Month: November 2014


Veggie burger with chips and salad was finally realised once I’d talked a kindly couple into shifting up on one of the long couches in the far room. I promised to bugger off once I’d finished my meal (and cuppa) so they politely ignored the smell that emanated from my clothes and trainers, and made way for the sweaty lad with no mates.

Luck would have it that another spot later appeared closer to the bar, enabling me to take a seat again and order frequent mugs of tea. I chatted briefly with an elderly Australian couple, half way through their coast-to-coast walk, but preferring accommodation up here instead of Keld. The noise and commotion proved eventually too much for them, so they retired to bed early (I’m not sure whether upstairs was the most quiet of places considering what was going on, but they would have at least had a bit of space to breathe). The two made way for a small group of most pleasant bikers (Roger not included) who were clearly looking forward to the main band of the evening – ‘Lanterns of the Lake’. There was a support band playing too, but few seemed interested in seeing whoever this lot were, which was a pity as the place was packed to the rafters and would have given me a bit of space too, and it was still too early for me to go to seek solace in bed for the evening.

Once the band – they did play at Glastonbury, honest – had taken stage in the barn to the rear of the Inn, the bar did finally quieten. I now had no company so out came Paddy Dillon again, and I read what he had to say about the next stretch of the walk into Middleton-in-Teesdale and beyond. I then made something of a mistake. Time for one last mug of tea. ‘A pot of tea’ I asked the scary looking bloke, cheerily. ‘What the bloody hell’ he retorted, and stormed into the kitchen. Had I upset him a tad? It turned out that my definition of ‘pot’ – Yorkshire, large mug – was at odds with his definition of ‘pot’ – large metal jug containing enough brew to satisfy a small army, and it was definition of ‘pot’ that I was about to receive. Had there not been others around then the contents of that pot might have been deposited over ones head. I had obviously not made a request agreeable with his current disposition. By this time, here was one thing that I was pretty clear about in my mind, and this was that should I encounter one of Tan Hill’s legendary spectre’s this evening, none would have scared me as much as this bloke. It is said that customers often smell tobacco smoke, all over the place – near the kitchen, outside the toilets, near the cellar and in a rear passageway. It has been suggested that this smoke may be connected with the story of three drovers who used to smoke heavily in the shelter of the pub’s walls several hundred years ago. Try it these days and top-dog lady I’d encountered outside would have their guts for garters.

The pot (scary mans definition) of tea took an eternity to finish, something like four pots (my definition) from it, and it was obvious that I would be up several times during the night to have a pee. At eleven o’clock it was time to retire. I hoped to be able to sneak out of the bar without any attention (‘look at that dick leaving, do you know what he asked for…’) but my way was barred at the door by a small herd of sheep attempting to gain access to the bar. And they weren’t giving up either. It turns out they are regulars, and one of the most important tasks for visitors to Tan Hill is to give them their feed at regular intervals. Not me, not tonight, I needed some sleep. I climbed over the first two, fell over a third and bounced off another as I made my way, somewhat exasperated, to my tent.

That should have been it really. In a perfect world I would have had a great night’s sleep and no problem dropping off, but for a start it was now bloody cold up here – far colder than I’d anticipated – and there were other problems emerging. Even then, dressed in four or five layers and wrapped in foil blanket inside my most tiny bivvy tent, I still hadn’t accounted for the band, who could probably be heard all over Durham and Yorkshire, and if the wind was strongest enough, possibly in Scandinavia too. And there was another snag. The fact that I got to listen to ‘Lanterns of the Lake’ for free I could easily cope with, but with the aftermath I was severely unimpressed. Several tents full of over-exuberant teenagers dispersed themselves around the campsite and, being young and carefree, spent the rest of the evening generally sitting around, chilling, finishing their beer they had of course purchased at the bar, and making generally making merriment. Their conversation rarely rose above ‘x-factor’ level, and was, in the main, total gibberish. There were many tales consisting of who got off with who last week, and what one lad would love to do with one lass, if only another lad hadn’t already done the same thing to that lass the week before, and such like. ‘Welcome to middle age’, I reminded myself. As expected, several visits to the makeshift loo behind the rocks were needed (the ‘official’ ones were much too far away on a cold night like this), but despite my loudest and most severe ‘tuts’ in their general direction, my woeful protestations went unheeded and the youths continued their ways. This continued to first light, when they finally decided that it was time to sleep. After all, hey, they need not be up ‘til noon. Some of us grumpy old men were hoping to alight at first light.

That and the fact that almost everyone who passed my tent managed to fall over the guy ropes, causing me much distress, added up to a pretty miserable night up here. It was therefore a very tired man who decided to have an extra hour in bed to compensate for those who had the cheek to enjoy themselves hours before.

The portable shower just about managed to force itself into action at 7am, and before long I was back in the bar looking forward to a hearty breakfast that would set me on my way. Slight problem, rock-hard-irate barman was taking orders and there seemed to be no vegetarian, cooked brekkie option. Should I enquire as to its availability? No chance. I bottled it and took the whole meaty brekkie option instead. While rock hard man was not looking I then gave my two sausages and rashers of bacon, and black pudding away to a couple of the bikers , who must have thought all their Christmases had come at once, and gobbled down what remained. That didn’t amount to very much.
I was about to finally depart, when there was a sudden kafuffle and rock hard lady with round glasses emerged from the kitchens. ‘Ok, who broke the fire doors in the bunkhouse early this morning. Tell me. Tell me NOW’ she thundered. I was convinced now that she could have been cast in a James Bond film as a lethal interrogator from SPECTRE. Nevertheless, I was impressed. Several of those who had slept in the bunkhouse put their hands up like frightened schoolchildren and blamed it on a group of gents who had left at 6am. Whether those gents really had committed such crime will never be known, but rock hard woman was satisfied with the answer and moved on, perhaps considering a ‘phone call to her acquaintances in Moscow who would track them down and inflict such harm as would have kept the late Ian Fleming most happy. Had I not learnt to be scared, very scared, of the staff up here I might have offered an explanation that the perpetrator of such crime could have been the ghost of a young lad who is said to also roam these rooms, wearing a brown jacket and shorts and who is purported to hang around in the bunk-rooms in particular. I chose silence instead.
Once everyone had been served (and it WAS chaos again), all breakfast diners were invited to applaud the kitchen staff for their fine efforts the previous evening. No-one dared refuse. At the same time it suddenly dawned on me who this lady could well have been a distant relation to. One of the best known and legendary incumbents up here was one Susan Peacock, a long serving licensee who ran the pub between the two World Wars. She was born in the pub and local legend has it that she is buried behind it. During her time here the inn was a pretty rough place and fisticuffs would often break out between the miners. Ms. Peacock, who was absolutely no push-over, is said to have kept a loaded pistol behind the bar for such occasions. It is not documented how many of those troublesome regulars received a bullet up the arse, but you can bet your bottom dollar that what happened between these walls stayed between these walls. How I wished I had called on her ghost to sort out those young concert goers last night.

It took me about seventeen seconds to pack the tent away and stuff it in my rucksack. It was time to go, leaving behind not only the inn itself, but the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I was at its northern-most extreme, having come an awful long way since Malham several days ago. I did consider making a right racket and throwing myself across the ropes holding up the tents occupied by young, sleeping concert-goers, but I didn’t want to have to explain myself to the staff if I got caught, and anyway if anyone had the right to punish them then Susan Peacock would have her way with them before they left. Tan Hill had been an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I would love to go back when it is a little less busy, it’s a fantastic place, has survived some pretty grim times and I hope it is still there in another hundred years but I had to move on to my next port of call.

I never did check out that feather behind the bar, and will probably never get the chance now as just a few weeks after my visit it was stolen, allegedly by a group of rowdy gentlemen on a stag night. I don’t think they were Americans.


anorak pennineA few years back I walked / ran / hobbled along the 280 odd mile Pennine Way in order to raise money for my ailing local footyball team. ‘Anorak on the Pennine Way’ was the result, and it is currently available on amazon kindle for something like £2.76. Here’s the first part of my epic one night stay at the fantastic Tan Hill Inn…

Chapter 7 – ‘There be no laws up there, y’know’

Half-way. I’m currently stood outside the Tan Hill Inn, high up on the border twixt North Yorkshire and Durham. This is not only, at 1732 ft/ 515m, said to be England’s highest pub (although one Cat & Fiddle in Derbyshire also claims that feat), it is also famous for being the site of Ted Moult’s famous Everest double glazing advert way back in the dim and distant 70s. Who remembers the famous feather test, whereby the farmer-cum-radio-cum-TV celebrity tested the workmanship on the brand new fitted windows up there? Well tonight I would really see for myself whether, as claimed, that feather was, as claimed, proudly displayed behind the very same bar. How exciting.

A bit of research prior to setting off on my voyage of discovery brought the promise that ‘Here you will receive one of the warmest and most friendly welcomes that you ever wish to find’. Well, at least their website promised that, so, with the afternoon drawing to a close, I strode expectantly through the former mine-workings on the edge of this bleak and exposed moorland towards said establishment, ignoring other reports that the place was also haunted, and really looking forward to that warm and friendly welcome I’d been so promised.

anorak tan
I had been forewarned that this was going to be a busy night, and that was looking like a pretty reliable presumption seeing that each and every parking space was filled with motor cars, whopping big bicycles, mobile homes and minibuses. Without checking the camping situation I shuffled in through the door to find an alehouse packed with bikers, concert goers, hikers and casual drinkers. Playing dumb, I requested accommodation for the evening from the kindly gentleman behind the bar, hoping that there would, after all, be some late cancellation and thus a room could be found for the weary traveller. Unfortunately back in the real world this would prove not to be the case, and a most polite arm gesture pointed me in the direction of the campsite around the back. But first, it emerged, I would have to part with £4, and for that I would receive a wrist band and access to said resting place for the evening.

Again, without checking my precise sleeping location for the evening, I settled down in the only spare table place at the inn and sampled one of their finest brews. Of tea, that is. One can never underestimate the therapeutic powers of a good cuppa after a long days walk. As the bar gradually reached heaving point it was soon time to pitch my tent for the night in a comfortable position somewhere on the camp-site. At last I would get the chance to see how rugged a traveller I really was up here in the middle of nowhere.

It emerged that there was a slight snag. There was not only no space at the inn, but also, it seemed, neither was there any to be had on the campsite. The big burly bikers were in much larger numbers than I’d realised, and in the small spaces between their huge constructions, were the much younger concert-goers waiting excitedly for their gig, in their smaller, but not inconsiderably sized tents too. After circling the entire site twice, trying not to look too much like a right idiot, I settled on a sloping spot just off the edge of the camp-site proper. Basically I had no choice but to settle down here because the next free space was probably as far away as Norway. This would have to do.

Again, without looking too much like an idiot, I unpacked the tent and erected it on the slope, about ten metres from the nearest all-mod-cons accommodation (one which in all probability really did contain all mod-cons, including a range of kitchen appliances and en-suite facilities) and decided that I might as well have a read of Paddy Dillon before going back into the bar for my next pot of tea. Slight problem, fading light, plummeting temperature, and, as a bivvy tent allows you not even space to sit up decided it was better to be indoors with the masses instead. Paddy could accompany me there in the comfort of indoor accommodation. But before I’d had chance to move out, there was a rustling and farting sound emanating from the adjacent tent, ‘What the dickens’ said the biker as he emerged from his high class accommodation to find the tiny, squat blue bivvy tent lurking next door.

It emerged that said biker wasn’t just a biker. Roger was also a retired teacher and wasn’t half as scary as I anticipated my near neighbour for the evening might be. If anything, he was a rather posh bloke. We chatted for a while about the same things I’d set to rights with the two Stuarts a couple of days earlier, had just about moved on to the ghostly spirits that are said to inhibit these parts when we were suddenly disturbed by the woman in charge of everything and anything Tan Hill. She was here to check wrist tags, but something else had caught her eye and she was not a happy woman; ‘Listen up guys and gals. You will not drink alcohol that has not been purchased here at Tan Hill. You will not. If I find you have I will find out and you will forfeit your right to sleep on this camp site’ she bellowed. ‘I will, I will find out’, she repeated before charging back indoors, thus concluding the warmest and most friendly welcome I could ever wish to have experienced.

Not even the hardest and most brave biker would have argued with her. I have no idea what her name was (although I do know from photos of the Inn that she wasn’t actually the landlady, who was possibly away for the weekend) but right now she was top dog up here. I had been warned beforehand that there were no laws up here, and it was plainly obvious that no laws other than hers would be necessary. She may only have been of average size and height, with rounded black spectacles looked more like a mature university student of militant type, but I was very afraid, and I only intended drinking tea all night!

Roger recoiled back into his tent (scared, obviously, but then he did have a substantial area in which to hide all manner of banned alcoholic liquors in there), while I made my way to the bar. It was far warmer, and there was by now a real chill in the air outside. It would have been a long, cold wait for the morning in the tent. Camping at the bottom of the hill is one thing, but pitching right at the top is a lot harsher than I had anticipated.

There was no sign of a menu inside, but upon query was told that a chalk-board full of tasty offerings would be appearing soon. Customers would then be invited to queue up and order their choices and at first glance it all seemed highly organised – except that it wasn’t really, it was in fact quite barmy in here. There was little or no order to any of the proceedings, bodies crammed into three or four semi-comfortable rooms, but there again there didn’t need to be any real order. This wasn’t a city centre wine bar or posh restaurant, this was the Tan Hill Inn. It may have been utterly chaotic in here, but there wasn’t the slightest hint of trouble or harsh words anywhere. Nobody expected order, I doubt whether many actually wanted it. All-in-all the ‘system’ up here worked.

I imagined what it must have been like in the distant past when the coal mines were in operation up here. There used to be a row of miners cottages adjacent to the Inn, but they are long gone. The current Inn dates from the 17th century, although there is evidence that there was one in the area a hundred years earlier. The last of the mines shut in 1929 but the introduction of the motor car and regular visits from the local farming fraternity ensured that Tan Hill Inn has survived the test of time. It was not hard to envisage that this place had seen wider nights than this, but for a first visit, this was wild enough for a bloke wanting a quiet night along the Pennine Way.

anorak lionel
So I took my place in the line. ‘Where are you sitting?’ I was asked by a scary looking bloke from behind the bar. Friendly looking bloke had been replaced. Yes, there would be no trouble up here, not with this lot in charge. Where was I sitting? Good question. I need a seat if I was going to get fed. I needed a seat if I was going to get my cuppa.

I think I need to explain at this point why I am so partial to a cuppa and not a nice pint of whatever beer is going. Well, it’s like this: The phrase ‘One drink I’m anybody’s, two I’m everybody’s, and three I’m nobody’s’ is something of an understatement when it comes to Rob Grillo. Following consumption of any amount of alcohol, no matter how small, I am unable to run, or do anything at even the remotest of speed for a good few hours after getting up the next morning. This has proved a great excuse following another DNF at some race or another, but this time I genuinely wanted to be off early, in fine fettle, the next day. I felt good enough again to attempt another huge day on the fells, so abstention was the only possible option this evening. And besides, I just love a reet strong cuppa.