Magazine article The Spectator

Suited and Booted

Magazine article The Spectator

Suited and Booted

Article excerpt

It was minus four degrees, dampness hung in the air, and visibility was down to about 120 yards. As I drove up on to Dartmoor with fog lamps on, wipers going, and heater and blower at full blast, I didn't anticipate that this year's New Year's Day 'Get Fit For 2009' guided walk on Dartmoor would be as well attended as it was. But about 30 people were milling about in the grid-referenced car park at two minutes to noon as I pulled in.

It looked like an outdoor clothing and equipment fashion show. Labels of all the major outdoor clothing fashion houses were on conspicuous display, stitched on the outside of a dazzling array of waterproof and breathable jackets and leggings - GoLite, Marmot, Haglofs, Montane, Berghaus and The North Face at the top end; Karrimor, Regatta and Peter Storm for those with slightly shorter purse strings. Some were holding themselves up with the latest aluminium, or possibly titanium, walking poles. The combined cost of all that 'technical' clothing must have run into several thousand pounds.

None of it looked like it had been much used.

You'd have thought we were about set off on a well-funded polar expedition.

I was wearing proper walking boots, brand new, bought in a mad moment in a pre-Christmas sale, horribly uncomfortable, deeply regretted. Apart from that, I didn't have a stitch on that had been designed for the gullible hikers' market and been sold with a tag booklet of pseudo-technical information. Over my vest I was wearing a short-sleeved cotton polo shirt, two woolly jumpers and a tatty old button-up leather jacket. My trousers were denim. On my head I had an outsized fleece tartan hat with long floppy rabbit's ears.

I might have been taken for a walker, however, because I was carrying a map in a clear plastic map case, with carrying strap, bought in the same sale. Annoyingly, the carrying strap was a little short. I could just about get my head and one shoulder through, which anchored the map case solidly under my right armpit. As well as a map, in the map case I also had the handy compass that fell out of my cracker on Christmas Day.

The guide was standing at the back of her Land Rover accepting five-pound notes and handing out tickets. As I held out my fiver, her practised glance travelled down and up my body, lingering briefly on the rabbit's ears. …

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