Naked rambler finishes trek, after 900 miles and 16 arrests

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The Independent Online

The most notorious nudist in Britain has completed his naked walk from Land's End to John O'Groats, during which he has been beaten up, arrested 16 times and served two prison sentences.

To the cheers of supporters and a small group of local residents, Stephen Gough reached the Pentland Firth shortly after 3pm yesterday. After a 900-mile walk, often in freezing temperatures, which he began on 16 June last year with the intention of expressing his "human right" to be naked, Mr Gough celebrated with a glass of champagne and his first decent meal in seven months - five of which have been spent behind bars for offending public decency.

He has been waved at by busloads of women pensioners and cheered on by construction workers, and even posed for photographs with highly amused tourists, but opinion over his crusade has been divided.

Within two days of setting off, wearing only a bush hat, a rucksack and hiking boots, the former Royal Marine was attacked and beaten up by a group of thugs in St Ives, Cornwall. After being treated in hospital for a broken nose and gashed eye the unemployed lorry driver took to the road again, but soon became the focus of police attention after members of the public began reporting sightings of a naked man in the south of England.

By the time the 44-year-old father of three reached North Yorkshire, police had launched a proper search for the 6ft 4in "athletic man with an all-over tan".

However, it was in Scotland where Mr Gough found his greatest difficulties as police there were less prepared to turn a blind eye.

Despite the arrests and being ferried by police back to his home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, Mr Gough always hitch-hiked back to where he had been arrested and carried on his lone crusade.

"I appreciate the law is different in Scotland. In England they really just let me get on my way, but there is no such discretion here," Mr Gough said yesterday. "I can't say I was annoyed at being arrested because it actually helped increase the publicity." Mr Gough's endeavours have created headlines around the world, much to the embarrassment of his mother, Nora, who is in her seventies, and who admitted to being mortified by her son's behaviour.

"I don't know where he gets this from - certainly not me. I am, and have always been, quite a conservative person. I did my best to persuade him not to go ahead with it, but he wasn't having it and once he had his mind set on doing this, I didn't really have a chance," she said.

Even when in custody Mr Gough refused to give up his campaign and each of the three times he appeared at Dingwall Sheriff Court, and once at Inverness Sheriff Court, he appeared handcuffed and dressed in a blanket.

While at Porterfield Prison in Inverness he refused to wear clothes and was placed in solitary confinement and denied exercise with other prisoners.

"When I set out I did expect to get arrested, but it was worth it," said Mr Gough, who still faces trials at Duns, Perth and Inverness sheriff courts on breach of the peace charges.

"Despite landing up in jail so often my mind was set to complete this mission, aimed at making people think more liberally. There is nothing wrong with the naked body but unfortunately changes in thinking will happen slowly.

"My body is part of me and it's not shameful - it's who I am. When we were children we run around free and then we go through a process of conditioning where we are taught that our bodies aren't OK - and that's not good for us as human beings.

"Nowadays if you see a naked man, some might think he is a paedophile or a pervert. I've not caused any harm to anybody and maybe the next time someone sees a naked man they might think twice about what they call him."

As he drank from a bottle of champagne, Mr Gough, who has slept in the open with just a sleeping bag while on the road, said he was looking forward to a soft, warm bed and a good night's sleep.

For many of the locals at John O'Groats, Mr Gough's arrival was a blessing. "He's brought a lot of trade to John O'Groats at a time of year when we are never busy," said a resident, Sandra Sinclair, 61. "It's a free country and I don't think it's offensive. You've only got to look at the television every night and there's far worse than that."