Surviving the high moors.
Virtually every ‘bushcraft’ style video you see on the internet or TV is in northern woodland. True, you get the primitivists in the deserts of the southwest USA, like Luke McLaughlin, and the extreme northern travellers, like Paul Kirtley, however, where I live, the ‘bush’ consists mainly of rock country; wide, wind-swept hills, high plateaus of moorland with tiny patches of tough woodland surviving in the dales. It struck me that the most likely sort of terrain that I would have to use my ‘survival’ skills in, would be high moorland.
As you can see, there are very few apparent resources! No trees to shelter behind, no fallen wood with which to build shelter or build a fire. So what would I do?
OK, the most likely occurrence is that I hurt a leg, and would have to spend a night on the hill. The Mountain Rescue have an excellent set of guidelines on when to call for help. The Ramblers’ website contains a comprehensive guide as to the sorts of skills you might need to prevent your getting into trouble. Chris Townsend has an excellent article concerning the equipment you might need to walk the high moors in winter. I was more interested in what you should do if you actually do get stuck unexpectedly.
Well, follow the sheep, would be my answer! The sheep do not like being cold and wet, and will often head towards shelter when the weather gets especially grim. Track them by their trails through the heather, and the abundant piles of poo!
First: Shelter is your first priority: exposure is probably your main threat to survival. If you can’t move you’re going to have to make do where you are – this is where your bivvy bag, tarp or emergency shelter comes into play. if you can hobble along, make your way to somewhere sheltered – this could be in the lee of a rock outcrop, or next to a stone wall – but watch out for streams or swampy ground following the edge of the wall. Loose stones can often be found near the outcrop – these are ideal for building a simple stone wall, or for weighing down the edges of a t.arp or shelter.
Second: Warmth – this will help you from going into shock, and will help keep the exposure at bay. The obvious answer is: make a fire, however fires on moorland have a nasty habit of getting out of control very quickly. The flames can get into the peat underground, and travel along, even in the rain. You’d be better off with handwarmers or, at a pinch, a hiker’s stove. Be sure to tidy up after any sort of fire as well. You could make a Yeti nest, using bracken or grass stems – but be warned; dry bracken stems can get razor sharp and cut unprotected hands, and also host ticks.
Third: Water – you might need water if you’ve run out, and you can heat it up on your stove, and get that energy and warmth where it’s most needed – inside you! Unless you collect rainwater using your tarp, you will need to filter and boil your water, or sterilise it using chemicals. MCQ bushcraft do a very fine video on this. Water can be found in moorland streams and puddles – often indicated where rushes are growing.
Sometimes you can find collected rainwater on rocks near where you’d shelter! A straw or drinking tube can be used to collect water from all sorts of nooks and crannies.
So, play safe and make sure you have the right kit before you go out on the hills. Think like an Aboriginal, and let the living things around you guide you to shelter, warmth and water. Respect the land, and make sure you tread lightly - leave as little trace of your passing as possible.