It’s strange to think that my most treasured possession is a pair of boots that are so actively ignored when I don’t need them. Usually, accidental steps in hidden bogs that cause stagnant water to seep inside is the reason for their being left in the boot of the car. Always with a pledge of a deep clean and oil, but so often exchanged for a brisk bash in the car park to get rid of the biggest clods of mud before the next walk.
These boots are older than I am. Worn in for 15 years by my mum and then passed down to me, the tricky size five-and-a-halfs have been moulded to fit from a constant cycle of damp fields, sea salt and mossy woodland paths. The laces have grown plump and awkward, sometimes stubbornly immovable through rusting eyelets and the promise of drying them out after long walks.
When I was seven or eight, I plodded alongside Mum, who wore them then, on the farm we stayed at every year; a little girl who held onto her mother’s little finger. I’d pull the grass seeds from their husks and scatter them like chicken seed. When I was ten, these boots would run away from the waves and dry with a sea salt line when we didn’t escape the swash in time. When camping, they held my tiny feet as I fetched water but couldn’t be bothered to pull on my own shoes, instead shuffling across the heath to a tap, sloshing the kettle all the way back until half of what was collected remained.
They took us through summers spent in Herefordshire: soles worn from two decades of pushing down on spades and forks to lift onions – and from standing for a photo in front of the same spot of a pine forest, year after year; a family tradition that saw my brother and I grow tall with the saplings. They were mine after new waterproofing deemed Mum’s leather boots second best. Yes, they always let the water in; yes, they barely support my ankles, but they bear the marks of a love of the outdoors that bloomed in the hills of the Brecon Beacons and along the shores of North Norfolk. They’ve taken me up mountains and down valleys when
I couldn’t afford boots of my own.
The ritual of wearing thick hiking socks and sliding into Mum’s walking boots is a kindred moment. I always send her a picture of wherever me and the boots have been; a digital scrapbook that continues the photo albums stored on the family bookshelf. They are the anticipation and adventure that pulls me away from concrete and carpet. Well used. Well loved. Irreplaceable.
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