Gapforce’s new Bushcraft & Survival Challenge ran for the first time on May 31 – June 4, 2021. A member of the instructor team reports on the successful launch of the exciting wilderness skills course and the joys of getting out into the field after a year of stalled travel.
It’s good to be back.
It was a feeling shared by staff and participants alike, and which seemed to add extra vividness to the rolling landscape and huge blue skies that greeted us on the first morning of the Bushcraft & Survival Challenge. After a grey and rainy May, the dawning of clear skies and sunshine for Gapforce’s first venture since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic seemed like a good omen.
Maybe the sense of release is not surprising. 5-days spent entirely outdoors in a tucked-away corner of the North York Moors could hardly contrast more with lockdown themes of confinement and closed horizons. For the course participants, some of whom had left school the previous year, it was a shift to a fresh perspective. For the leadership team, operating in the location for the very first time, it felt like coming home. Gapforce’s spirit lies in exploring new and exciting places – getting ‘out there’, wherever out there might be, so bringing a venture to life in a new location felt like a return to what we do best.
The Bushcraft & Survival Challenge is a 5-day crash course in wilderness skills, taking key elements from our long-established Expedition Leader Training program’s Basic Jungle Training week and adapting them to the UK setting. With hands-on learning and plenty of opportunities to practice and hone their skills, participants attained the ability to tackle survival priorities including water, fire, shelter, and food using a range of bushcraft techniques.
Before the start of the program, the instructor team was up at the site in a remote dale in the North York Moors, creating a woodland camp in what had been a forestry plantation, left largely untouched for decades. The area of mixed larch and oak woodland was tangled, overgrown and running wild – the perfect location to get to grips with survival skills and the art of bushcraft.
For the participants, new experiences came thick and fast as they learned, practiced and refined a host of practical wilderness skills. From one hour to the next they might be learning how a damp rock face could be turned into a source of clean drinking water, attempting the notoriously difficult task of making fire by friction, or sampling the surprising selection of edible plants. While there was lots to learn and hard work to be done, there was also downtime to enjoy the beauty of the forest, socialising around the camp fire in the evenings and relaxing in hammocks after each busy day.
All this intensive practical training and learning led to the ultimate finale, the Gapforce Bushcraft Challenge – a chance to take all that they had learnt and put it into practice. Each member of the group found themselves a quiet spot in the forest to build a shelter, make a fire and cook themselves a meal with the trappings of civilisation stripped away. It was followed by a night in their hand-made shelters – or under the stars right next to it, since the weather stayed fine! An opportunity to connect with one’s own thoughts and reflect on the simpler things, to immerse in and draw energy from nature.
The end of the 5-day course saw six very tired but very satisfied participants. Thanks to their energy and enthusiasm, everybody achieved the various personal goals set out at the start of the course. The majority were looking to complete their The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Gold Residential, but there were also goals for personal growth, gaining a set of useful hard skills and to test the waters of outdoor living to see if they were ready for something further. Alongside their practical training, participants had explored the ideas of land management and access and the rights and responsibilities that come with exploring wild spaces. Our vision at Gapforce was that the course should have a positive environmental impact. Before the group departed, every fire scar was filled in and turfed over, and other signs of our stay were carefully removed to leave no trace beyond the occasional footprint. Some hundreds of plastic tree covers that littered the forest, left over from the original planting, were collected and removed for recycling. The forest, we hope, benefitted from us being there.
The first Bushcraft & Survival Challenge was a breath of fresh air for leaders and participants alike, and paves the way for two more start dates to follow in July and August 2021. If you’re 18-25 and looking to develop wilderness skills in a fun and social setting, you can check availability on the program webpage, or contact an advisor to find out more.