Barefoot shoes and badgers.
Badgers have been around for a long time. Way longer than humans have been wearing shoes. I wonder what this “Land of the Engles” was like before humans turned up. With the absence of tracks, roads and buildings… it might be that some of the biggest earthworks and well worn trails around were made by badgers.
Not far up the lane from our home in East Devon is one of my son’s favourite places – he calls it Badgerland. It’s on a steep, northwest facing slope and the badgers have been busy burrowing into the soft red jurassic sandstone for years. We thought is was the perfect place to go and have our first adventure together in our new Vibram five finger shoes. As a nature connection facilitator, forest school leader and team building provider I also have a thing about shoes, “barefoot style” and “ninja” shoes. As a kid I preferred running around barefoot. Zola Budd was a heroine and about 20 years ago a friend brought me back some gardeners ‘tabi’ shoes from Japan. And now I have a bit of a reputation in the outdoor education world for wearing ‘unusual shoes’. So it was with great excitement that I recently unboxed two pairs of Vibrams’ latest five finger shoes for me and my son. We both have a pair of Trek Ascents with the new mega grip compound sole. We also got a pair of V-toes toe socks to keep our feet warm in the winter
New shoes can be like “super suits” for feet…. and we needed to go and test out their super powers.
One of my nicknames as a kid was ‘Scorch’ because I used to run around everywhere. I remember getting my first pair of Nike trainers and how they helped me think I was running even faster. Maybe you remember having some favourite childhood shoes that gave you super powers? My son certainly likes the ninja-ness of these Vibram shoes and loves how grippy they are in the trees:
I stopped wearing stiff walking boots and trainers with bouncy heels about 10 years ago. I like something flexible with ‘zero drop’. I love walking barefoot but have soft skin on my feet. I enjoy walking over all surfaces without shoes, I even believe it is good for me as I have a foot massage for free, but I do get a lot of thorns if I don’t wear something on my feet. As far as I am concerned vibram five fingers are just amazing as a shoe concept and so I have has two pairs to date, but until now I have been disappointed by the grip in off road and trail situations. The latest Trek Ascent model has a new mega grip compound with a more aggressive grip under the toes.
They are a bit like badger claws for humans. I think they are awesome! The extra large grippy bits under the toes are really effective in muddy earth. I climbed some trees too and found the mega-grip exceptionally good on dry and very good on damp wood.
Coming down from the trees we searched the land for signs of who had been around. I love the way in these minimalist shows it feels easy to walk carefully amongst spring flowers so as not to squash them.
Treading carefully and looking for tracks and sign we found some fox poo, rained on and several days old, with lots of hair and broken bones in it:
We played ‘It!’ around the budget setts… and our dog was often sticking his head in the entrances as we counted them:
Some of the larger setts have more than 100 entrances. Badgers seem to prefer earth that is easier to dig in – and so do I! – sandy soil and banks being favoured. Even smaller setts are quite extensive underground. One study of a sett with 12 entrances in the Cotswolds found more than 310 metres of tunnels and it was estimated that the badgers had moved more than 25 tonnes of earth to create this complex.Their trails winding through the woodland, scratch marks around the entrances to their underground laberynthine setts, neat latrines are sure signs there is someone around. Badger families live in the same homes for years. Being tidy and house proud animal they change bedding regularly and like fresh air in their homes. They are fairly busy and so there is often some fresh, soft earth to look for their tracks in. Most of the time our dog got to these ‘track-pads’ first…but at last I managed to find a small badger paw mark in the entrance to a burrow before before the dog put his paw market there! Can you see it? In between my big toes!
Badgers have been making their mark on the landscape for so long. Now, without bears and wolves, badgers are a key species… top of the ecological tree in the UK. If you want to find out more about them there is a brilliant website called http://www.badgerland.co.uk – it’s well worth a visit.
One of my sons favourite memories from our previous house was sneaking into an unplowed field of short grass in the late spring dusk, just as it was getting ‘dimpsy’, and waiting for the badgers to come out. They were already there!! Scratching double fore-paws of grass down the slope towards their burrows.
The last time I saw a badger in daylight was the other morning as I was running at daybreak along the top of a flinty ridge called East Hill Strips. I was trying out the new Trek Ascents as a trail running shoe…and had enjoyed the way I could use my toes to grip so well on the way up and eventually reached, in a puffed out fashion, the tarmac road, that runs at the top… and found a badger lumbering towards me! I think it was the first time our dog had met one as far as I know and some growling and chasing ensued before the badger bundled off down the wooded slope. Running the couple of miles along the top road I noticed how the shoes had just enough give for tarmac, but not too much to loose feel. As I ran down the steep track back towards home, I was impressed with the balance between feel and protection from sharp flinty rocks the trail ascents offered and how secure the new lacing system help my foot in a comfortingly secure and flexible ‘foot glove’ like way… definitely the best Vibram five fingers so far in my opinion….and I wondered what the landscape was like before humans started making tracks for our carts vehicles and whether the animals, or previously the dinosaur’s, trails ever made such cuts into the landscape?
For more about badgers visit http://www.badgerland.co.uk
For more about Vibram five fingers visit: http://www.primallifestyle.com
For more information about the nature connection experiences I offer please visit www.wholeland.org.uk