At the end of September I took part in the Seeker News Castaway Challenge. It was a survival challenge where I joined a small team of people I’d never met before. We were taken by boat to a mystery location and dropped on the beach with no food, water and minimal equipment and left to live out wild completing various survival related tasks along the way. The challenge was held to raise money for Diverse abilities plus, a charity that provides help and support to people with profound physical and learning disabilities.
Here is a brief diary of the things we got up to on the challenge
We got on to the boats to sail to the castaway camp and I think I can speak for all of us when I say we were feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement. We landed on the beach and were quickly given a briefing and a demonstration on shelter building, then it was up to us. We set about building our shelter with natural materials around us and by about 5 or 6 o’clock we had somewhere to sleep that hopefully would be warm and dry. By this stage we were all feeling hungry and dinner came in the form of pigeon that was still whole, feathers and all.
We got a campfire going had a bite to eat and relaxed for the evening getting our bed spaces sorted and trying to make it as comfortable as we could.
The next day kicked off with a bit of breakfast followed by a fire lighting test where we had to boil a pot of water on the beach, we were provided with a bowdrill set a pot and a small amount of charcloth. Luckily I was able to find very near by an old fence post with a bit of barbed wire attached and within a couple of minutes had a nice adjustable pot hanger. There was an abundance of kindling materials nearby and I was surprised how quickly we actually got the water boiled as my bowdrill technique isn’t the best (it’s a lot better now), we then had a talk and demonstration on various firelighting techniques held by Arthur, one of the instructors. We were given some flour so lunch consisted of a bit of bannock. In the afternoon we had a talk on water filtration and learnt how to make improvised water filters out of natural materials. Then came dinner, Partridge, again whole with feathers.
In the morning “Nobby” one of the instructors came into camp with a map and set of coordinates and said we could find breakfast at the location of the coordinates, luckily myself and a couple of others had a little experience in map reading and I was quickly able to locate our camp on the map and find the location of our breakfast. We set out and had a nice walk together through some beautiful countryside to the location of the food cache. When we got there all we found was a bottle with a piece of paper with another set of coordinates on, we located them on the map (the beach right by our camp, great!) and set out for the location and found the food stash. We had a little talk on sea survival and then got to experience the cramped uncomfortable conditions of being in a life raft at sea (which I managed to fall out of and get a dunking whilst trying to climb out of, at least I can say I managed to get a bath).
We got dried and had a bite to eat, bannock again whilst I taught Tara one of the other castaways how to carve a spatula to cook with and then we learned trapping skills and did a foraging exercise. We all learned some valuable lessons on various plants and their uses. Next came prepping for dinner, rabbit, cleaning them and digging a large pit as an improvised oven heating up rocks. Whilst the improvised oven was cooking our bunnies we had a talk on navigation, although I know how to navigate I still found this a very valuable lesson. Next was dinner and then bed as it was very late by this time.
We were surprised when in the morning the instructors came into camp and said they were taking everything other than what we were wearing, knives saws and a cooking pot. It was time to test ourselves on everything we had learned. Myself and Richard went out foraging up the beach whilst the others made a water filter and started cleaning water (as our water supply had been contaminated by the instructors), collecting firewood and improving our shelter. We went up the beach a little way and then split up, Richard going back along the beach to collect blackberries and damsons that we had found and myself going back through the woods, I found a few mushrooms that I knew were edible but I did double-check with the instructors just to make sure they were safe.
The day was spent mostly foraging, filtering and boiling water and improving the shelter. Once it got dark it was time to put to practice the navigational skills we had previously learned, this was a little daunting at first doing it in the pitch black with only a head torch for light but we completed the task and there was a huge sense of achievement felt by all at the end. Next bed, cold and not very comfortable but it could have been worse. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that at the beginning of the challenge we were given an egg each and told not to break it and to keep it on us at all times or there would be consequences, luckily I had a billycan with me that I could sacrifice for egg protection so I put my egg in it wrapped in moss. We were told that the purpose of the egg was so that we had some food for this test and luckily all of us still had an intact egg.
We got up early and had breakfast provided by the instructors (we were all feeling hungry and cold so a hot breakfast was very welcome. We struck the camp cleaned up and walked out of the area to an arranged pick up. We then went back to the hotel where we met where we had a hearty lunch and awards were given, I felt very proud when I found out I had won the award for raising the most money. Next was a fond farewell and we all made our way home
Over the course of the castaway challenge we learned many valuable survival skills and the instructors were second to none. Life in camp wasn’t easy and there was always something that needed to be done but the atmosphere was excellent and strong friendships were made. I will definitely be doing the challenge again, it really is an experience of a lifetime and I can honestly say it was one of the best weeks of my life. As I’m writing this it’s been less than 24 hours since we left the castaway camp and a part of me wishes I was still there
James Harris – Castaway survivor