Stargazing, fine food and great walks..
There were three of us in the car, devouring our weight in popcorn as we sat in a lengthy traffic jam on the A1 on a Friday evening heading north for our weekend of stargazing and walking with Large Outdoors.
So, not the best start to the weekend other than we did settle one of life’s conundrums – how many people were, at that moment, eating quiche for their tea (best not ask how we got onto that one but we had spent a long time cooped up!).
Funnily enough though, when we finally arrived at our destination in deepest, darkest Northumberland, with an impromptu show of the stars in all their fabulousness and meeting and greeting the rest of the group, all the driving stress soon melted away.
We even had time for a short stargazing safari on a walk around the bunkhouse grounds with our guide, Alex who was very good at pointing out the various constellations.
Saturday and the first of the decisions to be had – whether to have a mug of cafetière coffee, cup of tea or both – ok don’t mind if I do! Once out, we drove a short distance to Kielder Water and what a beauty of a drive it was.
Nestled in a fold of the landscape before you reach Scotland, Kielder is a long way from anything that could remotely be called urban. We struck out from Kielder Water in sunshine and with a heavy frost (it had been minus 5 during the night) turning the vegetation white, it felt as though we could easily have been on a winter’s jaunt in the Alps.
With Alex sharing facts and stats on the local surroundings – I now know the difference between the Scots Pine and Sitka Spruce – and a healthy level of banter signalling that strangers had now become walking mates, miles were soon being covered.
Following routes that kindly climbed steadily through the forest we came to a lonely path with a bit of a pull up to our highest point of the day, Monkside. Here we stopped for lunch looking out at the panorama that had opened up – the snow-clad Southern Uplands of Scotland in one direction, the high peaks of the Lakes in the other.
From there, we looped back round along paths that led deeper into Northumberland’s remote spots before finally reaching the familiar surroundings of the water’s edge.
Back at base there was a polite ‘after-you, no after-you’ before an unseemly scramble to be closest to the wood burner while having a cup of tea before Alex rustled up two very respectable, moreish curries.
We ventured back out and drove along miles of twisting gravel tracks into the deepest recesses of the forest, finally reaching the futuristic Observatory, only to be hit by the curse of the stargazer – a cloudy sky!
I have to say though that despite the stars’ inconvenient no-show, the astronomers and staff at the Observatory were fantastic with presentations and telescope demonstrations showing basically what we could have seen.
So having been dazzled by the other-worldliness of the Observatory, what better way to come back down to earth than with a few slugs of some fine gin and a good old game of scrabble (wild I know but it did unearth some very underhand tactics by certain members of the group).
Alas we had to leave early on Sunday and so couldn’t join the group on a walk alongside Hadrian’s Wall but I hear reports that it was a fine one in spite of the less-than-ideal murk that set in later in the day.
Thanks to Large Outdoors for sorting all the arrangements which left myself and my two mates free to just switch off and become lemmings – sometimes it’s good to relax and be led!
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