I’ve never written anything about wellies before. Ever. A welly is a welly is a welly, right? That’s what I thought for most of my birding life. For two or three years in the late 80s and early 90s, I was sufficiently misguided to be seen in standard Hunter green wellies (OK, look, I was at Oxford at the time – and at least I chopped those stupid buckles off, lest they get snagged in a mistnet). Apart from that, I’ve generally bought a cheap and serviceable pair of black rubber wellies, thrown ‘em away when they leaked and not thought much more about it. Arriving in Shetland in 1992 soon highlighted the design flaws in Hunter wellies. Those nice soft rubber soles that make them comfortable for walking wear down smooth remarkably quickly and the boots become potentially lethal anywhere near a cliff edge after that. Equally, like most wellies, there’s little or no support for your feet in a pair. And, lets face it, they look a bit poncy as well. Nul point to the Hunter!
More than 200 years ago, the Duke of Wellington, fed up with trudging off to battle in the common-or-garden hessian boot that was standard issue for the cavalry back in the eighteenth century, dispatched a telegram to his bootmaker to look lively and come up something better. The bootmaker, Hoby of London, fairly got his act together and the resulting creation, lovingly crafted in baby-soft calfskin leather, was a revelation. Ok, that may be a mite OTT, but they caught on. Apparently, the boot was not only hardwearing for battle, it was comfortable for the evening too (which in the Duke’s case no doubt meant banqueting with the great and the good as well as nipping down the Nag’s Head for a jar or two with the chaps).
Here is the Duke at Waterloo wearing his own design and looking generally pleased with himself. I read somewhere that Wellington’s dashing new boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen. Not only that, they were considered fashionable and foppish and worn by dandies, and they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s. Well!
Back to reality… Some five years ago, maybe more, Muckboots www.muckbootcompany.com started to appear in Shetland. Proud owners in the vanguard of the movement reckoned they were the proverbial dogsb***ocks. They were warm, cosy and comfortable, and they looked alright too. Perfect for a birding dandy. I confess, I was sceptical, ‘specially after looking at the price tag. I caved in about three years ago though, and having just bought my second pair last autumn, was delighted to receive a pair of the new Arctic Sport muckers for review. Hence this post…
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to go on much longer. I can get the review over with in very few words. Basically Muckboots are really good. Courtesy of their neoprene lining they are toasty warm. When it’s cold, they are on a different planet from conventional wellies. They have a decent sole that doesn’t wear down like the aforementioned hunters. I haven’t fallen off a cliff once in Muckboots. They are close-fitting round your calves, and they are dead comfortable to wear – all day. (By the way, ignore the usual welly advice and don’t buy a size up to wear with thick socks – just get your normal shoe size.) Most people seem to find them comfortable immediately; I find that I need a few outings in a new pair before they feel like slippers. For me, the very best thing about them is unquestionably that they give you proper ankle support, courtesy of the firm, yet still lightweight rubber that encases the foot and ankle. That was the real reason I bought them – in my advancing middle age, and with footballing injuries of old becoming an increasing problem, getting through an autumn of slogging up Quendale and trying to avoid twisted ankles in rabbit holes was becoming a challenge. Now, I admit it, I wouldn’t be without Muckboots. I would honestly have said that before those nice gentlemen at Muckboot sent me a pair to write about.
Drawbacks? On a hot day they can get too hot – but no worse than any other welly. But if you want a pair for walking the dog on a cold winter’s morning get the Arctic Sport (which are fleece-lined inside the neoprene); and if you want a year-round allrounder the Muckmaster (shown, previously known as the Tayboot) is what you need. [And try and avoid green. Black is the new black after all. Darling.]
And, coming back to drawbacks, the price. £80-ish is ballpark. But, and here’s the thing: they should last just as long as an average pair of walking boots, which cost the same or more if you get a waterproof pair. And if you’re birding iris beds and wet ditches in the autumn – and let’s face it, where else would you be birding in autumn? – wellies and overtrousers are de rigueur. Walking boots, gaiters and overtrousers, or any combination thereof, just don’t cut it.
In short, dear reader, the modern birding dandy is wearing Muckboots. You simply can’t afford not to!