Naturist hiking is gaining popularity now that a growing number of naturists are becoming more confident about being naked outside the confines of their clubs and gardens. This article attempts to provide a beginner's guide, and tries to answer those niggling questions that you are bound to have, as well as covering some aspects you may not have thought about.
Once you have experienced the joy of walking in the nude over hill and dale, you will definitely want to do it again. Rather like skinny dipping: once you've tried it, you never want to wear another cossie!
Is it legal?
It is not illegal in the UK for naturists to go about their lawful business in the nude, but care is needed to avoid causing alarm or distress to others, which can lead to grounds for prosecution.
I would recommend that you download a copy of the Public Place Naturism leaflet, available at the Downloads tab of the BN website. Print it out, read it carefully and take it with you. There are two versions – one for England and Wales and another for Scotland – reflecting two slightly different legal frameworks. It is also wise to carry your BN membership card.
Some people find that seeking permission from the local police or land managers can be reassuring. The idea is to reduce the (already small) risk of any complaints being progressed into prosecutions. This appears to have been successful in Scotland. But it may be that asking the question raises the risk of getting a negative answer, which would leave you worse off than before!
In the very unlikely event that somebody objects and calls the police, it is important to “stay calm and cover up”. If you are unlucky enough to be arrested, do not accept a caution or admit guilt but contact BN as soon as you can for advice and assistance.
Having said all that, the Naturist Ramblers Club and its fore-runner the SOC walking group have been doing naturist walks for some 23 years without major problems and certainly no arrests!
Solo or in a group?
Probably the majority of nude walkers start by simply stripping off while on a “normal” country walk, either on their own or with a companion. In my early days this was whenever the weather was warm and sunny and there appeared to be nobody else around (in other words, not very often!). This spontaneous action gives a real feeling of freedom and being close to nature. There is nothing to organise, just relish the moment. Some free spirits are in their element when solo, but others feel too vulnerable to go it alone.
Things are slightly different if you are fortunate enough to walk with a group of other naturists. The feeling of freedom is just as strong, but the fear of discovery is much less. Probably a case of “safety in numbers”. In addition, there is the pleasure of sharing the experience.
Where to go
Despite the popularity of the World Naked Bike Rides in a number of British towns and cities, I'm not sure that the average UK citizen is quite ready for naturists walking freely in the nude through residential and shopping areas or even in local parks. That time may come, but for now it is probably best to avoid such settings, where the high number of people increases the risk that someone might take exception and call the police.
Fortunately, there are many square miles of open countryside in the UK. This is criss-crossed by thousands of kilometres of public footpaths and bridleways. Much of this space is visited by very few people and is quite suitable for naturist walking. Recently, a directory of suitable places for naturist walks has been added to the BN website: on the Places tab, click on Beaches and Countryside Walks. At the time of writing, only a couple of non-beach locations have been added. Why not submit your favourite nude hiking places for inclusion?
Some people like walking in woodland, which has the advantage of providing cool shade on those odd days when it might be simply too hot out in the open. Woods are lovely in springtime when bluebells and other flowers are out in force, before the trees have opened their leaves to cast deep shade. They can also provide welcome shelter from the breeze. Others prefer the more open scenery of moorland, heaths and rolling grass downland. Here you get the full benefit of the sun and often wonderful views. Another benefit is that you can usually see other walkers some distance away and take an alternate route or cover up if that seems appropriate.
Riverside walks and canal towpaths are delightful places to walk, but they are also a magnet for large numbers of “textile” walkers, so should be used with care. The same applies to coastal footpaths and other major long distance tracks – by all means use them but expect company!
The route should be on public rights of way or designated “access land” as far as possible – trespassing in the nude is not a good idea! Suitable land may be within a National Park, or managed by organisations such as the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust or National Trust. These often allow free access to the public, but it is probably best to avoid those National Trust properties where you pay to get in (unless you have sought permission beforehand).
Public footpaths are generally your best option. Bridleways and by-ways (green lanes) are excellent too, especially for groups, but as they are used by horse-riders and mountain bikers, they can be very muddy! Farm tracks should not be used unless they are clearly marked as public rights of way. Try to keep away from public roads if possible, unless you are prepared to dress to avoid distracting passing motorists.
What to take
Unless you are a keen barefoot walker, you'll need some footwear. Some people are happy with rugged sandals or trainers, but I prefer walking shoes or boots that give you a bit of ankle support if going on a longish walk. A hat or cap is also a good idea partly for protection against the sun, but it can have other uses as described below.
For anything but the shortest of walks, a small backpack (about 25 litres) is essential to carry some clothes (sorry!), a small towel to sit on, drinking water, snacks, sunscreen, map, mobile phone, a couple of plasters and sterile wipes (in case of scratches from barbed wire or brambles). Still on a medical theme, a pair of tweezers could be useful for removing thorns – especially if you are barefoot. And a tick-removal tool (available at all good pet-shops!) is essential for the savvy outdoorsman these days. One luxury item is a pair of garden secateurs for clearing a way through brambles on neglected footpaths and stiles.
Every naturist hiker has their own preferred method of quickly “covering up” (as opposed to getting dressed) if this should be necessary during a naturist walk. Most women favour a sarong/pareo or a simple loose dress that can be stepped into or pulled on over the head. These can be tucked under the backpack straps for rapid deployment if required.
For men, things might seem simpler, but trying to step into a pair of shorts, however baggy, with walking boots on is like auditioning for a part in “You've Been Framed”. So most carry a towel or wrap-around skirt or kilt that can be deployed quickly and fastened into place without any fiddling. Some may prefer just to use their hats – or maps (note: satnavs are not very useful for this)!
This section is intended to help you to avoid upsetting people you may meet on your naked walk. When you do meet somebody, it is all about how you behave. A very unscientific survey of naturist hikers that I have conducted on the Naktiv website has given the following results about what they do:
71% Smile, say Hi and stay nude unless they complain
21% Cover up with towel / sarong / kilt or hat
4.5% Try to find somewhere to hide
3.5% Rush to pull on shorts
Sometimes you will see them coming in the distance and decide to cover up before passing them. On other occasions they will suddenly appear round a bend in the hedgerow and you'll have no time to react. In both cases, don't panic – you are doing nothing wrong. But remember that the meeting might be a bit of a shock for them. Resist any temptation to freeze or to run away or hide, as this just makes you look guilty and may well worry the other person, leading them to react badly too.
Think what you would do if you had met them while you were fully clothed: smile, say Hi, mention the weather, and continue on your way. Why do anything different? If they seem keen to stop for a chat, let them take the lead and go with the flow! If they seem agitated or make negative comments, make sure you cover yourself up and simply state that you are a naturist out for a country walk and had no intention of upsetting them in any way.
You are quite likely to pass people walking their dogs. The majority of these are surprisingly positive, often saying “Oh, you don't need to cover up for my benefit”. Frequently you will meet the dog before meeting the walker, and it is always a good idea to make a big fuss of the dog, just as you would if you were dressed. The owner then realises that you are just a regular dog-lover who happens to be naked!
Meetings with horses and their riders can be a bit more awkward. The animals can get spooked by large groups (dressed or otherwise), so step out of their way and keep the noise down! If you have an option to follow a bridleway or a footpath, choose the footpath!
Mountain bikers usually come and go before you know they're there. So it's quite likely that they will register that you are naked, but they will be focused on following the track and just have time to exchange a friendly Hi!
On farm tracks you have a reasonable chance of meeting farm vehicles: give the driver plenty of space and a friendly nod or wave. If they stop, they're probably just curious to know what you're up to, so don't panic! If the track passes through a farm yard or close to cottages it might be an idea to cover up in advance.
The Countryside Code and Scottish Outdoor Access Code
It is very important to follow a few basic rules when walking in the countryside. Before you go, download a copy of The Countryside Code (England & Wales) or the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. This is key to making sure that you don't get on the wrong side of the farmers and wildlife rangers! Here are the links:
Now it's the summer, it’s a great time to get out onto the footpath network and enjoy the feeling of freedom that naturist hiking brings. Whether you try a gentle stroll for a mile or two, or go for a full-on hike of ten miles or more, make naked hiking one of your goals for Summer 2017.
If you'd like to join a walking group, publicise one or start one, please post on the Walking SIG on the BN online Forum. If you live in the South East of England, why not contact the Naturist Ramblers Club via our website at www.justwearasmile.co.uk/natram/ to find out how to join our programme of walks.
by John Kendrick