How The Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears, TV review: Paean to North America's epic beauty


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The Independent Culture

Ray Mears has always been at the sensible end of the survivalist spectrum and now that he's back on the BBC after a brief sojourn at ITV, he's found a documentary subject that fits as snug as a beaver pelt hat.

How The Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears with (BBC4) was a paean to the epic beauty of North America's Great Outdoors, but also a reminder that bush-craft skills once had a use even more practical than securing your own TV series.

To kick off this three-parter, Mears followed the early pioneers' wagon trails into the mountains. In the mist-peaked Appalachians he handled a fish variously known as "devil dog", "hell bender" and "snot otter" (so ugly they named it thrice); he paid homage to the dangerous lives of fur trappers in the Rockies and, at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, learned about the tragic, cannibalistic winter of 1846.

At each of these spots, Mears was met by company, including Cherokee tribal elder Davy Arch. Arch shared his local knowledge with the white man, just as his ancestors had done three hundred years previous. Their thanks? Forcible eviction from the native lands.

Thankfully, Mears made for a much more mannerly guest and this was a much more sociable programme. That's because the subject of this series is not just wildlife, or even how wildlife interacts with a solitary explorer, it's how a landscape as awe-inspiring as this can shape the growth of an entire society.