LEJoG Day 48, what are you having?
Day 48 pre-amble
Because after the amuse-bouche, the feast and the cheeseboard, you might fancy a few drinks. At the highest pub in Britain. Why not?
LEJoG Day 48 (Saturday 20 July 2019)
Hawes to Tan Hill (16½ miles)
Cumulative: 670½ miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 55 minutes. Average speed: 2.79 mph. Weather: Grey, overcast; rain from far side of Great Shunner Fell to the rocks above Swaledale.
Practicalities: Train to Garsdale station on Friday afternoon, and a much shorter wait for the evening connection to the Little White Bus. Stayed at the Fountain Hotel in Hawes, a few yards from my starting point at St. Margaret’s Church.
Start: St. Margaret’s Church, Hawes, 10:35am. End: Tan Hill Inn, middle of nowhere*, 5:05pm.
*Tan Hill, between Stonesdale and Sleightholme Moors, on the North Yorkshire/Durham border, to be as precise as I’m going to get.
This is a hard day. Not quite in the class of Patterdale to Shap on the Coast to Coast, but I don’t think any guidebook or blog I’ve read quite conveys how long and tough this walk feels. There is a very long ascent of a mountain (Great Shunner Fell) but the gradient is shallow for most of the way and the summit is reached before mile 7, less than halfway through the day. As you’ll see, my least fondly remembered sections were in the second half of the walk.
Headed east from St. Margaret’s Church, then north towards the village of Hardraw. Already had my rucksack half-covered with a rain protector – half because I left my full-sized one (65 litres) at home and made an emergency purchase of a 50-litre cover from a walking shop this morning. Behind the Green Dragon pub in Hardraw is a 29m high waterfall, Hardraw Force. This is England’s highest single drop waterfall. There’s a small charge to view. I decided the sidetrack wasn’t worth it because High Force and Low Force are on Day 50’s route, the shortest of the week. No regrets.
The first minor ascent of the day comes just after Hardraw, with Bluebell Hill. As you reach the top of that hill, the path towards Great Shunner Fell opens out in front of you. And that, ladies and gentlemen, looks like a real ascent.
This was the slowest progress of the day, not dissimilar to scaling the lower slopes of a Lake District fell with an obscured summit. For example, it reminded me of Little Tongue on the way from Grasmere to Grisedale Tarn, as you approach Helvellyn. Not especially steep (certainly when compared to Dollywaggon Pike, after the Tarn) but drawn out, testing and sometimes demoralising. There was a small group of teenage lads/young adults resting on the first slope. A much larger, mixed older group sheltered in a cove near the first major bend. I didn’t stop at all, which is not a boast, merely an indication of how far I still had to walk. My inner voice says “Get on with it” and I try to keep rests to a minimum.
Soon enough the gradient eases and is scarcely noticeable, but you are still nearly 3 miles short of the summit. Most of the path is on grass, with intermittent slabs. This is Yorkshire’s third-highest mountain (behind Whernside and Ingleborough), and the highest Yorkshire peak on the Pennine Way. However, the views are unspectacular and my focus was resolutely on reaching the summit – didn’t even take a photo until I made it. Stopped for a few minutes and a quick bite to eat at the foot of some cobbled steps, around 15 minutes from the peak.
The summit of Great Shunner Fell
Other than some uneven steps on the initial section, which require care, the descent is pretty straightforward. The rain showers started as I reached the small pool at the bottom of the steps: one was very heavy. There are actually some slight upward inclines as you come down the NE side of the mountain and head towards the village of Thwaite. To give you some idea of the patience required on both sides of Great Shunner Fell, Hardraw is about 4½ miles before the summit and Thwaite around 3½ miles after it. Most of the final descent to Thwaite is on a walled but very stony path. There is a short section on the road, which is plenty wide enough for you to avoid the motor vehicles.
Per my Fitbit, Thwaite is just under 10 miles from Hawes, although the Trailblazer guide suggests 9 miles. It’s a tempting place to stop, as there’s a conveniently-located café as soon as you enter the village, and quite a steep climb out on Kisdon Hill. Should you have your own lunch, there’s also a bench right outside the café. Everything points you towards staying here.
But this is what I’m like: after a break I really resent starting with a hard climb. So I gritted my teeth and got the hell on with scaling Kisdon Hill. The worst single slope is the first one, on farmland leading to a path following the contour through heather on the south side of the hill. You reach an ash tree at the end of the heather, and pass Kisdon House. Turning north to see more hills, the climbing begins to seem endless.
Fortunately this grassy slope is the last for a while. Unfortunately, the hills are replaced by a path made almost entirely of scree, with rockfalls to negotiate and larger, easier stones and rocks at random intervals. With conditions obviously wet underfoot this was fairly hellish, as slipping on to hard, unforgiving ground was an ever-present danger. The compensations are the first genuinely tremendous views of the day, overlooking Swaledale. I chose the Swaledale route between Keld and Reeth on the Coast to Coast in 2017 but was slightly underwhelmed. Now, being able to see it from a great height, I understood much better why it’s often regarded as the most beautiful of Yorkshire’s dales. After getting through the worst of the scree, I went through a gap in the stone wall and had a proper 25-minute rest to eat and take in the scenery.
Looking directly ahead to Swinner Gill, Swaledale (from scree path by Kisdon Hill)
Overlooking Swaledale (from resting point)
Picking out isolated barns in Swaledale (from resting point)
The next section was through bracken, on sometimes muddy ground, and was followed by a descent into Keld, the walkers’ hub where the Pennine Way meets the Coast to Coast. I saw a lot less of it on the former walk than the latter, simply crossing a bridge over the Swale before ascending out of the village again.
The River Swale, from the Pennine Way footbridge in Keld
I’m sorry to say that this ascent out of Keld was one of the most agonising short (under ½ mile) climbs on LEJoG. It doesn’t look like much on the map, it isn’t even much on the ground, certainly not when you were in the Lakes just two months ago and are a veteran of the Cornish cliffs. It must have come at exactly the wrong time. My pack felt twice as heavy as it did just minutes earlier. And frankly it was too heavy to begin with; I was already resolving to use my 30 litre pack and one extra bag for the August section of the Way. The first (steepest) hill tired me so much that even the lesser gradients were hurting. I was desperate for level ground and grateful I still had plenty of water.
When that level ground finally arrived, it stayed with me for a mercifully long time. The walking to Stonesdale Moor is easy – probably the easiest since Hawes to Hardraw. That’s not to say I didn’t spend half of it calculating the likely arrival time at the Tan Hill Inn, or motivating myself by imagining the first sight of the pub. I really wanted this walk over with by now.
After crossing the slab bridge over a stream on Stonesdale Moor, there’s one last ascent. It’s similar to the one out of Keld: one steep climb which eases off. But it’s longer, and it dragged just as much. Being able to see the cairns of Nine Standards Rigg to the west, over two years after my Coast to Coast walk, might have helped with morale. However the skies were not friendly enough to allow that. Then there’s a frustrating delay between the top of the hill and that first view of my final destination. And that last mile, with Tan Hill Inn visible but initially seeming to recede, then disappearing briefly, wasn’t quite the unstoppable, triumphant march I’d envisaged.
Approaching the Tan Hill Inn – last few yards
On reaching the car park I finished my water, sorted out my wallet for check-in, rested without the bag for a couple of minutes, then crossed to the entrance door. One of the two men sat at an outdoor table shouted to me: “Have a pint, you’ve earned it!” I laughed and said “I intend to!”
And the whole day was worth it just for a moment like that.
After the walk
Checked in and booked my table for a 7pm evening meal. The room was good, although the shower was surprisingly small. Listened to golf (The Open) on Radio 5, went down to the bar early so I could have a pint before my meal. The weather had improved a lot: blue sky, sunshine, some cloud but a very strong wind. This picture was taken as I supped my drink:
I was supping Theakstons Old Peculier, which prior to today I’d only ever tasted in supermarket bottles. On draught it was so wonderful I ended up having another one with my meal and another one afterwards. This blog post title should clearly be dedicated to Old Peculier.
As with the Lion Inn, it seemed a waste not to enjoy the full three-course meal. Under £30 (including one of the drinks), which wasn’t bad value at all. Of these two isolated inns on major walking routes, I’d say the Lion Inn just edges it for quality of food and general ambience, but I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to the Tan Hill Inn.
There was one curiosity worth noting: the playing up of the links between the venue and Everest double glazing. In the window next to my dining table was a framed letter from someone who remembered being in the pub when this famous TV advert (the company’s first) was filmed. Elsewhere you could find newspaper articles about the Tan Hill feather being stolen (bloody stag parties eh?). None of this was a surprise, but in my room was a thick, 200-page book about the history, not of the Tan Hill Inn itself, stretching back more than 300 years… but the Everest double-glazing company, founded only 55 years ago. Interesting priorities.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
I sat on Chart Music #41 for 10 days so I could listen for the first time on my next long walk. Last week was the first anniversary of my Chart Music initiation, by the way. A number of fans raved about this episode, some describing it as the best ever. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it too, and appreciate the freshening up of the format with ‘Critics’ Choice’. But best ever? You must be forgetting how high a bar they’ve set. The podcast ended near the top of Kisdon Hill, just before the awful scree started. No listening after that.
Picture (taken on the evening of 20 July 2019) shows the wall sign on the west side of the Tan Hill Inn.
Next: Day 49 (21 July 2019)… in which things become a little tee-dious.