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 turns to thick fog.

Someone notices me standing in the doorway, clawing at my opaque spectacles and moaning in self-pity.

“You have a room with us, sir? Ah yes. Shall I lead you there, because it looks like you can’t see? Hah. And yes, it is lovely and warm in here. Only in here, though. The rest of the pub is like a tomb where sunlight and joy both went to die. The heating upstairs doesn’t come on for another 2 hours, so it’s there’s a good chance you’ll die if you stay in your room, or indeed do anything except set yourself on fire. Ah. Anyway, here’s your key.”

(I’m not totally sure those were the exact words, but close enough.)

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 cold enough to feel even through my windchill-numbed 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 else, and while it boils I pull my sodden boots off, place the just-boiled kettle on the ground, and curl my deadened 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. Ice-cold water remains ice-cold water and now I can’t feel my fingers either.

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…oh god, 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 much of a bastard, 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 the car will plunge down a ravine, hit the bottom and violently pancake us into oblivion, Ho Ho. Well, 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’m English, so I drag my socks and boots back on, squelch my way out the door and go do it anyway.

*I gave it a clean later.

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

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