Dark Skies

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Our Astronomical Guide to What, where and when You Can see Beautiful celestial events unfold in the  pristine unpolluted dark skies above us. Also what you may need to bring with you To be able to enjoy stargazing Great Britains Highest pub, proud to be deeply ensconced within one of Britains  few Dark Skies Discovery sites!

The Birds of Tan Hill – Part 1

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Our Birding Blog and guide to all the resident and visiting species that can be seen at Tan Hill throughout the year!   No 1. The Curlew When this most magically enchanting of bird calls echoes out across the moors for the first time of the year, then we know, Winters grip is finally loosening.  The Curlew, Britains largest wading bird with its distinctive long, curved beak is easy to identify from other waders. It is often the first returning migrant to arrive back to the uplands of Tan Hill as early as mid February. Keeping a low profile at first, it is well camouflaged to do so and only revealed when silhouetted against the rapidly thawing snow patches. If you are lucky, this is where you may catch a glimpse as it silently seeks out the best nesting site amid the tough grasses and peat hags. But it doesn’t remain silent for long. Low bubbling whistles, the beginning’s  of its bewitching air start to rise as the secretive bird finally emerges from out of the tussocky grass and takes to the moody sky. It is here aloft the sombre coloured moor that provides the perfect stage for this piping song of the fell to unfold in all its glorious complexities! With an increasing urgency this ecstatic  melodious trilling, W.B. Yeats described as a “sweet crystalline cry” ascends above the endless moor, building to a passionate rippling crescendo before gently fading away. A joyful song but tinged with a haunting melancholy that reflects the beautiful bleak desolation that’s lies below, it’s ascendanc Curlews lay their eggs in a nest on the ground known as a ‘scrape’ and both  male and female incubate the eggs and chicks for roughly four weeks, before they leave the nest. They spend time with their parents for a further four weeks until fledged. Whilst on the fell, they feed on insect, spiders, larvae and worms In the autumn, both adults and young return to the estuaries with its rich marine food supply of molluscs lugworms and much more and there they will remain throughout the winter. Curlew numbers has sadly declined drastically in recent years. Intensive farming practices, including drainage and reseeding and the turning of areas of moorlands into forest have had a huge impact on their population. The population around the Tan Hill inn (Great Britain, highest pub) seems healthier than most and throughout the spring I hear them reasonably regularly. But I can remember a time as children, walking the fell with my father, binoculars in hand, when they seemed to be everywhere. And one bright March day we relinquished our coveted seats by Tan Hill’s welcoming fire and took our drinks outside There we sat for what seemed like an age, listening to countless curlews calling to one another, as they and their song soared above us! On days, like this, I felt the luckiest 12-year-old on the planet, my brother, and I having dad to ourselves for a great long walk and seeing and hearing these wonderful birds in full courtship. And of course, I was even happier, because Neil, the Landlord had let me pull myself a small beer shandy with a little bit more beer than lemonade in it.  I literally was on the top of the world. The curlew and its iconic call it’s probably one of the most evocative sounds of the uplands of Great Britain and Ireland. But in much of folklore(particularly in coastal areas), it is very much associated with sorrow and a harbinger of ill tide and bad omens. However, despite its bittersweet mournful qualities, it is for me and those who like myself, that live and work amongst these wild lands, a joyful  welcoming sound, and a promise of warmer brighter days  ahead. Whenever I hear its call, however faint, it always stops me in my tracks, holding my attention until the last complex note plays out and is carried away on the wind…… No 2. The Lapwing   If you are out walking during the Spring, across the footpaths and fell tracks that lead to the highest pub in Great Britain, then the lapwing will undoubtedly make it known to you ,that it is there! You may catch a glimpse of one watching you, whilst teetering on its toes as it furtively pops its head up above the heather, stretching its neck, moments before exploding noisily into the air in a clamorous declaration to all of its presence.  Before you know it the whole moor resounds with the answering cry, a loud unmistakable, shrill ‘pee-wit’ , which gives it, it’s common local name(and one of many that it goes by)    Once you appear to be no threat, the alarm calls transforms into a bright ebulliently uplifting delightful song. Its  abounding joyfulness underlined by a subtle wistfulness woven inbetween its notes, ensures  that the peewits cheerful ditty is one of the most iconic sounds of the moors and  only marginally bested by the Curlews bewitchingly beautiful, mournful song of the season. For this is their courtship track to the males tumbling, acrobatic display flights. Their frenzied eronautical nuptial dance in the sombre skies above the Moors are all choreographed to this swift rising and falling notes of the melody. The song will be heard throughout the springtime months., while the quest to find the perfect mate and nest site continues…  A distinctively, looking,, wading bird, of blacks and whites,  iridescent purple-green tinges  and topped off with a resplendent tapering crest, the Lapwing returns to Tan Hill each March to breed.  Well camouflaged, their nests are shallow scrapes in the ground lined with grass, feathers, and other vegetation into which they generally lay four eggs. Extremely protective parents they will aggressively defend their nest and offspring from predators and anything or anyone who may stumble towards the nest regardless of. Size. Curious Swaledale sheep are soon given their marching orders! They feed on insects, worms and invertebrates, but when available will

The Road Across the Moor

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The Road Across the Moor. Nowadays, crossing the moors of the Pennine fells  in a motor car, can be completed leisurely within a few hours. The Tan Hill Inn, Great Britain’s highest pub, in North Yorkshire, standing at 1732 feet above sea level is fairly easy to find and  relatively straightforward to  get to, following a variety  of different routes using  whatever mode of transport you wish!   But once upon a time, it was a much more difficult and arduous journey. More often than not, undertaken by foot, over rough terrain and uneven trails. It could take some days to cross from one side of the Pennines to the other. Routes had to be planned meticulously, for there was little shelter to be had among these high flat topped desolate lonely places. But this land was not completely forsaken, for there stood  hostelries such as the Tan Hill Inn, and busy establishments they were! Offering a place of refuge for those weary nomads upon the road, sheltered from the elements, s safe haven in a wild unforgiving land!     For there were many dangers that faced those journeying upon these lonely exposed roads, not least the weather! Sunshine and a gentle breeze could quickly transform into poor visibility and strong gales and blizzarding snow could be upon without warning. Very often it seemed that every other form of metrological permutation in between was served out in cloudbursting succession, leaving traveler’s lost, and disorientated far from a place of refuge and safety!   These were lawless lands and robbing brigands made these remote exposed roads part of their hunting grounds, plundering the wares and possessions of poorly defended merchants and pedlars. Lonely travellers and drovers, herding their stock to the next great fair across the hill, were literally ‘fair’ game too, and a day’s pickings could be very worthwhile. However, these moorland marauder’s knew when to leave these elevated highways, lest the hunter became the hunted. For they were not the only ones that stalked, hunted, or lay waiting for the unwary upon the trail! By the time shadows were lengthening and the Sun had begun to sink behind the darkling fell, finding oneself still upon the moors was a perilous situation to be in. Nightfall came swiftly! There are stories of old that spoke of terrifying encounters had by those who survived to tell the tale! Spine chilling accounts told by horror stricken travelling parties of the strange shadowy things of the Fell, that crossed their path as they navigated a way through the boggy terrain. One such account describes how becoming lost a small group of traders sought another route. They decided upon a trail, that seemed to take them in the direction they needed to go, but eventually  came to a halt in front of an ancient stone cairn, stood upon a raised mound of earth.  The mound was covered in dead brownish grass and thick with thistles, which added to the brooding feeling of dread  this place emanated. They did not linger and they quickly began to backtrack! But soon after they had left the lichen covered pile of rocks, a shrouded wraithlike figure  appeared some way back down the dead ended trail. Several more joined the first and they edged ever closer. The traders describe their features  as translucent, constantly blurring through rictus grins and gibbering leers to a nightmarish gaping black hole where their mouth should be! Their pale blue eyes were said to follow your every move, while their arms, grotesquely, outstretched to unnatural lengths tapered to spindly  grey fingers ever  grasping outwards, eager to feel the warmth of the living and clasp them close  in a grim icy embrace. The fell lands were beset with freakish winds that came from out of nowhere. Circling above the pathways across the moor, and riding this howling onslaught, emitting unearthly shrieks of delight, flew what the dales folk believed, were the unseen fiends that dwelt  on the exposed barren fell tops! While upon the moor, on certain nights, pale ethereal lights flickered on and off amongst dank swirling patches of rapidly forming mist, leading befuddled weary  folk to unwittingly stray from the path and onto treacherous trails that invariably led to flooded mine shafts, bottomless bogs, or further into this Upland wilderness, never to be seen again! The folk of the Dales would say they were spirited away by mischievous sprites. Local folklore also mentions that deep within the labyrinth of  high sided mounds of black wet peat known as ‘hags’, there were shaded hollows where the sun never shone. These pits of eternal darkness concealed openings into caverns where it was believed the more malevolent spirits of the fell, such as boggarts  and other dark, unspeakable things,  silently and patiently lay in wait for those who strayed, just a little bit too close to their subterranean lair!     Then there is another tale, a chilling tale which allude to  the existence of some form of large beast, one that stalked a pair of travellers, who were a little behind schedule after they had obliviously walked off the path. Misshapen shadows cast from the looming tussocky peat hags, prevented the moons bright light from revealing the horror that lurked enveloped both sides of the path ! Only the barely perceptible soft tread of padded paws upon wet ground and a low rumbling growl, reveals its existence! But those two boys knew it was there!  This hellish creature was moments from making its strike, coiled and tensed, ready to leap. Whilst trying to maintain a nonchalant manner, they turned the next corner and the  peat hags abruptly give way to an open stretch of moor and  there was the path again, firmer, broader and  brightly illuminated by the very welcome lights of the highest pub in Britain. The sound of clinking glasses, laughter, music and merrymaking drifted from an open window, encouraging the fearful travellers, without daring to look

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Established 1840.

The World Famous Tan Hill Inn is Britain’s highest public house at 1,732 feet (528m) above sea level.

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