Shillelaghs tend to attract walkers. In the UK “walker” can mean anything from enthusiastic fitness types, to history-loving urban flaneurs, to rugged “six months worth of gear in a frame pack” types (known elsewhere in the world as “backwoodsmen”).
But is there a shillelagh that could meet the needs of all those types, people who on any given day might walk around a neighbourhood, a city block, or a mountain trail? If you were buying one stick to meet all those tasks, what would you choose?
Now at the Claymore Shillelagh Workshop of course we recognise the question for the sophistry that it is. Any stick enthusiast worth his salt has a stick for each day of the week much less each type of terrain (and moreover to the stick man, it will be hugely obvious which is for walking in the city on a grim dark Monday and which is for strolling the country in tweeds on the weekend).
However let’s pretend for a moment the question comes from one of these simplistic, elegant hygge-minimalism types. If you had to pick a single all-terrain stick, how would you pick it?
Some things to consider are as follows.
Grip. Whilst traditionally city canes have smaller heads, this makes a stick less effortless to carry if you’re looking for it to serve double duty as a rambling stick. Fortunately either a “claymore” style head, or a New England style head achieves the same ease of carry of a large head without looking out of place on a city cane (due to the head looking like a handle, rather than simply a knob for clobbering ruffians).
Thickness. An overly thick stick will look odd in the city and be heavy carry in the country therefore (unless you’re planning on duelling or fair-fighting with it) a thinner stick around 2 inches circumference will work well.
Length – this is the key concern. For city strolling most walkers want a short stick reaching from (with arms relaxed) the knuckles of the hand to the ground. This allows a certain jaunty swing as one walks, allows extra balance on city surfaces, but doesn’t draw too much attention or inconvenience other walkers.
Yet the whole point of a rambling stick is to provide balance as you climb difficult terrain, and to act as an extra limb for propulsion, making your walk safer and more efficient. A Rambling stick might therefore extent from navel height to the nipple line or higher.
The solution is to go for a moderate length rambling stick, somewhere between the navel and the beltline, but to continue to carry the walking stick as though you were using it on ramble , even when in the city. That is to say the stick is carried extended behind you, touching the ground behind the hip, like a cross country skier using a ski pole.
This means even a relatively long stick looks like it’s of merely knuckle-to-ground length, provides a little extra oomph and balance during short city walks, and stays out of the way of other passersby.
This is also the (strictly speaking) more correct way to use a stick even in the city. Remember even in the city a stick is with you as a means of balance and propulsion. The only people who should walk around carrying their sticks are jockeys and disgruntled Sergeants-Major (and you can usually spot one by the brightly coloured silks and the other by the moustache).