Can you truly understand the countryside if you've not walked through it in the nude? Well, probably, but our columnist wasn't taking any chances as he strips off to find out for certain.
Some years ago, on a partridge day, I met a very nice and very successful businessman who had made the mistake of sending a photograph of himself, in a state of undress, to a young tabloid journalist posing as an admirer. The topic came up in a roundabout way when we were having some soup by a hawthorn hedge and, trying to be polite, I said something along the lines of: ‘Not to worry. Could happen to anyone, mate.’
In fact, I couldn’t foresee a situation in which I would ever tumble into that sort of mess. Yet, there I was only a fortnight ago, wearing nothing but a pair of shoes, in a Kent wood, sending photographs of myself in the nude to half the contacts in my phone.
It was a case of business rather than pleasure. For a book I’m writing, I found myself having to join the British Naturist Ramblers Association (only £5 a year, in case you’re wondering). It wasn’t, I admit, my first rodeo. Some years ago, I wrote a piece for that brilliant regional newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, about spending a couple of days at the Yorkshire Sun Society, England’s second oldest naturist community. When I was there and gardening with a lovely old boy, he said to me that he used to walk naked in the hills, but he no longer does because he worries that somebody might ‘pap’ him with a camera phone. Rather sad really, I thought, as the sun went down over Hull.
I quickly realised that there is no way I could write about land access without digging down into the naturist ramblers’ community. ‘Not an essential part of the narrative,’ my publisher said. ‘Listen Myles,’ I replied, ‘in terms of importance, it’s only surpassed by the wildfowling chapter.’ The veteran publisher sighed and said he was actually going to suggest I perhaps didn’t need to shoot a goose either.
“When you first get naked you feel a bit uncomfortable; 12 miles later, you’ve almost forgotten about it”
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And so I found myself totally naked, walking 12 miles towards Canterbury with a lovely bunch of IT consultants, retired teachers and a Frenchman in a little red hat. It is important to note that there was nothing illegal about it. One of the old boys explained that a recent law change means that if you’re happily minding your own business with no clothes on, it’s no longer deemed to be indecent. What was particularly interesting is that everybody we passed seemed happy to see us out having a nice time. They do occasionally meet those who object, but it’s a rare thing.
Over the years, I’ve written about all sorts of people: dog breeders, cheesemongers, bird ringers, fanatical animal-rights activists. In almost every instance I tend to be able to see the appeal or to get the point in some way. Yet, I’ve never quite got naturism. Some will tell you it’s about freedom; others that they’ve simply always been happier without their trousers on. Fair enough. What I do vaguely get is their point about normalising nudity. And it works: it was only when I was about to send a picture of myself and my new friends, huddled around an orchid, to my girlfriend’s father, that I realised I needed to stop. It’s an odd thing. When you first get naked you feel a bit uncomfortable; 12 miles later, you’ve almost forgotten about it.
At the pub afterwards, an Irish naturist with a doctorate in something to do with seaweed asked if I’d come back. ‘Probably not,’ I told him, but I’d absolutely spread the good word.
Sorry, by the way, if you were on the receiving end of one of the many pictures. It’s so easily done.