Sitting on a towel on a bench, squinting uncomfortably into the sun to see the band playing on the bus, and suddenly realising you’re naked is something you’d normally expect to be a dream, but it wasn’t a dream, it was Saturday night’s reality. These moments of odd realisation were dispersed throughout the evening at random rather than regular intervals, and although always surprising, were never shocking.
We’d come, Beth and I, to our first naturist event, having seen an advert for the York Maize Maze, which listed amongst the events the Naked Maze Night, and having been intrigued did a little research to discover that it actually meant what it said. We discussed the idea of going, neither of us shy of nudity, and both of us always having been idly interested in the idea of naturism and we decided it would be an opportunity too good to miss for our first try at this unusual activity.
This gave us four days to contemplate what it was we were intending to do, and those four days were full of excited conversations about what it would be like and about our concerns over the event. We had no experience or knowledge to guide us, and our greatest fears were centred on our doing something which, out of our ignorance, would offend others or embarrass ourselves.
I had a conversation, by e-mail, with BN, which was wonderfully reassuring, and patient with my constant questioning, expressing fears about body image, potential embarrassment, photography and so on. My feelings were now very positive, and made me feel that we would be amongst a very warm and welcoming group of people on Saturday.
I also spent these four days on-line, looking at naturist resources to learn what I could about etiquette so as to minimise the risk of doing something inappropriate. Happily what I discovered what all pretty much common sense, except the need to take a towel to sit on. Obvious perhaps, when you think about it, but I don’t think it would have occurred to us otherwise.
The build up on Saturday involved planning when we would go, what we would need to take, and what we would do about food, and unsure about whether there would be food available to purchase at the maze we took a trip out to buy some picnic type food for dinner and insect repellent - I am much beloved by biting insects.
As we approached the Maze, driving ever more slowly the closer we approached, we began assessing the weather, and wondering if it was going to rain, and how perhaps that would mean we would have to abort the expedition.
We were both of us growing more nervous as we approached the entrance to the car-park, and only my insistence on not giving in to fear kept me going.
We imagined that we would park, enter the site, and undress in a tent or other facility, and then exit these safe confines for the uncertain naked world outside, and as we imagined this process, and this moment, crossing the threshold between the two, the line that demarcates normality and the strangeness of public nakedness we were about to cross our fear and anxiety grew.
As we drove into the car park we saw people getting undressed at their cars, and many others already naked; walking around, chatting, waving to friends, and most of our anxieties drifted away. We parked, got out of the car, and without pause or ceremony we just stripped off and made our way to the entrance, completely forgetting to apply the insect repellent...
Perhaps the most surprising thing for me was that with the shedding of my clothes, I shed all my fears and anxieties, and it happened in just a moment, that moment. Anxious, pants off, not anxious any more. What a strange thing. Almost as if it was the clothes themselves which had some power over me and through some insidious influence were trying to prevent me from disrobing, and then, free from their influence I was liberated as humans must have been across the world before clothes were invented.
We queued briefly to enter with other naked people, which seemed perfectly normal, we paid members of staff at the maze (many of whom were about the site) who were fully clothed, which seemed normal, and we strolled about briefly getting our bearings. The sight of so many naked people, probably more than I have seen in my life, was not in the least strange or surprising; it seemed perfectly normal, as though an ancient race memory was awakened in me, and I knew somehow, deep down, that is this how we were meant to be.
We spent the early part of the evening wandering the maze, and for most of the time completely forgot we were naked. There were moment of realisation, as suddenly it dawned on me that I was naked, but as I said right at the beginning this was never shocking, but rather, joyous. People we met were friendly and chatty, and the maze provided a convenient focus for conversation. The only problem we had was a farmer in a nearby field harvesting his wheat (I think) and throwing up a lot of dust, this meant that the air was full of choking debris at that end of the maze.
Walking around naked felt not only perfectly natural, and I never felt self-conscious even though I was much more aware of my own body than normal. The breeze on bare skin was refreshing and invigorating. I’m not a religious person at all, but the experience was oddly spiritual and healing, as though some of the ravages of age were being undone, perhaps it was a return to a more innocent age, when as a child I ran about naked in the garden, or with friends playing in the woods.
We completed the maze, and Beth did heroically, being 7 ½ months pregnant and growing more tired by the minute, so we headed out and found a place to sit and eat our picnic. This gave us pause to reflect and discuss our experience.
There were many things which had surprised us during this walk around the maze, but for me, probably the most surprising was how non-sexual it was. BN had told me that the experience is non-sexual, and I had read this many times while doing my research in the days before the event, and although I was happy to accept the wisdom of those experienced in the field I still had a small doubt: “How can an activity that involves everyone being naked be so completely non-sexual?” After all we live in a culture where nudity is rarely acceptable, and the context in which it is most acceptable is a sexual one, added to which is always the concern that even if it is not sexual for you, maybe it will be for me. I shouldn’t have worried though, the wise were.. well wise, and it was only my ignorance that maintained this doubt. Despite being naked, amongst many other naked people, of both genders, of all ages , shapes and sizes, the experience remained non-sexual, and I can honestly say that sexual thoughts were completely absent from my mind the entire time.
Probably the next most surprising thing was my aesthetic reaction. I am used to seeing classical and renaissance sculptures of nudes, but they tend to be depictions of beautiful bodies, be it Donatello, Michelangelo, Giambologna, Cellini, or others, and I was concerned that in all likelihood there would be a cross section of society present which would include children, old people, fat people, thin people, beautiful people, ugly people and so on, and that I would find being exposed to this naked cross section aesthetically challenging, that I would appreciate the beauty where I found it, but be disturbed and repelled by the ugliness where that resided, but this was also not the case.
What I learned during this adventure was that the human body is beautiful in all its forms, whether young or old, beautiful or ugly in the conventional sense, and despite my previous qualms I encountered no ugliness, and found only beauty. I don’t want to give the impression that I was wandering around assessing people critically, I certainly wasn’t; aesthetic reactions are, for the most part, emotional rather than intellectual, and they are present unconsciously without need for intent.
Another oddity was my hands; I didn’t know where to put them. I had no pockets to put them in, no belt to hook my thumbs in, and not liking to fold my arms across my chest I often felt unsure what to do with them. This wasn’t so much a problem when walking, but when stopped, reading the clues in the maze, or chatting to people they felt awkward. Something you get used to I suppose.
While reflecting on these things we sat and watched people coming and going, and listened to the band, but as Beth was growing uncomfortable (not with the nudity but with the physical conditions because of her pregnancy) we decided to start heading home.
We stopped in on the pigs, who looked as content as any creatures can be and clearly natural naturists, before making our way to the shop where we bought some postcards and sweet corn (organically grown in the maze). Finally we stopped at the BN stall where we had a very pleasant conversation with Pat Thompson, of BN, who made us feel very welcome, and gave us introductory packs for BN.
And then it was all over, back at the car we dressed, rather reluctantly, and headed for home, discussing our experiences on the way. I can happily report though that we were not punished for our forgetfulness regarding the insect repellent, and as far as I am aware neither of us was bitten. The only downside of the whole experience is that I now resent wearing clothes and can’t wait to take them off again.
The question now is “What’s next?” We both enjoyed the experience, and although we expected that we would, we had enjoyed it more than we had imagined. The first thing is to find a nearby club where we could explore this activity a little more, and get to know some people who have been involved for a while from whom we can get advice and assistance. This is complicated a little by Beth’s pregnancy, she will be giving birth in a few weeks and so that limits what we will be able to do for a while, and I hope this doesn’t cause us to lose our impetus. I think we’ll look at clubs near York, where we live, and see what the membership requirements are, and how we might go about applying.
I would recommend this activity to anyone, and if you are thinking about giving it a go please do. You’ll likely find that all the worries and concerns are phantoms, soon exorcised when you cross that threshold for the first time