Going against his nature
Survival expert and naturalist Ray Mears admits that he’s always been a loner. It’s not that he’s unsociable, but he’s happy on his own in the great outdoors.
“I remember walking across an open space where people were playing cricket and somebody shouted out, ‘There’s the local hermit’, and I was quite proud. I thought it was cool. I don’t get lonely,” says the man who has fascinated millions with his bushcraft techniques on TV and through the courses he runs across the globe. “Looking back, I think I strolled into the woods one day and nature saw me and said, ‘Walk this way’.”
It’s now 30 years since he founded UK-basedWoodlore, The School of Wilderness Bushcraft, where he teaches his unique skills and also arranges expeditions to places like the Arctic and Namibia. He can carve a canoe or a spoon, start a fire without matches, make a shelter of snow or sticks and track a wolf.
“The jungle feels like the nettle patch at the end of the garden and the desert feels like the rockery. Recently, I was in the desert looking for rattlesnakes and scorpions, but that’s just normal for me now.”
Even as a young boy growing up in Surrey, Mears had a quiet confidence. When he took up judo he learnt about the meeting of mind and body, and being in control of them. “It teaches you to have spirit and determination and not to give in. Judo always teaches humility and a range of traits that are incredibly valuable in life.”
Over the years his ability to survive has been tested to the limits, from encountering snakes and other venomous creatures in the Honduran rainforest to narrowly escaping death in a helicopter crash while filming in the US.
All this is charted in his new autobiography My Outdoor Life. But The trauma temporarily damaged his eyesight and he recalls that Rachel’s decline was as painful to witness as it was rapid. “It was very difficult to write,” he says now. “It was like reliving it. Doing an autobiography is a very stressful process, because I don’t really like talking about myself, and what is past I try to put behind me. I always move forward in life.
“I live now for this moment. I feel I have to prove myself every day. It’s a natural process. Every animal has to demonstrate its right to be alive on a daily basis and I live like that.”