LONDON – Wearing little more than sun screen, socks and boots, Steve Gough (search) is walking the length of Britain to celebrate the joys of nudity. Efficiency isn't one of them.
His 847-mile trek has been hampered by eight arrests, an examination at a psychiatric hospital and several nights in jail. This week, he's starting over after Scottish police shipped him back to his starting point in Cornwall (search) for a court appearance.
But the 44-year-old father of two is undaunted and spent Thursday hitchhiking his way back to Scotland — though he did wear clothes to increase his chances of getting a lift.
"I am celebrating myself as a human being," said Gough. "We have all been brought up and conditioned to think our body is something to be ashamed of. We are made to feel bad about ourselves and that is damaging society. I am determined to carry on."
Gough left Land's End in southwest England on June 16 bound for John O'Groats in the far north of Scotland, hoping to cover around 20 miles a day on foot.
One day and 15 miles later, he was arrested in St. Ives and charged with breach of the peace. The case was abandoned after magistrates found he had not committed a criminal offense.
Three days later, he was arrested in the Cornish coastal resort of Newquay and charged with offending public decency. He appeared — stark naked — in court Monday. The court forced him to wear a blanket but did not impose a fine.
"It has taken a week out of my walk," said Gough, whose bare backside graced the pages of The Independent newspaper Thursday. "But I have had a bit of publicity."
The intrepid rambler insists he is not a nudist, but a person who wants to "enlighten the public, as well as the authorities that govern us, that the freedom to go naked in public is a basic human right."
Apart from being beaten up in St. Ives on June 18, and told by a farmer in Yorkshire to "put on your trousers," Gough said public reaction had been largely positive.
"Probably a third of walkers have been OK and courteous," said the hiker, who dons clothes at night to keep warm. "Some people have really been enthusiastic and stopped to talk to me. I have even had people give me money."
Gough said he first became "involved in all this naked stuff" 10 years ago when he visited a nudist beach and "thought it was nice how people wandered around nice and relaxed."
He says that eventually alienated his partner, the mother of his children aged 5 and 7.
"We have separated. I was becoming more expressive and that became difficult for her," said the truck driver, who hopes to finish his trek by September — barring further run-ins with police.
There is no law in Britain against public nudity, although there are laws against indecent exposure — which requires proof of intent to insult a woman — or any behavior likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress."
According to the British Naturism (search) society, there are some 2 million naturists, or nudists, in Britain.
"Some people think this sort of walking is damaging to naturism," said Sue Piper, research and liaison officer for the 18,000-member society. "Others think it is really very brave of him and he is bringing naturism to the forefront."
"I support his ideals, although generally speaking I prefer to keep a rather lower profile," said Tony Baldwin, chairman of the 300-strong Singles' Outdoor Club (search) which was founded in 1981 and organizes nudist walks between March and October.
"We never really have any trouble. We normally get a cheerful word or a smile," he added.