I FIRST became aware of naturism when I was about 10 watching Carry on Camping and there were people playing tennis naked. The Carry On team were feeling sick about it and I thought ‘that’s a very strange reaction to a naked body’. I was still shy getting changed in front of other people but I was quite happy to jump naked into the river in the middle of nowhere when we visited a cottage we had in the Borders.
Embarrassment starts to kick in about 13/14 years old and it did for me too. I never saw my parents naked and yet if you go back 100 years, coal miners for example would come home and have a bath in front of all of the kids so nudity was not unusual until recently.
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As I got older, I used to go walking or cycling and look for places that were quiet so I could just strip off and jump in. But there were pressures of time and in Scotland the weather’s not always good. So it wasn’t until I was 42 – I’m 52 now – that I thought I’m going to explore this further and went on the website of British Naturism and found out where my local swimming club was, which was in Haddington.
The first time was a bit scary and, as most men are, I was worried about getting an erection, but it didn’t happen. Most people were middle-aged and there was one woman in her 80s and I thought ‘I don’t want to offend her’ but she was obviously not bothered. Everybody was friendly and welcoming and I started to research it a bit more and found other places to go. I was happy that I'd managed to pluck up the courage to go along and thought: why did I leave it so long? I could have done this 20 years ago. For me, it’s a feeling of warmness – a feeling that we are all the same; there are none of the differences of some people wearing suits and some wearing jeans and all of that.
I then went to a camp in Carlisle which was my first experience of naturism in the open air; there was a sense of community there that you don’t get at an ordinary camp site. My younger daughter, who’s 24 now, was also a naturist for a time – she was quite withdrawn when she was younger, but I took her along to one of the swims. Naturism boosted her confidence and I'm a much happier person too - coming out as a naturist also gave me the courage to come out as gay. It was easier having done the one to do the other.
Weather is an issue for naturism in Scotland – just like anyone else, we put on clothes when it’s cold, although sometimes you can find if you’re naked and it’s raining, it’s not as bad to walk about naked as it is to walk about with clothes on. Going abroad is good – my boyfriend, who’s also a naturist, and I go to Lanzarote – most of the Spanish territories have the right to be naked enshrined in their human rights.
As for our culture, I think there has been something about it that has held us back. Some young people are sending naked pictures to each other on their phones, but if everyone was brought up to be familiar with what a naked body looked like, there wouldn’t be the curiosity.
British Naturism did a survey ten years ago which suggested there were something like a million naturists in the UK and another one two years ago suggested that figure had increased to five million. I think naturism is definitely growing.
Visit www.bn.org.uk and www.nakedscotland.org.uk