Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My New Year's Honours List 2014

At the end of 2013 I wrote a blog post, almost on the spur of the moment, naming my favourite things from the year that had just passed.  I called it my "New Years Honours List".  I decided to make it a regular feature and so throughout 2014 I've been making a mental note of all the worthy contenders.  Here are the results!

Favourite Mountain - Blencathra 

It's been something of a landmark year for "Saddleback" (to use this mountain's alternative name).  Back in May it was announced that Lord Lonsdale was putting the mountain up for sale to raise funds towards the payment of death duties, and subsequently the group "Friends of Blencathra" was formed, with the aim of making a community purchase.  Ultimately, I suppose, whoever owns the mountain ought not to make much difference.  It should (I would hope) be so well protected with various pieces of legislation to prevent it from being exploited/spoiled/or whatever.  All the same, I like the idea of a dedicated group having custodianship of Blencathra.  And I like the idea of being a part of such a group.  So I made a donation.  And, at the time of writing, the negotiations over the sale continue to rumble on.

In July this year I climbed Blencathra for the first time.  I chose an easy route, as opposed to the rather daunting prospect of ascending via the arĂȘte known as Sharp Edge.  It was my first Lakeland climb of the year and one that will stay in my memory for a long time to come. 

Best Beer - Yorkshire Blackout

Brewed by the little brewery based at the New Inn, Cropton in the North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Blackout is a rich, dark, chocolately ale.  It's so delicious, in fact, that my decision to make it my "Beer of the Year" has been based purely on two pint glassfuls - consumed six months apart.  In my opinion, Jennings' "Snecklifter" takes some beating and the fact that Yorkshire Blackout can do so based on two samplings alone speaks volumes about how outstanding this beer really is!  I just wish it was easier to come by (to date I've only seen it on sale at the New Inn).

Pub of the Year - The Black Bull, Coniston

Like last year, this was a tough choice.  I actually wanted to give this award to The Buck Inn at Chop Gate, based on the excellent food and the friendliness of the owners (lovely people).  What changed my mind in favour of the Black Bull was mostly down to the beer.  The Black Bull has its own brewery and their Old Man Ale was a definite contender for my Beer of the Year.  I also enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere and, of course, the stunning location.
Room of the Year - The Trout Hotel, Cockermouth

When I booked a three-night short break at The Trout in October, I actually thought it was a pub.  On arrival I was a little disappointed to discover that it's a hotel and my first impression was that it was just a little bit stuffy.  How wrong I was!  Everything about this hotel was superb and our room was wonderful.  I also thought it represented excellent value for money, the cost of an "executive" room costing just a little more than a room in a Keswick guest house.  Cockermouth, you see, is just outside the boundaries of the National Park.  And this, for some reason, seems to make a difference.

Best Evening Meal - The Kings Arms, Keswick

We dined at the Kings Arms a few times this year and it was consistently good.  The Head Chef, Dan, creates a weekly special and his maple chicken with sweet potato wedges was amazingly delicious!  We tried several pubs and eateries in Keswick and, for me, this was by far the best.  

Walk of the Year (Long Distance) - The Yorkshire Wolds Way

A bit of a no-brainer, this one, seeing as I only actually completed one long distance route this year.  But then I could hardly judge all my other walks against this epic and thoroughly enjoyable adventure!

Walk of the Year (Day Walk) - Gunnerside Circular, Swaledale

This lovely walk had a bit of everything - a short climb at the beginning, gorgeous Dales scenery, industrial archaeology, waterfalls and interesting old ruins, concluding with a walk along the banks of the River Swale.  I have every intention of doing this walk again - hopefully before too long!

Best Breakfast - Brandelhow Guest House, Penrith

We don't usually stay in guest houses if we can help it.  Often they feel just a bit too much like someone's home (which, come to think of it, they are!) and we prefer the degree of anonymity you get when staying in a pub.  Not to mention the beer!  However, sometimes it can't be avoided.  Which is what happened in September when we decided to spend a couple of nights in Penrith.  The Brandelhow Guest House provides its guests with some truly delicious breakfast choices.  Like pancakes with bacon, maple syrup and scrambled egg which I much preferred to my usual choice of a Full English.  A delightful (and less fattening) change! 

Hotel of the Year - The Trout Hotel, Cockermouth

I loved everything about The Trout - the room, the food, the service.  Every aspect of our stay was of the highest quality without being pretentious or stuffy.  I look forward to the opportunity to stay there again.

Outdoor Retailer - George Fisher, Keswick

I'll be honest.  I always thought George Fisher was just a bit too expensive.  And for that reason I avoided shopping there.  Until, that is, in July, when I decided to get a new pair of boots.  I'd bought my previous pair of boots from Go Outdoors and although the price was very reasonable, I pretty much served myself in that I found a pair I liked, tried them on and then took them to the checkout.  At George Fisher, however, I had the personal attention of a member of staff for almost three hours.  He measured my feet, demonstrated foot movement with a plastic skeletal foot, waited whilst I walked round the shop in every pair I tried on (I even went for lunch in their cafe wearing a pair!).  We received a similar level of service when Tom was purchasing a new waterproof hard shell jacket and again when I bought a new head torch in November.  There's no question that the staff at George Fisher know their products and understand their customers.  And it's just a lovely shop - with a first rate cafe to boot (if you'll excuse the pun).

Book of the Year - The Moor: Lives - Landscape - Literature by William Atkins

Over the course of the year I've read several books relating to walking, the countryside and the places we like to visit.  The Moor was my favourite.  It's part memoir, part topographical, part natural history, starting with Bodmin Moor and working northwards to the Scottish Borders.  Along the way there are some fascinating insights into the history of our moorland regions and I especially enjoyed the stories relating to some of the characters from times gone by.  If I had one minor criticism it's that I'd like there to have been more about my own favourite moorland area, the North York Moors.  Of all the books I've read this year I think this is perhaps the one I would enjoy reading again.

Website - Yorkshire Walks

I used this website so often for inspiration throughout the year and have its home page permanently open on my ipad.  As the site's name suggests, most of the walks are based in Yorkshire, although there are also some in the Lakes and the Peak District as well.  Some of the walks are a little short, so even if I haven't followed the walks exactly, I've often adapted or extended them in some way which is easy to do thanks to the excellent mapping facility attached to each route.

That concludes my New Years Honours for 2014.  As always, I hope my recommendations and reviews may prove useful to others and I very much hope I'll be able to return in a year's time with another similar list of such excellent experiences. 

Finally, once again, I'd like to wish all my readers a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, 2015.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Photo Review of the Year 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, I thought it would be nice to look back at some of the highlights of my walking year.  What follows then is a month-by-month reminiscence of the year, in pictures.


The first walk of the year was a cold and blustery trudge across the North York Moors from Goathland, past Fylingdales and over Sneaton Moor, back to Goathland.  Even the sheep looked cold.

The going was tough, with long stretches of frozen mud and puddles on the higher ground.


We began February with a Yorkshire Wolds circular route, from Pocklington to the pretty village of Great Givendale.  The paths were muddy.

But some welcome winter sunshine gave us a very pleasant walk in this pretty part of the Yorkshire Wolds.

In mid February we walked from Sutton Bank, on a cold, crisp morning, starting with that all too familiar view.

And continuing in a circular route, including a visit to Rievaulx Abbey.

We ended the month with a cold and dreary circular walk from the moorland village of Hutton-le-Hole, starting by the Ryedale Folk Museum.

The highlight of this walk was our discovery of the wonderful Yorkshire Blackout beer, brewed at the New Inn, Cropton.


Early in March we completed a 13 mile circuit of Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire, starting and finishing at the seaside town of Bridlington.


As the weather improved with the onset of Spring we headed off to the Yorkshire Dales for our first weekend break of the year, at the lovely little village of Kettlewell, from where we climbed Great Whernside in less than perfect conditions.

The second day of the weekend saw an improvement in the weather, and we completed a circular walk through Wharfedale, visiting the villages of Starbotton and Arncliffe.

The very next weekend we headed out to the Dales again, this time to Swaledale where we completed a circular walk from Reeth through Arkengarthdale.

With a highly enjoyable walk from Gunnerside the next day, visiting the charmingly named ruin of Crackpot Hall and returning along the banks of the River Swale.

At the end of March we parked our car at the railway station in the little Yorkshire seaside town of Filey, then caught a train to Scarborough, walking the ten miles back to Filey along the cliff top course of the Cleveland Way.


Spring had well and truly sprung when we completed a circular walk starting in the North York Moors valley of Farndale, famed for its daffodil reserve.

After crossing Blakey Ridge we walked through Rosedale and back across the moors to the Farndale village of High Mill.


May was the month we'd scheduled to walk the Yorkshire Wolds Way.  But first we needed a warm-up and so early in the month we spent an enjoyable weekend in Bilsdale, staying at the Buck Inn, Chop Gate.  The highlight of the weekend was a walk across the moors to the Wain Stones.

The following weekend we returned to Bilsdale for a walk to the highest point on the North York Moors at Urra Moor, walking across the moors to Bransdale and back.  Along the way we passed a valley carpeted with bluebells.

The highlight of May though (in fact, quite possibly the highlight of our walking year) was our completion of the Yorkshire Wolds Way - all 79 miles of it from the Humber Bridge to Filey Brigg.  An ambition I'd held for 17 years...job done!


At Market Weighton the Wolds Way divides, offering walkers a choice of route, which meant there was a short section we hadn't actually walked.  And so the following weekend we returned, to incorporate the "missing link" into a circular walk from the village of Goodmanham.

At the end of June we visited the Cleveland market town of Guisborough and walked around the Cleveland Hills, visiting the Captain Cook Monument and ending with a climb of Roseberry Topping.


In July we spent a very pleasant week in the Lake District town of Keswick.  We began the week with a most enjoyable climb of Blencathra.

The next day we had a rather dramatic encounter with Great Gable - a mountain I've resolved to climb again, in more favourable conditions.

The weather was kinder the following day, when we spent a happy day exploring the very beautiful Haystacks with its delightful group of tarns.

Our week of Lakeland climbs ended with a wonderful day spent on and around Skiddaw - the perfect way to spend my birthday!

At the end of July we completed a circular walk from the North Yorkshire town of Kirbymoorside, culminating with a visit to the very pretty St Gregory's Minster in Kirkdale.


Early August saw us back in the Lake District for a weekend at Coniston and a climb of The Old Man of Coniston.

Along the way we passed some fascinating old mining ruins.

The summit though was shrouded in cloud, robbing us of a view.

In August the heather blooms on the North York Moors, and to make the most of this we walked from Rosedale to Lastingham, visiting Ana Cross.


We returned to the Lakes in early September, staying at the town of Penrith from where we headed to Haweswater for a climb of High Street, Mardale Ill Bell and Harter Fell.

The weather was glorious and the climbing superb.

The following weekend we returned to the Yorkshire Wolds for a very pleasant circular walk from the little village of Settrington.

We ended September with a circular walk from Sutton Bank via Boltby, Gormire Lake, climbing back via the Kilburn White Horse.


October began with a walk from the Hole of Horcum on the North York Moors.

We saw plenty of steam trains along the valley of Newtondale.

And walked across the moors to visit the ancient Lilla Cross.

A weekend away in mid October started with a walk in the Yorkshire Dales visiting the fascinating Norber Erratics.

And the staggeringly beautiful Maughton Scar.

The second day of our weekend was spent exploring the Howgill Fells (full blog to follow).

With a circular walk to the summit of The Calf.

Returning via Cautley Spout.

The following weekend we visited the Lakes once again, this time staying in the town of Cockermouth.  The weather was far from ideal, with strong winds and rain, but we managed to struggle to the top of Grasmoor, despite being blown over several times.  My blog about this walk will be published early in the New Year.


The highlight of November was a return trip to the Lakes, with a short break in Keswick and an enjoyable walk, beginning with an ascent of Latrigg.

And concluding with a climb of Lonscale Fell, in less than ideal conditions.

Although when the cloud parted, we were treated to some spectacular views.

The month ended with a return to Chop Gate and a lovely late autum walk, revisiting a walk we had completed in May, along Cold Moor and out to Carlton Bank.


As Christmas approached we found ourselves with very little time available, and just managed to fit in one cold and blustery moorland walk, starting at The Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge and following the course of the old Rosedale Railway.

I've enjoyed writing my blogs throughout the year, almost as much as I've enjoyed the walks themselves.  2014 has been an excellent year and,  sorting through all my photos from our walks has not only brought back some great memories but it has also whetted my appetite for the year ahead.  I'm hoping 2015 will be just as much fun (if not more) and, with luck, will see us complete at least one long distance trail.  

In conclusion, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year 2015!