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.