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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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This is a series for people who've followed Ray Mears' previous efforts and are already in tune with the basics of bushcraft and exploration. If you're hoping for blow-by-blow accounts of how to light a fire using nothing but moss and friction, or which berries can be eaten or which plants cure dysentery, then you need to go back to his earlier programmes where he covers the basics of outdoor survival, of living in nature and with nature.
Northern Wilderness pretty much assumes that you're already up to speed with that kind of background, and instead takes a broader look at the stunningly beautiful Canadian countryside, its heritage and the people who discovered it and shaped its development.

So you get far more than just a travelogue or survival guide in these hour-long programmes. Instead Ray Mears demonstrates how individual explorers discovered the wild lands of Canada; how the fur trade and later commercial development led to the birth of a nation. Mears explains the background of the history of the country itself and how the Europeans and native peoples worked alongside each other - often, sadly, to the detriment of the First Nation and the wild animals.
Mears uses a variety of forms of transport to re-trace important journeys into the wilderness, going by canoe to tell the story of the Hudson's Bay Company whose early traders laid the foundations of the modern Canadian state. Another episode follows the route of explorer Samuel Hearne who learned native skills in order to complete his epic 1000 mile journey beyond the tree line and into the tundra. Another of the six programmes looks at the Arctic explorer John Rae who found the Northwest Passage, and Mears examines his (dodgy) reputation and attempts to set the record straight.

All of this information is set against an awe-inspiring backdrop of enormous skies, snow-strew ice sheets, tumbling, churning rivers and the ancient, massive forest which still dominates the Canadian landscape. The camera adores the landscape, panning and swooping to capture its fragile beauty at dawn or dusk. Every now or then a wild animal wanders through - like a polar bear - demonstrating that the crew really are out in the wilderness. And you don't get the feeling that these animals have been staged for our benefit, unlike on some other survival programmes...

Mears talks to the locals, gets them to explain their family and tribal heritage and how it's been affected by the development of the country. He builds fires and cooks food in the traditional manner of the area, often sharing little bits of bushcraft or wood-working skill as an aside. Most of these programmes feel very natural, obviously carefully planned and produced, but not forced. Only an occasional shot rings false - like when Mears `goes ahead' to chop down branches from a crew carrying a canoe overland. That's more than compensated for by the scenes of woodland woodworking, of net-making in the traditional manner, of cooking local fish in a fire pit -- all first nations techniques which have come close to being lost.
Watching this series taught me a huge amount about the history of Canadian exploration, and the people who opened up its wilderness to the rest of the world. It's hugely enjoyable and a visual treat - if it's available in HD then that'd definitely be worth seeing.

But if you want to see the presenter in a role more like action man; eating bugs, wrestling snakes, surviving on no water for days on end, etc, then this is the wrong series to watch! Northern Wilderness is altogether more thoughtful; fewer thrills but rather more intellectual challenge...
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on 7 December 2009
BBC was set up to be Educational,Entertaining,and Explorative.

Having lived on East and West Canada,Toronto,Quebec City,Edmonton,And Vancouver,returning to UK some years ago,i can honestly say that Ray Mears has captured for me the essence of the vast size of this beautiful Country,and its extremes of Climate.He has done so in a matter of fact,educational way.But for me,the iceing on the cake is the historic "throw away fact",which he entwines with his enthusiastic narrative.He also "lives with Nature",which would be a wise thing for us all to appreciate at this time.
Excellent series.
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on 6 December 2009
Ray's done it again!
He just keep's getting better!
The content, the attention to detail, the superb location filming, and Ray's delivery...
No 'hairy-chested' dramatics, just a guy who's devoted to, and enthuses about his subject matter.
He's without doubt an expert in his field, but never too proud to learn.
If anyone could step into David Attenborough's shoes.... well, he's as good as you'll get!
I just sit there and say; "This is what we pay our licence fee for".
Well done Ray and your team.
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on 3 December 2009
This documentary of course broadcast on the BBC not so long ago, will no doubt join the ranks of excellent documentary series recently shown by the BBC such as Wild china, Yellowstone and South pacific, i don't know what happening in the BBC at the moment but the photography in these new documentaries is amazing, still "Northern wilderness" is no different. in fact i don't think i have ever seen the canadian forest and tundra shown so well if i'm honest, it's really striking and very impressive indeed it's that good you almost forget your watching a DVD and that your standing there in person!

Ray's latest series is a little but not a complete departure from his older catalogue in respect to the content covered, i definitely agree with the other reviewer who mentioned that Ray spends a little less time on the "hands on" survival skills this time but with a increased leaning towards the meeting of the locals and general exploration of the canadian outback, the geographic and historical points are generally more frequent and are presented in a better context. Though Ray still has time to put his extensive survival skills into practice and it's great to see him sharing them with the natives as it is very friendly and warming to watch.

The whole package comes across as a well balanced, mature and frankly a joy to watch series and i would say that this is probably Ray's best series yet ( Although wild food for me was a close second.) and definitely worth the money, overall Ray once again proves he has no equal and has the knowledge and experience to show the beauty of planet earth in a way no one else can, i expected great things from this DVD and all of have been delivered and then some, this is one of the best DVD documentaries i have had the pleasure of viewing, and i think Ray will do well if he can top this one in the future..... An absolute must buy, amazing.
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on 26 February 2010
Beautiful filming and fascinating stories from one tv presenter who knows his stuff.

This is not a ridiculous man vs. nature series, but an insightful series about man's relationship with nature.

Mears series are engaging and gives one interest to read and learn more on both the people mentioned (f.ex the story of the unfair treatment of the achievements of John Rae)and the skills and crafts portrayed.

But, way too much focus on Hudson Bay Company and people associated with that company. Fascinating stories about expeditions into Canadas unmapped terrains, but sadly mainly for exploring and mapping natural resources.Maybe it would have been best that some placed were unmapped. The focus on the trading company is somewhat problematically contrasted with Mears genuine interest in the skills of The First Nations of Canada.

Also, a bit too much focus on so called leadership skills of the persons portraited (mind you all european and english) and a bit anglosentric,but I guess that is inevitable when broadcasted by the BBC.

That aside, an excellent series.

One other tip (from a norwegian point of view)about the joys of living in and with nature:

Read some of the books by Helge Ingstad, f.ex The Land of Feast and Famine,about his stay with a group of reindeer hunters on the tundra east of the Great Slave Lake, near the source of the Thelon River. In those days(1920s)still unmapped, and therein lay the fascination....This book has been a great introduction for many Norwegians to the joy of the great outdoors, and about pursuing a dream of living with nature.
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on 2 February 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD as it showed the harsh realities of the frozen north and provided an insight into the history of the competition to control the resources that could be obtained in this vast area.
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on 20 March 2014
loved this documentary - esp the section on Hudson's Bay Company and the opening up of the north via canoe / voyageur and the fur trade. there is little better than canoeing the lakes and rivers of Canada in the summer - so these scenes, on the French river in Ontario for example, made me homesick indeed.

Ray can be a bit earnest but he can paddle and he knows the woods. well done.
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on 3 January 2010
It's wonderful to see the native people teaching the skills and history to such a receptive and able man
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on 28 July 2011
Having watched this series when it was broadcast, in view of content we knew exactly what we were getting. I have not been a fan of Mr Mears' survival series, but this was different, showing the skills of the natives of the land that still exist today. We can watch it over and over again (with a suitable gap in between). Thoroughly recommended.
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on 15 March 2012
The BBC must have had a problem with the rights. The broadcast version of this series used Mike Oldfield's awesome "Music of the Spheres" as it's soundtrack. The DVD has replaced that with some no-name incidental music, which frankly I found jarring. I kept being distracted by the annoyingly jaunty sounding music they had tacked on.

Ray as always was brilliant, and as broadcast this was my favourite Ray Mears programme to date. But the BBC screwing with the soundtrack greatly reduced my enjoyment of the DVD.

If you can't have good music as the soundtrack (such as Oldfield), at least substitute it with soemthing that doesn't intrude.
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