Chronicling the History, exploring the Mythology & Delving into the Legend of the World Famous Inn.
Prologue – The Dawn of Time
The Tan Hill Inn is undoubtedly and incontestably the highest pub in Great Britain. At 1732ft above sea level it gazes down upon all pretenders to the title, content in the knowledge that there would need to be some extreme shifting of the earth and some pretty spectacular seismic activity for any hypsometric wannabe to elevate themselves up into a position that surpasses our coveted altitude. But of course that is not going to happen, our entry in the Guinness book of records, we believe is pretty secure!
But could there be another record that this famous North Yorkshire pub is eligible for? It has certainly been here for a long time. But it couldn’t possibly claim to have a place amongst the oldest public houses in the land. Or could it? No one is really sure for how many hundreds of years, an inn has stood here in at this lonely site. However, a hostelry of some sort has occupied this lofty position for so long, that an exact date of when the first pub came to be built and when the very first pint was pulled or poured, has long since been forgotten, it’s origins alas, have been lost in the mists of time. If we knew for sure, then, perhaps the Tan Hill Inn could indeed challenge whatever pub holds the record of being the oldest drinking establishment in Great Britain! Unfortunately, there is no documentation, no deeds, or any delicate papyrus scrolls or chiselled stone tablets waiting to be deciphered, (none that we are aware of anyway!) that could impart that information. So how the first inn came about and who had the foresight to build it, and why, remain unknown! It is almost as if it has always been here, high above the clouds, hidden behind a veil of mist, nestling in the heather just waiting to be discovered by those lucky enough to stumble across it! Almost like some fabled utopian Shangri-La lost valley, but one that imparts great Beer, rather than ancient wisdom! But of course that is a ridiculous notion and is but the stuff of fairytales!
We can though, make intelligent guesses to the circumstances that led to its origins, based on what we know now and speculate on what we don’t. But for us to do so we must travel far back through the pages of history to an age before. Right back, almost to the very dawn of time itself!
Like most of northern Britain, for many centuries, the area that became North Yorkshire, where Tan Hill now stands was once frozen under great groaning and creaking sheets of ice. Then about 11,500 years ago the great glacier’s that carved, ground and shaped the landscape we recognise today retreated. The last ice age ended. Vegetation rapidly reclaimed the land, herd animals returned, creating well trodden familiar routes whilst migrating from one feeding ground to another, and soon after men followed!
It is worth noting that the roads across the moor that lead to where the pub now stands, follow lines of ancient track that are believed to date back over 5000 years ago to Neolithic-times. Are the roads across the moors today based upon these migratory routes of old? We cannot know for sure as there are other factors (we will look into later) that may have influenced the orientation of from where and to, these unsheltered lanes of old traversed! Tan Hills location may well have been known to early Stone Age hunter gatherers who would have passed this way. Though it is highly unlikely that these nomadic tribes erected any form of permanent structure to shelter under, prepare food or let alone serve pints! Perhaps they briefly stopped here from time to time, as they stalked their prey. Back then most of the country was covered in dense woodland, that stretched almost from coast to coast, and it was only the very high tops of fells and exposed rocky outcrop’s that were treeless. The early Britons that cut simple paths through the scrubby thickets of birch, juniper, heather and other upland plants would have found these treeless glades useful. Coming across a break in the canopy whilst trailing herds of reindeer, or tracking bear or other large predators to their lairs, could have proven advantageous! Or they may have just enjoyed the feeling of the Sun upon their faces as they cautiously left the cover of the trees!
Tan Hills exposed position could have provided such a clearing amongst the endless woodland. Standing upon the gritstone crag behind the pub does indeed provide onlookers with a powerful 360° vista of all the world around. The wandering hunters would have been able to establish their location there, and perhaps flush smaller quarry into the open, whilst keeping a wary lookout for encroaching danger such as the wolf packs that quietly followed in the reindeers wake! Tan Hill’s prominence and rocky vantage point, aloft the long since disappeared ancient upland scrub forest, may well have unwittingly decided the site for the future pub that stands here now!