Now which way back to the car?


From Exmoor to the Yorkshire Dales and the Scottish borders, naked ramblers are being spotted up and down the country. What’s going on? Have clothes become passé in the walking world? In order to explore this new craze for ‘boots-only hiking’, Stephen Moss dropped everything and struck out into Epping Forest

“The Tilley Hat has lent me a subtle air of insouciance and élan which has hitherto eluded me,” said one of the testimonials tucked inside my rather lovely new Tilley Hat (£41.99 from Field and Trek of Brentwood, Essex). This was reassuring as just then, standing naked in Epping Forest apart from the hat, a stout pair of newly acquired Meindl Borneo trekking boots (£115 ditto) and a thick pair of woollen socks, I was having a definite insouciance crisis.

Stephen Moss hiking naked in Epping Forest.
Sarah Lee: the Guardian Stephen Moss hiking naked in Epping Forest. | Sarah Lee: the Guardian

The Great Epping Forest Trek – actually a 45-minute hike between the A104 and the A121 – was inspired by a recent rash of stories about nude hiking (aka “boots-only hiking” or “skinny walking”). This week one, or perhaps two, men with athletic builds and all-over tans have been spotted in the Yorkshire Dales and are reckoned to be attempting an unclothed traverse of the 250-mile Pennine Way. Clearly, a 45-minute walk between two A-roads in Essex is not in this league, but the embarrassment factor is surely the same. Indeed, in my case, greater as I cannot claim an all-over tan or an athletic build.

The first 10 minutes are the worst: stripping off in the middle of the wood, lacing up the £115 Meindl Borneo boots (this takes about a quarter of an hour), taking the first tentative steps through the crunchily leaf-strewn wood. Every sound constitutes a potential threat and I became convinced that the helicopter hovering overhead has spotted something untoward (unlikely from 20ft, let alone 1,000). But gradually I relax and in a perverse (but not perverted!) way start to enjoy it.

It was hot in town, but here, in the shade of the forest, a cooling breeze plays lightly across my buttocks and a walk through a field of thigh-high ferns offers its own ticklish pleasures. Sitting on a log to eat a baguette is painful, but – apart from the occasional nettle, an insect bite on the arm and the nagging fear that a fully-clothed rambler might appear at any moment – it is a pleasurable, yes even liberating, experience.

The nagging doubts reflect the fact that the police have yet to decide what they think about boots-only hiking. Clearly, the sight of a man prancing around naked in woodland brandishing a pole could have sinister overtones. It wouldn’t take the imagination of the Brothers Grimm to see a tubby, red-faced man with a rucksack as a potential threat. Which is why the insouciance is important.

“A common error that newcomers to naturist walking make is that they dive into a bush when they see someone,” says Tony Baldwin, chairman of the Singles’ Outdoor Club, which was formed in 1981 as an activity club for naturists. “That makes quite the wrong impression. People think, ‘What on earth is that fellow up to in that bush?’ Whereas if they see you’re a fellow walker and you don’t wish to cause them any threat, most people are perfectly pleasant.” So, if you meet a passerby walking their Rottweiler, just raise your reassuringly expensive Tilley Hat (which also comes with a testimonial from Sir Edmund Hillary) and say a cheery “good afternoon”.

“I have never had an embarrassing moment,” says Baldwin, who is 67 and a retired hospital physicist, “and I have been walking for some 12 years. I have never had any complaints from the public, though I have met hundreds of them. The general reaction is pleasant. The vital thing is not to make them think that you’re a pervert on the loose or that you intend them some harm.” I remember not to brandish my baguette in a threatening way.

The police, however, are not yet satisfied that boots- (and baguettes-) only hikers pose no threat to the public. “These incidents might be quite tame, but the police are taking them seriously due to the distress they have clearly caused to the public,” says acting chief inspector Tadeusz Nowakowski, who is leading the hunt for the intrepid hiker or hikers attempting a naked crossing of the Pennine Way. “Imagine if your wife was stuck up on her own in the dales, having her sandwiches and a bit of a nap, when suddenly this man comes bumbling around the corner.”

Continued… Read full original article…

Source: The Guardian

Original publication 6 August, 2003

Posted on NatCorn 15th April 2021

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