Country & Coast: Rambling fashion

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There is clearly an unwritten dress code for the countryside, and one of the biggest style faux pax anyone can commit is to be seen carrying a rucksack on a public footpath while wearing a pair of wellies.

Add a couple of trekking poles to the ensemble, and perhaps a Silva compass and PVC map case dangling round your neck, and the faces of others walkers you meet will give the distinct impression that they are having a close encounter with an extraterrestrial.

But since that abysmally wet summer of 2007 I have been prepared to incur the deprecatory glances of walking fashionistas by wearing wellingtons whenever the going gets muddy, as it has done recently in Yorkshire.

Following a stretch of the Nidderdale Way at the weekend, I strode smugly across a field that seemed to be in the process of transforming into a lake and negotiated a muddy track that was more like a quagmire, while every other walker I met stuck doggedly to the ramblers’ code of Vibram-soled boots on their feet and gaiters zipped over their calves.

I knew from long, squelchy experience that those feet would be wet, because the claims of boot manufacturers that waterproof membranes keep you dry may be accurate when it comes to wet grass but are simply impossible to deliver in the mud created by weeks of winter rain.

At one point along the course of a footpath my left wellie sank into a bowl of mud... and sank... and sank. It was an experience akin to a Cape Buffalo being sucked into a glutinous mud hole on some African game reserve, and the only thing missing was a voiceover by Sir David Attenborough.

With the mud about to ooze over the top of my knee-length boot, a combination of twisting the foot and frantically tugging the top of the wellie managed to ease it out of its adhesive trap after several long minutes. Had I been wearing a walking boot, though, it would almost certainly have slipped off my foot to be devoured by the mud forever.

Of course, wellies are not necessary in some parts of Yorkshire. On the limestone area of the Dales the permeable rock mostly leaves the overlying turf springy and well-drained, and the same is true on many paths over the chalk landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds.

I certainly wouldn’t choose wellies for a walk in the Lake District fells, since they offer little support for ankles when descending. Indeed, one of the Yorkshire Dales mountain rescue teams says that if they found a wellie-wearer on the Three Peaks with a broken or twisted ankle the accident would be put down to unsuitable footwear. Having said that, I know of a farmer in Ribblesdale who walked 20 miles a day in wellingtons, up hill and down dale, and he never had any trouble.

But in the great unsqueezed sponge of Yorkshire’s winter fields and woodland, wellies are the sensible option.