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The UK pub with its own planetarium – and you can even spot the Northern Lights from it

THERE can’t be many pubs that boast their own planetarium, but that is exactly what I found when I went to Northumberland in search of the Northern Lights.

The hamlet of Twice Brewed is twice blessed, home to a state-of-the-art youth hostel and visitor centre with views of Hadrian’s Wall, while the inn next-door offers pints, pizzas and a planetarium.

The Northern Lights seen over Whittle Dene reservoir in Northumberland
Northumberland is among the best locations in the UK to view the Northern Lights

As Northumberland has the largest area of protected dark sky outside the US, it could be the perfect place to spot the aurora borealis during International Dark Sky Week (April 2 to 8).

I brought my boys Alex, 11, and William, 9, up north to relive a Hadrian’s Wall walking trip I took at their age — only this time with some modern comforts that just weren’t available 30 years ago.

Our four-night stay in a family room at YHA The Sill set us back just £150, a right result in the Easter holidays, but our lodgings feel more luxe than low-cost.

Light communal areas with wooden floors and walls decorated with imagery inspired by the landscape outside make this a lovely place to stay.

Add in welcoming staff, spotless rooms and a lovely playscape, and we had the ideal family-friendly base for a budget adventure.

It is a far cry from the hostelling of old, where you bring own bedding.

You do still need to pack a towel or hire one on site.

Guests also have the choice to either use the well-equipped self-catering kitchen or check out the cafe that feeds kids for a quid when an adult orders a meal.

It is refreshing to stay at a purpose-built, eco-friendly hostel rather than some plain hotel.

The old hostel here, where I stayed in my youth, was known as Once Brewed and there is various stories about how it got its quirky name, along with its next-door neighbour.

A stellar stay

The Twice Brewed Inn and microbrewery opened its observatory four years ago, just as lockdown struck.

But it seems like the sky is the limit for its astro tourism offer, after it added the planetarium a year ago and recently built a dedicated centre aptly known as The Space.

It has been a decade since Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water and Forest Park became England’s first International Dark Sky Park, thanks to its minimal light pollution.

Unfortunately the British weather meant we had cloud cover, so we didn’t get to try out one of the pub’s £400 telescopes.

But we enjoyed viewing constellations up close in the planetarium and learning about shooting stars and aurora borealis.

A state-of-the-art youth hostel and visitor centre has views of Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great location for walking

Obviously the night would have been better for the boys if they could have enjoyed the hands-on experience of telescopes, but they were chuffed to be given tiny meteorite fragments to take home.

With the very soggy winter we have experienced, I wasn’t sure what walking conditions on the wall would be like for two inexperienced ramblers and one lapsed one.

But you can head out in either direction from The Sill, safe in the knowledge that you can easily catch the AD122 bus back if you prefer.

The route has bus stops at all the main Roman sites like Vindolanda and Housesteads, as well as Hexham and Haltwhistle.

Rover tickets for one day or three days mean you can leave the car behind.

If you want to give hostelling, stargazing or rambling a go for the first time, you would be hard-pressed to find a better base than this.

It is a stellar stay in the glowing galaxy of budget British breaks.

GO: Northumberland

STAYING THERE: One night in a shared room at YHA The Sill hostel at Hadrian’s Wall is from £20pp.

See yha.org.uk/hostel/yha-the-sill-at-hadrians-wall.

GETTING THERE: The nearest rail station is at Haltwhistle.

Take a taxi for the final eight miles or catch the AD122 bus (runs April to September only).

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