Ben Fogle: I’d like to buy a Swedish island – and run the Great Wall of China

As New Lives in the Wild returns, the TV presenter tells us about his own getaway plan - and why he wishes he'd been born in the 17th century

Why is your new series about the UK, rather than more exotic climes? 


I wanted to do a series that was more achievable armchair travel. Most people watching it would never actually make that move to a remote island off Australia or to the Himalaya mountains of India.

And I thought it would be interesting to see how wild you can get within the British isles and to see the sort of people who have actually made that move…

How wild can you get?

We go from the very tame wilderness of Devon to the more remote climes of Fair Isle between Shetland and the Orkney islands. It’s a real mix but all of them are completely achievable. I would be very surprised if at least a handful of people don’t follow suit after seeing this series. 

We went to visit a woman called Emma who lives in a community in Pembrokeshire in Wales. In all my travels, I’ve never met anyone living quite such an extraordinary life as Emma.

Fogle helps Emma construct her straw and manure house

The whole community live in little houses that they’ve built themselves out of straw bales and horse manure. There are no windows. They’re cut off from the outside world: no mobile technology, no internet, no running water. They bathe in a freezing cold river. And they have this thriving community. They have a big temple and they worship the wild. The fact that she and her community live like that within the British Isles is amazing. 

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Have you ever considered upping sticks and moving somewhere remote?

Yeah, it’s how I began when I lived on Taransay for a year for [BBC reality show] Castaway 2000. And I’ve wanted to do that ever since. I tried to buy that island when it came on the market a few years ago, with plans to move there with my family, but sadly that didn’t happen.

I still have aspirations. In fact, I’m currently looking at a little island up in Sweden that I may well buy. That’s the dream: to do it myself.

Ben Fogle’s TV debut in BBC reality show Castaway 2000

Which was your favourite of the places you visited for New Lives in the UK?

I really, really loved Fair Isle. I’d always wanted to go there. It’s so beautiful and a very small but very international community. Every nationality that you can imagine have settled there. I thought it was a really magical. I’d like to take my family back there.

Do you travel in comfort nowadays?

The majority of the time I live out of a rucksack in some jungle or stuck up some mountain. The luxury tends to be when my wife and children are there.

For example, my wife and I are going off for a luxury holiday to the Maldives in a couple of weeks and I’m very happy to do that. Equally, the week I get back, I’m heading out to the Serengeti with my father where we’re going camp – I’m making a series about the migration of the wildebeest. 

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 So a holiday for you is spending time in your own home?

That would probably be my holiday choice because I’ve travelled to more than 40 countries this year alone. My side of the bed is gathering cobwebs! But my family aren’t having any of that. Holidays are our one big family indulgence. 

Where’s still on your to-do list?

I’d quite like to run the Great Wall of China. I’ve never been to China and there’s something about the Great Wall of China that is so iconic and evocative. It’s only 3,000 miles. It’s not that far.

The Great Wall of China

If you had to travel by either plane, train or boat from now on, which would you choose?

Boat – because it gives you access to everywhere and anywhere. I wish I’d been born in the great seafaring days of the 17th and 18th century when all those ships were heading off to find the New World, not knowing whether they were going to fall off the edge of the world or be eaten by cannibalistic tribes. That must have been so exciting. 

Ben Fogle: New Lives in the UK begins on Thursday 12th November on Channel 5 at 9pm


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