My Countryside interview: Gwilym Lee

The Midsomer Murders star discusses his muddy childhood, crossing a Snowdonian ridge, surfing with seals – and the joys of filming near red kites

British actor Gwilym Lee poses during a photocall for the TV series "Midsomer murders" as part of the Mipcom international audiovisual trade show at the Palais des Festivals, in Cannes, southeastern France, on October 7, 2013. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE        (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

I’ve always loved the space and beauty of the countryside. Growing up, family holidays often revolved around camping and walking in North Wales, the Lake District or Peak District. I probably look back with too much nostalgia and forget the nights we didn’t sleep because we were all holding the tent down in a gale-force storm in Derbyshire, or sitting in the car reading my book because it was hammering it down with rain outside. But it was a wonderful way to grow up and imbued me with a love of the outdoors that I have to this day.

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When I was younger, my brothers, father and I went to stay in Brothers Water in the Lakes for a long weekend. It was at the time that the Hale-Bopp Comet was visible from Earth. The night sky in unpolluted mountain air is something to behold at the best of times, but looking at this fiery orb, with its burning tail dominating the night sky, was awe inspiring. 

Helford Passage in Cornwall is truly beautiful and, when the weather is good, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. One of my best friends lives down there and I’ve had many very happy trips to visit him and his little fishing boat, catching mackerel and then taking the boat onto some deserted bay to barbecue and eat it straight from the water. Absolute bliss. 

We film in and around Oxfordshire and Berkshire, an area teeming with red kites. They’re amazing birds and they seem to have become quite used to our presence because they come very close at times.  

I spent my whole childhood outdoors whenever the weather allowed it, playing sport, being on my bike, walking, getting muddy, digging holes (in my parent’s patio – sorry mum and dad) generally having little adventures. It’s good for the soul. It’s inspiring, nourishing and reminds you of all that’s good about the world. 

The popularity of Midsomer Murders never seems to wane. I think it has to do with its innocence – an odd choice of word, considering the extravagant death toll in that county. But it doesn’t concern itself with gritty realism. It’s more of a murder mystery than a crime drama; more Agatha Christie than CSI. The plot is character driven and viewers are attracted to these rather eccentric people. But the most important character in Midsomer is the English countryside – it’s the show’s biggest draw.

I have many happy memories of surfing around Britain. One instance was surfing with two other friends at dusk on a beautiful evening in Langland Bay in the Gower. We had the water to ourselves, until a seal joined us and started surfing alongside us.

I love Withnail and I. It illustrates that urban/rural divide and shows how clueless DFLs (Down From London) like me can be, but it also shows the majesty of the English countryside and how much we all need it. 

The first time I climbed the Snowdon Horseshoe and crossed the Crib Goch ridge, I was about 9 or 10 and was doing the walk with my family. Getting up the ridge involved a hairy and sustained scramble and I thought that was the most challenging part of the day. Then I saw a high, sharp and exposed ridge stretch out before me and had a bit of a wobbly. My dad took me through the options, which were carry on or turn back the way we’d come. I couldn’t contemplate scrambling down what I’d just struggled to come up, so we slowly crossed the ridge and it was fantastic. It’s a special place for me, because I overcame fears to do it, and it was a great bonding moment with my dad. It’s spectacularly beautiful and I’ve always said it’s where I’d like my ashes to be spread. 

We always used the guidebooks of Alfred Wainwright when we were growing up. His attitude towards the outdoors and fell-walking seem very sound and philosophical to me.

People’s concerns and priorities are completely different according to whether they live in the countryside or a city. But I think it’s fine and inevitable and should be a diversity that is celebrated rather than a rift to worry about. It’s been the case in Britain since the Industrial Revolution and it’s what makes the joy of visiting the countryside from the city, or vice versa, such a very British pleasure.

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The 18th series of Midsomer Murders airs on ITV1 from Wednesday 6 January 2016 at 8pm.