June 09, 2014

Blow in to world's windiest pub



David Ellis


THERE'S probably little unusual about an English country publican, or one anywhere else for that matter, recounting tales of customers crawling through his doorway on hands and knees.


What does make it unusual is those customers being on their hands and knees crawling into his pub – and at opening, not closing time.


But such is what's been known to occur at the Tan Hill Inn at Swaledale on the Yorkshire Dales, a bleak, desolate place where the nearest neighbours are 7km away, the closest town twice that, it rains almost daily, temperatures can drop to -20C in winter – and the ferocious winds have been known to tear doors off hapless visitor's cars when not opened with due caution.


And those customers who've crawled through the pub door have done so for fear of themselves being blown away between car and bar. (Just four years ago, 60 revellers celebrating New Year's Eve at the pub were trapped there for three days by the foulest of weather. How tough is that…?)


Little wonder Tan Hill has been described as the nation's most remote, bleak and isolated pub.


Now Neil Hanson has written amusingly about the pub in a book titled Inn at the Top – doing so on good authority after he and his wife managed this highest inn in England for several years, following Neil's retirement from a more-enviable post as editor of the UK's Good Beer Guide.


The Tan Hill Inn was built in the 17th century and a hundred years later used as a hostel for miners coal was found in the area, the pub/hostel wisely still retaining its Public Bar. When the coal ran out in the 1920s the miners left and their dozens of cottages around the Inn were demolished and removed, leaving Tan Hill isolated and remote once more to serve the small, scattered local community and occasional traveller.


In his book Neil Hanson recalls one regular named Faith, always his first customer of the day, who would get a lift to the pub in the back of the local postman's van. "There were no seats in the van, so Faith would lay on a pile of mail sacks as the van bounced along the rutted farm tracks… on reaching the Inn she would emerge, James Bond-style – shaken but not stirred – and order up 'a large whisky for the love of God.'


"After three or four of these in half-an-hour she would depart with a couple of bottles of Guinness and enough whisky to see her through to the next day."


During the 18th and 19th century the Tan Hill Inn was a venue for bare-knuckle boxing events, with bets taken on how long combatants would last until one of them was knocked down – which could take ten continuous minutes or more. And even earlier, in 1737, highwayman Dick Turpin holed-up there between other bouts – bailing up coaches.


Hanson also noted how at times the Inn often never actually closed: with the nearest police station 32km away, publicans soon got wind (no pun intended) when police were on their way to raid for breaches of the licencing hours. "It was a waste of time," he noted. "So to be seen to be doing their job, the police would let us know when they were coming – we were the only pub in England to be regularly 'raided by appointment."


Today the Inn enjoys a strong new customer base, despite the isolation and weather, from walkers along the famous Pennine Way, cyclists, motorists, even wedding parties, and those still few, scattered locals. And it also draws the inquisitive after The Observer newspaper in 2012 wrote of it as "eccentrically run, with something of a reputation for being the Fawlty Towers of north Yorkshire… the landlady, the kind-hearted but sharp-tongued Tracy Daly, has been called 'the rudest in Britain.'"


Tracy herself admits to being "perhaps a little Fawlty Towers at times," but says when she's behind the bar "I'm on stage… my staff and I would be mortified if we ever seriously offended someone."


Tan Hill Inn has seven guest rooms, a family-size flat and camping facilities. For details visit www.tanhillinn.co.uk  (And don't be surprised at some of the "regulars," including Muldoon the orphaned lamb who lives by the fireplace.)






[] TAN HILL INN – you won't get it much more remote than this. (Runrover.co.uk)

[] WINDS can rip the doors off cars: note this walker's wind-blown hair on a mild day. (Wikipedia)

[] LONG way from anywhere – these signs, in miles, show how isolated the Inn is.  (DriveTheDales.com)

[] WELCOMING bar on a wet and windy day. (Tan Hill Inn)

[] COLLAGE of accommodation at the Tan Hill Inn. (Tan Hill Inn)

[] A HARDY postman delivers the mail to the Inn back in 1936. (British Post Office magazine)


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