The Tan Hill Inn – the best pub on The Pennine Way

Published 26 June 2013

One of the things about long distance walking in Britain is that it can become a bit like a giant pub crawl. Every day you set off, walk all day then check in to your accommodation. Then, if you’re like me, you go to the pub for some food and a drink. Or two.

Every night you get a new pub experience. You stand outside the pub’s door, wondering just what you’ll find inside. Will the food be nice; the hand-pulled ale well kept? Will it even have real ale at all? (Oh, what a horrible thought!)

If you’re walking the Pennine Way you are blessed because there is barely a bad pub to be found. In fact it’s incredibly difficult to single out just one pub from the walk to celebrate. But frankly The Tan Hill Inn blows the competition out of the water.

The location of the pub is bonkers. It’s on a wild, windswept moorland. There’s nothing nearby except a road. It’s the highest pub in England. There are no locals except sheep. The nearest village (Keld) is about four miles away. You approach it and wonder how on earth the place even stayed open all these years.

We wondered that. Then we opened the door to the pub, found a duck sat in a metal tin in front of a roaring fire, with a dog curled up next to it. The duckling was snoozing. The dog was snoozing. In fact this is a pub where sheep have been known to wander in because they were orphaned as lambs and raised by the pub’s fire. Apparently there’s always a fire burning, even in the height of summer. Oh, and the duckling had grown too big for its wings so was being nursed to health. It wasn’t being cooked or anything.

It’s a pub with a friendly welcome. We’d barely set foot in the door and we were being welcomed by the staff as if we’d been visiting for years. I’ve been to many pubs in my life and I can only point to one other pub where I’ve had that kind of welcome (and surprisingly it was in London.)

The whole place is relaxed. Whilst the staff were eating their evening meal (a takeaway delivery of all things, although the place does great food) anyone waiting for a beer was simply told to pop behind the bar to serve themselves.

We were at the Tan Hill Inn on a quiet day in March, but in the summer the place can get absolutely packed as people head up in their cars. They hold music gigs there. You can camp outside. It’s even possible
to get married at the Tan Hill Inn. I suspect on days like that a visit to the Tan would have been a bit different. It’s unlikely you’d be told to serve yourself. But you would still have seen the duck by the fire or a sheep wander in. And there would have been a fire burning.

Many Pennine Way walkers pass the Tan Hill Inn by – they stay in or near Keld and head past it in the morning. That’s bad, especially as the pub does accommodation. It’s a place made for arriving at 6pm and staying the night. Do it on a weeknight and you’ll have a fantastic time. Guaranteed.

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