Hadrian’s Wall: Fear and Loathing in Twice Brewed

MikeachimThe Everyday18 Comments

Okay, so…

I’m a total fraud.

But look, I’ve no time to feel sorry for myself. Get inside. Get warm. Self-loathing, later.

I step into the pub – and everything goes white.

Someone notices me standing in the doorway.

“You have a room with us, sir? Ah yes. Shall I lead you there, because it looks like you can’t see? Hah. Aren’t glasses a pain when they do that? And yes, it is lovely and warm in here. Only in here, though. The heating upstairs doesn’t come on for another 2 hours.”

I follow the darker blob through the brighter blobs around me, reaching out a hand to feel my way along the edges of tables, doors and, judging from the proximity of a stifled giggle, someone’s head. Then I’m clumping up stairs. It’s getting cooler – which is great, because a hole is clearing at the bottom of my spectacles and if I tip my head back like I’m limbo-dancing, I can see where I’m going.

But – it’s getting cooler. The heating is off? I’ve just spent 7 hours walking from Hexham up onto Hadrian’s Wall and along it, miles and miles of being hosed and blasted by the elements, I haven’t been able to feel my feet since lunchtime – and the bloody heating is off?

My room is at the end of two long corridors, the first warmish, the second through another door and cold enough to feel on my windchill-deadened skin. My room is right at the end of it, against the windswept back of the building. My rudimentary grasp of thermodynamics tells me this is not good news. I enter my room. It’s immaculate, beautifully decorated and as cold as a meat locker. I switch the plastic electric kettle on, more by instinct than anything, and while it boils I pull my sodden boots off, and then I place the just-boiled kettle on the ground so I can wrap my feet around it in a prehensile manner.


When I can walk again, I run the shower in the hope that the hot water is on a different system to the central heating. Turns out it isn’t.

Thoroughly depressed, I sit and eat all the complimentary biscuits.

I know what I must do. It’s my duty – but more than that, it’s a penance. Because…because I cheated.

You won’t find the village of Twice Brewed on a map.

Here’s why, according to multiple online sources and a slightly bitter-sounding barman at the Twice Brewed Inn (above).

  • Once upon a time there was a village northwest of Hexham called Twice Brewed – population ahahah ask me another one. It consisted of an inn, a couple of farms and a stretch of road first laid down in 1751.
  • In 1934 the YHA descended upon the village to build a youth hostel – the very first in the whole of England, would you believe.
  • During its opening ceremony, a local dignitary allegedly said “‘Of course there will be no alcohol served on these premises so I hope the tea and coffee will only be brewed once.”
  • The “Once Brewed” Youth Hostel became, in no time at all, the Once Brewed Youth Hostel.
  • Someone – perhaps at Ordnance Survey, perhaps somewhere else – either visited or heard about the village, spotted the Youth Hostel’s name, figured it meant “The youth hostel of the village Once Brewed”…
  • …and Twice Brewed vanished from the official maps. Zoom into the description of the village on Google Maps and you get “Once Brewed, also known as Twice Brewed or Once Brewed/Twice Brewed is a village in Northumberland, England” – but on the map itself, it’s Once Brewed. Same on Ordnance Survey. Same at Wikipedia. Same everywhere.

What was once a village is now an inn – a haven for walkers making the long, rugged haul from the hills above Hexham, over the spectacularly bleak Sewingshields Crags and down past Housesteads to Sycamore Gap (below). I’m staying in the inn overnight, and I’m glad I’m doing so. Rooms are cheap – only £35 a single room, compared to the £60 I paid for a fairly awful single in Hexham the previous night. Since I’m the only one staying in the inn tonight (December 29th), I’m given a free upgrade to an ensuite twin room. The food is excellent – I know this because I ate here back in 2006, escaping from a nearby rain-lashed campsite with a friend. Hadrian’s Wall is a ten minute walk across the fields at the other side of the road.

And it’s a really nice pub.

But I’ll shut up now – as long as you promise me you won’t pass it by if you’re in the area.

Yes? Good.

Back to me, sitting there covered in biscuit crumbs, freezing and miserable.

My options are:

1) Go down into the pub and try and warm up, sitting there covered in filth, glaring misanthropically at people until they avert their eyes, pickling myself with a glass of the local gut-rot and wallowing in self-disgust.


2) I could get back out there and walk the stretch of Wall, the really unmissably famous stretch of Wall, that I skipped an hour earlier, because I was cold and wet and fed up with the rain and worried about the colour of the sky – a sky that was now not only free of rain, but free of cloud as well. A blue sky. It had cleared pretty much the moment a car stopped to give me a lift to the Twice Brewed Inn, as I stood there on the road with my thumb out after having come down off the Wall, chickening out of the last few miles, feeling a fraud, wondering if I should blog about it. (Maybe I could, you know, gloss over this bit. Nobody needs to know. Anyway, nobody would believe the weather could be this unfair, even if they lived in northern England).

The extremely nice couple that drove me the remaining few miles to Twice Brewed, bless ’em….they even pointed the weather out to me, in case I hadn’t noticed it.

“Ooh, look at that, it’s clearing already. Isn’t that ironic? I bet you weren’t expecting that. Ho ho!”.

On the back seat, I forced a sick smile and sunk deeper into my sodden jacket. It’s not their fault, Mike. They’re an extremely nice couple. They’re just trying to be helpful. Hey, maybe the car will skid on the next corner and we’ll plunge down a ravine, hit the bottom and explode. Here’s hoping. 

But no – we made it to Twice Brewed, they dropped me off, I said “thank you, and I entered the Inn under blue skies and a dark cloud of my own making.

Decision time.

Why don’t you just go downstairs, stop being an idiot, have a beer, sit by the fire and warm up?  Come on. Give me a good reason why not. Can you give me a good reason why you should drag your wet, clammy gear back on and walk the couple of miles of the Wall you skipped for perfectly sensible reasons, Mike? Can you?

I find I can’t.

But I drag my socks and boots back on, squelch my way out the door and go do it anyway.

Images: Bods, lovstromphttp://www.victoriajohnson.co.uk and Paul McGreevy.

  • That’ll be the Yorkshireman in you coming out, Mike. As my grandfather (who was from Sheffield) always used to say: “Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred: strong in’t arm and thick in’t ‘ead”.

    You’re a nutcase. But then again, I bet the shower when you got back for the second time felt *amazing*. The pleasure/pain principle has a lot going for it.

    • Mikeachim

      You can’t know happiness until you’ve known misery. Aye.

      So my plan is to actually *engineer* misery for myself, on such a scale that my later years will be so awash with joy and boistrous fun that it’ll all be worthwhile. Of course, I won’t be able to enjoy them because I’ll be a physical wreck. But the principle is sound.

  • Excellent post! Made me laugh and empathize. I’ve never heard of Once or Twice Brewed before but must now add it to my list of places to go. Happy travels!

    • Mikeachim

      Thanks, Katherine. You too!

  • Oh, I love it! The whole post, but especially “Hey, maybe the car will skid on the next corner and we’ll plunge down a ravine, hit the bottom and explode. Here’s hoping,” which made me laugh out loud. The “Here’s hoping” is just perfection!

    • Mikeachim

      Too kind, Beth…

      Don’t go thinking it’s artistic license, though. I really was feeling that misanthropic. ;)

  • Jimbo

    The last time you ordered a beer it came in a warped egg timer glass with a wooden handle. Isn’t it more likely that you would’ve sat in the bar supping a cup of green tea? looking on the bright side at least you weren’t sleeping under a hedge!

    • Mikeachim

      Fair cop.

      Also, I had a hip flask with whisky in it. Just enough for emergency medicinal purposes, but it was an emergency medicinal moment. However, I saved it for when I got into Haltwhistle, to celebrate the end of my jaunt. I even managed to get a disapproving glare from a local as I stood at a street corner doing it. Managed to resist the urge to say hi in order to breathe whisky fumes in her face, but now I regret not doing that. But then, she probably would have turned out to be the mayor. I’m starting to recognise the patterns of fortune in my life.

  • You are such a trouper. Certifiably insane, but a trouper none the less. I cannot wait to hear the rest of this saga.

    • Mikeachim

      More soon! And when I’m over this patch of craziness in my life and I’ve done fulltime with the writing, I’ll be getting back there for the next leg. Plenty more ground to cover…

  • What a great post!

  • Lorna

    Brilliant Mike. Another saga that really made mw giggle.


  • Lorna

    Me not mw.

  • Well done and well written!

  • wow! how brave were you going back into that?! We stayed at that hostel many years ago then drove down to Beer the next day. so appropriate:)

    • The horror has faded in my memory now, so I look back on it fondly and really want to go back – even if the heating is off….

  • James Andrews

    Just two comments: 1)Try as I may, I just can never write so cleverly. Your style in this post (I haven’t read any others of your yet — will look into it!) And (2) I have a vague plan to walk from Carlisle to Heddon in September 2017 over a week or so. With my 40-something son. Any advice?

    • And try as I may, I could never thank you enough. Kind words, sir. :)

      Regarding 2), I can thoroughly recommend the following:

      (a) waterproofs, including waterproof leggings. Even if you were walking in July, it can bucket down at a moment’s notice – but September is the start of the Really Damp Stuff.

      (b) “A Walk Along The Wall” by Hunter Davies: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Walk-Along-Wall-Hunter-Davies/dp/0752836897 …to give you a favour of the walk in advance, and “Hadrian’s Wall Path” by Mark Richards (Cicerone): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hadrians-Wall-Path-National-Description/dp/1852843926/ …to be your guide along the way. If you had to pick one, go for the Cicerone guide – it covers everything you’d possibly need.

      Oh, and (c) – come back here and tell me about it! I’d love to know how you got on.