THE CURIOUS CASE of the naked rambler is likely to be familiar to readers, having featured in numerous news reports this past while, but a brief synopsis ought to be given nonetheless. On 16 June, a 44-year-old ex-Marine father of two named Steve Gough, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, set off from Land's End with the extraordinary ambition of walking naked to John o'Groats. Well, not 100% naked: he was wearing boots, socks, a rucksack and a bush-hat (which shaded his head rather than any other part of his anatomy). Other than that, he was in the scud.
Almost immediately, reports of his having been "arrested in Cornwall" conjured up visions of his having walked all of five yards before a policeman's helmet was plonked over his dangling participle. At that stage it seemed to be just a prank - of no more consequence than your average Headingley streaker, and certainly not a story likely to drag on into the autumn. But Gough was serious, and he persevered. Very quickly (he's no slouch), reports began to appear of his nude progress up the Pennine Way. There were occasional arrests and admonishments, but generally his expedition was, appropriately, unfettered.
Then came Scotland, and the number of interruptions started to rise. He appeared in court at Duns, where he was bailed, then again at Perth. But his trial date of 7/1/04 appeared to allow him ample time to reach John o'Groats, so on he went, helped by the excellent summer (although it doesn't bear consideration what a combination of sunburn and midges might do to the body beautiful). And then around Inverness - the last major conurbation - he walked into more serious trouble.
On 26 August, having been arrested for the eleventh time a week earlier (and having been detained in custody), Gough was again bailed - on condition that he didn't repeat-offend while subject to the bail order - and again he decided to cast caution (and his clothes) to the wind. "I am going to continue with my naked walk and the campaign for naturists and human rights," he said. "I don't think I'm committing any crimes."
He was arrested again the next day, following a complaint made by someone who spotted him in Muirton Woods near Tore. Wrapped in a blanket, he was soon facing Sheriff David Neill in Dingwall and being remanded to Inverness prison until - and this is where the injustice starts to seriously kick in - a trial date of 3 October.
Now it should be made clear that no one at TAC Towers holds much in the way of candles for wandering about naked in public. Neither have any of the regular contributors got much of a history of this - although Hamish Brown has referred elsewhere to the joys of getting his kit off on the hill, and as far back as TAC3 Gordon Stewart enthused about bathing naked in snow. But whether or not TAC's editorial board delight in showing their buttocks on Mount Battock isn't the issue here. Gough has been subjected to an absurd level of priggishness, and has been punished far beyond what his actions merited. At Dingwall, objecting to Gough's bail request, fiscal Roderick Urquhart labelled him "self-indulgent and rather obsessive". Well, yes. But that's true for any number of people in the walking world and elsewhere, and since when has it been cause to lock someone up, unconvicted, for five weeks or more?
A few other points to think about:
The law has seldom been such an ass. There can rarely have been such a stark instance of judging by appearances - and it's a good rule of thumb that appearance-judging is hardly ever a fair way to do things. Let the man out, for heaven's sake, and get off his case at least for the next week or two. All he wants is a bit of space and peace in which to walk the last 100-odd miles from Muirton Woods to the north coast. Then he'll be happy, and he'll go home.
TAC says: Free the unclad one!
TAC 59 Index