Let Us Now Praise Crazy Mofos

Hiking Britain Naked

Jun 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

Steve Gough: Go Nude
"THERE'S A PART OF ME that says, Don't be stupid," Steve Gough confided to a reporter from the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald shortly before he strode into the hamlet of John o'Groat's, at the northern tip of Scotland, this past January 22. "Just sort of go home and sort of be normal. But part of me thinks, Go on, Steve, go on."

Seven months earlier, in June 2003, the rangy ex–Royal Marine turned New Ager, then 44, had departed Land's End, Cornwall, on a bold mission—to walk the 900-mile length of Britain wearing naught but boots, a hat, and a rucksack, regardless of weather—and John o'Groat's was the end of the road. The man Fleet Street calls "the Naked Rambler" had been arrested 14 times, spent nearly five months behind bars, had his nose broken by a gang of thugs, and suffered public excoriation at the hands of his estranged common-law wife, Alison Ward, for deserting their two children, ages six and seven. (Her tart assessment in the Scottish Daily Record: "I think he was struggling with the anonymity of his life.")

There's no law in the UK against public nudity (Gough was arrested for breaching the peace, among other charges), but in recent years emboldened nudists—including one who chained himself to a gate at Prime Minister Tony Blair's London residence—have adopted the language of the American civil rights movement, aiming to "stop the segregation" of people who prefer to let it all hang out. In line with this loosely knit group, the soft-spoken, occasionally stuttering Gough insists he's neither streaker nor naturist but an advocate of "the freedom to be yourself."

"If there was a catalyst, it was one summer when I was looking after my children," says Gough, speaking by telephone from his girlfriend's London flat. "They'd strip off and run around naked, and I thought it was great. But I started to notice how often other adults would suggest, in subtle ways, that they put their clothes back on. It really galvanized me. I realized that most of us are damaged in that way from childhood—taught to feel shame."

What's next for Gough? A documentary, a book deal, and, no doubt, ongoing legal hassles. "The walk hasn't ended," he insists. "The question—do I want to be me or what others want me to be?—didn't end at John o'Groat's. It continues."

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