Yesterday I went for my first naturist ramble, across the top of Brighton using the South Downs Way from Patcham to Shoreham. This was a walk conjured up by Will Golden and planned by him for a long while but it was a combination of overnight chance factors that brought us together to do it. While this was to be my first walk, I think of Will as being an experienced and well known exponent of naked rambling.
I was relieved that, when in the first sections of the walk, we encountered walkers travelling in the same direct as us, Will showed no inclination to strip off. Chatting cheerfully to two female walkers going in our direction about our plans, when they asked “So are you going to walk naked now?” Will replied “Good Lord no!”, or words to that effect, much to my relief!.
But his intention to walk naked up the length of the base of Devils Dyke (a huge open valley owned by the National Trust) made me feel a little nervous. With any people up above us mere pin pricks I realised how harmless this was and strode forth confidently, at least until about half way up the valley when I slipped my shorts on. Will carried on regardless practically all the way to the top before slipping on his protection, but there was nobody about anyway.
After a pint at the Devils Dyke pub, we took off along the South Downs Way proper and with not a soul in site ahead of us we took off, naked, to the west. A mountain cyclist whizzed past and that was it until we donned protection for a walk through a hamlet. Then it was naked again, slipping coverings on for approaching vehicles as one stage, before going off the main path to a less frequented footpath. It was then downhill to the River Adur and a naked walk along the West bank in towards Shoreham, our destination the Red Lion pub. At about 15 degrees in the sun with a light breeze these were wonderful conditions and, asides from the necessity of the backpack, the feeling of doing something healthy, free spirited and thoroughly enjoyable was tremendous.
Now, for much of the walk, Will had been telling me how one really should not worry too much about encountering people and it was on this last stretch that I followed his advice about not needing to cover up either for people on the other bank of the river, 60 yards away (perhaps a half dozen on the whole length – I was comfortable with that) or on our side (this I was less comfortable, but to a point went along with it). Walking with Will, one might not actually in any case feel noticed, naked or not, because Will has no obvious genitals and is therefore a little different to the boring norm. Not gaining people’s direct attention, which is how it certainly seemed, was fine by me! There were about four smiles and cheery ‘hellos’ from dog walkers and cyclists before we encountered somebody who I might best describe as White Van Man (without the van) who said nothing but was plainly not as happy as his dog. You know the type, I would not say likely to be offended but not the most liberal when it comes to tolerance of differences….
Thinking about it at the time, I realised that in almost all cases, being perceived as naked from a distance, and then covering up, allows me to pursue this harmless but at the same time exhilarating activity without close proximity encounters where the encountered (frequently on their own) may feel quite vulnerable. I also think it shows courtesy. Now I realise that Will has a different perspective to me, which I perfectly respect, but as we approached the pedestrian bridge in Old Shoreham, me kitted up about 800 yards earlier, I realised that Will was going to take it to the limits in his determination to get to that bridge. My worry at this point was not the law; while cognisant of the plight of Stephen Gough, I take Will’s point entirely about the legal position in Britain and the relative liberal approach of Sussex police. My worry was the chances, say, of encountering a group of bored youths, not remotely likely in the Sussex countryside but entirely conceivable under the A27 flyover on the approach into Shoreham. Will’s “a perfect venue for a rave” translating into my “a perfect venue for an urban gang to hang out”!
Anyway we got to the bridge and with me acting as clothed scout and photographer, we got the photo he wanted on his phone of himself nude on that bridge, 50 yards from our destination pub! Thinking back, it is now my judgement that there was a little too much adrenaline flowing at the time. I know many will go with Will and his chutzpah but for me I’ll take the enjoyment of the hours walking without the brinkmanship at the very end.
But I can’t wait for the next one!