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 arête 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.

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