Picture the scenario. It is the first day of January and you are nursing a hangover. The celebrations of the night before are a bit hazy but you do seem to remember making a very public resolution immediately after your tuneless rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. All of a sudden you recall that you announced, to the world and its aunty, that you intended to knock yourself into shape by heading out into the country and tackling a hill or two.
So off you go to your nearest outdoor shop ready and willing to splash the cash on whatever you need to buy to become a committed, state-of-the-art outdoor type. The shop is packed to the rafters with an almost overwhelming range of equipment and your brain is becoming befuddled. You cannot, for love nor money, decide what gear you really require to take your first few faltering footsteps into the big blue yonder.
In his 1926 book, ‘Walks from Wooler’, W. Ford Robertson said that, “tackety boots (not too heavy), or rubber soles”, were an essential part of a ramblers wardrobe. True enough but boot technology has come a long way since then and, as with all 21st century outdoor equipment, the choice is enormous. Some walkers prefer more traditional leather boots whilst others want to wander the hills and dales in somewhat lighter, Gortex-lined fabric boots. There are even those hardy souls who choose to use their trusty old trainers or the slightly more sophisticated ‘off road’ or ‘trail’ shoes.
When James Logan Mack and a group of friends set out in the early 1920s to plot the exact course of the border line, a gargantuan journey of more than 105 miles, they were dressed in plus fours, tweed jackets and, depending on personal preference, a flat cap, a trilby or a rather more dapper bowler hat. Yes, you do need to keep warm and dry, whatever the season, but perhaps as a dedicated follower of fashion this is not what you had in mind.
Nowadays regular hikers who know a thing or two about such matters tend to deck their upper bodies with a thin, moisture-wicking base layer, a mid insulating layer and a wind resistant, waterproof and breathable outer shell. Modern walking trousers are generally lightweight, offer freedom of movement and contain a multitude of useful pockets. It is usual to carry a pair of waterproof over-trousers and, in winter at least, a warm hat and a pair of gloves. The only additional item you should need, other than a map and a compass, is a rucksack in which to carry your sandwiches along with your other bits and bobs.
Like many other decisions in life the question of what gear to buy before venturing out into the countryside might seem, at first glance, absolutely mind-boggling. In his 1946 book, ‘Climbing in Britain’ J. E. Q. Barford thought that, “a minimum of equipment was essential for hill walking” and that this minimum “was pretty simple and inexpensive”. Whilst the world has revolved a time or two since 1946 it is still worth bearing this basic principle in mind and remembering, before you unlock your wallet, that the countryside is littered with many a broken New Year’s resolution.
by Geoff Holland © 2012
Geoff Holland is the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side The Cheviot Hills’ , is a regular contributor to ‘TGO (The Great Outdoors)’, ‘Country Walking’ and ‘The Northumbrian’ magazines and is the operator of the highly acclaimed website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His books are available online from www.trailguides.co.uk or from all good bookshops and he can be heard reading a selection of his poems on www.listenupnorth.com. He has lived in Monkseaton for almost 40 years.