Cabin fever is a sort of claustrophobia, and like a lot of folks during lockdown I occasionally feel the walls closing in and get a powerful urge to leave the house. Even when it’s throwing it down.
Mainly I stroll around for an hour until I close the exercise ring on my fitness watch. Some dog-walkers clearly regard me with suspicion, though. The qualification for being in my local streets seems to be possession of a yapping terrier on a lead or being dragged along by a labrador.
Since I live on the edge of countryside, I vary my route by hopping over a stile and crossing fields normally visited on fine summer days. But these public footpaths are now being trodden by countless more feet than usual, and in many places they have become ankle-deep mires of mud, glorious mud.
I’m told this is happening everywhere. Certainly, last month I visited the little valleys drained by Pudsey Beck and Tong Beck, which form a picturesque green space between Leeds and Bradford, and the paths oozed with eight or nine inches of brown sludge. As well they might after Storm Christoph had drenched the area with one of the wettest three-day periods in years.
I had to marvel at the number of people I met who refused to be put off by such a mudfest, some of them wearing what looked like trainers. I had on a pair of Finnish-made half wellingtons which orienteers affectionately call “bog-trotters”, and even these were no match for the swamp.
I do have a pair of knee-length wellies, but they are way too heavy for plodding through four or five miles of mud. And so it strikes me that the makers of walking boots haven’t been paying attention to how the intense periods of rainfall caused by climate change is making most outdoor footwear unable to meet the challenge of today’s underfoot conditions.
Sadly, many walkers think wearing wellies makes them look like a wuss. It seems de rigueur to be seen wearing the familiar ankle-length walking boots as though they’d much rather be scaling Scafell Pike. If the ground is wet or muddy, then these fashionistas of the footpaths simply tie on a pair of gaiters.
I have done this myself and can tell you that gaiters are a real faff that basically only prevent your lower legs from being spattered with mud. They don’t do the job of wellies, while the so-called waterproof membranes lining many walking boots on the market are barely effective even against wet grass.
I turned to the Ramblers’ website for some guidance, only to be told: “The perennial problems with walking in wellies for sustained periods are lack of comfort and breathability, resulting in hot, sweaty feet and pressure points that lead to blisters or sore heels and toes.”
The organisation then offered a review of wellies that looked just too clompy, missing the point of what today’s conditions require.
My own trawl of the internet turned up a few pairs of mini wellies, but these were marketed specifically for women and gardeners. No one, it seems, has spotted the gap in the market for a taller walking boot that can be worn for many miles without people eventually having to wring a glassful of water out of their socks.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
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