Well, that's goodbye to 2013. And what a year it's been for me! Not only have I accomplished my aim to start country walking regularly again, but I've also fulfilled my very long-standing ambition of climbing a mountain. In fact, not just one. During the course of the year I've climbed five "proper" mountains, which in the UK is anything over 2,000 feet. So as the year draws to a close I'm not only feeling very pleased with myself, I'm also highly motivated to continue and improve. And as 2014 begins I will be writing in my blog about my aims and fitness plans for the year ahead.
I'm not quite sure why this one beats the likes of Skiddaw or Ingleborough. Partly, I suppose, it's because it was quite strenuous, but not too tough. Partly because I really loved the view and just the overall feeling/atmosphere on the summit. But also because the name sounds great when it's said in Alfred Wainwright's accent!
Brewed by the Cumbrian brewery Jennings, this is a rich and creamy taste of Lakeland. I haven't been able to find it on sale anywhere except the Lakes, sadly. For me it's a fitting reward at the end of a long Lakeland walk or climb. So much so that towards the end of our lengthy and very tiring walk in Borrowdale I found that by chanting "Snecklifter, Snecklifter" I was actually walking a little faster.
This was a tough choice as I've visited some excellent hostelries this year. The Wheatsheaf wins because it ticked so many boxes - homely accommodation, great food, good beer (Hobgoblin...a close second to Snecklifter), very friendly staff and great entertainment (an excellent three piece heavy rock band when we were there).
This wasn't just a hotel room, it was a massive suite (sitting room, bedroom and spa bathroom) - all for the same price as an average bed and breakfast in the Lake District. Alright, so Haltwhistle itself isn't an amazing place, but who cares when there's a hotel of this calibre so close to Hadrian's Wall!
This award was a no-brainer for me. And if you ever get a chance to try their butterfly chicken with leek and stilton sauce and chargrilled sweet potato wedges, you'll know what I mean. Hell, I could get in my car and drive there and back right now just to eat this meal!
When I look back over all the walks I've done this year, this is the one that stands out in my mind the most. The scenery was gorgeous, the route was varied (a variety of grassy pastures, limestone pavement, moorland and quiet country lanes) and also I can't quite describe how poignant and moving I found the experience of visiting Mossdale. This is a walk I would love to do again.
Not only does this hotel provide the most wonderful rooms of anywhere I've ever been, the food is pretty damned fantastic too. In fact, it only just missed out on my evening meal award. I could wax lyrical but instead just one word sums up their cooked breakfasts - perfection. Enough said.
Amazing rooms, fantastic food and lovely staff, all at a very reasonable price. This will be a hard act to follow next year...and I'm pretty sure I'll be visiting again soon!
I really, really would have liked to have awarded this one to a small independent, non-chain store. But I can't. Go Outdoors have a fantastic range of gear and their prices are hard to beat. For example, I found a Rab softshell jacket I wanted in a small shop in Keswick and nearly bought it. I didn't. And then I found it at Go Outdoors for £45 less. Unfortunately, I'm not wealthy enough to go around giving an extra £50 here and there, just to keep small businesses in business. It's a shame really. And so, with that in mind, I've added another category......
A VERY close second to Go Outdoors. The prices are reasonable although the range (understandably) isn't quite as massive. They do mail order and this service is excellent, although nothing compares with actually visiting their lovely big store in Ingleton which is a real treat to look around and the staff are extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.