Besides Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 recommendation in her song: what kind of boots would we recommend to hike the 'Milky Way'? The combination of a flat and often hard surface will have its toll when walkin' the Frisia Coast Trail (FCT). In this blog post we discuss what kind of footwear is (not) suitable for the FCT.
It’s important to realize the only ascend and descend more than 2 meters you are going to encounter during the 1,000 miles of the FCT are man made. It might be a bridge, a sluice, a dyke, a terp (or wierde or Warft or Wurt etc) 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're 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.
Every hiker knows this is the opposite of easy. Walking flat 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/ or neck. But the flatness isn't the only difficult factor. Despite its nickname 'Milky Way' the FCT surface is in no way milky. Often you'll be walking on a non-elastic surface. And 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 are best for muscle and skin. But these are nearly absent.
So, what to wear?
1. ancient option
The Frisians west of the River Lauwers of the fifth century AD wore thin, elegant leather shoes. Very specific, rich design for this area and maybe inspired by the Romans. These Mid-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 the 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 mudflats, though. Or for the long soft-grassy stretches on top of the dykes along the Wadden Sea coast and along Lake IJssel.
2. classic option
Another, classic, option would be the not-so-elegant clogs or clumps. They 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 the 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 FCT. 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 ‘now breaks my clog’ expressing the moment when everything suddenly falls apart. Well, picture walking on clogs and one breaks. It's really a showstopper. Therefore, clogs wouldn't 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 (meaning 'clog tracks') or at Wandel.nl. Now laugh again.
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 give and the latter do not give ankle support. We would say the running shoes would probably be the more preferred option for the FCT. No real ankle support is needed anyway and the terrain and paths are not rough, so a sturdy sole is not needed either. It's a sea-coast trail so rain can occur during any time of year. Running shoes dry quicker. And when walking the mudflats 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!
The early medieval leather shoe depicted above is part of a collection of typical terp-area-shoes from the (terp, artificial dwelling mound) villages Ferwerd, Finkum and Hallum. They are unique since no real parallels have been found in surrounding area's. Maybe introduced by the new people that settled at the tidal marshlands during the Migration Period in the 4th century AD. Besides the elegant shoes, the also elegant fibulae were introduced in the same period. So, it might indicate a change/ 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.
If interested in the mythical times of the Migration Period read also our blog post about legendary King Finn.
Suggestion for 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).