A good pair of walking boots

Published on 28 October 2009 in , ,

There’s something about a good pair of hiking boots. As you stomp over hill and dale, a good pair will propel you forward and make even the hardest climb feel pretty good on the old feet. They’ll feel part of you.

Boots enjoying the show

Wear a bad pair of boots or other inappropriate footwear and you’ll know. Your feet will ache and feel sore in no time. You won’t get the support you need to tackle those climbs. Walking does not feel like a joy in bad footwear.

Before I bought my hiking boots back around 2003 or 2004, the only boots I had were my Doc Martens. They were fine when we were doing relatively urban walks like the London Loop, however once we got a bit more adventurous, it was quickly clear they weren’t going to cut the mustard. I invested in a proper pair of Berghaus boots and didn’t look back.

Those boots went all over the place. As well as tramping a lot round the south of England, I did two thirds of the Pennine Way, spent some time around Edale, the Isle of Wight and the Pentlands too.

They went on holiday to Iceland, to Norway, and to Switzerland as well as propelling me on a walking holiday through the Queyras Alps.

Dipping the boots in the loch

This year they took me along the West Highland Way, and up Ben Nevis.

There was just one little problem. The leather had begun to crack.

True it probably wasn’t helped by warm weather, me insisting on dipping my boots in lochs everytime I could, and by not polishing or conditioning the leather during the holiday. But to be honest, all my boots tend to crack at some point in the end – must be something to do with my big feet and the way I walk.

Back home I gave them a good polish up, doing my best to keep them going. They got me along a few more walks over the summer, and joined me up on the Cumbria Way.

Alas the Cumbria Way was not too kind on my already fragile boots. Two days I spent walking in pouring conditions. There was so much water the Gore-tex didn’t stand a chance. Sodden boots required drying out in hostel drying rooms which probably didn’t help things either. By my final (thankfully dry) day of walking, they were looking very sad indeed.

One boot was faring better than the other, which had chunks of leather hanging off and the Gore-tex lining quite clearly visible.

As I walked the final miles into Carlisle, I knew they were through. Sadly, I needed a new pair.

My old boots

And as I sat outside Carlisle Cathedral, I took them off for the final time. I placed them in front of me and looked at them.

The leather had chunks and scuffs – remnants of a particularly rocky day on the Pennine Way some years before. They were still damp from the previous days rain. They were battered; they were bruised; but bloomin’ hell, were they comfortable.

I took the laces out – unlike the boots they clearly had some life left in them. Impressive given they’d never been replaced.

I spent quite some time just looking at them. Remembering the times we’d had together. There’s blood, sweat and tears in those boots. They’d been with friends; they’d been alone. Memories of sights good, and some not so good. But memories none the less.

Those memories are ultimately why it’s hard to get rid of hiking boots. It’s like saying goodbye to an old, dear friend. I placed my boots into a carrier bag I had, looked at them some more, and eventually pulled myself away.

Leaving the cathedral grounds, I walked round Carlisle a bit more; reluctant to say goodbye. There was clearly no point in taking them back to London, but I couldn’t let go.

In the end I forced myself to place them in a bin near the castle. It seemed appropriate that they remained in Carlisle, end of the Cumbria Way. As the Cumbria Way ends near a bin lorry depot, so my boots found a new home in the waste receptacle of the local council. I gave them a moments silence, then headed off in the general direction of home.

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