Several years ago in the late 90s, we had a weekend stay at Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Britain. At 1,732 feet in altitude, several miles from the nearest other inhabited dwelling, it sits atop the Pennine Way seemingly a solid lump of stone deriving its power from a generator, its water from a well, and bringing a whole new dimension to self-sufficiency.
While there we walked down into Keld (I had no idea if there was a tea room at the other end – a life risking gamble considering I had my girlfriend with me) then came back to drink several pints of Riggwelter, finally collapsing in the small hours of the morning. At a time many years before pub opening hours were relaxed the Tan Hill simply served until the landlord was knackered. There was (and still is) no other pub like it.
20 years prior to my visit, a young couple Neil and Sue Hanson decided on a good-life style whim, to take on management of the pub.
What they lacked in experience and technical know-how they more than made up for in enthusiasm and sheer bloody-minded resilience. This wonderfully readable and often very funny book is the story of their time there concluding with the long, harsh winter of discontent of 1978-9. We hear of the skinflints Stan and Neville who owned the pub and who made what was already a tough challenge even tougher, but we also get the characterful regulars who – slowly and after initial suspicion of these new ‘offcomers’ – take Neil and Sue into their hearts and become their friends. We get the history of the inn back into the 19th century and the many stories of the people – now long gone – who lived round abouts.
And we get a lot more too. Neil loves the Yorkshire Dales and this book contains many wonderful excursions into the traditions and history of the land. Chapters describe vividly and fondly the history of the drover’s roads that criss-cross the moors, the local coal mining, the game hunters, the rise and fall of the horse fairs and hiring fairs that once marked the life of the Dales. This for me is what lifts the book well above the usual set of quirky anecdotes in the style of James Herriot and makes it a great, funny, often poignant and informative read for anyone – even townies like me. Now, let’s get back to the Inn for a pint!
The Inn At the Top – Michael O’ Mara books 288pp.