By “The Photographer’s Assistant”
On the Moor owning boots of all descriptions is compulsory. You have your wellies where all brands eventually have a hole or two, if you are unlucky the holes are below the water line. You have your best boots for appearing in town and you have your medium boots, which you can risk getting muddy on the way into the little town. Above all of these and far far more expensive are your walking boots and these are so expensive they can easily absorb half of the Assistants state pension.
The scene is the conservatory on an average spring day. The Photographer has just examined the Assistant’s walking boots and has gently pointed out that very shortly these boots won’t be made for walking anywhere challenging at all. A six miler is definitely out. This is a seriously joyless situation. New boots will need breaking in gently over a number of weeks and the camping and walking season is very close.Only yesterday they were talking about camping above a beautiful beach as soon as all the plants were out in the garden. The Assistant was feeling the emotional pressure of a great loss. These were the best boots she had ever had. Being pigeon toed, it was always difficult to get used to new ones. Her last boots were ones from when Ecco used to produce them, and they were now used for gardening and this would have to mean that they would have to be used temporarily again. Above all, she felt angry with herself for not spotting the situation and saving towards it . The Photographer had only just replaced her car and would never dream of making her buy her boots out of her pension. Oh Dear!
The Assistant looked down at the boots. They were lovely. They were ladies Meindl Air Actives. They were leather with wonderfully worn toes and they had lovely stripy laces. Oh Dear! Thinking about it though, they had done an awful lot of miles. It was perfectly possible that they had done a small number of thousands.
In 2009, they had done their first serious walk, ascending Snowdon by one of the more challenging routes. The boots had got marked for life by the terrain, which was relentlessly unforgiving and the Photographer had had to encourage the Assistant a great deal. The summit was literally the high point of Marcus’ life when for a while he was the highest dog in the UK.
There had been a trip to the Brecon Beacons, where Sugar Loaf had been enjoyed and wonderful canal walks had been explored in glorious weather.
The Assistant had never been forgiven for very nearly ascending Pen-y-Fan. As she was athsmatic, and the Photographer had had the Snowdon experience, he had worked out a much longer route than the usual one. It was a good gentle route, but he still wasn’t sure that the Assistant could make even this ascent. The Assistant believed that she couldn’t make it and had got up late in a bad mood. The two were late starting and had limited days. Being experienced, they should never have started off, but they thought they would just go a little way. They arrived and parked on the opposite site to most other ascenders. There were loads of very serious looking walkers there with guides. The twosome left them all sorting out their masses of equipment. Some of them must have been back packing.
The day was good, the weather was perfect. The terrain was dreadful and undoubtedly contributed to the Photographers own boots wear and tear. The Airs, on the other hand, just shielded the foot enough. They were just amazing. The twosome were, however, still late and were easily overtaken by some members of the army on what looked like just a stroll to them! The Photographer felt that things were going well. They each had a pork pie and some water and were feeling in good spirits. They had ascended more of the foot of Corn Du than they had expected. They could see walkers ahead of them at some distance ascending the Brecon Beacons. Down below them was some really rough terrain, but there was nothing that they couldn’t just about handle. There were streams and rocks, however for a long way. The Photographer, an experienced Outward Bounder looked at his watch when the submitted Corn Du and discussed the situation with the Assistant. This would be slow walking. Even though it was summer he estimated the time of darkness to be very marginal to make Pen-y-Fan. The two decided to start on a descent, which would take them down through this terrain, then they would walk back the way they had come. They could see people in terrible footwear below, one man virtually carrying his female partner back to the track from whence they had came.The descent was punishing in the extreme. The two would have been in serious trouble if they had gone for an ascent, and were sad, but pleased with their day. The heat away from the peaks was almost intolerable by now. The Assistant was mortified that she had not got up that one hour earlier that would have made the difference. The Photographer, a keen achiever never said a word about his disappointment. It was twilight when the two reached a gate on the track about a half mile from the end of the relentless trek when they met the most extraordinary individual. This happens at twilight when you are walking. It appeared to be a man, with what seemed to be an unbearable load on his back. His head was adorned with a hippy head band, very brightly coloured. The Photographer got his camera out. This was undoubtedly a subject of interest. The man was, in fact brightly coloured all over and his skin was so red and burnt that he had to be the target of the next skin cancer campaign. The man had an ambition, which seemed to be unachievable. It was something like walking the entire United Kingdom with the odd break. He was unofficially wild camping everywhere he went to save money. He also appeared to have grown to hate walking, but was determined. He did have a family, and his wife used to accompany him, but had given up some years ago. His current objective in being on the road was to
avoid a family wedding. He wished us an agonised farewell and disappeared into the foothills. On return to the car, just for once, the Photographer had been so fascinated by the man that he had forgotten to take the picture! It had not been a good day for him. The two made their way to the sheep farm where they were ensconced. There was no internet and no telly, in fact, no communications at all, so it was only a week later, that they discovered that there had been a major incident on the mountain about the day after they had been there and some of the army group, which they had seen had died in the heat! The Photographer and the Assistant were shocked and dumbfounded.
There had been some wonderful walks in Scotland too. One of the favourites had been the trek along the Caledonian Canal. This was a truly magnificent sight from beginning to end. This was a proper shipway. There was every type of craft, from large fishing boats, making their way to sea, to pleasure boats of all types. There were locks and there was a lock keeper, who was very aware of her responsibilities. Those walking the tow path included serious boat spotters, tourists, disabled in buggies and generally all types of people. You could find wild blackberries to eat along the way and it was a strange combination of rural setting and industrial heritage still in use. It was a wonderful flat walk full of excitement and towards the end, it produced a sunset beyond anyone’s dreams. What a wonderful day out with the boots.
Now, looking down at her boots, the Assistant thought on so many happy memories that just flooded her mind. These boots had walked a fair proportion of the coasts of Wales and the Scottish islands. They had spent at least five weeks bird spotting in Norfolk. They had done outstanding service. The boots now appeared cheap for all those happy days around Britain with its varied terrain and weather and there were all those fantastic people they had met, some of whom still read this blog.
When you next chose those walking boots stroll down memory lane, ignore the price tag, get your credit card out and just for once imagine what you are purchasing. You could not be happier if you had gone on one of those expensive holidays that sometimes, feel like such a let down compared with this price ticket.
If you would like to see some of the what the Photographer saw whilst the Assistant was struggling ever onwards and upwards, follow the link below and browse the Albums