No Complaints • By Caroline Crampton.

to go any distance across rough terrain

I want to talk about these boots.

My boots admiring the view from Castle Varrich near Tongue in Sutherland.
My boots admiring the view from Castle Varrich near Tongue in Sutherland.

These are the Scarpa Women's Terra GTX hiking boots. They are what my dreams are made of. Even though I like walking and do a lot of it, I've never had boots that made me happy. Boots have always been a process, a case of grinning and bearing it through the blisters while I wait for the mythical moment when they will be properly 'worn in', when they will stop working against me and start working with me.

These boots were perfect from the first time I put them on. Soft and yielding beneath the foot but stiff enough to protect from awkward surfaces and to keep my dodgy ankles from turning every other step. The women in my family all seem to lack some crucial ligament tension in the lower leg; it's a very dominant trait, as it is possible to see if we're all wearing sandals at a family reunion. The connection between our feet and our legs is just. . . dangerously loose.

My resilient, no nonsense mother — who once drove herself safely to the hospital while she was fully in labour — has been known to pass out from the intense pain if she turns her ankle. As a result, my extremely athletic sister used to spend hours balancing one legged on a physical therapy cushion while watching television to strengthen her lower leg muscles. I, needless to say, have never bothered to put in this work. Therefore, to go any distance across rough terrain, I require my hiking boots to act as a rigid corset about the foot that can hold in all of the moving parts that don't stay in place by themselves.

Somehow, despite fulfilling this function perfectly, these are boots that I can put on and take off very quickly. Foot in, laces crossed and tightened, knots tied, done. Part of the unpleasant process involved in previous bad versions has been the grit and determination required just to get them on, which meant that I would rarely wear them, which in turn meant that the wearing in thing never got very far.

I bought these boots in April, when we were still in the "only leave your house if you absolutely have to" stage of Covid-19 lockdown. I think we all developed our own unexpected displacement activities: one of mine was reading hundreds of boot reviews online and measuring my feet with a tape measure. I learned things about Gore-Tex. I reread Cheryl Strayed's Wild. I fell down a YouTube spiral of raw vegans vlogging while thru-hiking the Appalachian trail. It was all entirely unnecessary and beautifully distracting.

Along with paying attention to the physical properties one generally requires from a pair of boots, I shied away from any that looked too high tech. I'm fond of walking, but I'm not fast. For me, wearing anything with neon colours or reflective panels or ostentatiously breathable fabric makes promises that I'm not going to be able to fulfil. Ideally, I want to look like a lady hillwalker from about 1935, which is unfortunately not an aesthetic that is easy to filter for on today's outdoors apparel sites.

Buying the boots at all was a promise to myself that I would one day be able to use them for more than just a walk on the pavements around my village. And, as you probably gathered from that photograph at the top, I did manage to do this: at the end of July, my husband, dog and I drove to the very north of Scotland for a couple of weeks of camping and walking.

This is when we had planned to be on holiday anyway, and we were very fortunate to still be able to go to the area we had intended to visit, even though the cottage we had rented wasn't available and the constant need to clean everything changed our plans a good deal. Our car became a mobile storage unit for masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser, and I spent more time thinking about which surfaces I had touched and in what order than I generally prefer to do while travelling for pleasure. The reminders of our changed world were everywhere. Tracking down somewhere to buy a hot evening meal could take up a good deal of the afternoon, and having a camping stove so that we could eat on the beach was very useful.

I'm not very good at adapting when things don't go to plan. Finding places unexpectedly closed or getting caught with a tent half up in a torrential downpour that wasn't forecast doesn't see me at my best. I think that's why I was so floored by the fact that these boots just worked, immediately. I even walked in them across some of what they call The Flow Country, a huge area of peatland bog that covers part of Caithness and Sutherland. My dog was wet and muddy up to the ears, but my feet were perfectly dry.

I think I've been hunched over in anticipation of disappointment and disaster for months now without fully realising it; this felt like a reminder to relax my shoulders, a little.


Twelve things I'm reading, watching and listening to:


I've been interviewed a few times recently, so you can read about what hardware/software I use to work on Uses This, about how I consume media on Why Is This Interesting?, about how I write and podcast on A Bit Lit (video), and about my book reading habits at the Stromness Books & Prints website.

There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: I do daily podcast recommendations at The Listener, I write weekly podcast industry reports for Hot Pod, I make a fortnightly podcast called Shedunnit and I’m sometimes on Twitter and Instagram. The latter is where I will eventually get round to posting more pictures from our socially distant trip to northern Scotland and Orkney.

Until next time,

Caroline

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