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How Ray Mears helped track Raoul Moat
HE’S tracked wolves, traversed jungles and survived some of the toughest environments in the world, but the hardest job Ray Mears ever had to do was a lot closer to home.
He helped police track Northumbrian murderer Raoul Moat – who’d gone on the run following a killing spree in 2010.
“I hope it never happens again,” Ray says sombrely, ahead of his visit to Charter Hall, Colchester on Saturday.
“The stakes were so high. I didn’t seek glory or charge police for my time or expenses. I have a unique skill and was in a unique position to help.
“For ten years, I’d been teaching British special forces how to survive,” he continues, “so I have a good understanding of what happens to people when they try to do what he [Moat] was trying to do.”
Ray was more scared of messing up than being attacked by Moat. But his work in the dense woods – identifying upturned stones, twigs, compressed leaves and other signs of where the killer had been – helped track him down before Moat eventually shot himself in the head, following a tense stand-off with police.
It’s now 30 years since Ray founded Woodlore, the School of Wilderness Bushcraft, where he teaches his unique bushcraft skills. He can carve a canoe or a spoon, start a fire without matches, make a shelter of snow or sticks and track a wolf, or a man.
“The jungle feels like the nettle patch at the end of the garden,” he says, “and the desert feels like the rockery. A week ago, I was in the desert looking for rattlesnakes and scorpions, but that’s just normal for me now.”
Even as a young boy growing up on the North Downs in Surrey, Ray had a quiet confidence. When he took up judo, he learned about the meeting of mind and body, and being in control of them.
“It teaches you to have spirit and determination and to not give in,” Ray adds. “Judo always teaches humility and a range of traits that are incredibly valuable in life.”
Over the years, his ability to survive has been tested to the limits, from living among tribes in Africa to encountering snakes and other venomous creatures in the Honduran rainforest, and narrowly escaping death in a helicopter crash while filming in the US.
All this is charted in his autobiography, My Outdoor Life. But nothing could have prepared him for the most emotional and traumatic event of his life, the death of his beloved first wife, Rachel, who died from breast cancer in 2006, two years after being diagnosed.
They’d been together for 15 years, and Mears, 49, admits that it was incredibly hard to write the moving chapters about her deterioration and his struggle to cope.
After she had a mastectomy, she was told the cancer was terminal.
“It was very difficult to write,” he says. “It was like reliving it. Doing an autobiography is a very stressful process, because I don’t really like talking about myself, and what is past I try to put behind me. I always move forward in life.
“I live now for this moment. I feel I have to prove myself every day. It’s a natural process. Every animal has to demonstrate its right to be alive on a daily basis and I live like that.”
He says Rachel’s death changed him in many ways.
“It makes you more sensitive to emotional stimulus. Moving movies are more likely to upset me. But the most profound effect it’s had is that it’s made me intolerant of wasted time.
“I see life as being more precious than I did before. You have to fill every moment. I’m more impatient when other people are controlling my time and wasting it. You don’t get those minutes back.”
At first, he couldn’t imagine ever meeting anyone else, but 18 months after Rachel’s death, Ray met Ruth at a book signing. She was a mature student, reading archaeology at Durham University.
“I’ve no idea how, but she broke through the fog that had been surrounding me. It was love at first sight,” he recalls. They went on to marry and now live happily in East Sussex.
“Ruth is part of the new me. I’m very lucky to have had a second chance.”
The son of a printer, Ray spent his first two years of life in Lagos, Nigeria, where his father’s work had been, before the family moved to Kenley, on the Surrey borders.
It was there that his love of nature came into its own, and on leaving school he went on expeditions with Operation Raleigh, before joining World magazine as a photographer, later founding his company, Woodlore. In his new touring show, An Evening with Ray Mears – the Outdoor Life, he reveals the secrets of how to survive in the wilderness, deal with poisonous animals and endangered species, hunt down animals by their tracks, and much, much more.
After this tour, Ray has got a holiday coming up and you won’t be surprised it won’t see him lying on a beach, reading the latest Dan Brown.
“No, you won’t find me on a beach,” Ray laughs at the suggestion, “but I’m not going away either. Just some time at home, going for walks.
“Actually, this country has a lot to offer in terms of exploring. I’ve done quite a bit of filming in East Anglia and it has some of the most beautiful stretches of countryside I know.”
My Outdoor Life by Ray Mears is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20.
An Evening with Ray Mears - The Outdoor Life Charter Hall Cowdray Avenue, Colchester. Saturday October 19. Doors 6.30pm, show starts 7.30pm. £22.50 adult, £20.50 pensioners and £17.50 children. 01206 282020 . www.charter-hall.co.uk
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