Barefoot in cumbria


A few years ago you would never have caught me without shoes and socks. As a teenager I was so well known for my opposition towards the naked foot that friends used to joke that I didn’t take shoes off even in bed. I did, though I confess, being a typical northern lad who cared little for personal hygiene, the socks were sometimes remained on in the harsh winter nights.

Ironic then, that I should end up living and being deeply attached to Bangladesh where the normal day to day routine for most of its inhabitants is barefoot. At most, you will see dusty, old sandals being worn on the roads, to be kicked off when the home, field or dokan is reached. In the city business offices you will see shoes and socks but then you will also see shirts and ties with a complete absence of national clothing. These are the clothes of the westernised middle classes on the whole and those that wear them, in my limited experience, have a tendency to look down on those wearing the traditional clothes of Bangladesh. Such people are, however, still a minority amongst a people who continue to depend primarily on their land and its farmers.

I am aware, amongst the westerners who read this blog, that many of you also prefer to kick off the shoes in your homes and may even get rid of socks during the warmer months. I was not one of those brought up to remove shoes at the door as a lad and have often grimaced when I visit friends who require this from their guests. I would always realise that I was wearing socks that seriously need darning just a little too late and I tended to consider it a little unhygienic actually. After all, feet that have been in shoes all day tend to smell badly when taken out. Not nice in someone else’s home.

Well, much has changed in my attitude. In Bangladesh it is just far too hot for nearly 50 weeks of the year to wear shoes unless you know you are going to be working in well air-conditioned rooms (or at least have powerful ceiling fans). I suffer in the heat badly and as a kid I used to collapse regularly during summer weeks, needing vitamin drops daily to survive. I still don’t maintain body weight, sweating off every ounce of fat, and dislike being in the sun. In Bangladesh I suffer badly if I have to wear trousers for any length of time preferring the half-pant, as shorts are called in Bangla, but continuing to resist the wraparound lungi which still looks, in my mind, like a skirt. In such conditions sandals and no socks are essential and the tradition of removing footwear inside is a godsend. The feeling of a cool, concrete floor on your feet is as good, or better, than a cool breeze.

So, on returning to Cumbriaa month ago, I was surprised just how many places I’ve visited where shoes stay firmly on. Even in homes where the shoes may come off, the socks remain. Now, I am feeling the cold here despite everyone telling me “oh you’ve brought the Bangladeshweather with you!” (no, really, we haven’t – it’s freezing here) but everyone else thinks it is warm. I really don’t know how anyone can bear to wear socks. I can honestly say that, in one month of living in one of the hottest months of the English season, I have seen less than 5 pairs of bare feet at any time, not counting my own family’s.

I’ve tried kicking off my Bangla sandals (the only footwear I currently possess) in various places – restaurants, churches, houses, cars – but find myself at odds with those around. No one else is doing the same. I don’t know whether it is imagined or real, but I am sure I see people giving me looks.

No matter, this is what I am used to now and I love it. I hate having to have anything on my feet at all – certainly not socks – and people can stare all they want. I may be terribly out of fashion but hey, I was never in fashion anyway, so who cares? I’ve turned 40 and now I can really behave disgracefully.

So, no surprise then, when recently we turned up in Coniston to visit friends holidaying there that I decided our walk up the “old man” would be done in sandals. I did have a pair of trainers borrowed from my father-in-law and a pair of socks normally reserved for the harsh Bangla shitkal weather, but I was reluctant to assault my feet with them. I asked if the walk would be a leisurely one along clear paths on the and was assured this would be the case. So the trainers and socks remained in the car.

However, when one is with families, plans change. After an hour of delightful walking, exploring, going into caves, looking at disused mining shafts and buildings and splashing in running streams, we had walked much further than intended and the way down was now pathless, rocky and steep. As we started down it became obvious my slippy sandals were going to be the death of me.

So, off they came.

Even for me, going down a rocky hill (for my Bangladeshi friends who don’t know Cumbria- a small mountain) barefoot was a bit odd. But down Coniston I came anyway. Four years ago my soft and pathetic feet would never have managed more than a couple of steps accompanied by many “ouch” and “ooh” remarks before giving up. But I loved it now. It was like getting a foot massage off the rocks followed by a warm mud bath whenever I trod inโ€ฆwell, mud. Finally, at the bottom a cool bathe in the stream to clean up and my feet were as good as new.

Yet again my perspectives on life have changed. When I return to Bangladesh I am less likely to look at the poor villager walking barefoot on the dusty stony road and think “poor you”. Instead, I will have an urge to kick off my own sandals and go join them in their walk. I suspect they might rather have my sandals if they can’t afford their own, but I will certainly enjoy the freedom.

There is, though, one place where my view on footwear has not changed, maybe because, bar Cox’s Bazaar which boasts the world’s longest of all, Bangladesh doesn’t really have (m)any.


Can’t bear sand underfoot. Never could, never will. Unlike everyone else who seems to delight in it in England, you are unlikely to get me out of sandals on a beach. It’ll take a lot more than barefoot hill walking to bring me to that.

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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8 Responses to Barefoot in cumbria

  1. Vikki Ford-Powell says:

    I love bare feet, best way to go. Glad my husband has finally seen sense but we obviously need to do a bit more work to get those feet paddling in the surf. The only problem I have is that my circulation is so bad that my toes go white and drop off in England…socks have to stay for the winter months!


    • now circulation isn’t my problem though I may have to do socks too come December. I love that you barely need socks at all in Bangladesh. Maybe for those two weeks in January when it gets really bad. But I don’t think the beach will ever happen. I don’t know anyone who really really likes the feeling of sand in their toes! Didn’t see you go down that hill in bare feet though wife!


  2. Rachel Denwood says:

    I LOVE being barefoot! Even though in general I hate feet. I freak out if someone touches mine or touches me with theirs. I’m with you Nic on the hundreds of pairs of shoes, its admittedly my only girly vice. However I go out in a beautiful pair and as soon as I sit down they’re off under the table. Even my office at work is a no-shoes zone (with a pair on standby incase a client needs to see me!)


    • I can picture you being like that Rachel! I really don’t get the 100s of shoes thing that you girls get into but totally there with you about kicking off the shoes as soon as possible! ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Tracy says:

    From someone who gets her flip-flops and birks out in April and usually sticks it out until October, I wholeheartedly agree – apart from the beach bit, you heretic! Stood 6 days out of 7 on the beach at the water’s edge last week and think it is one of the most restorative activities on earth! Walking barefoot on a beach is the best bit … now if we’re talking the pebbley bit at St Bees, I’m with you there – that definitely requires the flip-flops to stay in place. Guitar, beers and barefeet on the beach very soon?? Hope so! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • I hope so too Tracy! Though the pebbles on the beach were much smoother than the rocks and stones at Coniston. Stones I can cope with but sand?…never! You do realise sand is just glass in another form?… ๐Ÿ˜› x


  4. Nicky Branch says:

    I have always.. and will always.. love walking barefoot. Admittedly I have an addition to shoes.. but I don’t like to wear them.. despite now having over 200 pairs…

    I really wish being barefoot was more acceptable in England… I often walk out of the house to Tesco.. or wherever to to realise half way that I have, in fact, forgotten to put on footwear. That realisation is usually accompanied by a cigarette butt between the toes, or a bit of glass poking in… but the normal bumps, stones and even puddles of the pavement and roads rarely cause me any concern.

    Liberate your feet! Lets start a barefoot revolution!!!

    Nicky x


    • I’m with you honey all the way! I think you would be very welcome in Bangladesh. I can’t believe you have over 200 pairs though! That’s just crazy!! I bet they are all lovely though and, from what I know of Bangladeshi women, when they do have to wear sandals and shoes for formal engagements, they love to have them shiny and sparkly and just as beautiful as western women like their own shoes. Some things cross cultures unchanged I guess…


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