One torrential winter’s day in Italy, I had no sooner left the hotel than my shoes were sodden. Getting drenched and shiveringly cold is not what most of us picture when we head to Tuscany. Most sensible people, of course, don’t go in the months between Halloween and Easter, when the land of sun-baked poplars and shimmering white country roads shows its other face.

That year, as the Arno considered whether to overflow its flood defences, the streets of Florence were awash. My spare pair of shoes was already sitting under a radiator, drying out. There was only one option if the day was to be enjoyed without the accompaniment of squelching socks.

In the commercial heart of the city, within a minute’s walk of the Piazza della Signoria, was a relic from another age. I’d often looked longingly in the window. Crowded on every side by delicatessens, wine bars, leather boutiques and gift emporia designed to snare visitors, was a venerable saddler’s that appeared untouched by time.

In the window was a haphazard assortment of saddles, riding boots, crops, stirrups and bridles. Unlike most Florentine displays, no thought had gone into presentation. Even so, the beauty of the objects drew the eye, and that morning one item in particular caught my attention. They were Chelsea riding boots, made not of the glorious chestnut leather of the saddles, but of rubber. Moments later I emerged, safely shod against the storm.

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In the 15 and more years since, they have served me well – so well, in fact, that their once tractor-like tread has worn almost smooth. Landing on my back during a frosty walk, and slithering down a muddy bank in the garden recently, made it clear that, while they still look new, their day is almost done. In a move that ought to have been commemorated by bugles, they have been despatched to the garden shed, to spend their twilight days among the spades, paint pots and mower. Sadly, they outlasted the saddler’s. It finally closed a few years back, as we feared it must.

Obviously I could not have retired my boots until a replacement had been found. You might think it a simple matter to source ankle boots fit for a wild garden and a Scottish climate, but I struggled. Websites died on me, or were sold out.

Thanks in part to lockdown, when walking the dog or wandering the park became an opportunity to make a fashion statement, wellies have been enjoying a comeback. Indeed, almost everything rustic-looking has become desirable, as a wardrobe fit for grouse-shooting at Balmoral comes into vogue, even if you live in Pilton rather than Pitlochry.

I have never liked full-length wellies, from the smell of raw unlined rubber to the dead-fish clamminess under the knees. Things have moved on a bit since my schooldays, when the dreariness of grey boots made a rainy day even dreicher. But nor can I embrace today’s eye-popping colours and cheery prints. After all, gardening is a serious business, as is stomping down to take a look at the river, and watch the water level rise around the dipper’s stone.

To be fair to fashionistas, the new country look is in most respects like the old country look, not least in its autumnal drabness. The whole point of rural wear is to blend into the background, lest you scare the ptarmigan or give doomed deer notice of your arrival.

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While boots the shade of a pillar box might be wise in an Appalachian forest during open season, they are less clever in our glens or hills as Land Rovers disgorge hunting parties to squirm through the heather on their bellies, in the hope of getting a twelve-point stag in their crosshairs.

Moss and tobacco coloured tweeds and dull jackets with a multiplicity of pockets in which to lose things are the hillwalker’s camouflage. By comparison, the army’s multi-terrain combat gear looks frankly amateur. Around Hoolet, you’d spot an advancing platoon disguised as a thicket miles off, whereas poachers or game-hunters in traditional garb could hide behind the potted bay trees on your doorstep and you’d take them for foliage.

I’m no keener on the smell or texture of wax than of rubber, but it has its place. Once they’re well-worn, waxed fabrics are better suited to creeping up quietly on your object than the crisp-packet rustle of man-made waterproofs. If you were hoping to blend in and not disturb the wildlife, these are as good as sending up a flare.

Tweed is best of all, if you like to remain inconspicuous. One of the essentials of rural garb, however, is that it allows you to endure hours of rain without worrying about pneumonia. Tweed is fine in smirr or common rain, but when subjected to a deluge grows heavy as a fleece. Just thinking of Highlanders of yore doing a day’s work in their damp plaids, and then curling up beneath them at night, makes me reach for the Lemsip.

The other point about outdoor outfits is that, when faced with the elements, you don’t care about your appearance. An ear-friendly deerstalker, which looks barmy in Sauchiehall Street, justifies its existence on the snowy wastes of Rannoch moor, these being the Arctic conditions for which it was designed. Woodsman hats with droopy ear flaps are fine in a Coen brothers movie, but few self-respecting Borderers would be seen dead in them.

In the heart of Edinburgh last week I passed a man who might have fitted into Roxburghshire in the days of John Buchan. He was wearing a dashing tweed coat, but it was the stoat pelt dangling around his neck that marked him out, and not in a good way.

The irony was not lost on me that, in the search for a replacement for my Florentine boots, I had to head to the city. The shelves of the home of the waxed jacket were empty, as if a posse of dog walkers had just passed through. There was, however, exactly the pair I was looking for in a window in Rose Street, the last ones in my size. Back home they were put immediately to work, and are now caked in Borders mud, which is just as it should be.

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