Wet your whistle

Remote pubs are the unsung heroes of wild landscapes, offering shelter and refreshments in sometimes hostile surroundings. Roger Ratcliffe selects his favourites

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We’ve all been there. It’s a hot day and the broiling sun is starting to make us feel like Lawrence of Arabia lost in the desert. Tired and seriously parched, through waves of shimmering heat we spot in the distance what might be an oasis. But could it be just a mirage, as happened to poor old Peter O’Toole in the movie? Onwards in hope we trek, finding an extra gear until the oasis takes on a familiar shape, a farmhouse dating from the 17th century with a couple of more recent extensions. It’s a secluded country inn.

These inns are scattered all over the uplands of northern England, and a cold, soothing drink is for many the non-negotiable end to a perfect day’s walking in the Lake District, Peak District, Pennines, North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales.

Before all-day opening, walkers in the Lakes would get to the summit cairn of the day’s objective, check their watches and decide that if they hurried they might just make last orders at the Wasdale Head Inn or the Old Dungeon Ghyll. Today, more leisurely descent from the fells can be made.

In winter these wild pubs serve the additional function of being refuges from harsh weather. Nowhere is more famous for this than the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub, where many a Pennine Way walker has been forced to wait out blizzards for days on end.

So here’s some of the best isolated inns to be found in the north. To appreciate them at their best, slog for at least 10 miles to the door. And be thirsty. 

Birch Hall, North Yorkshire
Despite its name this is a tiny 17th century pub squashed between a steep hillside and the North Yorkshire Moors railway line. Most customers are walkers following the excellent path between train stations at Grosmont and Goathland, location for ITV’s Heartbeat series, or visiting nearby Thomason Foss waterfall. The so-called little bar is one of the smallest in Britain. Tables are from the waiting room at the now-closed Beck Hole station. The pub doubles as a sweet shop specialising in retro treats like pontefract cakes and liquorice roots.
Beck Hole, North Yorkshire. Tel 01947 896245. Satnav YO22 5LE. Grid ref NZ 821022.

The Cross Keys, Cumbria
Imagine those poor walkers who are gagging for a pint and, on seeing this whitewashed old inn in the distance, put on extra speed during their descent from the Howgill Fells only to find it doesn’t sell alcohol. However, the disappointment of walking into the only hotel in England that’s “dry” as a condition of its title deeds is at least tempered by the time-warp, wood-panelled interior that befits a building owned by the National Trust. On the fellside above is spectacular Cautley Spout waterfall. The inn is famous for huge plates of ham and eggs and best-selling rabbit pie.
Cautley, near Sedbergh, Cumbria. Tel 01539 620284. Satnav LA10 5NE. Grid ref SD698969

The George, North Yorkshire
This 400-year-old inn at Hubberholme in Upper Wharfedale offers Dales Way walkers their last chance of sustenance before setting out for the village of Dent 20 miles away, and can’t appear soon enough for those going the other way. Its praises were sung by author JB Priestley in the book English Journey; he loved the spot so much his ashes are in the churchyard over the bridge. Ancient beams, flagstone floors and a huge cast iron range fire create a timewarp. It was once a vicarage, and when open a candle still burns in the bar as a reminder of how the vicar let parishioners know he was ready to tend to their spiritual needs by a lighted candle in the window. The pies served by owners Ed and Jackie regularly scoop prizes at the British Pie Awards.
Hubberholme, North Yorks. Tel. 01756 760223. Satnav BD23 5JE. Grid ref SD 926782

Kirkstone Pass Inn, Cumbria
Standing 1,489 feet above sea level at the top of the pass that carries traffic through rugged mountain scenery between Windermere and Ullswater, this is the Lake District’s highest inn and third highest in England. Many customers are fell walkers tackling a long ridge called Red Screes on the west side of the pass, or 2,502ft Caudale Moor on the other. The inn is often cut off in winter but once snow ploughs manage to clear the road skiers flock to nearby slopes. The building has been dated to 1496, and in the 1950s included a petrol station. Now it refuels walkers with Cumbrian ales and locally sourced food.
Ambleside, Cumbria. Tel 01539 433888. Satnav LA22 9LQ. Grid ref NY401080

Lion Inn, North Yorkshire
You can see the Lion standing stark against the skyline for miles around. There are few more isolated or windswept spots on the North York Moors than 1,325ft-high Blakey Ridge separating Farndale from Rosedale. In 1553 the Lion began life as a farmhouse but later found a more lucrative trade slaking the thirsts of miners at nearby ironstone and coal mines. These days it’s the most welcome sight on the whole of the Coast to Coast Walk between St Bee’s in Cumbria and Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire Coast, after a 16-mile moorland trek from the previous night’s lodgings. Enforced lock-ins due to bad weather are frequent. In 2013 walkers were stranded for almost a week because of 20ft snow drifts. The record for number of days cut off by snow stands at 40.
North York Moors National Park. Tel 01751 417320. Satnav YO62 7LQ. Grid ref SE679997

Old Hill Inn, North Yorkshire
Towering over this 17th century farm-turned-hostelry are Whernside, the highest point in Yorkshire, and the table-top summit of Ingleborough. The popular 24-mile Yorkshire Three Peaks footpath passes the door, and on hot summer days many a walker is unable to resist a sustaining glass of something cold before tackling the final seven miles. Winston Churchill is said to have stayed here while shooting, but today hikers and potholers are the usual customers. Lots of exposed stone and woodwork provide character. The food is highly rated, and puddings are the house speciality.
Chapel-le-Dale, Ingleton, North Yorks. Tel. 01524 241256. Satnav LA6 3AR. Grid ref SD744777

The Pack Horse, West Yorkshire
The Widdop Valley cuts through the remote moorland stretching across the Pennines between Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire and Colne in Lancashire. The Pennine Way and Pennine Bridleway are half a mile up the road from this unspoilt pub almost 1,000 feet above sea level. In surrounding hills there are ruined farmsteads like Raistrick Greave, and a trio of bleak-looking reservoirs. The Pack Horse, known locally as the Ridge, began life in the early 1600s as an ale stop for travellers crossing the Pennines long before the M62. The original four-stone fireplace is still warming customers,
who these days are mainly walkers
and cyclists.
Widdop, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Tel 01422 842803. Satnav HX7 7AT. Grid ref SD952316.

Strines Inn, South Yorkshire
As remote a pub as you’ll find in the Peak District National Park, the Strines is a former manor house dating from 1275, which explains the grand stone fireplace. The coal fire is a magnet in winter for cold, footsore users of the nearby Sheffield Country Walk or ramblers exploring the nearby chain of reservoirs. Stuffed wildlife, copper kettles and black beams accentuate the atmosphere of another age. Derbyshire and Yorkshire ales on hand pumps, and bar meals are mainly traditional rib-stickers like giant Yorkshire puds and caramel apple pies with custard.
Strines Reservoir, off A57 Sheffield-Glossop road, South Yorkshire. Tel 0114 285 1247. Satnav S6 6JE. Grid ref SK223906

Tan Hill Inn, North Yorkshire (pictured)
At 1,732 feet above sea level this is the UK’s highest pub. Originally a sheep farm, its location at a crossroads on the remote moors between Yorkshire and County Durham made it ideally suited to a hostelry. Today walkers doing the Pennine Way see it tantalisingly in the distance once they have left Keld in Swaledale but still have another four-mile slog. It’s all exposed beams and stone-flagged floors and there’s often a roaring fire even in summer. In winter bad weather can trap visitors here for several days. Besides the usual B&B rooms there’s also bunk house accommodation and a somewhat windswept campsite.
Tan Hill Inn, Yorkshire Dales National Park. Tel. 01833 628246. Satnav DL11 6ED. Grid ref NY896067

Wasdale Head Inn, Cumbria
One of the most famous watering holes in Europe, this is where mountaineering was born. The inn cowers beneath Scafell Pike, and the pyramid of Great Gable. The approach along the shore of Wastwater is dominated by a wall of screes, and Wasdale Head is a dead end. Walkers descending from surrounding fells make a beeline for Ritson’s Bar, named after one of the inn’s landlords, who was renowned for being England’s biggest liar. The walls are adorned with memorabilia and photos of pioneers in tweed suits tackling vertiginous rock faces. Sometimes the weather forces walkers to spend a day here but with great ale, Herdwick lamb and Cumberland sausage and popular veggie chilli, there are few complaints.
Wasdale Head, near Gosforth, Cumbria. Tel. 01946 726229. Satnav CA20 1EX. Grid ref NY 165060

Wasdale Head Inn: home of mountaineering

The Barrel Inn, Peak District
Over 1,300ft up in the Peak District with a view over five counties on a clear day.
Near Eyam, Hope Valley, Derbyshire. Tel 01433 630856. Satnav S32 5QD. Grid ref SK216767

Dick Hudsons, West Yorkshire
A long established halt for walkers crossing Ilkley Moor.
Bingley, Yorkshire Tel 01274 552121. Satnav BD16 3BA. Grid ref SE121422

Red Pump, Lancashire
A coaching inn dating from 1600 in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, encountered by walkers exploring the nearby River Hodder.
Bashall Eaves, Lancashire. Tel 01254 826227. Satnav BB7 3DA. Grid ref SD695435

White House, Greater Manchester
A remote landmark 1300ft up on the old pre-M62 road between Yorkshire and Lancashire, it’s a welcome sight for walkers on the Pennine Way, which passes the door.
Blackstone Edge, Greater Manchester. Tel 01706 378456. Satnav OL15 0LG, grid ref SD968178

White Lion, North Yorkshire
On the steep Kidstones Pass between Wharfedale and Wensleydale, this is a popular call for Yorkshire Dales walkers after climbing nearby Buckden Pike.
Cray, North Yorkshire. Tel 01756 760262. Satnav BD23 5JB. Grid ref SD925728

Old Dungeon Ghyll, Cumbria
Generations of walkers and climbers have killed thirsts worked up on the Langdale Pikes which loom over this old and characterful inn.
Great Langdale, Cumbria. Satnav LA22 9JY. Grid ref NY286061

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