I’ve moaned before about how hopeless most outdoors shops in the UK are. The typical high street shops of the likes of Blacks, Millets and to a slightly lesser extent Cotswold Outdoor tend to stock a very limited range of kit which is more suited towards the, let’s say, ‘outdoors themed leisure wear’ market than the serious hiking market. In a sense that’s hardly surprising – our climate and terrain isn’t particularly demanding in this country, and the average high street shopper simply doesn’t need the full range of Patagonia kit or technical lightweight sleeping bags, but it is sometimes a little frustrating not being able to find them anywhere. Especially if you’ve had the pleasure of visiting towns like Boston that have a superb range of outdoors shops, including entire retail stores for some of my favourite brands like Patagonia and Arc’Teryx.
Anyway, it turns out there are places in the UK with serious outdoors shops, and perhaps it’s not surprising that one such place is a small town pretty much surrounded by the mountains of the Lake District. Keswick is an attractive little town, much more so than Cumbria’s dreary capital of Carlisle, but reminded me in many ways of a ski resort town in the sense that it seemed to exist for a single purpose – in this case hiking and climbing. Almost everyone there was wearing at least some technical outdoors clothing, and the sheer number and variety of outdoors shops was incredible, and really good fun to spend a day browsing around.
Of course all the standard shops were well-represented, but so were independent shops and even independent manufacturers that I had never heard of, selling their own kit. Brands that are normally hard to find, or have only a couple of items of clothes, like Patagonia and OMM were represented by whole walls full of their entire range, and there were even shops specialising in Scandinavian outdoor gear, or backpacking-themed cafés.
Although the town is touristy, and doesn’t have a great deal to attract the attention other than outdoors shops, a few cafés and a very nice supermarket, it’s clearly a very pleasant base to do some outdoors activities and next time I have some money to spend on kit I could easily see myself making the journey here to try things on, get expert advice, buy it in person and then take it straight out on the mountains.