Dark Skies Northumberland

Dark Skies Northumberland
Nov 2023

By John Clarke

Having recently gotten into astrophotography, I wanted to sample some dark skies experience, some annual holiday owing, we booked a few days to go up to Northumberland. Researching where to stay, the standout destination had to be the Twice Brewed Inn in a place on the map known as Once Brewed. The place is now infamously known for the sycamore gap tree that was chopped down by a few mindless individuals, but that is another story.

The pub is very much geared up for astrophotography being in the Northumberland national park. Here the Bortle scale is between 2 & 3, so very dark. However, I have to take their word on this as our getaway coincided with the arrival of Storm Debi which meant it rained relentlessly for 2 days and a total white-out with cloud for the full duration.

However, there was a saving grace to the very wet few days. Attached to the pub, there is a planetarium which is run by Wil Cheung. Wil offers a number of evening events for various aspects of Astrophotography. We signed up for the star gazing and planetarium experience and an Astrophotography for beginner's course.

Within the planetarium Wil takes us on a journey into the stars and planets, narrating through the changing seasonal constellations. He is able to take you back in time to any given date to see what was in the sky that day. We did have a few moments when dodging the passing showers where we all rushed outside to see if there were any gaps in the clouds, and for fleeting few minutes there was glimpses of Jupiter and a couple of stars. Wil has almost 30 dobsonian 200mm Skywatcher reflectors which were dragged out and we scrambled to catch fleeting glimpses of the stars.

On the second night, signed up for the astrophotography course, again Wil led an excellent presentation on how to photograph the stars. His speciality is very much about using DSLR cameras and standard lenses, although he does touch on telescopes and astro cameras. Again, due to the weather, no chance of practising outside, so this is where the planetarium comes in and he set up the dome with real-time projections of the stars.

Wil specialises in aurora photography and both in his lectures and in the practical photography sessions, he was able to display various aurora formations for us to practice setting the cameras to capture the displays.

In terms of the pub, they offer 22 rooms, 3 of which are chalets which are great if you are wanting to set up for late night / early hours observing without having to disturb other guests.

There are a good range of local brewed beers from their on-site micro-brewery. Menu is varied, and an excellent Northumberland breakfast.

Other local interests, with Hadrian's wall very close by, there are plenty of roman ruins to see, next door the to pub is the Sill which is a museum showcasing the Northumberland national park. 45 minute drive away is the Kilder forest.

Just book when clear skies can be forecasted

Pub B & B - Twice Brewed Inn

Wil Photography