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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Boots made for walkin’

Besides Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 recommendation in her song; what kind of boots would we recommend to hike the Frisia Coast Trail? The combination of a flat and often hard surface will have its toll when walkin’ the trail. In this post we discuss what kind of footwear is (not) suitable.

It is important to realize the only ascend and descend more than two meters you are going to encounter during the 1,000 miles of the Frisia Coast Trail are manmade. It might be a bridge, a sluice, a dike, a terp or the Upstalsboom in Aurich, Osfriesland. Dunes are the exception and are not man made, most of the time at least. Dunes along the North Sea coast can reach heights of 20 meters, if you are lucky. The highest point of the entire trail is at the dunes of Schoorl in the Netherlands, a frightening 52 meter above mean sea level. The dunes at at southwest coast of the Walcheren in province Zeeland, are formidable as well. The highest point of former Frisia is, however, island Heligoland, Nordfriesland at the North Sea. Its rocks reach 61 meters above the sea.

Every hiker knows, walking flat is the opposite of easy. It is killing for your legs and your feet. Blister-risk is high. Walking with a backpack on flat terrain can also hurt your back and neck. But the flatness is not the only difficult factor. Despite its nickname ‘Milky Way’ the Frisia Coast Trail surface is in no way milky. Regularly, you will be walking on a non-elastic surface too. Again, every hiker knows: nothing hurts more than a constant hard surface like tarmac or grit. Blister-risk goes sky-high and the continuous pounding on your heels will kill you. No, mountains with rough, barely visible, uneven paths would be better for muscle and skin. But these are absent.

So, what to wear?

1. Ancient Option

The Frisians west of the River Lauwers, in the ancient pagus ‘district’ Oostergo, of the fifth century wore thin, elegant leather shoes. Very specific, rich design for this area. Maybe inspired by the Romans. But their inspiration might have come from beyond distant sea horizons, since for centuries the people of this region were notorious pirates, read our post It all began with piracy.

These Frisian leather shoes were suitable for a soft surface like wet clay, grasslands and salt marshes. The shoes were made of one piece of leather and had no separate sole. No ankle support either. Everything as soft as Bask espadrilles. Of course, you may choose this type of footwear for your hike, but it gives little protection for the continuous thudding on your heels on the solid underground of today’s paths along the coasts. They might still be an option when walking through the salt marshes and tidal mudflats, though. Or, for the long soft-grassy stretches on top of the dikes along the Wadden Sea coast, along Lake IJssel, and on top of the many river dikes more inland.

2. Classic Option

Another, classic, option would be the not-so-elegant clogs or clumps. These have lost a lot of their popularity the last hundred years or so, but you can still see people wearing clogs. Especially at the countryside. Although traditional believe is that clogs are good for growing feet of children, clogs hardly can be an option to hike the 1,000 miles of the Frisia Coast Trail. Yes, the parents of the author of this post made him walk in clogs too when he had the age between 4 and 5 years. Besides, there is a Dutch saying Nu breekt mijn klomp ‘now breaks my clog’ expressing the moment when everything suddenly falls apart. Well, picture walking on clogs and one breaks. It is really a showstopper. Therefore, clogs would not be our first pick.

But if you do take clogs, you still have a choice to make. Do you buy the black, the yellow or non-painted natural version? Know that yellow-painted clogs used to be reserved for the posh merchants. Black ones for sober farmers. Non-painted ones for the poor grey masses. Your pick will say a lot.

If you think we are just making things up about people hiking on clogs, check this serious websites Klompenpaden ‘clog paths’. Who is laughing now?

3. Modern Option

That brings us to modern materials. Basically you can choose between the more sturdy, leather boots or the lightweight, synthetic running shoes. The first do and the latter do not give ankle support. We would say the running shoes would probably be the more preferred option for the Frisia Coast Trail. No real ankle support is needed anyway and the terrain and paths are not rough, so a sturdy sole is not needed either. It is a sea-coast trail so rain can occur during any time of year. Running shoes dry quicker. And, when walking the mud flats of the Wadden Sea this type of shoe is very suitable and common as well. You won’t look silly. Try to select those that give as much elasticity as possible for your heels.

Or, go walkin' with the boots of Nancy!

4. Epilogue

The early-medieval leather shoe depicted above is part of a collection of typical terp-area shoes from the terp (i.e. artificial settlement mounds) villages Ferwerd, Finkum and Hallum. They are unique since no real parallels have been found in surrounding areas. Maybe introduced by the new people who settled at the empty tidal marshlands at the beginning of the fifth century. Besides the elegant shoes, the also elegant fibulas were introduced in the same period. So, it might indicate a change or even replacement of culture. Furthermore, these shoes were probably all worn by men since women and children (like elsewhere in Europe) only started to wear shoes from the High Middle Ages. Having said that, walking barefoot was perhaps the norm, including for men, on the salt marsh. A tradition that existed still in the nineteenth century at the Hallig islands in region Nordfriesland (Knol 2021).


Note – If interested in the mythical times of the Migration Period read also our post about legendary king Finn.

Further reading

If you want to know more about the history of footwear from the Frisian terp region in the fifth century, read: Driel-Murray, D. van & Plicht, van der H., Het gelijk van Boeles: schoenvondsten uit de Friese terpen (2016); Knol, E., For Daily Use and Special Moments: Material Culture in Frisia, AD 400-1000 (2021)

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