I've mentioned my various walking sticks now and then over the years.
Originally I bought one from a National Trust shop, around 1980, when I was in my late twenties and living in London. A friend who was with me did the same. It was an impulse buy. This first stick - which I discarded years ago, when moving house - was a thin, lightweight affair in ash, and was far more a style accessory than for serious country walking. In any case, I rarely went on any at that time. So it just gathered dust at home.
But in 1989 I left London behind, and moved down to Sussex, which was in the country. Country walking quickly became a regular feature of my weekend life. So I dug out that ash stick. But I found it an unnecessary encumbrance if I kept to easy, well-worn, well-maintained paths. Ash is a lightweight wood with no heft, and this one was hardly more than a cane. It was all right for probing the depth of a muddy patch in the path, but useless for bashing brambles and nettles out of the way. Nor was it any use for intimidating uppity field animals. Rams wanting to assert their ramhood just ignored it. Horses with fangs bared would dismiss it and close in for a good bite. A charging bull, bent on murder, would snort at it and feel even more enraged.
Something heavier was required. Eventually I lashed out £26.50 on the cherry walking stick you see on the right in the following shots, taken two days ago in my hall.
So I went on to buy other sticks. The most successful of these, bought later in the 1990s, has been a chestnut stick, as seen in this shot, taken at the tail end of the ancient Uffington White Horse.
And there was something else. Like the cherry stick, the chestnut stick had a crook for a handle. This made it very convenient to hook over an arm while I did something, such as take a photo. But crooks do tend to catch in things. That's the nature of anything hooked. In any case, a crooked stick is so easy to hang up on a gate, or on a branch, or inside a café - and then it gets forgotten. I haven't yet personally lost a stick that way, but it has been a near thing on several occasions.
So some years back I acquired a hazel stick without a crook. It has instead a shaped knob instead, that I fit my hand around. It isn't obvious, but the clever shaping enables me to grasp it it three different ways, all of them pretty secure. That's the stick on the left in the opening shots. Let's have them again.
There is of course one other reason why I prefer this crookless hazel stick to the crooked cherry or chestnut sticks. It's to do with image.
Crooked sticks do seem to shout: 'I'm old and infirm!' or 'It's a zimmer frame next!'. When I bought the cherry stick in 1992 I was of course neither old nor infirm, and it did sometimes bother me that, as a youngish-looking forty year old, I was carrying an 'old person's' item - however useful it might be on a country walk. But thirty-odd years on, and thirty-odd years older, this is not nearly so much of a concern: a crooked stick looks a lot more natural. Even so, I am not infirm, and I don't want to give the impression that I might be.
In contrast, the hazel stick, with its knobby grip, and no crook, makes no particular statement about my state of health or fitness. I hope it merely says 'I am a well-equipped walker, who enjoys carrying a rustic stick and finds it useful'.
Mind you, my balance isn't all it should be, especially on rough ground, and using the hazel stick - or indeed any stick - as a 'third leg' when traversing slippery, slithery or rutted surfaces is only sensible. It's also a practical aid to keeping upright and sure-footed on seaside shingle and pebbles. And although I don't suffer from bad hips, my knees and toes can twinge if over-flexed on a longish walk. That's just the wear and tear of many decades - I don't yet need a stick to take some weight off and ease the pain! But having one with me on a 'just-in-case' basis has genuinely become a valuable reassurance. And not just for winter use. So I always have one in the car, all the year round.
Does carrying a stout stick discourage a would-be attacker? It probably does. My hazel stick could certainly be used as a credible weapon, of the cudgel sort. On several occasions, I've been glad to have it in my hands in lonely places or when walking back to the car after sunset in the twilight. On only rare occasions has a man been in view, and no doubt they were as wary of me as I was of them. I would in theory be prepared to clobber anyone who came too close, but as it has never yet happened I have no idea what I would in fact do. Fingers crossed that I am never put to the test!
One fear I have is hitting any attacker too hard and fracturing a skull - that could have unwelcome consequences for both myself (possibly being charged with assault) and the attacker (possibly brain injury). In this respect, a featherweight aluminium telescopic walking pole is safer, as you can't knock anybody out with it. On the other hand, it's no deterrent against misbehaviour. You can't win.