taken their own preparation seriously, overflowing backpacks lay discarded across the clearing like slumbering rescue dogs.  Millets must LOVE Trueways.  Our brilliant instructor introduced himself and went through his impressive military background and an overview of what we’d be learning over the 2 days.  It was at this point that he inquired as to whether everyone had read and obtained everything on the kit list.  Everyone unanimously (in most cases smugly) nodded their heads.  Apart from Escape London.  ‘Hands up anyone who DIDN’T read the list’.  My solitary hand stood out like a signal beacon on that bright summer’s morning.  After being graciously kitted up it was on with the surviving and everyone was divided into small teams to go and build their shelters.

Perfect place for a survival weekend.

Escape London shared an encampment with a Serbian guy named Milosh and a Policeman named Gareth.  It was clear from the offset that both men had their own personal agendas.  They were impossibly difficult to get conversation from.  These guys were solo-survivalists, Robinson Crusoes, and initially, Escape London peered over at the infinitely merrier pockets of survivors dotted around the woods and yearned to swap groups.  They were shedding a jovial light on survival, laughing and joking as they constructed their sleeping areas.  Not so in this part of the forest.  Our team cast a forlorn and morale-sapping shadow across the woodland floor.  It was as if we’d unwittingly crept into the evil forest Mirkwood from Lord of the Rings.

Bath break

Milosh was a fraudulent survivor anyway.  The gangly man had his own bloody TENT which he erected beneath his tarpaulin.  What???  Gareth busied himself arranging a huge array of military-issue weaponry.  He had at least 6 knives in a variety of sizes and shapes, all of them huge.  One eye would remain firmly open this night.  No amount of open-ended questioning could get a proper conversation going.  Perhaps Milosh and Gareth’s lack of social grace was a good thing?…if things were to descend into chaos and disaster over the weekend, Escape London would find it far easier to eat these sullen, silent companions knowing nothing about their lives.  How can you dine on a man whose Golden Spaniel eagerly awaits his return the next day?  It was quickly decided that these two would serve as nothing more than survival skill benchmarkers and possible food should push come to shove.  Survival is about finding positives, small victories that can make the difference between life and death.  Escape London felt it was already getting the hang of things.

Not part of the course, but worth a try.

In retrospect Escape London is satisfied at having survived with limited equipment.  After all, survival is not a choice but a necessity, one does not decide on the luxuries afforded in a real-life survival scenario.  There were certain levels of jealousy when witnessing Gareth chopping into wood with his giant, military issue knives; and when Milosh pulled out his single man tent/sleeping bag combo, there were slight pangs of envy towards the warmth he would surely experience that night.  But, that’s CHEATING!  Escape London created a nest of fern beneath his (borrowed) tarpaulin and slept in a sleeping bag designed for temperatures no colder than +10 degrees, surely this was a luxury in itself?

City life is draining.  It’s almost as if our carnal needs to survive, to find sustenance, shelter and water have been replaced with obtaining business, picking up new clients and increasing the bank balance.  It takes a weekend, sleeping under the stars with only the very minimum of basic needs to realise that real life is something much more important, entirely more fulfilling and definitely more fun.  Trueways, as well as offering vital lessons in surviving off the land, also gave Escape London a well needed break from the norm.  There was almost zero brain activity required outside of the lessons.  Other than; where do I get more fire-wood from?  I’m pretty hungry.  Which tree should I climb next?  Nothing else registered.  This was bliss of the highest blissfulness.

Don't eat Foxgloves!

Without going into too much detail, pretty much every basic survival technique and routine was covered during our time on the course.  The well informed and eloquent instructor with years of experience in the forces showed us the ropes in great detail.  Everything from obtaining water from various sources to setting snares and traps.  It was all taught in a hands on way and the differences between bushcraft and survival skills were pointed out at every opportunity.  There was plenty of time to explore and wander through the beautiful woods as, after the last session finished at 5pm, the evening was ours to do as we please.  Escape London stole quickly away from his camp, leaving Milosh and Gareth to sharpen sticks in silence.

Building a signal fire is one of the weekends lessons

Escape London will reveal nothing more about the weekend other than to inform everyone that Milosh and Gareth went home to their Spaniels and military armouries alive and well.  There was no need to resort to eating one another and, apart from a VERY cold night with little sleep, things went exceedingly well.  This course comes with the highest recommendation, it’s a brilliant way to escape the pressures of city life whilst at the same time learning some really cool facts to impress your friends down the pub.  Did you know that, to keep a small fire going for 24hr requires in the region of 1 tonne’s worth of wood?  Escape London didn’t either….

2 Responses to “Escape London, on a survival weekend.”

  1. Jerick 25travels September 7, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Hey Daniel, Love the concept of the blog! I’ve only been to London a couple of times mostly for touristic purposes but maybe if I move there – I’ll give your suggestions a shot!

  2. Neil September 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I did one of these last year, great fun but they seem to attract the socially inept and downright odd Ala Milosh and Gareth! Go as a group and you skirt this problem

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