Thomas P. Ogden

Day 8 - Hardraw Force to Tan Hill

Pennine Way Day 8, via Great Shunner Fell, Thwaite and Keld.

I knew it was due to rain on Saturday morning and had hoped to be packed up before it started. So I cursed when I woke to patters on the tent not long after five o’clock. I had a plan in the event of a wet start, however. I’d spotted a house-build next to the inn, which had been topped off but not fitted with windows or doors yet. I got all my stuff together inside the tent (quite difficult when everything has to be done lying down) and ran my bag over to drop it in the house. Then I ran back, circled the tent to pull out all the pegs and carried it over so I could take it down and sort my waterproofs out under the protection of a roof.

The morning’s task was Great Shunner Fell (A) and, boy, was I shunned by this mountain. The rain continued to pour, the cloud pressed in on me as soon as I got onto the Fell and the wind only got fiercer as I gained altitude. The outside world disappeared entirely and I had no idea how far I’d gone or had to go. My nifty backpack-covering waterproof poncho only served, in these conditions, as a sail to push me in whichever direction the gales swirled, and to flap up into my face; so I gave up on it, preferring to get soaked. It took no little determination to keep going for hour after hour like this; I repeated ‘HUP! two, three, four…’ continuously to maintain a pace, and shouted crazily at myself to keep going.

The summit cairn offered little protection from the elements and no views, of course, so I continued, northeastward, for more of the same on the descent. As I neared Thwaite (B) and a return to civilisation, I finally passed somebody: a southbound Pennine Way walker. He’d taken eleven days to get to this point, which worried me a little as I only had eight days to cover the same ground. It’s curious to meet someone coming the other way—you each hold the whole trail in your head: part in memory, part in imagination; but you each have the opposite parts. Your near future is their recent past, and vice versa. You try to extract information through questions, ‘what are the best and worst bits to come?’, ‘what’s the Cheviot like?’ and by examining faces for signs of joy, tiredness or fear when they answer.

Perhaps the strain of Great Shunner showed in mine, because before we carried on, he said ‘you know, if you take a left on the first road you get to down there, it’ll take you straight to Keld and chop a couple of miles off.’ As a measure of my weariness, I began to consider the idea. Reaching the road, I paused for a moment and compared the directness of the tarmac with the hike over Kisdon Hill. I carried on—no shortcuts! I soon wondered if I’d regret that decision however, as I got lost on the side of Kisdon. Finding myself at a dry stone wall with no stile, I realised I was a few contour lines away from where I needed to be, and so had to track back for a miserable twenty minutes. On the right path again, I journeyed down through woodland and over some ankle-testing scree, before stopping for lunch next to a river crossing at a small waterfall, where the Pennine Way bisects Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast walk (C).

Here I had to say a fond farewell to the Dales as I entered County Durham. After an ascent back onto open moorland, I spotted my destination: the implausibly isolated Tan Hill Inn. Tan Hill is the highest pub in England at 528m above sea level, right on top of a remote moor. I had expected it to be somewhat quiet (with the significant effort required to get here from anywhere) but when I arrived, in the afternoon, it was full. I waited at the bar as the man I presumed to be the landlord served drinks. He was a cheery, middle-aged chap with spiky hair (dyed bright red), a black wasitcoat and missing front teeth. A bowler hat later appeared. From the way he bantered with the customers, I think he’d typically be described as ‘a character’. I approved of his swagger in time to the country music on the jukebox. I asked if I could camp. ‘Of course you can,’ he exclaimed, and even kindly offered me a couch to sleep on indoors in the bar lounge. Lovely! ‘The only thing is, this is a wedding party, and it’s likely to keep going late into the night.’ The girls next to me confirmed enthusiastically. So that would be why there were so many smartly-dressed folk then.

I had to consider my options. As much as a comfortable couch in a warm room appealed, I knew I’d be exhausted and would want to be away early in the morning. I didn’t really want to get involved with a wedding. I thanked him and went to set up my tent outside. For the second time in a day, I wondered if I’d made the right call. Being on top of a broad summit, the wind made pitching a tent (even a low one like mine) difficult. At first I looked for the best bit of ground, but the wind just bent the poles flat there. With very little grace I staggered with the tent across to the biggest boulder I could see to use it as a break. Unfortunately, the ground here was at an incline, and was bumpy with stones. What choice did I have? I pitched as near to the boulder as I could stamp the pegs in, and weighed all the sides down with rocks to stop gusts from getting underneath.

I scurried back into the pub to sit down and get warm, and worried about my tent outside. ‘You’ll be fine’ said the barman, nodding to the wind speed meter above the optics. ‘32 miles an hour. We get 50 to 60 here sometimes.’ I was less than reassured, and spent the evening wondering if my tent would get to Kirk Yetholm a few days before me. I’d taken up residence next to the fire to read and, as nobody seemed to be paying any attention, I poked and stoked it a couple of times to keep it burning. Only when I stood up to check on my stuff did I realise my work had constituted an acceptance of responsibility.

‘Where do you think you’re going? You’re in charge of that fire now, son—you’d better be keeping an eye on it.’

So then I had a tent and a fire to worry about.

Hardraw Force to
Tan Hill Profile Map
Day Distance Ascent Duration Tent Fail Windspeed
8 24.1 km 1,077 m 7 h 14 m/s