Obviously, you can’t dig without boots. My safety footwear options have been getting a bit limited over the last few years. In 2012 it was so wet that, when my previous safety boots collapsed, I bought wellies to replace them. Wellies are great at keeping your feet dry. They also have the big selling point, for me anyway, that they are a zero maintenance option. Unfortunately, steel toe-capped wellies are horrible things to walk any distance in and they are certainly not designed for fell-walking. A typical day in the field for me involves about five or six kilometres of repeatedly walking from site to site. If it is really wet you can overcome the irritation of all the slipping and sliding by feeling smug about your dry feet. Last year, however, it was extremely hot most of the time. In these conditions my safety wellies spent a lot of time being ‘accidentally’ left in the barn while I hopped around site in the Merrells that I am only supposed to wear to drive to work.
I can’t do that this year. For one thing, it’s not very professional continually being on site without your boots. Also, the Merrells are now so elderly that they have about as much tread as a pair of slippers. Therefore, this dinnertime I went into town in search of new boots. Over the years I have had a bit of a vexed relationship with safety boots generally. I am old enough to have started in archaeology when you were positively encouraged to wear the lightest possible footwear on site. The idea was that clumping great boots would imperil the fragile layers you were working on.
This used to lead to a lot of one-upmanship about digging in espadrilles or even barefoot ‘to preserve the evidence’. For example, here am I planning Viking pits at Whithorn in 1988 in a very natty pair of bright blue deck shoes (not sure what my excuse was for the sleeveless t-shirt). Nowadays I am more concerned to preserve my feet and will aim to preserve the evidence by not standing on it. Still, as a sort of hangover from this attitude, I have always tried to buy the lightest safety boots I can. I have spent many hours on workwear websites looking at specialist boots for all kinds of trades in the attempt to find something which is essentially a steel toe-capped trainer. You can get such a thing (they are usually sold as storeman’s boots) but what I never factored in is that the heaviest bit of a safety boot is, of course, the armour. If you get a very lightweight boot with a standard toe-cap and midsole then two things happen: it is still really heavy and uncomfortable and then it falls to bits in next to no time (heavy boot and lightweight support are not a good combination). Also, the problem with buying boots off the internet is that it is quite likely they don’t fit properly.
Proving that I can learn from experience, I went into actual shops today and tried on actual clumping great boots until I found a pair that fitted. Of course, when you buy everything on-line part of the deal is that you are also buying a local high street full of pound shops and outlet shoe stores, so I wasn’t entirely confident that there would be anywhere left in Preston to shop for safety boots. However, I was wrong. Bargain shoe shops seem to have two target markets: teenagers looking for throw-away party shoes and guys buying safety boots. From a range of outlets I was eventually able to select the lovely banana coloured boots in the picture. I will be getting them muddy very soon.