On a lonely site high in the Yorkshire Dales stands a unique and historic place. With its exposed beams, stone-flagged floor and welcoming fire, the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest public house at 528m (1,732ft), is a place where walkers brush shoulders with inquisitive tourists.
This walk takes you to the head of Arkengarthdale on the edge of Swaledale, where winds rush across moorland, and where you can stop at a warm pub to refuel or rest your weary head.
Stonesdale Moor walk
9.6 miles/15.5km | 6 hours | moderate–challenging
1. Waterfall start
The grey-stoned hamlet of Keld lies at the head of Swaledale. Here, cascading waterfalls enhance the River Swale’s beauty. Park in the farm car park with its honesty box (£2 long stay, £1 short stay). Walk to the start of the footpath, signposted Muker. At the fork, turn left, cross the bridge and climb to reach another fork, where you turn left on to the Pennine Way, Britain’s first long-distance footpath.
By a house where two grey stone paths diverge, follow the grassy track uphill, right. Watch for the acorn logo, and stride out across the moor. You will join a track with Pennine Way signs, which direct you to the Tan Hill Inn. You are now in traditional Swaledale sheep-farming country – barns (some call this the Valley of the Barns) are scattered like confetti across the grassy hillsides.
Go through the door, though (your dog is as welcome as you are), and you’re straight into the bar. There’s an open fire to one side, and a big circular table opposite, where part of the Inn’s eclectic clientele is bound to gather – Pennine Way walkers, cyclists who’ve conquered the hills (to be welcomed with a congratulatory handshake from landlady Viv), leather-clad bikers, families who’ve come for lunch (especially for the Sunday roasts), and retired people curious to see what this famous place is like.
To the right of the bar there’s a large space with comfortable sofas, and to the left a room with a simple mix of tables and chairs round a wood-burning stove. Beyond this is The Barn; you can get married here (Tan Hill was the country’s first pub to be licensed for weddings), enjoy music each Saturday night, and, occasionally, see big names; bands that have performed here in the last few years include British Sea Power, Scouting for Girls and, most notably, the Arctic Monkeys.
There is accommodation at the Inn, ranging from comfortable en-suite rooms, through bunks, to the camping ground (‘wet and windy’ it says, enticingly, in the bar). Staying means you can experience the darkness – and have the chance to see the Northern Lights flickering green, pink and purple over the expanses of moorland. Choose a clear, still night near to the equinoxes for the best chance of the spectacle.
Everyone can get a decent drink in the bar – it’s a free house, with local ales always available – and get fed, too, but in the winter they have to be prepared to be cut off for days at a time by heavy snow – with the possibility that the electricity generators might not cope with the conditions.
Today the Tan Hill Inn sits isolated, but there was once a hamlet here to house the miners from nearby coal diggings – there are photographs in the bar – and it is at a once-important junction of routes across the Pennines. It’s a fascinating, convivial, embracing place, and worth any struggle to reach it.
2. After a lofty tipple
After some refreshment, turn right out of the inn and take the moorland road, left. A footpath leads right to a junction of streams. Cross, and continue along the left-hand bank. Cross the stream and head up the opposite hillside. At the crest, turn left, following the direction of the finger post.
3. Line of nine Romans
To your right, you can see the stones of the Nine Standards Rigg – a line of cairns that stand on the edge of the escarpment north of the summit of Hartley Fell. One theory suggests that the cairns were erected by the Roman army to look like troops from a distance.