The introduction in recent years of the ‘hiking pole’ has been hailed as a new invention developed from the poles used by skiers. In fact, there’s nothing new about it at all, it’s simply a metal or composite fibre walking stick. Its main selling feature is that it’s adjustable for length and can be collapsed when not in use. It is not exactly a thing of beauty, so it is usually hidden away behind a door or in a cupboard. It lacks that indefinable individual character of a real stick… at one with both its owner and the environment in which it is being used. The hiking pole is an artefact of modern industrial society that takes no account of individuality or character. It cannot be denied, though, that it does offer adjustability which can be so useful in difficult terrain.
There have been walking stick makers for centuries. The manufacturing of even a plain chestnut crook involves 12 different skilled processes, including peeling, steaming, straightening, staining, varnishing and ferruling. A plain derby cane requires a minimum of 16 processes, rising to many more if it is decorated with scorched areas or carved spirals, or fitted with a smart brass collar. Often, very old, lovingly-maintained tools are used, and the required skills are passed down through generations of the same family. Making walking sticks is an art form in itself and it is important that the tradition should be maintained and upheld.
Very often one’s walking stick is much more than a mobility aid. Frequently it is a friend and companion. Indeed, the style and type of a walking stick can be indicative of its user’s personal style. A true countryman or woman is rarely seen out without his or her stick. The walking stick becomes an essential item when walking the dog, following country sports, attending county fairs or just out for a walk.
Over years of use, a wooden walking stick takes on a patina of age and a charm all of its own. The loss of one’s valued walking stick can be quite upsetting for its owner because a walking stick is one of the most personal of all accessories and the focus of memories and events.
Q. Wood or Metal?
A. Modern aluminium canes have advantages such as adjustability and foldability and, undoubtedly, have their place. However, they can never replace the uniqueness, the idiosyncrasy and the charm of a totally natural wooden walking stick.
Q. How does a wooden walking stick compare with a metal or collapsible walking stick?
A: Wooden walking sticks tend to have a natural feel and holistic appeal that metal walking sticks and canes simply can’t replicate. Aesthetically, wood trumps metal because artisans are able to create designs and patterns that simply are not possible to replicate with metal or mass-produced walking sticks. Wooden sticks offer the best of both worlds, i.e.beauty and utility.
Q. Is there a stigma around the use of a metal stick that does not always exist with a wooden stick?
A: Indeed so. In fact it’s not uncommon to find customers who see the use of a metal stick/cane as an admission of a medical problem whereas they look on a wooden stick/can as just a companion.