TRAVEL: Scaling the heights to celebrate and commiserate a big birthday
A landmark birthday demands a special celebration. What better than to scale the Matterhorn, then?
After all, we’d clambered to the summit of Ben Nevis a couple of times, so another climb was sure to fit the bill.
But, with only a couple of days off work, a trip to Switzerland was certainly out of the question, so I opted for the next best thing – Roseberry Topping, the ‘Matterhorn of the North’. It’s summit collapsed in 1912 giving the former sugarloaf shape a distinctive cliff and hence the comparisons with its more illustrious European cousin.
At 320m, it’s a fraction of the height of the real Matterhorn, but it still presents a challenge, particularly on a roasting-hot day, and affords spectacular 360-degree views across Cleveland and North Yorkshire.
It was my wife’s big day and so we decided to slip away to somewhere reasonably close where I had plenty of time to commiserate.
We chose the King’s Head Inn, part of the Inn Collection Group, which also owns The Hog’s Head Inn at Alnwick, The Lindisfarne Inn at Beal and The Bamburgh Castle Inn at Seahouses, among others, and is building a new hotel called The Commissioners Quay Inn at Blyth.
Less than two hours’ drive from Alnwick, The King’s Head nestles in the shadow of Roseberry Topping and on the edge of the North York Moors National Park.
It is a beautiful part of the world, where drama and serenity go hand in hand.
We arrived sufficiently laden with luggage for two days and all the stress from life’s exertions, hoping to relieve ourselves of the latter.
Quite honestly, it didn’t take us long to achieve that goal – we were welcomed as if one of their own at the Inn and shown to our accommodation, a fresh, clean, elegantly furnished conservatory with en suite shower room. Newly refurbished, all the rooms – single, double, twin or family – are en suite.
A quick freshen up and we were back in the bar eyeing up the range of real ales and red wines.
In line with all but one of the other Inn Collection sites, food had to be ordered at the bar. As we were totally enveloped by the relaxed ambience, the handsome country-pub decor, with Tartan the major theme, and friendly, efficient staff, our cares soon dissipated.
Of course, the creamy garlic mushrooms (£5.95), black pudding stack (£7.25), 10oz sirloin steak (£21.95) and steamed salmon (£12.95), washed down with a delicious bottle of Californian Pinot Noir (£23.95) also helped!
The food was a level above your average pub grub, well cooked and finely presented.
Refreshed and raring to go, we stoked the fires the following morning with a hearty full English breakfast with all the trimmings – billed as Breakfast Fit For A King (£7.25) – and headed for the top of the Topping.
We made steady progress, years of dog walking keeping us in reasonable shape and, despite the big birthday, I couldn’t yet describe Mrs L as being over the hill (her pun, not mine!).
There were several routes to the summit – we took a more scenic route to take in the rolling countryside.
The views from the top were indeed spectacular, especially of an impending storm sweeping in from the east. With that in mind, plus those real ales back at base, the lure of the King’s Head Inn proved too much and we were soon wallowing in the homely atmosphere in the bar lounge.
Our afternoon was spent trawling the numerous and distinctive jet jewellery shops in the quaint, fascinating fishing port of Whitby, having driven over the dramatically picturesque and rolling North York Moors.
Birthday money spent threefold in the winding lanes on the east side of the River Esk, we climbed another hill – the East Cliff – to the imposing ruins of Whitby Abbey, where Cædmon, the earliest recognised English poet, lived.
Whitby has many literary connections, most famously with Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, the inspiration for the must-see, twice-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend, and the town has a very arty, bohemian feel to it.
We had one more evening of chilling out and enjoying the fare. Conversation flowed and we felt a million miles from home.
It had been a splendid break and we vowed not to wait another 10 years to return.
Weekend dinner, bed and breakfast rates at the King’s Head Inn start from £40 per person, per night. Check out the available offers and food menus on the website http://kingsheadinn.co.uk or call 01642 722 318.