KEEN’s new Feldberg boot is named after two German peaks: the highest mountain in the Black Forest and a popular urban climb on the outskirts of Frankfurt. This creation of hybrid footwear for outdoor play and urban exploration inspired us to embark on our own urban hiking odyssey. We tasked Ernest designer Monty to take on The (Bristol) Three Peaks Challenge – a made-up urban version of the infamous National Three Peaks Challenge, in which hikers summit Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. How would Feldberg fare on Bristol’s city heights?
Words: Johnathan Montelongo
Photos: Alex Jefferis
Like Lisbon and Rome, Bristol is rumoured to be built on seven hills. Discuss this with any of the city’s innumerable cyclists and you could easily double or treble that number. Personally, I’ve always believed that the centre of Bristol is a basin and that all departure routes lead uphill. So this urban landscape, my home city, was the ideal place to road test KEEN’s robust and water resistant new hiking boots, the Feldberg.
The Feldberg Mid WP (£140) is essentially a hybrid hiker – a versatile, European-made boot that is said to perform just as well in the asphalt jungle as on wilderness hill treks. There’s a choice of two colours/materials – a handsome earthy brown nubuck leather or an anthracite grey suede with dashing red laces. Both styles are made with a breathable KEEN.Dry® waterproof membrane, providing reliable protection against the elements, and are identical in terms of fit and comfort.
For this challenge, I laced up the slate grey pair, with an intense pop of postbox red laces, and plotted my route up three of Bristol’s peaks. First, I would scale Park Street (the city’s iconic terraced shopping thoroughfare) to Brandon Hill with its Victorian Cabot Tower. Next, I would ramble across town, dipping under the Bear Pit and striding across Stokes Croft to tackle the short but impossibly steep Nine Tree Hill. Finally, I would test the boots tread on the hidden hillock that rises above St Werburghs in the north east of the city, known locally as the ‘tump’. By the end of the day, I was hoping to capture three unique portraits of a city I love.
Peak 1: Brandon Hill
After a particularly busy week I was excited to don the Feldbergs, with a thick pair of hiking socks, and put some miles under my feet with our photographer Alex. Having only just recovered from a ruptured ligament in my left ankle, I appreciated the unyielding support these boots provided and the wet cobble-stones leading up to Park Street were no match for the deep tread of the rubber outsole.
Once at the top, we befriended a loft of curious pigeons who, I’m convinced, approved of the high-contrast boot and lace combo. Cabot Tower stands at 105ft (32 m) and was built in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the journey of John Cabot from Bristol to Newfoundland. The narrow, spiral staircase up the middle of Cabot Tower was a doddle thanks to KEEN’s metatomical footbed, which gave sturdy support from toe to heel, and the damp, painted concrete underfoot bore no slip hazard for these feet!
Peak 2: Nine Tree Hill
Nine Tree Hill, which looms above Stokes Croft, has been testing walkers’ lung capacity for the past 2,000 years. The route is believed to date back to Roman times, heading on to Fremantle Road and then on to the port at Sea Mills. At the top you’ll find a hidden piece of Bristol’s history – Prior’s Hill Fort, built to defend the north side of Bristol during the English Civil War (1642-1646). Industrious Edwardians and Victorians built houses along its contours, before the tarmac road and high-rise flats joined the landscape in the last century.
You’re rewarded at the top with a view of Bristol at its edgy, independent best: street art, coffee shops, the painted arches of the Carriageworks, rows of colourful townhouses and wraparound green hills in the distance (all departure routes lead uphill!). I chose this hill partly for the view, but also because it’s a short but straight-up schlep, which forces the body and feet to be at awkward angles for a prolonged period. Other than the deep traction on wet concrete and drainage covers, I felt my ankles (the good one and the recovering one) benefitted from the solid yet flexible, multi-material construction of the boot.
Peak 3: The St Werburghs ‘tump’
As the temperature dropped and the winter light began to fade, we made for our final destination. The official name of this hill is Narroways – site of many a rave, an Ernest team favourite for meteor watching and now a much-loved nature reserve, saved from development in the late 90s. On warm days, you can apparently see slow worms basking on the railway banks and marbled white butterflies flitting amongst the knapweed.
I’d never ventured up the mound (or the ‘tump’, depending on which side of the tracks you’re from) before, so I had no idea of the terrain, gradient or view – a wrap-around 270˚ vista of East Bristol locked in between railway tracks. The short climb involved a handful of surfaces – path, loose gravel, crude steps cut into the hill and squidgy grass – all easy work for the boots, of course, but where they came into their own was once the sun started to set. The temperature continued to drop and the air soon became damp. While the rest of me started to notice, my feet remained toasty and dry. It made me think of all the sludgy hills and mountain streams I’d crossed on country walks, and how I’d really needed a pair of these back then.
I stood on the final peak and surveyed the city I’d just climbed, breathing in the sodium orange glow of the street lights. It had been a long day and I was certainly ready for a pint. Most importantly though, after a good six hours of city walking, my feet and legs still felt ship-shape and Bristol fashion. No mean feat in the city of seven hills.
This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with KEEN. Read more stories from the Ernest x KEEN partnership in our directory.
Look out for our feature on the two styles of Feldberg, coming up in print issue six in January 2017.
Follow KEEN's Feldberg adventures on Instagram using hashtag #feldbergiswhereyoustand