Chris Survives a Week in Deepest Darkest Oxfordshire

After arriving on a rainy Saturday in Norfolk I was very glad to see it clear up overnight and woke to a sunny Sunday. After seeing friends in Norfolk I made my way to Oxfordshire in the evening to be ready and near the course.

Monday morning

Rain, and heavy. Oh great. Camping gear packed in rucksack, trekking and outdoor clothes on, a short drive to a field in the middle of nowhere (well, I say middle of nowhere, actually about 10 miles west of Oxford…).

Day 1 – Two Bushcraft instructors, eight eager- to-learn clients

After a safety briefing in the car park it was a wet-gear-wearing march into the woods to begin the course. Walking gaters on! Arrived at the main camp (logs for seats and a fire in the middle of a suspended parachute) after 20 mins. Got given own bushcraft knife (nice luminous orange handle so it’s easier to find when lost!), small camping saw, fire steel, water and a basha (a tarp used by the army – ‘bâche’ is actually the French word for tarpaulin J). Told that this equipment is our springboard for overcoming the four basic principles of survival – Fire, Food, Shelter and Water.

First objective? Establish camp.

We were told we could go anywhere in the wood, but for the first day or so we would have to be in the main camp every three or four hours for a few woodland lectures and practicals. So don’t get too carried away in the 250 acre ancient woodland. Ok I thought, in for a penny, in for a 10-minute walk away from the main camp. If you’re going to be on a five-day advanced survival course you may as well do it on your own…

Found a spot deep in the wood, four trees nicely spaced, basha bungee tied between them, bivvy bag with roll mat and sleeping bag out, fire lit, camp made J Going to collect lots of fire wood over the next few days methinks… Back to the main camp (10-minute walk in the pitch black back to my camp with a head torch will be interesting tonight – don’t think about it Chris, just breathe, it will be fine).

Next objective? Feed me.

Told we will be eating ‘the food of the forest’ and although we will be shown how to trap and snare, they will not be handing out shotguns to hunt and kill our own food. Something about health and safety and accidental shooting of other clients. Pussies.

Our food will be provided by the local gamekeeper who apparently went out the night before and shot dead half the forest wildlife.

Tonight’s food of the forest – deer!! All eight of us were told how to skin and butcher the carcass and then left to do it. Several people volunteered to take turns and have a go. All but two (I was one of the two) said they had never skinned one before. So we stood back and gave tips on what to do. God, it was like watching paint dry. FFS get your knife in there and pull the bloody skin off – we want to eat this tonight. So speaks the man who was shown how to skin animals in the Australian outback. But it was all good and after an hour or so it was all done.

Next lesson, off for a 2 hour foraging skirmish. Given instructions on what to look for, for food and useful tools, like making rope/twine from nettles. All very interesting stuff.

Back to the main camp, venison back legs and saddle wrapped in big leaves and buried in the ground with hot rocks from the fire to cook for an hour and a half. Tasted great…


Over the next few hours I kept hearing the expression  ‘based on the techniques you learnt on previous courses’. Shit!! What previous course? I soon realised that most, if not all the other chaps on the course had done other things. Basic courses with this firm or other similar places. But after listening to most peoples stories of things they had done, I realised that I had had the opportunities to experience the basics and had taken them. Camping since I was a boy, trekking around the world as an adult, cooking outside, camp fires, travelling in remote places… I was going to be alright, I had my basic knowledge, I was lucky enough to have lived it as well as learnt it.

After the evening meal it was back to our own camps (yes, mine was the farthest away – by around seven minutes!!). But it was great and made the whole week for me. Knowing that I was alone in the woods and the nearest person to me was a 10-minute walk away, made me feel good not scared. I was always able to navigate straight from the main camp to mine and vice versa. I was always able to relight my fire within seconds after my arrival if it had gone out while I was away. And the night-time noises were not as bad as I thought they would be. (To be fair, mainly due to the distant hum of the A420 between Oxford and Swindon…).

Day 2

Rained in the night but woke dry thanks to basha and bivvy. Back and shoulders a bit stiff from lying on the ground but not a bad first night’s sleep outside. Back to main camp for breakfast and given a crash course in shelter construction. Ahhhh construction, one of my favourite subjects, this is going to be a good day.

Back to my camp and decided that where I slept last night was a good place to build my shelter. Building the bed and shelter was fairly heavy going as collecting branches and sticks took around four hours. Aching arms. But by the evening had the bed made with pine branches and leaves for bedding, frame overhead (still using basha as roof) and fire pit going well.

Today’s food is hare. It was nearly as big as the deer! Skinned in the same way, cut up and made into a big spicy stew.

Activities today: shown how to make traps and snares to catch food. An evening looking and learning the constellations and celestial navigation techniques. Not a bad night for star gazing. Then back to my camp to try out the new bed J

Day 3

Rained a little in the night but very dry and the bed was very comfortable. Much warmer as now sleeping off the cold ground. Fire kept the shelter very warm through the night and was still smoking a little first thing so easy to get going for an early morning cuppa.

Today I will be mainly building the roof of my shelter out of fern leaves (as I have to give the basha back today).

Today’s food is pheasant and we’re shown how to prep one for cooking in 30 seconds – I kid you not!! All my birds for cooking in stews will be done this way from now on. Thanks, Martin (Bushcraft instructor).

Activities today: lighting fire by friction using wooden fire bow sets. Bloody hell it’s hard work… Told that after the third try if you have not got an ember from all your sweat and aching muscles, then give up. Fortunately on the third and final go I got one and was able to light a hand full of old goose grass. Get in there sausage!!

Had a great hour or so lecture on animal tracking and signs. Stalking techniques and shown how to make a tracking stick. Spent the evening carving a spoon while warming feet on the camp fire – simple things.

Day 4

Up at 6am to meet up for more star constellations (different to the ones in the evening) and also to find a sit spot position. Find a place to sit and watch the dawn come up and the forest come alive with birds and animals.

Today’s food is rook and squirrel. And a trip back to a farm I came across on one off my many walks through the woods to pick crab apples to eat with the squirrel, which tastes like pork.

Activities today: lecture on a number of techniques for filtering and purifying water. And spent the afternoon flint napping, making a few rough tools to help out in the woods (if I lost my hunting knife).


Day 5 

Last night sleeping under the stars. The shelter was great and waterproof. The bed was very comfortable. Will miss my little camp and the solitude it gave me.

Back to the main camp for a big breakfast. We all had the opportunity to eat an alternative breakfast today. Worms, grasshoppers, grubs, crickets, maggots – not for the faint-hearted. Felt like an Ant & Dec ‘Get me out of the jungle’ bushtucker trial. Bork!!!

Finally, before the march back out of the wood we all build a woodland sauna using sticks, tarps and hot stones from the fire with water splashed on them. Very easy to make so watch out future Happy Coulson guests

At the end of the course I get to keep my bushcraft knife and fire steel. After a few photos for the website it’s off to continue my quest for the nearest bacon bun stall.

A great five days and I survived well.

Learned a lot new skills and brushed up on a few old ones.

I think I am now prepared and ready for when the zombie invasion final comes…