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bootsThe last pair of Scarpas* I bought came from a walking shop in Keswick in 1993. I had kids on the way and I was thinking if I left it any longer the budget would be shredded and a pair of Scarpas would be off the menu for the foreseeable future. They’re a decent boot, made in Italy and tend to suit a narrow foot like mine. I think I paid £80 for them, quite a lot at that time, at least relative to my mortgage-denuded salary. The shop’s gone now, an old-world place of the kind that existed in the days before outdoor gear became fashionable, high-tech, and lucrative. I remember the guy who served me wore Dalesman britches, a flat cap, and smelled strongly of Condor pipe-tobacco. He also knew his stuff and I often wonder at what point in our near-past such people became extinct, and why.

It used to be that only scouts and ramblers took an interest in rain-proofs and boots and Dubbin, climbers too of course, but they were always a special breed who got their gear from places where fussing over the colour of your pants would get you thrown out. My, how times have changed!

boots2I had twenty years out of those Scarpas, walked much of the Lakes and the Dales in them. I recall they took a bit of breaking in but proved reliable and surefooted thereafter and in all kinds of weather. When they finally succumbed to the ravages of time, I bought a different, well known brand, not a cheap boot by any means but, whilst robust and comfy from the word go, they proved alarmingly slippery on rock. I persevered with them off and on at the expense of some confidence in the fells and in the end felt more secure in cheaper boots, though they tend to last only a few years, before opening up to the elements. And since my current pair of budget boots succumbed and let water in as I was fording Malham Beck, last weekend,… well,…

It was perhaps a touch of both nostalgia for those surer times that sent me out in search of another pair of Scarpas. I found them on the high-street, in what I prefer to call a hiker’s boutique. The guy selling them had no idea what they were, but when I slid my feet into them, the boots smiled and said, “Oh yes, we’re the ones for you.” So I paid the man – double what I paid in ’93.

The shop was replete with fantastically patterned high-tech fabrics, stuff I could never have for shame worn in the hills, including jackets costing £300 I’d be frightened of getting grubby, also bit and bobs of superfluous hardware I struggled to find the point of lugging. Conversely, of the more pragmatic and essential maps and compasses there were none. (we should never rely on a smartphone for map and compass).

The man offered me a discount if I signed up to a card that would have cost me £5 a year. This is a new concept  – they hook into your bank account, harvest your spending habits so they might target you with sinisterly apposite marketing, and charge you for the privilege. I declined their generosity then left with my Scarpas, feeling I had rescued them from perdition. I hope we get on well and they’re kind to me. Indeed, if I get twenty years out of them, like I did the last pair, I’ll be eighty and well pleased on account of both the boots and me having made it that far. I’ll be sure to report back here if we make it.

Oh, I know,… I have the sense of spending my whole life living out of time, and I’m never sure if it’s me who needs to catch up with the world or the other way around. But what really matters is that when we tie our boots on, we forget what the world’s up to for a while. They carry us into the hills and provide for us a secure footing so we might return safely and feeling all the better for the experience of having seen the world from a transcendent perspective, one far removed from the everyday where the nitty-gritty simply gets in your eye and stops you from seeing things as clearly as you otherwise might.

*Other boot brands are available, and Scarpa didn’t pay me to write this, though I am open to offers.

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