He may look like a jolly local butcher, but Ray Mears is basically a real-life Rambo, only without the Vietnam flasbhbacks. The great survival guru is at his most enlightening in his landmark show Ray Mears' Bushcraft.
If it wasn't for Ray Mears, most of us would have a very hazy view of bushcraft (by which we mean, we wouldn't know what the sod it was). Yet this seemingly ordinary bloke, a self-taught master of mud, wizard of water and, er, god of grass (?) has single-handedly made the world and its rich and centuries-spanning history common knowledge to even the most urbanised of Brits. And Ray Mears' Bushcraft could well be regarded as his definitive, flagship show.
It begins in Britain, which is pretty appropriate as Ray first learnt the basics of bushcraft in the fields and forests we all take for granted. He shows us how our Stone Age ancestors used their skills to hunt down food and survive despite having the odds against them. These were proper hunter-gatherers, and their like is still around today. Not in Britain, mind, but in South America. And yes, that's where Ray heads to for a deeper insight into the hidden communities of the Amazon rainforest.
He hobnobs with the Yekuana tribe, who live in perfect balanced harmony with their dazzling, sweltering environment. And it is a truly staggering world they inhabit – with epic waterfalls, legions of brilliant butterflies and towering trees, it’s like something from the prehistoric era. You half expect a triceratops to nose its way through the leaves.
The series also sees Ray visit Tanzania where he meets with the Hadza people, of whom there are fewer than 1,000 in the world. They show off their incredible bow-making skills, and demonstrate the importance of bushcraft to their daily lives. Ray being Ray, he doesn't stick around one place for too long, and actually goes on a walking safari across the breathtaking continent. Not for him a Jeep and hotel – he decides to sleep under the stars instead, gazing out at the sort of sky most of us here in Britain just don't ever get to enjoy.
Now, hands up if you’re lifelong dream has been to build a birch bark canoe. No? Anyone? You at the back? OK, so Ray's interests aren't for everyone, but his enthusiasm is truly infectious, and we're swept along with him as he makes his much-loved birch bark canoe and demonstrates just why he's such a fan of the thing. Speaking of boats, he also makes one using buffalo skin while out on the American Prairies (he does get around in this programme). He also mingles with the Shoshone, a Native American tribe who promise to even show Ray a thing or two about the ancient art of bushcraft. You can imagine how thrilled Ray is to meet with such exemplars of the skill of survival in nature.
But bushcraft IS actually in widespread use in one modern European nation. Where do we mean? Sweden, of all places – proving it does have more to offer than a utopian model of democracy, and girls who haunt our most juvenile and fevered dreams. Ray shows just why bushcraft is so important to their culture, and even manages to find time to make some traditional, cavemannish skiis and go on a dog sled journey into a very cold landscape indeed.
As if all that wasn't enough, Ray also goes a bit Bill Oddie throughout the series sharing his passion and knowledge about such everyday animals as deer and badgers, as well as his general obsession with outdoor living that should be an example to us all. Now, who's for camping?