Conversations About The Weather Part Two: London to Scotland. Via Hadrian's Wall and a Village With Two Names.
The second part of a most unusual road trip tale...
It was some time ago now that I decided I wanted to go to Barometer World, which is in Devon. I had read about it in a book I had got for Christmas, which is all about quirky places to visit in Britain. An exhibition of instruments used to measure air pressure and forecast the weather seemed too good to pass up. Especially as, being British, I am forever looking out of the window doubtfully, before exclaiming to my family/work colleagues/total strangers that it looks like rain, or aren't we lucky that's sunny today, or what awful weather this is, you'd never know it was summer would you? My friend Erica volunteered to come with me to Devon, and we spent months excitedly planning our trip.
And so it came to pass that at 6am on a chilly Saturday morning in September we loaded ourselves into The Stagbeetle and hit the A1(M), bound for....Scotland.
The great thing about a road trip is that you can go anywhere where there are roads. We thought why worry about going directly to Devon? We'll get there eventually. But first, let's see the rest of the British Isles and talk to everybody we meet about the weather. And this is exactly what we did.
As you may remember from my last post, I had contacted Barometer World to ask if we could come and have a look round and they had got back to me saying they might not be able to open on the requested date (the exhibition is only open by appointment). It looked as if the whole purpose of our road trip might cease to be. I needed to find a replacement weird attraction for us to visit. I brought my book of British oddities along on the trip, hoping to find something equally as excellent whilst en route. In the meantime, we had some other things to get done.
We struck out for northern Scotland, to look for Nessie. We had realised in advance that London to Loch Ness is too much for one day, so we had scheduled a stop in Northumberland on the way. After a full day of driving resolutely upwards, passing signs declaring the looming presence of THE NORTH, and then across the majesty of the North Pennines in the blazing sunshine, which reminded me strangely of the desert in New Mexico (probably would not have reminded me of said place had it been pissing down), we arrived at our destination for the night - the tiny village known variously as either Once or Twice Brewed. I had read that it used to be that if you approach from one direction, the sign reads 'Welcome to Once Brewed' and if you approach from the other way you are welcomed to Twice Brewed. Having immediately seen the appeal in a village that cannot make up it's mind how many times it has been distilled, fermented or otherwise mixed together, I had proposed that we stop there to try and get to the bottom of it.
The village consists of a backpackers hostel with camp site, as well as a hotel, also used by backpackers along Hadrian's Wall and the Pennine Way, and a sign reading 'Hadrian's Wall this way'. We arrived at the hotel (we're not much for camping) at around 6pm, at about the same time as all the hikers were piling in from a day out on the trails. The first order of business was to locate and photograph the two different signs, which involved an impressive trek up and down a rural highway for several miles, before it got dark. From this we learned that either the story is made up or someone has replaced the sign. Both read 'Welcome to Twice Brewed', indicating that at some point, extra brewing was needed in order to really make the village ready for visitors. The hotel is also called The Twice Brewed Inn, which settles it really. I did find a smaller road sign marked 'Once Brewed' but in general the area seemed to be denying it's singular brewed status altogether. The second order of business was to check in to our room and then find the bar.
The bar was full of hikers, celebrating with carbs and alcohol. I was pleased to note the presence of some local gins (Hepple Gin and The Lakes Gin) and we got down to the important business of drinking. Later on, realising that the incredibly famous Hadrian's Wall was visible from the hotel and that, in actual fact, we were right next to it, I went outside to view the thing. I must have appeared confused because a strapping hiker with an accent of unknown origin (but it was Geordie-like in nature) asked me what I was looking for. 'Hadrian's Wall' I answered. I felt a bit cheated. Clearly it wasn't in view, otherwise surely it would be obvious. Miles high and flashing with neon lights reading 'Romans Were 'Ere' or something. 'See that wall over there, the falling down one?' the hiker said, pointing. I looked. I could see several stone walls in various states of Falling Down. 'Yes...' I said, truthfully. 'That's it' he said, and I attempted to look really happy at viewing this titan of historical significance, whilst really having no idea which wall he was referring to. I still maintain that it could have been one of about fifteen walls dotting the landscape in front of us. You sort of think the Romans might have made a bit more effort.
The next morning we got in the car and followed the 'Hadrian's Wall This Way' sign in order to get a closer look at the thing. We parked in a car park on a hill, and got out, refusing to let ourselves be foxed by the presence of less important walls. Twenty minutes later and quite fed up, we got back in the car, none the wiser about which wall had been built as a marvellous feat of engineering to keep barbarians away from the Roman Empire and which walls had been built to stop sheep from escaping. Maybe some things are just not meant to be discovered.
Above our heads, the previously clear blue sky was slowly being replaced with a thin sheen of high, white cloud. This indicated an atmosphere on the change, meaning that rain would soon be upon us. If I had had a barometer with me, I am sure it would have confirmed the situation. There was nothing else for it. Flummoxed by walls and having greatly enjoyed our stay in the land of multiple brewing, we got back in the car and drove towards that towering blockade of fog sometimes known as Scotland.
To be continued....
All photographs © Christina Owen 2016