From an early age, my parents took me, and my siblings, walking. I don’t mean a stroll round the shops, or a walk round the municipal park. It was a hard core “get your boots on, pull on your thermals” hike. With hindsight, I know why they did it now: other than getting fresh air and exercise, it didn’t cost anything, and with a large family of six to feed, clothe and educate, weekend activities were fairly limited.
As I grew into a teenager, I HATED it. Hated it with capital letters, when they announced “Right, we’re going to tackle Holme Moss on Saturday” (for those if you not familiar with Holme Moss, just Google the Tour de Yorkshire and you’ll see how steep and barren that landscape is). With the truculence and apathy of Kevin the Teenager, I would trudge up fells, hills and ridges furiously emitting waves of adolescent loathing towards my parents, continuously muttering “Is it much further?” Even the promise of a cheese and pickle sandwich followed by a mini Mars bar did nothing to curb my resentment about the whole exercise. I would rather have been hanging round a shopping precinct, or practicing my Farah Fawcett flick than been on a wild moor looking like a total dork. “It’s not a fashion show, you know”, my Mum would say, which would infuriate me even more.
Perhaps if I could have seen into the future, I might not have been so miserable. Emerging into adulthood, I realised that the reward at the end of a long day hiking for most walkers (as well as feeling brilliant in mind and soul) is usually a pint of cask ale, brewed in the county you’ve spent the last few hours exploring.
There are very few pleasures in the world as great as a glass of beer at the end of a long endurance hike. The thought of that beer spurs you on, incentivises you to put one foot in front of the other, go that further mile. The first sip is nectar, and more than anything else it feels well deserved.
Other than my beloved county of Yorkshire, I’ve walked all over the UK, and found something special in the landscape of every county. But the Lake District, in Cumbria, takes some beating. Forget the Swiss Alps, this area of our country is stunning. My favourite place, and one I visit as often as my diary (and my wallet) allows me to, is a little market town called Keswick. It offers hundreds of walking routes for beginners, intermediaries and experienced walkers, and welcomes them all back into one of the many dog-friendly pubs in the town centre with well kept ales, nourishing food and warm friendly snugs.
In keeping with the region, many of the ales available in the pubs come from a brewery not too far away: Jennings in Cockermouth. Jennings is now owned by Marstons, but what Marstons have done so skilfully (whilst building up their portfolio of regional breweries) is keeping the brand’s local identity, whilst making the beers widely available nationwide. So which beer would I choose from Jennings?
It’s always Sneck Lifter for me. Brilliant name for a beer: a sneck is a door latch in Northern dialect, and a Sneck Lifter refers to your last sixpence which allows you to lift the latch on the door to the tavern to buy a pint and mix with friends.
It’s an intriguing beer, strong at 5.1%, some would say an ‘old ale’. It’s got hints of coffee, dried fruit, bit of chocolate, but with a nice refreshing herbal finish. It’s a deep mahogany colour, which suits the winter months, but it’s as good a thirst quencher on a hot summer’s day as it is on a frosty, bitingly sharp February evening.
Each time I go to Keswick, there’s one particular pub (you know who you are, you’re Cask Marque accredited!) who offer a bestselling dish which goes really well with this beer. The pub’s staff bring out steaming bowls of goulash, served simply with a chunk of garlic bread. No fancy veg, no complicated presentation. It’s the original ‘soul food’ meant to make you feel satisfied, replete, warm and nourished, and its slight spiciness contrasts with the sweetness of Sneck Lifter. What’s more, you always want another glass of Sneck Lifter after the first one is downed.
My Ma and Pa passed on a good legacy. Far from hating walking now, I relish putting on my boots, gearing myself up to a long walk and escaping from the rat race for a few hours. Even though I’m now accompanied by two teenage children who frequently ask if Dad can bring the car to the summit to drive them back. One day they’ll realise, the reward at the end of a long walk is every bit as special as the experience itself. That’s Jennings Sneck Lifter.