Born to be Wild | Living North

Born to be Wild


Ray Mears in a forest with a bushfire and stove
Bushcraft expert Ray Mears is going back on tour. We ask him about setting fire to stages, what to pack for an outdoor excursion, and tracking killers with the police

The tour, Born to Go Wild, looks really interesting. What are you going to be discussing?
Next year I’ll have been teaching bushcraft for 35 years. So I thought it’d be nice to have some fun on stage. I want to talk about how important detail in skills is. That’s important: if you want to learn something, you have to do it until you really know it. The skill I’ve chosen to talk about is fire. I’m going to show people a variety of ways of making fire. Hopefully we’ll get a bit of audience participation as well. 

It must’ve been fun to organise the insurance.
I delegated that job! I’ve been assured we can do that, so we’re going to. 

How did you kindle this interest in the outdoors?
How long have you got? I grew up with an interest. I was introduced to the concept of going outdoors by a guy who had been behind the lines in Burma in the Second World War. He was quite remarkable. I stepped through that door at a very young age and I’ve never looked back. I’m still asking and answering questions. Learning one thing brings up 10 more questions. That’s how it is: it’s one of those subjects you’re never finished with. 

You’ve been doing television for years now. Was it difficult to adapt to the medium? People talk about it being a slow, laborious process.
No, I wish it was still like that, to be honest. Today we have so little time to make the programmes that it’s full-on. I preferred it when we were working at a slower pace. Although there are gaps and you’re waiting, for me those gaps were interesting. I was exploring and reading in that time.

You appeared on Desert Island Discs a few years ago.
I have an incredibly broad taste in music, and I know what I like. I’ll listen to anything from any genre, but if I like it, I like it. It can be anything from jazz to baroque. I have an eclectic taste in music. 

Have you ever thought of getting into it yourself?
I can’t sing. If I sing, people wail like dogs.

Do people tend to overpack on outdoor excursions?
We all overpack, myself included. That’s just a function of being human. It’s a positive thing though: being prepared is good. The best thing to take is the thing you decided not to take because it was too heavy.

What’s in your essential pack?
My essentials depend on what I’m doing. If I’m watching wildlife, then the absolute essential is a pair of binoculars. If I’m travelling in the wilderness, then it’ll be a knife, because I can do anything with that. I need means to make a fire, a cooking pot, water bottle, a tarp, and I’m pretty much set. Everything else is a luxury. A first aid kit is essential: although you can improvise, it’s not easy.

You worked with Northumbria Police to track Raoul Moat. What was that like?
It was very interesting. I went there with the expressed purpose of trying to find him, in the woods. Tracking is a skill I have. We went into the forest and searched for him, and found sites where he’d been. We believe we were within 20 metres of him at one point.

That must’ve been petrifying.
It was. I didn’t sleep for three days. I had the top firearms team from the Met with me and six of their search dogs, so there was a lot of firepower, but I had to be at the front, though they didn’t want me to be. You can’t track if someone’s treading on the tracks. I was the point of the spear for a day. For me though, however dangerous he was, the biggest fear for me was letting everybody else down. That was the much more overriding concern. I don’t scare easy.

Ray Mears: Born to Go Wild will be at The Royal Hall, Harrogate on 24 October, Theatre Royal, Newcastle on 29 October, The Victoria Theatre, Halifax on 30 October, and Cast, Doncaster on 2 November. Tickets are available from each theatre’s box office.

Published in: September 2017

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