Stripped bare: the mystery of Britain's audacious rambler

On a mission, the naked hiker seeking to persuade the public they should be proud of their bodies is arrested eight times (and counting)
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The Independent Online

When it comes to naked rambling, it would seem sensible to follow to the letter Wordsworth's timeless advice and carry out the pursuit "lonely as a cloud".

Steve Gough, however, has chosen to ignore the poet - and with it provoke a mystery that has scandalised the English countryside this summer. He has left in his wake dozens of horrified walkers during his "boots-only" hike from Land's End to John O'Groats.

Arrested no fewer than eight times so far he has spent more than a week behind bars at a variety of police stations up and down the country. In most cases, charges have been dropped. His mission: to persuade the entire nation of the joys of naked rambling and to inspire others to "get naked" when they see him.

Until now the identity of the naked rambler has remained - unlike Mr Gough - firmly under wraps. But yesterday he broke his silence to talk to The Independent. Mr Gough, 44, who was in the Pennine Way, explained his naked odyssey.

"I can't understand why I am being arrested because all I am doing is showing my body in its original form, the way God made me. I would rather not be arrested, simply because it slows me down, and I am hoping to get to John O'Groats before September because it might be a bit chilly then."

He added: "I have helped bring my children up and I am disturbed at the way that society enforced its views upon them and causes them to be ashamed of their form and of the body they have been given.

"It isn't something we should be ashamed of, we should be proud. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with my body, it is certainly not obscene or disgusting. People will come up to me and say 'I don't mind, but not in front of the kids'. How can it hurt the child to see the human form."

Mr Gough compares what he is doing to the women's rights movement "I am trying to change the mindset of people in society, trying to get people to be proud of what they have and of themselves, what is wrong with that?" he said.

During his journey from Land's End, he has walked alongside many other ramblers. The most adverse reaction he has received was when he said hello to someone who didn't respond. He said: "Most people support me, they like what I am doing and some even share my views. Those who don't share the views accept them and admire me for expressing them."

His progress through the country has been somewhat erratic - on several of the occasions he has been arrested, police have returned him to his home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, so that he has had to hitchhike back to his furthest point.

This was not the only setback. During a stretch in the Yorkshire Dales national park he was shouted at by a farmer who told him to "put on his trousers". Others who saw him said they felt disconcerted when confronted by "middle-aged ramblers with their bits swinging in the breeze".

Yesterday, via a little diversion to Ullswater to meet The Independent, he was heading back to Selkirk on the Scottish borders, where he has been arrested twice already. "Hopefully I will get finished before September because while it might seem like good fun in this weather the body temperature gets low when it is cold and wet."

He took the precaution yesterday of calling the North Yorkshire police to tell them that he was the man responsible for the naked rambler reports - police responded by saying that since no complaint had been received, they considered the matter closed. They did add, however, that he had been warned about his activities, presumably in the hope that it might make a difference.

Mr Gough, who has a seven-year-old daughter, Kiana, and five-year-old son, Yarin, admits his mother, Nora, who is in her seventies, is a little embarrassed by his antics. "She was brought up in a society where what I am doing is not the right thing and to talk about sex was considered wrong."

When he has finished, Mr Gough intends to return home and look for work as a HGV driver, although he won't be tempted to strip in the cab.

"I am looking forward to getting finished and getting home. There are other things in the pipeline but that is one thing I am keeping under wraps.

"Hopefully by the time my children have children of their own, what I am doing will be considered normal and people will be walking all around the countryside like this."

One group applauding Mr Gough's campaign is the Singles Outdoor Club, the offshoot of the British Naturist Council, which organises naked rambling. According to Tony Baldwin, its chairman, the SOC is, despite its name, not a club for singles. It originates from the 1930s when naturism began as mostly a practice for couples, in order to keep out, well, single men who might be joining for reasons other than the high ideals of naturism.

Mr Baldwin yesterday said he thought Mr Gough's campaign was "a jolly good idea" but stressed that true naturists tend to avoid people - and controversy. "What he is doing is not against the law, but some people can obviously find it offensive and you can be charged with causing a public nuisance, or something like that."

He added: "We try and keep to fairly secluded routes but it's difficult to avoid people altogether. When we see someone coming we try at least to get our shorts on for them. We don't want people to think we are a group of weirdoes indulging in our exhibitionist tendencies."

The SOC, he said, included a lot of professional people, such as clergyman and lawyers, as well as the unemployed and young people. Ages ranged from children of members to those in their eighties. "It started out as a club for men, so we are still a bit short of women," he said rather wistfully. "They tend not to want to do so much of the outdoor stuff."

Back in Ullswater, the media having been dealt with, Mr Gough strode off, the late afternoon sunshine burnishing his body, naked but for rucksack, walking boots, socks and a bush hat, seemingly unabashed by the looks of surprise and horror of unsuspecting tourists. It was surely never like this in Wordsworth's days.