wax and water

Simply because of where we live, this year has, I think, not been tough as it has proved for so many other people. I feel enormously grateful to be able to just step outside and go for a walk in wonderful rural scenery directly from our front door. And for me personally, the importance of my walks has definitely increased over the past few months: I’ve not been able to go to a gym or pool since March and so I’ve just replaced that kind of exercise with . . . yet more walking. Since March, I’ve made a point of walking for at least an hour with the dogs every morning, in all weathers. The weather has been pretty variable (particularly so of late), but I’ve kept up my long daily walks. And while walking on a fresh, dry, sunny morning is of course wonderful, I’ve also found I’ve started to really enjoy walking in what’s more commonly thought of as “bad” weather – most especially in the rain.

One reason for the increase in my enjoyment of wet-weather walking is simply that I’m doing it in better clothing. In the past I have tended to be a bit sniffy about waterproof trousers – especially in the years prior to my stroke – when I was able to walk much longer distances than I do now. I have realised recently that my dislike of such garments was simply one of the “wrong trousers” – I don’t really think there’s that much for anyone to like about the kind of cheap, lightweight over-trouser that is barely water resistant, let alone waterproof (you know the kind of thing I mean). But earlier this year I invested in a great pair of weatherproof trousers from Fjällräven, and their effect has been transformative! (To be clear, Fjällräven are not paying me, I just really like these pants)

happy in my rain pants

These pants are certainly not cheap, but they are most definitely built to last. They have lots of pockets, and a sort of intuitive, articulated, woman-specific shape that’s really built for walking. And, best of all, you can improve and build up the garment’s water and weatherproofing by adding layers of wax.

Greenland wax

I learned a little about the history of waxed canvas when I was working on our People MAKE Glasgow book and writing about TRAKKE, (a local manufacturer of beautiful hand-made bags). I was excited and interested to find out that waxed canvas actually has its origins in Scotland. Based in Arbroath, eighteenth-century Scottish weaver, Francis Webster, once manufactured hard-wearing sails for naval and commercial shipping. Experimenting with textiles and waterproof treatments for the naval and commercial sails he was commissioned to produce, Webster discovered that a new type of cotton canvas that had been treated with linseed oil marked a significant improvement on the heavy woven linen he’d previously used for his sailcloth. Introduced in 1795, Websters’s oil-treated cotton sails were much lighter, more weatherproof, and both qualities made them much more efficient – setting the standard for the sails used for speedy nineteenth-century clippers. Then, over the course of the nineteenth century, Scottish mills became renowned throughout the world for producing a wide range of top-quality oiled and waxed cloths – used for many things from army tents to luxury outerwear.

making cotton canvas bags at Trakke

There’s not much of a waxed canvas manufacturing industry in Scotland anymore, but great companies like Trakke certainly keep the tradition going. It made sense to me that a country that sees so much rain would be great at making waterproof cloth and I wondered why so few of us waxed our garments any more? A few weeks later, I decided to have a go myself, bought myself my new rain pants, and waxed them up for a wet weather walk. And several months down the line, I’m a complete convert to this process. I love that waxing the fabric of my trousers helps preserve them and increases their durability and wearability, as well as keeping me dry. And there’s something very intentional and purposeful about the act of waxing a garment – preparing for the weather, getting ready for the next walk, taking care of one’s clothes, thinking about how a garment wears through time, and so on. It’s just a generally satisfying thing to do. So, in short, I bought a pair of waterproof trousers; I now regularly wax them; and I’ve found I love both the pants themselves and this method of protecting and weatherproofing them. (For those who have never tried it, the wax is easy to apply, – it just irons in and washes out – and for really wet weather walking, you can add several layers, focusing on the areas that get wettest – such as the front of your knees).

But the best thing about waxed, weatherproof trousers, is, of course, that they are brilliant for walking in the rain. And I feel inspired to write this post today because it is particularly wet and windy out there and because I’ve heard a few folk complaining about the weather, and the fact that it makes it harder for them to get outside. It’s undoubtedly true that wet or cold weather makes walking more difficult (particularly for disabled people) but if your problem with rain is simply that you don’t like getting wet, then (as someone who formerly foolishly sneered at rain pants) may I heartily recommend investing (if you can) in some decent wet-weather trousers, and taking the time to waterproof them with wax.

Tom was laughing at me this morning when I came back from my long morning walk, dripping water all over the hall, while loudly extolling the virtues of my wondrous rain pants. But I’m already looking forward to tomorrow’s walk, whether it is pouring with rain or not!

Happy wet weather walking!