It may be an ugly duckling, but Sir Johnny Scott chooses his thumbstick as his favourite bit of kit. Comfortable to use, infinitely practical and still as good as new, it has been faithful field companion
It may lack aesthetic beauty and the natural elegance of a true hazel thumbstick, but this ugly duckling is still as good as it was new sometime before the Second World War. Sir Johnny Scott chooses his thumbstick as his favourite bit of kit – it has pulled him from tidal mudflats, dragged beasts from the hill and hauled him up the Cumbrian fells and continues to be a faithful field companion.
Find out what Rob Fenwick, managing director at EJ Churchill, couldn’t be without in the field. Read my favourite bit of kit: Rob Fenwick, to discover what DIY effort made of MDF is invaluable in the field.
SIR JOHNNY SCOTT
IN the corner of my hall is an old, elephant-foot stick stand overflowing with walking sticks. There are some with attachments for swatting thistles or digging out docks; ram’s-horn leg or neck crooks and half-a-dozen homemade hazel-shanked thumbsticks; a silver-topped Malacca sword stick with a Toledo blade; a spiked Austrian bergstock and an African knobkerrie bound with copper wire; a bamboo cane with a spirit level and boxwood measuring rod inside for assessing the height of a horse, made by Brigg; a selection with animal-head handles in bone, ebony or ivory – a terrier, greyhound, foxhound, horse – and one made of ivy with a snake entwined along its length.
Each has a special place in my heart but my favourite is an old, battered, wading pole with a hand piece made from the forked tines of a stag antler, a lead weighted antler stub at the bottom and a leather strap with a spring clip, attached to a link whipped onto the hazel shank. All I know of its provenance is that it was made for my grandfather sometime before the Second World War by a ghillie on the Delfur beat of the Lower Spey called Colin. It is a credit to the stickmaker’s art that it has survived intact for so long.
A purist might say this stick lacks the aesthetic beauty and natural elegance of a true hazel thumbstick, and they would be right; the shank is too thick, the weighted stub on the bottom makes it too heavy, the hand piece is too chunky and away from the river the leather strap with its spring clip and link looks out of place. However, apart from the purpose for which it was originally made, this ugly duckling of the stick world has been a true and faithful companion. It has freed me from the viscous ooze of countless tidal mudflats on ’fowling expeditions; hauled me up Cumbrian fells when I have been walking-out; and has been strong enough to drag a beast off the hill. Then, there is the detachable leather strap. This was made of ¼-inch bridle leather and measures 3½-foot long with a loop to go over the shoulder. Obviously its original function was to stop the stick being carried away whilst casting in fast-flowing deep water but it is astonishing how useful the strap is on terra firma when one needs two hands and there is nothing convenient nearby to prop the stick against – while using a pair of binoculars, for example, or lighting one’s pipe.
Practicalities aside, the reason the stick is my favourite bit of kit is because it is, above all, comfortable to use and that is essential in a stick. The hand piece must have come from an old beast that had been doing well, hence it is proud and well sprung, with a hollow below the V of the tines into which the pad at the base of one’s thumb fits snugly. Although heavy, the weighted stub makes the stick perfectly balanced and aids locomotion. More importantly, it is exactly the right height. The role of a thumbstick is to propel one over rough ground and to take the weight off the body when standing for any length of time. Thumbstick aficionados fall into two distinct groups: leaners and loungers. Leaners can be seen propped upright with arms folded, leaning insouciantly on the V of their stick; loungers place it in their oxter and lounge. I am in the latter category.
Sir Johnny Scott is a country writer and broadcaster.