Naturism in the Cotswolds

naturism in the Cotswolds

From manor houses to rustic lodges and camp sites, there are numerous adults-only clubs around the Cotswolds - Credit: Mark Child

Unless you frequent some very niche supper parties, there are two subjects guaranteed to make the evening fall as flat as a Marmite beignet: going to the loo and nakedness. These natural habits embarrass and disturb many people, and whilst the former is preferable in the privacy of one’s own verbena-scented sanctum, the latter is wonderfully emancipating.

The Neo-pagans of the early 20th century – Rupert Brooke et al – combined a love of nakedness in nature with a deep appreciation of literature; to me, paradise found. In 2010, my husband wrote a superb article for Cotswold Life suggesting people should disrobe occasionally to experience a soft, summer breeze on bare skin. Our research visits to naturist clubs, carried out with the utmost professionalism and respect, also highlighted the absurdity of wearing clothes to interview those who are not.

Most people connect nakedness to sex: the one inexorably leads to the other, as it were, but the accepted protocol within most naturist clubs is that guests are there to enjoy the unfettered freedom of life without clothes. Few things are as liberating as strolling through a beautiful garden or landscape wearing just a smile and an air of abandonment. Nakedness is also a great leveller: strip away the logos and labels of the chronically insecure and you get to know the person, not the poseur; and the fact of being naked soon becomes unremarkable. The late Ian Pollard, garden design maestro of Abbey House Gardens, in Malmesbury, often greeted his guests fully clothed, which in Ian’s world meant wearing nothing but a barely-there thong. He was a fascinating and erudite man, whether without or, rarely, within clothes, and we spent many magical times in his and Barbara Pollard’s company. 

Naked female legs on a meadow, hiking and vacation in a countryside

Few things are as liberating as strolling through a beautiful garden or landscape wearing just a smile and an air of abandonment - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mention the word naturist, and certain people will regard you as some sort of immoral reprobate; they will nudge elbows and whisper puerile abuse governed by limited imagination or inspired by their favourite reading material, such as seaside postcards. In truth, they might want to run naked through the buttercups, but conceal their lack of confidence with a blanket of insults. People obsess about their wobbly bits; we’ve all got wobbly bits, and those impressionable enough to believe that photo-shopped bodies are normal should stroll along a naturist beach to see the untouched reality. I love photographs of beautiful, naked bodies in the landscape, but mature, not-so-bendy ones, comfortable in their own skin, are charming, too. What do you have to lose except your inhibitions?

From manor houses to rustic lodges and camp sites, there are numerous adults-only clubs around the Cotswolds – in Stroud, Banbury, Cheltenham, Bourton-on-the-Water and Tetbury – where naturists can relax doing leisure activities without the encumbrance of clothes. Recently, Painswick Rococo Gardens hosted a naturist group, visiting for the first time; globally, the first Saturday in May every year is World Naked Gardening Day, when people everywhere can strip off and get down and dirty in the flowerbeds. Having somewhere to keep secateurs can prove challenging, but tool belts are available.

It’s not against the law to be naked in public, as long as you don’t cause harassment, alarm or distress. Just be discreet. Whilst not a naturist per se, I enjoy being spontaneous and free. Nothing is quite so grounding as the feel of sun-baked rock against bare skin, in a landscape far more ancient than man. 

So, if my neighbour decided to trim his wisteria, sans clothes, I would offer advice: protect it from frost and clip it hard to keep everything tidy. And I’m referring to the wisteria.

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