Pub of the Season - Winter 2006/7 - Middle Rudding Hotel, Braithwaite

Hotel proprietors Andy and Liz McMaster have fulfilled a youthful dream at the news that the Middle Ruddings hotel in Braithwaite has been chosen as the CAMRA West Cumbria Pub of the Season for winter 2006-07.

The couple from Sussex have only been running the hotel for 18 months but are already reaping the rewards of the passion and hard work they have poured into the place. Andy is a former teacher and Liz a nurse, but having their own hotel in the Lake District was a plan they shared from the time when, as teenage sweethearts, they camped on the shores of Windermere for the first of many Lakeland holidays.

They are still keen walkers who love the Lake District and get out onto the fells whenever they can. At the heart their philosophy is a relaxed, informal style which makes guests feel instantly comfortable and welcome. 'It's our home as well, and that gives the hotel a homely atmosphere' explains Andy. At the same time there is meticulous attention to detail, and the staff share the McMasters' enthusiasm for putting guests at ease.

The Middle Ruddings is more aptly described as a country inn; there is a welcoming bar with an open fire. Good beer and food are central to its success. The hotel had not previously sold real ale, and Andy's first task was to create a cellar from scratch. He has proved wrong those who said that there was no demand for real beer in the Middle Ruddings. Andy has always been a real ale lover, having been introduced to its delights in his youth by a CAMRA member in Sussex, and was determined that the hotel would also be a village 'local'. Andy is keen to stress that drinkers are welcome as well as diners, and customers now call in specifically to see what beers are on sale.

The rotating beer selection comes from the many Cumbrian breweries, including Barngates, Keswick, Derwent, Tirril, Hesket Newmarket, Loweswater, Jennings and Ulverston. Middle Ruddings Ale is in fact Thirst Run from Keswick brewery. Andy and Liz have made a point of visiting the breweries they buy from; they have talked to the brewers and are knowledgeable about the brews. Currently two real beers are on sale at any time, but this will soon increase to three.

Similarly, Liz explains that most of her food is supplied by local producers: meat from Newlands and Herdwick lamb from Borrowdale. The McMasters are also embarking on growing their own vegetables. The source of local produce is detailed on the menu.

Chairman of the West Cumbria & Western Lakes branch of CAMRA Stephen Walker said, 'Andy and Liz have proved that with imagination and determination a hotel that has never sold real ale can become a haven for beer fans. They have made their mark on the Middle Ruddings in a short space of time and we are delighted to show our appreciation with this award.'

Andy says he was 'like a little kid' with excitement at news of the award. 'It means a lot to me. I have a lot of time for CAMRA and I've told everyone I know about it. Even my Dad is coming up from Sussex for the presentation', he says. The presentation took place on Wednesday 7th March at 9pm.