Ray Mears Credit: Jonathan Buckley

The world according to… Ray Mears

Woodsman and TV star Ray Mears, 59, on surviving in the Arctic and why his wife makes his adventures possible.

Although I’m 60 next February, age doesn’t worry me. The way I see it, two things are certain: we’re born, and we die. But it’s what we do in the middle that matters. Once you hit 50, you cross the ridge and there’s more behind you than in front, so make the best of it.  

Stay active in body and mind. Life is precious – all of it. Luckily, our generation is redefining age.

When I was young, I thought hitting 60 would be all beige jackets and carpet slippers. Now, at weekends, I see people on bikes and most of them are over 40. We are a generation of ‘doers’ and I plan to keep on doing. I intend to wear out, not fade out.  


Love in a cold climate

I doubt I’ll have a big 60th celebration. Usually, on my birthday, I’m working because February is when I run my survival course in the Arctic, teaching people how to live there.

My wife, Ruth, is not the type to ever want to curb my adventurous spirit and, far from telling me to stay at home, she’s more likely to ask to come along.

I dedicated my new book, British Woodland, to her, comparing her generosity to the birch, her adaptability to the willow and her constancy to the oak. Her patience and love make my life and my adventures possible. She also happens to be very skilled in the Arctic herself, a fantastic canoeist and a really good spotter of wildlife.

There’s a profound connection between us and has been from the moment we met. I was giving a talk in Newcastle and she came up to me afterwards. As she approached, I tripped and fell. She literally bowled me over.  

Life goes on

I don’t talk in interviews about my first wife, Rachel [she died from breast cancer aged 50 [in 2006] but I’ve found proximity to nature is also a powerful way to heal, not least because it’s a reminder of the cycle of life.

I’ve held grief workshops that harness nature because, even in the depths of despair, you can go outdoors and find inspiration in the tiniest thing.  

The wood from the trees

British Woodland is not a simple guide to trees. It’s more of a wake-up call on the importance and value of trees through history.

I wanted to reconnect people with trees, to help them realise how amazing they are, what astonishing longevity they have and how they have been our silent partners in life for so long.

Most of all, I want us to stop taking trees for granted – to treasure them and our ancient woodland.  

We live in The Weald, an ancient forest that once stretched from Kent to Dorset between the North and South Downs.

At dusk, when no one’s around to watch, you’ll hear a chainsaw and know that another tree is being unlawfully felled. Gradually, our ancient woodlands are being whittled away and the impact is dramatic and long lasting.     

A walk on the wild side

I’ve always been drawn to the wild and, luckily, grew up in Kenley, a rural village in Surrey. As an only child, I’d spend hours on my own tracking foxes and learning the basics of survival.  

There are, though, obviously, dangers in wild environments. I’ve had encounters with bears, crocodiles, snakes and scorpions. I survived
a helicopter crash.

I also had a 14-year battle with Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick. I’ve recovered now but it’s an occupational hazard for anyone living an outdoor life. It’s a complex illness which can be very debilitating.  


Offering encouragement

Luckily, in my own childhood I had amazing parents who supported my interest in nature and allowed me to explore it. My dad is gone but I think both he and my mum were pleased by the life I made for myself and I have so much to thank them for.

I hope to have passed some of this to my stepson, Kristian, but raising kids is like launching a dart into the air: you give it your best shot, but it must make its own way in the end.

Fantastically, he has a chemistry PhD and is researching in California. To say he’s very clever would be an understatement!  

British Woodland: Discover the Secret World of our Trees by Ray Mears (Ebury Spotlight, RRP £22) is out now.

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British Woodland by Ray Mears

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British Woodland by Ray Mears

Written by Ray Mears