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Boots that were made for walking

 

They’re irreplaceable old friends that  have accompanied me for a thousand miles or more. Every step of the way.

I never imagined, when I bought them five years ago, that the distances they’d travel would be so vast or that they’d transport me on adventures that are still reshaping my life. I thought they’d be just occasional acquaintances, brought out to play on odd weekends.

But gradually the high heels and cowboy boots were discarded, the sandals and wellingtons laid aside and for the last two years they’ve been my default footwear, whether it’s climbing hills or boarding the steps of aircraft. Bare feet are the only better option.

They walked the Camino: 500 miles across Spain, climbing high over the Pyrenees and skimming the dust of the Meseta, kicking over woodland tracks and along the sides of hot motorways. They pounded the industrial suburbs of major cities and trod gently on the smoothed stone of ancient cathedrals. They carried me all the way to Santiago.

They walked more warily on the exposed ridges of  New Zealand’s Kepler Track, strapped on snowshoes in the wilds of Ontario and slipped into the stirrups of Ginger to explore the wilderness at the far end of Lake Wakitipu.

But (like their owner, I fear) they’re showing some signs of wear and tear. The once deep, rutted tread is worn smooth and unsafe. Holes have cracked open along the seams and they’re no longer watertight. I worry that their long adventurous days of crossing moors, hill paths, heather and rock are numbered but admire how they have matured and now tell a story of the bumps and scrapes experienced along the way; not least the mushy mess that replaced my little toe for a week in Spain.

But how do you say goodbye to such trusted friends?

Almost guiltily I’ve started to research brands and prices. After five years of skipping the footwear section of outdoor stores, I’m being drawn to pick up and assess the alternatives. I haven’t tried any on but one of these days I’ll have to invest and break in replacements though I’ll never dispose of them, and on dry days and gentle slopes they’ll be taken out of retirement.

Many years ago I tidied the attic and found the tattered trainers and broken skateboards my son had been hoarding. Callously, I  consigned them to the bin. He threatened to leave home unless they were retrieved so I complied, of course, but didn’t understand.

I’m sorry Ali; I get it now.

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The summit of Ben Lomond

Immersed in the West

It’s misty and moody and I just can’t stay away.

Scotland’s west coast has been calling me this summer and I’m no sooner away than I’m back. I’ve walked through showers and downpours then wakened in the tent to pools of water in the “porch” and a wee cowerin’ beastie (not a rat or mouse or vole – so what was it?) nestling under my rucksack. That was a surprise; for both of us.

I follow hill tracks and paths with a head full of Bonny Prince Charlie, clan battles and  Highlanders, between mountains and alongside rivers in spate; near Glencoe,  Black Mount and onwards to Kingshouse below the Buachaille Etive Mor.

And I’m going back again today. Stob Binnean and Ben More are the big hills that beckon my old walking pal and I. There’s rain forecast, of course, but we’re undaunted.

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Walk the WHW (if you dare)

The West Highland Way is Scotland’s best known long distance path, but nobody seems to have informed the cattle that it’s a right-of-way. Or maybe they were just a bit weary of the endless hikers on a May holiday weekend and decided to stage a protest.

I’m not frightened of cattle  (although these girls had a definite glint in their eyes) but I spotted a few folk who preferred to take a huge detour rather than run the gauntlet. Pamplona’s Bull Run would be the Camino’s equivalent, I suppose  – although I don’t remember any pilgrims signing up for that either!