One bright Spring morning a young couple arrived as the new landlords of the most remote, bleak and lonely pub, in the most remote, bleak and lonely of the Yorkshire Dales. They had no experience of the licensed trade, no knowledge of farming and, as “offcomers”, a complete inability to understand the dialect of the sheep farmers who formed the majority of their local customers. Eager, well-meaning but terminally incompetent, our two heroes embarked on a disaster-strewn career that somehow also turned into a lifelong love affair with the Dales. The Inn At The Top is an hilarious and fond ramble around the inn, the Dales countryside and a remarkable array of local characters. Those who love the “Dales tales” of James Herriot and Gervase Phinn, will delight in these new chronicles of The Inn At The Top.
"Once upon a time, not so long ago and not so far away, a young man and his wife were living in a state of contented idleness in a tiny Yorkshire hill village; I know because I was that young man. It was the late 1970s, a time when pub licensing laws were strict and strictly enforced, shops shut on Saturday lunchtime and didn’t reopen until Monday morning, olive oil was only obtainable from chemists and was used, not for culinary purposes but for dissolving earwax, and the only spices in general use were salt and pepper.
One morning, while completing my customary leisurely perusal of the papers, I came across an article about the most remote pub in England and its owners’ search for a new manager. The inn, near the head of the most beautiful of all the Dales, had only sheep and grouse for company; its next-door neighbour was four miles away. The wind was so ferocious - ‘strong enough to blow the horns off a tup [ram]’ - that it could rip car doors from their hinges and force would-be customers to enter the pub on their hands and knees; for reasons entirely unconnected with wind and weather, there has never been a shortage of customers leaving a pub by that method. It rained 250 days of the year - on the other 115 it was probably just drizzling - and in winter the pub was regularly cut off by snowdrifts for weeks on end. There were no mains services of any sort, just a septic tank, Calor gas, a diesel generator and an arthritic water-pump in a stream 400 yards from the inn.
‘How preposterous, only a complete idiot would want to run a place like that,’ I thought, dialling directory enquiries. By the time Sue came home, I’d arranged an interview.
Seven days later, having already climbed more mountains and crossed more dales than Julie Andrews ever managed in The Sound of Music, we found ourselves driving up an apparently endless hill with rain and wind lashing the surrounding barren fells. ‘We must have missed it,’ I said, ‘even Heathcliffe wouldn’t live up here.’
Since the road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, with glutinous peat bog to either side, we were forced to carry on, and, right at the top of the hill, we found the loneliest pub in the country. It also looked like the ugliest, with collapsing, mustard yellow rendering on the walls, cracked, filthy windows, and flaking paintwork on the rotting signboard over the door; “The Slaughtered Lamb” from the film An American Werewolf in London, came to mind, though admittedly with fewer psychotic customers.
If the look of the inn was - to put it mildly - disappointing, its surroundings were absolutely breathtaking, with a rolling ocean of moorland, stretching to the horizon, in an endless tapestry of subtle colours and textures: peat, rock, bilberry, crowberry, cloudberry, cotton grass, sphagnum moss and an astonishing array of lichens, heathers, grasses and mosses, arrayed beneath a vast cloudscape that was never the same for two seconds together. We stood there transfixed; it was love at first sight.
The interview was a fairly cursory affair as we sat round a table in the bar, our eyes watering in the smoke from the fire. ‘We’ve still got other couples to interview,’ one of the owners said. ‘So we’ll be in touch.’
‘And our expenses?’ I said - you can take the man out of journalism, but you can’t take journalism out of the man.
‘We’re not paying expenses,’ the other one said, with almost indecent haste. ‘It wouldn’t be fair on the others.’
‘The ones who don’t ask for expenses.’
On the long journey back, we considered the advantages and disadvantages of accepting the job, if it were offered. ‘We’d be giving up a pretty near idyllic existence,’ Sue said. ‘We’re already living in a beautiful place and we’ve got everything we need where we are. We’d have to be mad to swap all that for a cold, wet, windy, rat-infested ruin in the middle of nowhere, working for two of the sleaziest people I’ve ever met.’
‘So that settles it, then,’ I said. ‘If they offer it, we’ll take it.’ The result of this folie a deux was that six frantic days later, we found ourselves ensconced behind the bar of the Inn at the Top."
‘Massively readable... full of rich anecdote, wry and often touching observations, amusing characters, witty dialogue and fascinating information.’
"A tribute to a way of life which is long gone and a celebration of the Dales people."
Sarah Freeman, Yorkshire Post
“One of the funniest, most entertaining and life-affirming books of the year... A warm and often hilarious account of tenacity and survival, The Inn at the Top is packed with true Yorkshire-style anecdotes, brushes with the law, late night lock-ins, adventures with colourful locals and weather stories to make your hair curl. Sit back and enjoy…”
Pam Norfolk, Lancashire Evening Post
“Funny and delightful tale... set in the remote, bleak and lonely Yorkshire Dales, it's full of the colour and characters of that area, and will delight fans of James Herriot and Gervase Phinn.”
"Neil Hanson's anecdote-laden memoir is reminiscent of James Herriot."
“Happy holiday reading.. highly diverting”
Mike Amos, The Northern Echo
“A heartwarming and hilarious tale.”
Darlington & Stockton Times
“Richly entertaining… (and) a wonderful history lesson.”
Mike Sansbury, Ilkley Gazette
“A warm, amusing and at times sad book... it’s also beautifully written.”
Roger Protz, Protz on Beer
“Engaging and entertaining... warm memories to last a lifetime.”
Jeff Evans, Inside Beer