CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Croydon-born bushcraft expert Ray Mears on how to survive in the Surrey Hills...

PUBLISHED: 03:59 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 15:51 17 April 2018

Having grown up in Kenley, Ray fell in love with nature roaming around Kenley Common and Foxley Wood

Having grown up in Kenley, Ray fell in love with nature roaming around Kenley Common and Foxley Wood

TBC

Bushcraft expert, TV presenter and author Ray Mears is returns to his roots to teach Surrey residents how to enjoy the local countryside safely. Harriet Danhash picks up a few tips

One of the country's leading bushcraft experts, Ray Mears now shares his skills with others at his training shcool in SussexOne of the country's leading bushcraft experts, Ray Mears now shares his skills with others at his training shcool in Sussex

With its rolling hills, dense woodlands and seemingly endless stretches of tree-lined country lanes, Surrey is a haven for nature-philes. So it comes as no surprise to learn that bushcraft expert Ray Mears first discovered a love of the outdoors in this very county.

Having grown up exploring the leafy landscapes around Kenley (more of which later), he has since gone on, of course, to become one of the country’s leading authorities on bushcraft. Best-known for his many television series, including the eponymously named Ray Mears’ Bushcraft and Ray Mears’ World of Survival, he is also a bushcraft trainer and author. So, for the uninitiated, how would he define bushcraft then?

“In a nutshell, it’s the knowledge of how to live in wild places in a traditional way, how to feel as though one is part of the landscape and not an alien and, perhaps most importantly, how to be safe in the outdoors,” he explains.

It’s clear that Ray takes his craft very seriously, and rightly so: after all, the natural world can be a dangerous place. “Bushcraft is the practice of learning to see more and feel more, but, above all, learning how to do those things safely,” he adds. “And I’m still learning now.”

Down to earth, passionate about his craft and driven to learn more about his subject out of a genuine love for nature, his enthusiasm for the great outdoors is infectious. However, he is keen to point out that a survivalist he is not. “I don’t particularly like the word survivalism; it conjures up images of bunkers and baked bean tins,” laughs Ray. “Bushcraft is informed by a lot of what is taught in survivalism, but it encompasses a whole range of skills.”

 

Surrey roots

Born in Croydon in 1964, Ray’s first foray into bushcraft – although he didn’t realise it then – was as a child, when he began tracking foxes in the woods. Growing up in Kenley, with Foxley Wood and Kenley Common on his doorstep, Ray never had to stray too far in search of adventure.

Educated at Downside Lodge Prep School in Purley and then as a pupil at Reigate Grammar, he enjoyed school but it was obvious that his passion lay elsewhere. “As a youngster, I always wanted to stay outdoors and camp out overnight but, at that time, I didn’t have the equipment I needed to do those things,” he recalls. After leaving school, he worked briefly in what some might term a conventional job in London. “It didn’t suit me,” he continues. “I was very fortunate to discover that I loved working in the outdoors and had a burning desire to pursue that.”

Indeed, Ray’s childhood interest in tracking foxes soon evolved into a life-long love of nature and, later, the career in bushcraft for which he is now so well known. However, Ray credits his judo teacher at Downside, Kingsley Hopkins, who had experienced life behind enemy lines in Burma, for feeding his passion for the subject. “He showed me the skills, and encouraged me to read up, explore and go off in search of knowledge.” And that is exactly what Ray did.

Since then, Ray’s career has taken him around the world and enabled him to visit countless incredible places, but he says his favourite of all is Britain, and Surrey, in particular, is “amazing”.

“There have been so many times over the years, when I’ve been in rainforests around the world and I’ve just thought that they were bigger, hotter versions of Surrey, especially as we have such a variety of trees and plants in the county,” he continues.

“My advice to anyone wanting to get into bushcraft would be to try and imagine what our ancestors would have needed to know 10,000 years ago. They would have known everything about the hills we sweat up today – the shadows, the insects and the biters – only they would have had a more intimate knowledge because they also knew where to find food. Thinking about that kind of thing is all part of the fun.

“But Surrey is full of so many places to practise bushcraft that I couldn’t possibly mention just one. Plus, if I did, we might get too many people going to them!”

 

Budding bushcrafters

Recognising that bushcraft has given him a means of communicating with nature and the ability to cope in challenging situations, in 1983 Ray founded Woodlore, The School of Wilderness Bushcraft, in East Sussex. Since then, the school has taught people, both young and old, a range of outdoor skills, such as tracking, first aid and medical training, and fundamental bushcraft skills. Today, Ray maintains his involvement in the school and continues to teach the more specialist classes. “I’m currently getting ready to teach the Arctic course in Ontario,” he says excitedly.

Last year was a busy one for Ray all-round, as he also filmed two new television series, Wild Australia and Wild France, due to air on ITV later this year. Now 2016 looks set to continue the trend, as Ray embarks on his UK tour, Tales of Endurance, which will make two Surrey pit stops, firstly at Woking’s much-loved New Victoria Theatre (on Sunday March 6) and then, a few days later, at Guildford’s state-of-the-art entertainment venue, G Live (on Friday March 11).

The show promises to move, inspire and shock in equal measure. “I’ll be telling stories of the adventures I’ve experienced over the years,” he says. “They are remarkable, thought-provoking stories and, when you see them from my perspective, they live with you and you can draw on them in times of crisis.” The bushcraft expert will also talk about how we can all be safer when travelling, particularly gap-year students. “There are now new things we can do that weren’t available when I was younger, such as vital pieces of equipment that can make all the difference,” he adds.

There will also be an opportunity to put your own burning questions to Surrey’s very own action man in a question and answer session and to have a book signed by Ray at the end of the show. However, tickets are selling fast so you’ll need to get in quick.

For now, it’s time for him to get back to his school of bushcraft in the Sussex countryside. But while life may have taken him away from Surrey, Ray still has great memories of his upbringing in the county and is looking forward to returning as part of his tour. “Surrey is a fantastic, beautiful place,” he adds fondly. “I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to grow up here.”

• The Woodlore School of Wilderness Bushcraft, PO BOX 3, Etchingham, East Sussex TN19 7ZE. For more information on the range of courses currently available, call 01580 819668, send an e-mail to info@raymears.com or pay a visit to their website at raymears.com.

 

Ray Mears’ 5 top tips for surviving the Surrey Hills

1) Keep warm - Probably the most important of all bushcraft skills is fire lighting. Fire can dispel the darkness of a Surrey forest, keep us warm, purify our water and cook our food. A vital piece of my kit is a fire flash: a small metal rod that, when scraped with a metal blade, helps to start a fire.

2) Forage for berries - The Surrey Hills are a bountiful source of edible berries, such as hawthorn. Crush the berries with your hands and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Discard the seeds and you’ll be left with a thick liquid that will turn into a delicious jelly-like texture. Remember always to forage responsibly, and only ever eat something if you are 100% sure.

3) Stay hydrated - Water is vital to our survival. When out in the wild, I always pay close attention to my route, to check for sources of water, whether in Surrey or the Serengeti. If you can’t spot a river or stream, remember that water doesn’t flow uphill, so move to lower ground. Also, look for boggy areas and birch trees, which are a good indicator that water is nearby, and insects tend to congregate around water too.

4) Nature’s own pharmacy - Illness and injury can strike anywhere – whether you’re trekking through the rainforest, braving the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic or just heading out for a country walk and picnic in Surrey’s countryside. Fortunately, Mother Nature is on hand with a vast array of medicinal leaves. Take, for example, the leaves of Greater Plantain, which is widespread across Surrey and can help to heal wounds. First, wash the leaf to remove any harmful bacteria, then wrap it around the wound, tie it in place and let it work its magic.

5) Lifesaving technology - When one thinks about getting lost out in the wild, Surrey might not be the first place that springs to mind. However, with its twisty wooded paths and plunging overnight winter temperatures, getting lost in our county is no laughing matter. An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon is a device that can send a signal via satellite to the emergency services, enabling them to accurately locate your position. They don’t come cheap but they can prove a lifesaving investment, meaning help can reach you fast in emergency situations.

 

My favourite Surrey

View: Box Hill has to be one of my favourite views in Surrey. When you walk up and admire that view, you can bet your life that our ancestors have been moved by the very same scene – and that’s an amazing feeling.

Walk: I have fond memories of walks around the stunningly beautiful Hurtwood Estate. The mix of woods and hills is amazing and I’ve enjoyed many a day out there.

Memory: Tracking foxes around the woodlands of Foxley Wood and Kenley Common. I never had to stray too far in search of adventure.

More from Surrey Life

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search