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Peaks and froths: five wild UK walks with a classic pub

Allt-mawr. Walking near the Bear Hotel, Crickhowell
Powys panorama … walkers high on Pen Allt-mawr in the Black Mountains. Photograph: Kevin Walker

Crickhowell, Powys

Pub The Bear
Start/finish Bear Hotel, Crickhowell,
Google map reference
Distance 11.8 miles
Duration 5–7 hours
OS map Explorer OL13

It’s not hard to see how the Black Mountains got their name: as the sun hides behind the cloud, the lumbering hills of the area darken with dramatic effect. Yet when the sun does appear, no matter what the season, they are an inviting prospect for a hill walker.

The Black Mountains lie in the eastern area of the Brecon Beacons national park, and while they don’t hold the magnetic draw of Pen y Fan in the east, they offer walks of solitude and some of the most magnificent views across southern Wales from anywhere. This walk takes in ancient burial sites, the Iron Age hillfort on the top of Table Mountain, stupendous views from Pen Allt-mawr, remote passes and delightful pubs full of history.

The Bear Hotel in Crickhowell is a Good Beer Guide regular. It’s a busy pub, popular for its excellent, locally sourced food, as it has been since the 15th century, when it opened as a coaching inn. There is a mishmash of historical decorations from over the years, with some beautifully preserved wood panelling, wooden settles and two large fireplaces, roaring in winter. There are two bars to stand at and enjoy a couple of guest ales, including from Rhymney Brewery on our visit. It’s a grand place and still impresses after more than 500 years. Another good option is The Bridge End Inn, especially on a warm day, when you can sit outside and enjoy a drink by the river.

Bamford, Peak District

The Cheshire Cheese Inn in Hope
The Cheshire Cheese Inn in Hope Photograph: Michael Cuimmins

Pub Cheshire Cheese
Start/finish Bamford, Derbyshire
Google map reference
Distance 13 miles
Duration 6-7 hours
OS map Explorer OL1

The Vale of Edale sweeps down from the mighty Kinder Scout in the north and up to the ridge between Lose Hill and Mam Tor in the south. In between, the seemingly year-round verdancy of the vale is a proud sight. There’s a walk that offers 360-degree views over the best of the Peak District before seeking out some of its finest pubs.

It starts out from Bamford to summit Win Hill, before dipping down and back up again to Lose Hill, then crosses a ridge towards Mam Tor. Before reaching the “Shivering Mountain” it descends into Hope, and to the quaint old Cheshire Cheese. This is a delightful old pub that was built in 1632 as two cottages – look out for one of the original doorways next to the pub entrance. The cottages sat on the route for sheep drovers, and before them salt merchants. It’s a popular pub with walkers, and on my visit it was serving beers from Thornbridge, Acorn, Abbeydale and Peak Ales. It’s the kind of pub with a collection box for the local mountain rescue team and therefore the kind of pub I like.

The final cross-country walk brings you back to Bamford and the community-owned Anglers Rest.

Malham, Yorkshire Dales

Gordale Scar near Malham.
Gordale Scar near Malham. Photograph: Alamy

Pub Talbot Arms
Star Malham National Park Centre (Google map ref)
Finish Talbot Arms, Settle (Google map ref)
Distance 10 miles
Duration 4-6 hours
OS map Explorer OL2

This walk has it all: geological wonders, exposed moorland, expansive scenery, an occasional hint of danger and some brilliant pubs. It features some of the best natural attractions in the Yorkshire Dales national park, among them Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss. It reads like a greatest hits and it’s all within 10 miles.

The route starts out at the Malham National Park Centre and heads up through Gordale Scar, which requires a little bit of scrambling up a wet waterfall. It is short, but falling isn’t an option. To avoid the scramble, follow the signs out of Malham to Malham Cove and pick up the route there, knocking a couple of miles off the full distance. Be sure to visit Gordale Scar either way. Once you’ve puffed up the waterfall, walk over to Malham Cove, past the little-visited Attermire Scar then into Settle.

In Settle, the Talbot Arms has won several local Camra branch awards, including Pub of the Year in 2016. It’s a friendly destination, popular with walkers and locals. A stove heats one of the rooms and there is a room with pool table, dartboard and dominoes – home to several local leagues. It has the largest beer garden in Settle. On handpump when I visited were beers from Bridgehouse, Leeds and Settle breweries.

A shuttle service runs between Settle and Malham on Sundays and bank holidays in the summer; otherwise you either need two cars or to take a five-mile taxi ride back to Malham. It’s very much worth the effort, though.

Pentland Hills, Scottish Borders near Edinburgh

The Grey Horse, Balerno, Scotland
The Grey Horse, Balerno, Scotland

Pub Grey Horse, Balerno
Start/finish Harlaw House Visitor Centre
Google map reference
Distance 9½miles
Duration 4-6 hours
OS map Explorer 344

It’s easy to underestimate the Pentland Hills, a range of gently arching hills eight miles south-west of Edinburgh, both regarding the challenge they provide and the beauty they offer. Be under no illusion though, this is a real mountain day out, reaching a height of 1,880ft (573m), with some steep climbing. If snow covers the ground, one of the advantages of the Pentland Hills is that there are plenty of equally lovely lower-level walks. The walker will be rewarded with endless views over Edinburgh, across the Scottish Borders and north into Midlothian.

This route leaves from the town of Balerno, where there’s a pub well regarded by the local Camra branch. The Grey Horse is a traditional village pub that dates back to the 18th century; a pub of two halves, with a newly refurbished dining section plus a down-to-earth bar with a fire and original wood panelling. Above the fireplace is a copy of the minutes from the first meeting of the Balerno Burns Club, known as “Let it Blaw”, held here in 1881 (when the pub was called Henderson’s Inn), a club that is still going strong in its celebration of the life and works of Robert Burns. The annual January supper includes toasts, songs and recitations, as well as the “hilarity and harmony” recorded in the report of their first gathering back in 1881. There’s certainly plenty of local beer on offer to celebrate with.

Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

The Dining Room in Traquair House - Innerleithen
The brewery at Traquair House runs tastings in the dining room. Photograph: Alamy

Pub The Bridge Inn
Start Innerleithen (Google map ref)
Finish Peebles (Google map ref)
Distance 10½ miles
Duration 4-6 hours
OS map Explorer 337

Scotland’s border country is often overlooked by hillwalkers, but unfairly, as this is some of its most beautiful countryside, offering deep valleys, ancient forests and lofty hills, often scattered with the remnants of ancient settlements. This is something walkers along the 212-mile Southern Upland Way know well, of course, and our route follows a brief part of that. It also follows a few miles of the Cross Borders Drove Road.

We start out in the village of Innerleithen and soon stop at Traquair House, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, and home to a brewery, which includes tastings in the 18th-century dining room. The route then climbs onto the ancient drove road, before the long ridgeline descent into the bustling town of Peebles, home to several great pubs, including The Bridge Inn. There’s a log-burning stove to dry your boots by, while you admire the beers on tap (which included the marvellous Jarl from Fyne Ales on my last visit).

The pub, opened in 1896, is still known by many in the town as the Trust. When the local council widened the bridge over the Tweed, the Tweedside Inn, as it was then known, was rented to the East of Scotland Public House Trust, hence the Trust name.

This is an edited extract from Wild Pub Walks by Daniel Neilson, published by Camra Books at £11.99, shop.camra.org.uk


This article titled "Peaks and froths: five wild UK walks with a classic pub" was written by Daniel Neilson, for The Guardian on Tuesday 26 December 2017 07.00am

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