How would you react if you were caught out in a survival situation? Surviving in the wilderness is no easy feat. The Scottish Highlands are notorious for sudden changes in weather and the relentless power of the elements. I joined Primal Bushcraft & Survival for a one-day course to learn some of the key skills necessary to master the art of bushcraft in Scotland and increase my chances of surviving in an emergency. How did I fare and what did I learn? Read all about it in this post.

This post was commissioned by Primal Bushcraft & Survival.

This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here. All opinions are my own.

Back and forth, back and forth. Pull the bow, push the bow. Apply equal pressure to the drill. Ignore the screeching sound of wood rubbing against wood and keep going until – oh, smoke is starting to rise! Go on, a few more times, then take away the bow-drill and look at the tiny pile of embers you just created. Carefully place it into a nest made from dry grass and cattails, fold it over and blow in some air. Don’t give up now, keep blowing, more and more smoke will come out and eventually – yay – the nest catches fire!

Congratulations! You just lit a fire with a bow-drill, one of the most difficult ways to make a fire on a bushcraft course! Well, actually – I did it, on my second attempt!

Could you do it too?

As a long-distance hiker and wild camper, I have found myself one step away from disaster more often than I would like to admit. From running out of drinking water halfway through a multi-day hike, struggling to find a suitable spot to pitch my tent to questionable navigation on cloud-covered mountain tops…

Luckily, civilisation was never too far away and I’ve always been very lucky to get out of situations unharmed. However, it does make me wonder how I’d fare in a total emergency situation. Not too well, I assume.

Knowing the basics of finding water, making fire and preserving body heat can make all the difference when you find yourself in an emergency. 

When Primal Bushcraft & Survival approached me to join one of their skills days, I jumped on the opportunity. Their courses are well-renowned, their instructors know their stuff and it sounded like a lot of fun to spend a day in the woods learning new skills.

In this post, you will read about my experience on their Bushcraft Survival Skills Day, including:

  • An overview of topics covered and skills taught on the course,
  • Details about the activity provider Primal Bushcraft & Survival: who they are and what they offer,
  • Key facts about the activity, such as who it’s for, how much it costs and more,
  • And a personal evaluation of my experience on the course.

Bushcraft & Survival Skills

Let’s start with a lesson about the difference between bushcraft and survival.

Bushcraft is all about thriving in nature without any of the modern amenities we are used to. It enables you to be in tune with nature and make use of the natural world around you without causing harm or damage. Most importantly it is a planned activity where you know what to expect and enjoy solving nature’s puzzles as they arise.

Survival is a different story. Survival situations are rarely planned or enjoyable – they can be life-threatening. Ideally, though, they only last for a short period of time before you manage to get rescued.

Even though the two are very different, knowing and practising bushcraft skills will equip you with everything you need to cope in a survival situation. Once the skills are second nature to you, you will feel a lot more confident and calm when you find yourself in an emergency.

What are bushcraft skills?

Bushcraft skills include:

  • improvised shelter building,
  • fire lighting,
  • sourcing freshwater and making it safe to drink,
  • navigation and signalling,
  • knife safety and skills,
  • and knowledge of the local flora and fauna.

The skills day with Primal Bushcraft & Survival covers an introduction to all of these topics and more and is thus a perfect way to learn bushcraft in Scotland. 

You might also like: A handy guide to wild camping in Scotland

One of the bushcraft guides from Primal Bushcraft & Survival in Scotland

Who is Primal Bushcraft & Survival?

Primal Bushcraft & Survival is one part of Primal, an outdoor and adventure company owned by Matt Smith. After spending many years in the military and leading expeditions around the world, Matt started his company to help more people step out of their comfort zone and into the wilderness.

Primal Bushcraft & Survival is all about outdoor learning, skill sharing and survival training, while Primal Adventures is your place to go for a bespoke Scotland experience that mixes wilderness and adventure with a bit of luxury.

Primal Activities

Primal challenges people to grow by pushing their boundaries and re-connecting with nature on a very fundamental level. Through their activities, we can return to our roots and cope with nature’s challenges the way our ancestors might have hundreds and thousands of years ago.

They follow a very simple recipe of what you need to know in order to survive in the great outdoors (see the Rule of 3s explained below) and break it down into actionable steps for you. Depending on your level of experience, their experiences can be as gentle or extreme as you can handle.

⇒ Beginners might prefer a bite-sized introduction like the skills day I did. Advanced bushcraft enthusiasts might want to experience a real survival situation and should check out their Castaway weekends.

Other activities offered by Primal include foraging and wild cooking courses, advanced fire skills, outdoor first aid, forging, archery and more.

You might also like: 18 fun outdoor activities to try in Scotland

Primal Instructors

Primal works with a skilled team of instructors who have years of experience ranging from extreme combat survival to tapping into the therapeutic elements of nature. You could not be in better hands.

The instructors I met at the Skills Day were all super passionate about outdoor learning and the environment. They managed to engage kids and adults at the same time and passed on so many nuggets of advice that I know I will remember for the rest of my life.

Primal Location

The primary site for Primal’s bushcraft courses in Scotland is Duncarron Medieval Village which is just about an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow. The site is located near Stirling and the incredibly scenic Carron Valley Reservoir – drive along it for stunning views and stop at the Loup if Fintry waterfall for some pictures after the course. There is plenty of parking available, but no public transport nearby.

⇒ Primal also runs courses in other locations and offers customised itineraries all over Scotland via Primal Adventures.

Fire pit and shelter during aBushcraft Course in Scotland with Primal Bushcraft

About the One-Day Bushcraft Survival Course 

The Bushcraft Survival Skills Day provides an introduction to all the skills you might need to survive in the outdoors. Throughout the day, instructors cover lots of topics, so naturally, you don’t go into great depth – their advanced courses are definitely more focussed on specific skills. However, the day is a great overview of all the things you need to consider and you’ll go home with lots of new skills and knowledge.

Who is it for?

This course for bushcraft in Scotland is for anyone who is new to bushcraft and interested in basic survival skills. No prior experience is required and the instructors can answer any question you might have.

The skills day is great for adults, couples and solo travellers but also suitable for families. Kids should be supervised by an adult though, as they are equally participating in fire lighting, knife skills and using saws.

The activity is very relaxed and enjoyable – not a hardcore survival training day!

Group size and instructor ratio

The Bushcraft course has space for max. 20 people. We were 13 participants and split into two smaller groups. Our group of six always had at least two instructors making sure we handled all equipment in a safe manner.

Course Duration

The course lasts from 10 am to 4 pm. There are two sessions in the morning, a generous lunch break and two more lessons in the afternoon. Around those lessons, instructors shared additional knowledge and information about a variety of topics, so there is always something to learn.

You might also like: My favourite hikes in Scotland (from easy to hard)

General Safety

The bushcraft course is extremely safe. All the sessions begin with detailed safety instructions. No one gets a knife before they haven’t learnt about how to use it properly in order to keep themselves and others safe!

The instructors are also trained in first aid.

Covid-19 Safety

Bushcraft is an outdoor activity and the entire skills day is held outdoors. As such, the risk of spreading Covid-19 during the bushcraft survival skills day is very minimal. There is some shared equipment such as knives and saws, but Primal provides hand sanitizer and wet wipes. There is a toilet cabin nearby for hand-washing.

There are some tarps in the woodland to protect you from rain during the course. Air can circulate well underneath them as they are open at the sides.

The point of bushcraft is to be able to survive on your own – as such, it is very easy to keep your distance from other households throughout the day. 

What’s included?

The cost of the skills day is £84 for adults and £42 for kids [2020 prices]. This includes:

⇒ All equipment.

⇒ A tasty lunch, hot drinks and biscuits throughout the day. (Dietary requirements can be accommodated, just let them know in advance.)

⇒ Guidance by experienced instructors.

What to wear & bring?

I recommend wearing outdoorsy clothes. Bring a waterproof jacket and overtrousers in case of rain and wear sturdy shoes. You spend most of the day in the woods, so even if it is a sunny day it might get a little chilly in the shade of the trees. Make sure you’ve got enough layers.

The instructors keep two fires going all day, so wear clothes you don’t mind smelling of the campfire smoke.

You don’t need to bring anything else – all equipment and food is provided.

You might also like: The ultimate packing list for Scotland

My experience of learning bushcraft in Scotland

The bushcraft course took me back to my childhood summers spent camping, building tree houses in the woods, foraging for berries and gathering natural materials to construct all sorts of tools. Being outdoors, putting my phone away for a few hours and just immersing myself in the learning experience was fantastic. I loved it – especially after 4 months of lockdown in Scotland! 

The day started with a safety briefing regarding the site and also Covid-19 – no big surprises there; the instructors were well aware of the current government guidelines and gave clear guidance about physical distancing throughout the day. After that, it was time to meet the rest of the team over a cup of strong cowboy coffee from the campfire. 

Before getting started on specific skills, Primal instructor Paul explained the basics of bushcraft to us: the difference between bushcraft and survival, how to react in a survival situation and the golden rule of 3s.The Rule of 3s says that you can go… ⇒ 3 minutes without oxygen, ⇒ 3 hours without shelter (when exposed to harsh conditions), ⇒ 3 days without water, ⇒ 3 weeks without a consistent food source, and ⇒ 3 months without… WiFi – or company. Wilson, anyone?

The lessons of the day would address most of these key aspects – although, we had to keep breathing by ourselves and had great company!

You might also like: 11 Educational & Science-Based Tourism Experiences in Scotland

A woman lying in an improvised shelter in the woods pretending to sleep.

Our group split into two smaller groups to give everyone enough space and time to try everything we were learning. There were families with kids of varying ages, a couple and myself as a solo adventurer.

The four main lessons included: 

  • Shelter building: Our instructor showed us what kind of emergency shelters you could buy from outdoor stores and how they work, but we also learnt about building debris shelters from natural materials. We even gave it a try ourselves and built two improvised shelters in the woods. This lesson also included tips for the safe use of saws and advice on how to stay warm throughout the night.
  • Fire lighting: We learnt about a variety of ways to light a fire. From the classic “flint & steel” fire striker over chemical and electric fire (using potassium permanganate and glycerine, or batteries and steel wool) to the most challenging method: using a bow-drill. Our instructor also explained different ways to build a fire, which would be the hottest, which would burn the longest and which is particularly good for signalling. Then we each got to choose a method and start out own fire.
  • Knife skills: After an introduction to knife safety, different kinds of knives and how they are used, we each got a knife and got three tasks: 1. carve a tent pole, 2. split a small log with a method called batoning, and 3. carve “feathers” into the log pieces to increase the surface area of the wood. I must admit, batoning was maybe my favourite activity of the day!
  • Sourcing water: Finding water and making it safe to drink is arguably one of the most important skills to have. We learnt which plants and animals to spot near water sources, all the things inside the water that could harm us and different methods to filter and purify water with natural materials.

Just before lunch, we also went on a short foraging walk. We learnt about some common plants in Scotland that are safe to eat and foraged for fresh blueberries. We even saw a super poisonous plant – the beautiful foxglove flower, which can be lethal if ingested in large quantities. Who knew?

Lunch was cooked on the campfire – a lovely tomato soup for the vegans and hearty mushroom soup for the others, plus fresh garlic bread, plenty of biscuits and juice to wash it down.

I had such a great time learning bushcraft in Scotland with Primal. The instructor team was lovely and super enthusiastic – you could tell that they live and breathe the skills they showed us and how much they missed passing on that passion to others. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, which is always a bonus when you do activities like these on your own.

I loved how both kids and adults were super engaged throughout the day. It never seemed boring for the kids or not advanced enough for the adults – this shows how well thought-through the activity is and how skilled the instructors are.

⇒ This is also a great activity for a staycation in Scotland!

Even though a day-long course can only scratch the surface of all the skills required for a life in the wilderness, the Bushcraft Survival Skills Day has definitely increased my outdoor confidence. I feel more aware of my surroundings now and have already had the chance to pass on some of my new-found knowledge to others.

This is the kind of activity that will keep on giving in the future. The information I picked up that day will come in handy in different situations and I already look forward to using my own flint & steel fire striker again some time.

⇒ Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, interested in wilderness living or simply looking for a fun day out in the fresh air, I cannot recommend the bushcraft day with Primal enough!

You can book a spot for the Bushcraft Survival Skills Day here!

But first – answer this question: what outdoor skills would you most like to learn for your next adventure?

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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner, apart from the one of me with the fire nest (by Primal).

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2 thoughts on “Learn Bushcraft in Scotland: A Bushcraft Survival Skills Day

  1. Halla says:

    Good afternoon,

    I hope you are having a good weekend. We hope to land in Scotland late July /early August. My 14 & 15 year old are keen to learn survival skills & bush crafts. May I. call on Monday. to discuss?

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