Requiem to the Walking Boots

Seasonal Area pictures feature a wide variety of locations, some of which have an occasional habit of being a long way from anywhere. This requires a lengthy walk to get to places from which to take them. A lengthy walk requires something to protect the feet from mud, thorns and the general effects of walking 30 miles in a day for no particular reason.

This role is fulfilled by my long-suffering walking boots. Since they’re on my feet, they never appear in pictures. They tend not to get cleaned or polished except when I remember, which is rarely. Occasionally walks cut it rather fine for a train and they get used as running shoes – a function for which the solid rubber soles were clearly not designed.

Nonetheless, I managed to get the last pair to take me from Christmas 2010 up until last weekend. Along the way they’ve done two substantial holidays, taken me most of the way up the trackless north flank of Sgurr na Coinnich (on Skye) and all the way up Scafell Pike (England’s highest mountain), taken in three Annual Stupidly Long Walks plus several other idle ambles that would qualify for that status, appeared in an amateur drama production (they looked better than trainers) and covered, to my best calculations, about 1,400 walking miles.

(Which sounds like a lot until you realise that last year’s Far North of Scotland holiday covered a good 50% more miles than that in trains getting there and back. I have no desire to calculate how far they’ve travelled in trains. I merely assume that it did not quite reach five figures, though two Scottish holidays and three trips to Cornwall would get them about halfway there before we hurl in random visits to the Forest of Dean, this year’s holiday, etc.)

Along the way, they have helped me take in scenic vistas like this:

New Fancy View 1 JPG

… seen me travel to villages like this:

Chisledon 1 JPG

… taken me through mud like this:

Above Stroud 1 JPG

… and given me the necessary dry feet and firm grip to have the confidence to attempt substantial time-critical walks through landscape like this:

Worcestershire Beacon 1 JPG

… and, for that matter, actually complete the walk, running much of the way down the hill through Malvern, and make the train.

Unfortunately the grip has been going for some time – possibly too much running for trains – and a walk at Okehampton in September in far from ideal conditions (the sort of conditions where a waterproof doesn’t seem to do much good while the map gets drenched in the three times it has to come out to be checked, falls apart at the seams along core paths and ends up being a write-off) resulted in consideration having to be given to the possibility that the boots were no longer waterproof, whether through age or misuse.

Then came the Annual Stupidly Long Walk, which encompassed the usual lovely scenery…

Wireworks Bridge 4 JPG

… that will no doubt in the fullness of time grace next year’s Seasonal Area, but unfortunately also came with an unusual attack of sore feet and severe blisters. This was written off as being due to the Walk featuring an excess of Forestry Commission tracks and hard roads. In any event, immediately before a two-week walking holiday is a bad time to start breaking in new boots.

So the boots went on holiday:

Whitby 1 JPGWhitby

Whitby area cliffs 1 JPG

Cliffs between Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay

Two Howes 1 JPG

Landscape above Newtondale, North Yorkshire Moors

From Scafell Pike 1 JPG

View from the Broad Stand, which links Scafell (off to the right) with Scafell Pike (off to the left), looking down into Eskdale.

The final Great Walk for the boots was from Dalegarth station, at the top of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, to the summit of Scafell Pike and back via the Eskdale path – a route which in its shortest form ambles idly up the valley, climbs sharply onto a plateau, stays there for some miles and then makes the final two-thirds of the climb in about a mile. The underfoot conditions are largely unfavourable, with a path which does not think and so is not certain whether it is a path, a sheer climb up the side of a waterfall most readily done with climbing gear (or by sheep) and the final section of the ascent being made up a mountain apparently built entirely of rubble.

The following day another utter soaking in a violent cloudburst that carried on for most of the day seemingly filled the boots with water in about three minutes- this time very distinctly from the toe up.

Their career was completed with a drier walk up to Hardknott Fort, which is a square stone-built Roman fortification (complete with bath-house) at the mouth of the Hardknott Pass, looking over Eskdale. It was a wild autumnal day. The pathless mountains that stand above the Pass looked suitably ominous. Their ascent is being kept back for the next pair of boots and a longer day.

Hardknott towards Eskdale 1 JPG

And so we turn to the boots themselves, seen after being written off as mangled:

Boots 1 JPG

And a comparison of the soles with those of their replacements:

Boots 2 JPG

The new boots had their first walk today – mostly on tarmac but with a few muddy bits and a good fall of rain – and thus far look likely to be wholly satisfactory – hopefully for another 1,400 miles…

(The opportunity was also taken, while making this hefty investment, to replace the mangled remains of the Okehampton map with a waterproof Dartmoor one.)

Seasonal Area October 2013

The October 2013 Seasonal Area page, which has been online for the usual dubiously lengthy period of time before being mentioned here, is the most northerly to feature on the website to date. (Until August this year the page had never even been to Scotland.)

There’s a bit of scope left for going further north in next October’s picture without leaving the British mainland.

Forsinard Bog is an oddly pleasant place. There’s not much there, especially now the trees are coming out, and on a good day the result is a feeling of peace and solitude. On a wet day the result is of course liable to be exceedingly bleak and unpleasant. In winter snows the area is notoriously remote; trains get stuck up there from time to time, with the odd particularly dire occasion requiring passengers to be airlifted by helicopter. The single-line block section from Helmsdale to Forsinard, at some 48 miles, is the longest section of single line (and the longest individual signalling section) in the country – which has the upshot that in the time between a snow-clearing locomotive reaching Forsinard and the passenger train getting there after being cleared to leave Helmsdale it is entirely possible for the snow to block the line again.

The road, meanwhile, just goes on and on and on through the landscape, rolling idly over dips and hillocks in a pretty straight line overall, though on the ground it turns out to mix the rolling gradient with twists and bends. Like the railway, it is mostly single track.

The fact that there is only one surfaced road for miles means that the South side of OE449, the Ordnance Survey Explorer map for the area, has the possibly unique accolade of featuring almost the same mileage of railway as road.