NATIONAL PARK OF THE YEAR: Yorkshire Dales
The characterful Yorkshire Dales claims the top spot this year, with readers displaying great affection for this wild and craggy limestone landscape. Replete with waterfalls and hay meadows, stone villages and broadleaved woodland, the park has recently expanded to cover 840 square miles. Our expert John Craven has known these rolling valleys since boyhood, and it’s clear that thousands of voters also have fond memories of time spent here.
Second place: Peak District
Britain’s first national park offers stark beauty and mile upon mile of trails. The area is ripe for exploration and its highest peak, Kinder Scout, is both a fine geographical feature and a site of recent rural history, when famous trespass on its haunches paved the way for public access and all our national parks.
HERITAGE SITE OF THE YEAR: Durham Cathedral
This category saw a landslide of votes for the magnificent cathedral, which has stood resplendent on the banks of the River Wear for nearly 1,000 years. At 66m, the central tower offers splendid views of the surrounding landscape. Described by Bill Bryson in his nomination as “unquestionably one of the supreme achievements of the architectural world”, the cathedral attracts millions of admirers every year, who come to admire its fine Norman features and extraordinary stone vaulted ceiling.
Second place: Skara Brae
Despite its remote location on Orkney, the pre-historic settlement of Skara Brae has many fans. This stone-built Neolithic settlement was uncovered by a storm in 1850, and comprises nine houses, complete with stone furniture, that date back over 5,000 years.
HOLIDAY DESTINATION OF THE YEAR: Northumberland Coast
Oh, the beauty of this coast: fine sandy beaches arc along the North Sea; spectacular castles stand guard on the shoreline; natural glories, pretty villages and jolly pubs abound. Puffins and seals enthrall visitors on the Farne Islands, and frazzled urbanites unwind while inhaling the calming monastic airs of Lindisfarne. A magical mix of mystery and merriment.
Second place: Mull, Inner Hebrides
For those seeking remote wildlife wonders, this is the real deal. The second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides offers gorgeous bays, rocky peaks and verdant slopes, inhabited by white-tailed eagles, red deer, otters, with dolphins and minke whales sighted in its waters.
BEACH OF THE YEAR: Embleton Bay
Northumberland’s coast garners another endorsement with this win. Stretching for miles, this enormous sandy silver beach is dominated by the epic ruins of 14th-century Dunstanburgh castle on its southern tip. Fringed by dunes, with ample birdwatching opportunities, the bay is perfect for family outings or long walks.
Second place: Balephuil Bay
A beach to call one’s own… This remote paradise on Tiree in the Inner Hebrides has miles of white sand and turquoise sea, and a high likelihood of having it all to yourself. Flanked by low dunes and machair habitat, the beautiful bay harbours corncrake as well as free-roaming cattle and surfers.
GARDEN OF THE YEAR: Inverewe Garden
This sub-tropical paradise overlooking Loch Ewe in Wester Ross captured our readers’ imaginations and just pipped Trebah to the post to claim the coveted title. The beautiful gardens were created by Osgood McKenzie in 1862, and enjoy mild temperatures brought in by the Gulf Stream. Transformed from the original scrub willows and rock, its 49 acres bloom with flamboyant plants from around the world.
Second place: Trebah Garden
Another sub-tropical delight, coastal Trebah in Cornwall has its own beach on the Helford River, a towering gunnera jungle and a lake within a hydrangea valley. Enormous exotic plants loom over winding paths to create a magical environment for all the family.
LANDMARK OF THE YEAR: Conwy Falls
Plummeting 15m into a cavernous pool, Conwy Falls in the heart of Snowdonia National Park has long been a popular site for visitors. The surrounding woodlands are imbued with magic and wildlife, including polecats and a wide variety of birdlife, while the River Conwy itself is a salmon river and the enchanting gorge of the Fairy Glen is just a short distance away.
Second Place: Lundy
Lovely Lundy off the coast of Devon in the Bristol channel just beat the Lake District to second place in a close contest. This small beautiful island provides a haven for wildlife and has the UK’s only marine reserve, making it a very special place indeed.
NATURE RESERVE OF THE YEAR: Abernethy Forest
This large nature reserve of ancient Caledonian pine overlooked by the snow-capped Cairngorms has been described as “unmissable” and our readers agreed. With mountain, moorland and forest, here one can spy yellow siskins, crossbills, squirrels the Loch Garten ospreys. Naturalist Brett Westwood says: “A worthy winner. Who wouldn’t be seduced by the sunlight filtering through ancient pines, the promise of capercaillies, crested tits and pine martens, all against the majestic backdrop of the Cairngorms?
Second Place: Farne Islands
Puffins, grey seals, razorbills, guillemots and the hard-hitting Arctic terns. These small islands off the coast of Northumberland once sheltered the 7th-century saint St Cuthbert but today are a magnet for birdspotters. Brett Westwood comments: “The Farne Islands offers the closest seabird encounters you’ll ever have. Go in early summer when chick-rearing is at its fast and furious best and revel in the sights and sounds.”
WILDLIFE SUCCESS OF THE YEAR: Eurasian beaver
Our readers celebrated Eurasian beavers returning from extinction in the UK after 400 years. Reintroduced in Scotland, the beaver has received official recognition as a native species following the success of a trial on the Knapdale Estate in Argyll, and in England, a wild breeding population has appeared on the River Otter.
Second place: Short-haired bumblebee
Short haired bumblebee/Credit: Alamy
These vital pollinators been struggling for a while, and readers commended the efforts made to return this native bee species to south-east England.
READER PHOTO OF THE YEAR: Towering Storm by Nigel Hodson
Voters were swept away by this enthralling scene of a monster wave rising up against the harbour wall in Porthcawl. The mighty power of nature is made apparent by the huddled little figures of humans in the foreground. An image bursting with drama.
Second place: Owl on the Prowl by Rob Baber
A stunning shot of a short-eared owl in flight, capturing its focused gaze and powerful wingbeat.
COUNTRY PUB OF THE YEAR: Crosskeys Inn, County Antrim
The oldest thatched pub in the island of Ireland was once a coaching stop on the journey between Belfast and Derry. A stone-built cottage constructed in the 1650s, the Crosskeys today is a merry place renowned for its traditional music, Guinness and Irish whiskey – and clearly has a devoted following.
Joint second place: The Stein Inn, Isle of Skye and The Earle Arms, Norfolk
An extraordinary finish, with both the Stein Inn and the Earle Arms receiving exactly the same number of votes, leaving them tied in joint second place. Skye’s oldest pub, The Stein Inn in Skye offers breathtaking wild waterside views. The Earle Arms is a idyllic foodie’s heaven, and a fiercely guarded secret among its loyal patrons.
BOOK OF THE YEAR: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
Chris Packham’s memoir of his boyhood has enraptured readers. Recalling the seventies summer of his childhood, Packham brings to life his troubled boyhood and touching relationship with his kestrel. Our editor Fergus says: “Chris Packham’s moving and painfully honest account of a troubled 1970s childhood – alleviated in part by magical encounters with wildlife – has clearly connected with a wide audience and is a deserving winner of this award.”
Second place: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
Another personal memoir, Amy Liptrot’s account of her journey from alcoholism in London to salvation in her Orkney homelands pays tribute to the healing power of nature. It has already garnered several awards, and continues to win fans across the board.
OUTDOOR BRAND OF THE YEAR: Páramo
This British manufacturer of high-performance and comfortable outdoor clothing has raced to first place as our reader favourite. Our expert Dixe Wills says: “Páramo are deserved winners in the Outdoor Brand of the Year category. They not only create fantastic hard-wearing gear but do so while caring for the environment and offering training and employment to some of Colombia’s most vulnerable women. ¡Felicitaciones!”
Second place: Sprayway
Outdoor specialists Sprayway are highly commended by voters for its stylish clothing for climbing, walking, hiking and general earthy adventures.
HOW IT WORKS
We appoint an expert in the relevant field to oversee each category. Our expert reviews the previous 12 months and nominates five prominent achievers in that year. Our readers then cast their votes online and by post.