Walkers are usually middle- or late-aged (in spirit if not in body), and are distinctively attired, almost always with a hump on the back (see 'Knapsack' below). They often wear a breastplate and are found in a specific habitat. They can be of either gender and are often solitary though frequently seen in pairs (less often in groups). When actively walking, they often prefer the single file formation.
PlumageThey are easily recognised by their distinctive dress: stout boots, thick socks, waterproof trousers and jackets with hoods. Some, curiously, have four legs rather than the usual (for humans) two, with the 'extra' pair either clasped in fists or neatly telescoped and strapped on their back for later use when the going gets tough. Very, very occasionally, you may spot a six-legged form, the two 'extra' pairs being differently tipped for different purposes.
It might assist identification to examine this clothing more closely, from the bottom up, as it were:
As is the case with other types of human, eg, athletes, young people, the walker wears boots of a great many parts, usually of plastic, carefully assembled by underpaid workers in factories on the other side of the world. The difference here is that the walker's boots are specifically designed to produce blisters on heels and toes. The boots are worn only on the main legs. The other, telescopic legs have (sometimes interchangeable) tips that are spiked or ferruled.
The socks are invariably thick. They will contain complicated panels of different knits designed to convince the walker that he or she will not get blisters when walking and are thus well worth forking out perhaps twenty times as much dosh as an 'ordinary' sock. They do not, of course, prevent blisters.
The walker's trousers are quite distinct from those of 'normal' humans. They are usually waterproof, loose-fitting, with logos and - a recent innovation this - go-faster stripes. They have large numbers of capacious pockets with assorted zips, buttons, poppers and velcro fastenings, plastic loops for fastening things to, and the giveaway horizontal zip at the knee enabling almost instant transformation to shorts. This, more than any other, feature signals 'walker', though it is not compulsory. Beware of labelling every horizontally-zipped legged trouser-wearer as a walker. Some may simply be DIY superstore - or even Sunday morning municipal dump - visitors, or even walker wannabes.
The jacket1 is also waterproof, has nearly as many capacious pockets, zips, bits of velcro, pockets within pockets and so forth and will also additionally, have a variety of toggles here and there. The collar always contains a hood, which, in serious jackets, is peaked to keep rain away from spectacles. Various logos and stripes abound.
You will have noted the multitude of pockets in this clothing and may assume that all these pockets collectively could hold everything a walker could possibly want during the day (indeed, it is true). Nevertheless all walkers additionally carry a knapsack on their back. 2
You may have noticed the little footnote acknowledging the symbiotic relationship of the walker with sheep. Another feature of this is the fleece (made of nylon) worn under the jacket. In warm weather, the Walker will shed his/her jacket to reveal this often brightly-coloured garment. You could draw your own conclusion as to the relative intelligence of the two species by observing that the walker wears the woolly side of the fleece inwards, while the sheep wears it facing outwards.
Not strictly speaking an item of clothing, it is nevertheless worn by all walkers (except those in mixed gender pairs, in which case the male (usually) wears the sack, whilst the female roams free and unencumbered). You may find the name used here, 'knapsack', a little odd, because in shops, catalogues and polite conversation they are almost always referred to as backpacks, daysacs, or rucksacks (all in a variety of spellings). Most walkers, however, were raised in a period when it was common practice for families to group around the radio on Sunday lunchtimes and sing along to the popular ditty 'I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track, and as I go, I love to sing, with a knapsack on my back. Valderee..eee valderaa..aaah', etc. This will not, however, be admitted to, or sung in the company of, non-walkers.
The knapsack contains, as with the clothing, many capacious pockets. In addition it has nets and straps on the outside for fastening bits and pieces, in particular the removeable legs referred to above. The more they cost, the less they weigh. It is itself secured to an in-built frame designed to fit a walker's back, with several straps, clasps and buckles to secure it there.
The non-walker will be wondering by now what it is that the walkers keep inside all these pockets in sacks and in clothes. Surely all she or he needs are a small first aid kit (for blisters) a bottle or two of water, perhaps a guidebook and a mobile phone. There may be the need for a sandwich or two. What else is there? That, dear non-walker, must remain a secret, fiercely protected by the code of the Walker brotherhood. You will never know until you join. Perhaps just one tidbit could be revealed, for it, in its way, reveals something of the mindset of the animal. Inside the knapsack is hidden a rolled cover of waterproof material. At the onset of rain the Walker will stop, extract this cover, and wrap it round the knapsack. You may ask why the knapsack is not simply made of waterproof material. Another secret I am afraid.
Many, not all it has to be said, Walkers can be characterised by their breastplates. These hang around their necks upside-down. Should you get close enough to read them, you will see that they are covered with hieroglyphics and highlit lines, squiggles in felt-pen markings and frequent crosses and circles. They are referred to as maps, but are used more as touch-stones. The walker will frequently stop, carefully peruse the breastplate, and then resume course. It may be observed that stops for map-reading occur more frequently as the walk progresses. It is as if the Walker needs more and more frequent reassurance as to his or her route as the day progresses. Or more rests!
The walker is, essentially, a rural species. The urban equivalent is referred to as a pedestrian, although the equivalence is not exact. They are found most often on high ground, hills and clifftops, but can also be seen on river banks and, occasionally, in open country. They rarely use roads, preferring 'paths', 'ways', 'walks' 'trails' and 'tracks'. They seem to congregate in areas managed by The National Trust, or in National Parks.3and will often be found in the evenings in Pubs and restaurants, cheerfully chatting with other Walkers. They are thought to spend the nights in Bed and Breakfasts. No sexual activity has ever been observed. It is not known how they reproduce, nor have juveniles ever been observed.
Walkers, generally, are great greeters of each other. They will, without fail, communicate with other walkers, even when actively walking. A close observation of such encounters reveals, however, that such communications involve a very limited vocabulary indeed, referring only to the time of day and the weather. 'Mornin'. Not so bad, then.' 'Mornin' No, thought it might rain but looks like its holding off.' might be a typical exchange. Should you overhear them casually chatting in, for example, a pub, you may hear descriptions of old walks, but weather will certainly feature strongly.
If you are very lucky, you may occasionally observe a more animated exchange between a mixed-sex pair of walkers, which may well be a vestige of some sort of forgotten courtship dance. This usually involves a mutual consultation of the breastplates, much waving of arms, pointing of artificial legs in opposite directions and raised voices. If you interrupt such an exchange by passing by, the pair will immediately stop the ceremony and exchange pleasantries with you, only resuming when you are out of sight. If, however, you can observe from a distance, you may be lucky enough to observe a culmination. The male will often stomp off in one direction, with the female refusing to follow. The male will then return, and offer some lower-toned entreaties before the female agrees to follow. Promises of ice-cream may be involved.
Outwardly similar, the hiker is a far more serious species than the walker. The clothing is often older, more worn, and tighter fitting - equipping the hiker for speed. It may well have more stripes and logos. It is rumoured that the boots may be so old and well-worn that they are no longer capable of generating blisters. The backpack is often bigger and may well have a bedroll mounted on it The hiker, you see, will travel faster and further than the walker, may spend the night in tents or comfortless hostels. He (or she - though females of this species are less frequently spotted), is very often solitary, and will travel up to 20 or 30 kilometres in a day, with a firm destination in mind. The hiker never wanders or walks in circles, or pauses to enjoy the view. They concentrate on the walking and the destination. Vocabulary is even more limited than that of the walker.
Again, first appearances can be deceptive. The rambler appears to be similarly clad to the walker and the hiker, but closer examination reveals a more casual approach to clothing - less in the way of logos and more in the way of comfort. They favour small 'daysacs', worn often over one shoulder rather than both. They are far more social than the other two species and may appear in large numbers, with females predominant. They are most easily distinguished by their roaming habit. Often they will travel no more than a few kilometres, at a slow pace, in a circle centred on a car park. They will often return to their home at nights, but have been known to favour 'boutique hotels' rather than the walker's B&B. They are often younger than walkers and may be accompanied by children. There is a theory that they may be the missing juvenile walkers, It may be that it is they, rather than the other two that will survive as they alone seem to have acquired the skills of reproduction.
National Stereotypes or Sub-species?
It is difficult, of course, to decide whether outward differences between walkers are within the spectrum of 'normal' or whether they deserve marking with the distinction of the 'sub-species' label. A rigorous5 and scientific6 survey was conducted on the 'Cinques Terres' Path on the Ligurian coast of Italy. (A route that attracts a wide assortment of walkers, and is commended to you.) It seems that there are several true sub-species, easily distinguished from each other. The following classification may be proposed:
Walkerus Britannicus - Notably scruffy, prone to wear shorts, red in face, knee and elbows. Sweaty.
Walkerus Germanicus - Smartly dressed with all possible accessories, including the rarely-spotted water tank in the knapsack with tube for replenishment without stopping walking, specially designed nose-shields for walking in the sun and aertex floppy hats for the same purpose. Often in family groups (They have mastered reproductive techniques). Quiet.
Walkerus Galliacus - Not just smartly dressed, but immaculately so, with all clothing and kit matching in colour, logo and stripe. Quiet and reserved, except when using mobile phones.
Walkerus Italliacus - Hardly identifiable as a walker species, with total disregard for the conventions of walking and correctness of attire. May well be seen with flip-flops instead of boots! Very noisy, and frequently in large extended family groups. They seem not only to have learnt how to reproduce, but positively enjoy doing so. Remarkable creatures.