With flowers in bloom and the sun gently sparkling on the River Avon on a recent Sunday afternoon, Abbey House Gardens looked like nothing so much as the Garden of Eden — mostly because everyone there was naked.
The people stretched out on benches reading newspapers and doing Sudoku puzzles were naked. The people eating ice cream and fixing themselves cups of tea at the café stand were naked. The men and women admiring the koi pond and photographing the rose collection and making polite chit-chat with neighbors on the next picnic blanket over — all of them, starkers as the day they were born.
The clothing-optional days at Abbey House Gardens, a bucolic botanic garden surrounding a private home in this west England village, are a high point on the summer social calendar of Britain’s small but dedicated community of nudists (or naturists, as they’re called here).
Nothing but sandals and fanny packs
The crowd was a cross-section of British society: farmers, civil servants, teachers and engineers, all united by their shared preference for living life in the buff.
“We’re normal people,” says Judith Stinchcombe, chairman of British Naturism, the 9,500-strong national nudist club. “We just like doing everyday, normal things without clothes.”
Britain is no easy place for the naturist. The weather is so fickle that it’s hard most days to leave the house without a light jacket, let alone pants.
“One day it’s like this, tomorrow it could be winter. You learn to live with it,” said John Ablett, 60, as he and his wife Sue circled the herb garden, he in flip-flops, she in pink sandals and gold-rimmed glasses.
With temperatures in the 70s, this particular Sunday, the Abletts and others agreed, was pretty much a perfect day to be naked.
“It’s that breeze,” John said, stretching out his arms as a light summer wind rippled through the flowers.
There are a few practical concerns about spending a day disrobed, veterans said. You need sunscreen, and lots of it. Bug spray helps, too. So do a few small concessions to practicality and comfort, sported comfortably against bare flesh: baseball caps, Crocs sandals, athletic socks, fanny packs.
Ages ranged from families with young children to elderly people tooling around on motorized scooters. The crowd was mostly male, and it was one of the rare public venues with a line for the men’s restroom and none for the women’s.
A great equalizer
For a “textile” — the naturist’s term for a person who prefers to stay dressed — the effect was of walking through a public park with a very particular type of X-ray vision.
Sunning themselves in the gardens were people of all shapes and sizes, a rainbow of nakedness very different from manicured, sculpted monotony of the nude bodies favored in the media.
Mo and Chris Thomas strolled the manicured hedgerows with cameras around their necks, sandals on their feet and nothing in between. The couple lives half the year in Spain and spends the other half traveling, mostly to nudist-friendly destinations.