…in which the sun shines, we lunch among bikes and find nothing not to like.
Keld to Tan Hill, 4 miles.
The Tan Hill Inn, obviously. Informal camping (£5 donation), bunkhouse, BnB, meals, ales, music, banter. Legendary.
From Swaledale Yurts the only tricky thing is getting back onto The Way. We went up the Tan Hill road then at the hairpins we followed the path back east (which may actually be the Coast to Coast) to the meeting of The Ways denoted K on NTG p. 100. It might have been more efficient to have headed north up the valley and re-joined The Way at Haw Shaws (890 030). Otherwise the route up to Tan Hill is completely straightforward.
The magnificent Tan Hill Inn is all that remains of an ancient coal mining community that for centuries grubbed a hazardous living from small seams at the head of marvellously named Arkengarthdale. I’d promised my companion a peaceful, restorative afternoon off at an atmospheric, soulful haven, offering fine ales and measured philosophical discourse. That’s how Tan Hill had been when I’d last pitched up there on a freezing April afternoon seventeen years previously. This time, approaching along the historic miners’ track at Sunday lunchtime in sunny June, we were greeted from afar by the alarming roar of multiple mighty engines. A large coach and numerous other vehicles loomed. A sea of chrome glinted. The Tan Hill Inn was surrounded by and packed with bikers.
Not only that, it was barely recovering from a three day folk festival with hundreds of campers. The dear old place was understandably a little untidy and the famous fire that never goes out had set the chimney alight, littering the outdoor tables with splinters of exploded stack. This being Tan Hill the relaxed and funky staff, who pride themselves on combining attentive competence with a frisson of unpredictability in a way I greatly admire, took it all in their stride. So, after momentary double takes, did the customers.
The Sunday lunch was excellent, the beer was fabulous, everyone was happy. Well, apart from anyone who’d been led to expect peace, quiet and philosophy. Hurriedly I located a tucked-away camping spot far behind the pub, with endearing views of families of baby grouse and crocodiles of Chinese teenagers. We settled in for our afternoon off. The sun shone warmly and together with the beer worked a certain magic, the evening meal was delicious and afterwards there was yet more folk music in the barn, how wonderful.
The last time I’d camped at Tan Hill I’d just got my tent up and was laying out my bedding when I noticed the frisky and rather nippy wind was carrying a fine, grey ash into and onto all my departments. A few larger, crunchier flakes drifted through the door flap and settled in my sleeping bag. ‘That’s odd’, I thought, zipping up and preparing to retreat to the bar. Just then a vivacious young woman popped her not unattractive head around a large adjacent rock and cried ‘oh no, oh dear! I’m really sorry, we were just scattering Grandad! This was his favourite place’, she added, which obviously made everything totally OK. Ha ha, it may well be mine too.