This month, Business Optimizer is focusing on the benefits of working outside. But for British adventurist and wilderness expert Ray Mears, his entire career has been built on exploring and encouraging others to explore the great outdoors – wherever in the world that may be.
Ray Mears was born 7 February 1964 in the south of England and grew up roaming the North Downs, a region of chalk hills and area of outstanding natural beauty in Southern England.
Mears acknowledges that his parents were supportive of his desire to spend time in the woods but, in this part of England, he was never far from roads or people. In fact, it was his Judo teacher who encouraged him to pursue his love of the outdoors.
Mears has said, “When I was at school I had to do Judo, and my instructor had been behind the lines in Burma in the Second World War. When I was seven, I told him I’d been tracking foxes and I wanted to follow them at night, but had no camping equipment. He said you don’t need any. That’s when I first started to learn, and the beauty of the subject is that the more you learn, the more you want to learn – you never stop learning.”
Mears originally aspired to join the British Army’s Royal Marines after leaving school. However, his poor eyesight prevented him from doing so and Mears first sought employment in the City of London.
Nevertheless, his early experiences in the woods continued to inspire him. In 1983, he founded Woodlore – his own woodcraft and survival skills business in East Sussex, around 40 miles south of where he grew up in Kenley.
In 1992, Mears’ first book, The Outdoor Survival Handbook, was published. Two years later, he was invited to co-present the BBC series Wild Tracks. His passion for the outdoors and for woodcraft skills won him a lot of fans. In 1997, Mears was given his own TV show: Ray Mears’ World of Survival. It was the first of many series that celebrated traditional woodcraft, taking him to increasingly exotic places and traditional communities around the world.
As well as passionately seeking to retain the skills of these traditional communities, Mears continues to campaign passionately for the protection of green spaces and woodland. He believes that woodland offers an unparalleled natural escape for humankind, telling Sidetracked magazine: “I’ve always felt like that with forests in general. The bigger the forest, the more you feel it, and the smaller you personally feel. It’s hard to explain, but there’s energy. When I look back on some of my journeys into large forests, it’s always there. Once you leave a city and are traveling deeper into the forest there’s a hush. It’s very hard to explain but there’s a secret and you feel it, it’s like a vibration that passes right through you. When you sit still and simply stop, in any forest – even a small woodland in the UK – you can understand that there is a bigger force in the world than you. It’s a very unusual experience for a modern human being.”
Mears is critical of today’s survivalist presenters who seek to make the outdoors more thrilling and who create a fear around surviving outside – instead, his programmes and his courses at his Woodlore centre are designed to encourage people to explore the outdoors.
Mears says, “The first day of a trip is always strange… By the second day it becomes normal, and by the third I don’t want any external stimulus, as I’m getting it from nature. It makes you more intuitive and more connected to bigger things… Connecting with the wildlife around me is a big part of it. You can get closer to wildlife when travelling alone, as there’s no one chatting, but there’s also a calmness of spirit in travelling alone in the wild. Wildlife won’t flee anymore and instead will stop and look at you, it’s as if you too have become part of the secret that they are a part of.”