Pub/Bar of the Month August 2015: Battlesteads Hotel, Wark, Northumberland, UK
Battlesteads Hotel, Wark, Northumberland, UK
As pub facilities go, a night-sky observatory is certainly one of the most unusual.
I've been interested in astronomy ever since the Apollo missions of the 1960s and the thought of a few good pints followed by a spot of stargazing meant I couldn't resist a visit to Battlesteads, a pub/hotel in the quiet Northumberland village of Wark.
But I soon realised there was a lot more to this place than pints and planets.
The long, low stone building – originally a farmhouse in the eighteenth century – has been in the hands of experienced local publicans Richard and Dee Slade for eight years.
When they took over the premises, it was not doing good business.
Structurally, it needed love and attention, and these have been provided in generous measures. Battlesteads is now a bustling, welcoming establishment with an eye firmly on quality.
Impressively, this revival has been achieved in a firmly eco-friendly fashion. Battlesteads now generates much of its own electricity via an impressive solar panel that rotates through the day to catch the rays, while the heating system is carbon neutral, powered by wood chippings from the local forestry.
Rainwater is captured in a large tank and the thoughtfully-cultivated grounds include features to attract wildlife, such as bird feeders and a bat box.
Fresh produce on the dining menu, if not sourced locally, is grown in polytunnels behind the building. This certainly helps draw in a substantial dining clientele, who take up residence at one end of the single bar and in the adjoining conservatory.
The bar area otherwise is more hotel lounge than backstreet boozer. Seating is courtesy of armchairs and stools, and there are carpets underfoot.
Newspapers and other literature are available to read, while a log burner crackles in winter in the fireplace.
Twenty-two very comfortable rooms are available for those wishing to stay overnight, including five new cabins built in the car park to the side.
Wark is a real haven for outdoor types, located just a few miles from Hadrian's Wall, and the many walkers and ramblers really must enjoy quenching their hard-earned thirst with one of the pub's four cask ales.
The choice of beers varies but, on my visit, there were beers from Bank Top, High House Farm, Ludlow and Oakham, plus Thistly Cross Cider. Battlesteads is a constant entry in the Good Beer Guide and, every July – happily coinciding with my visit – there's also a charity beer festival held in a marquee in the beautifully-maintained, walled garden.
Dark Sky Area
Then there's the observatory (pictured below). A joint venture between Battlesteads and local astronomer Roy Alexander, the site takes advantage of the pub's location in one of Europe's best 'dark sky' areas.
Wark is far enough from the nearest conurbation to avoid the light pollution that can block out much of the night sky.
Visitors have been coming to the area for years to witness the best views of astral phenomena and Battlesteads' observatory is now offering family-friendly introductions to stars and planets, with telescopes and binoculars available for searching the cosmos.
Roy, a teacher by profession, is a welcoming host, brimming with enthusiasm for his subject and always encouraging guests to check out something new, whether it is the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn or some twinkling far-off nebula.
You can't – for very good safety reasons – take glasses into the observatory but, if you've an interest in the sky at night, that's no inconvenience.
And, of course, there's plenty of time to sample Battlesteads' well-kept ales before or after you've enjoyed an evening under the stars.
Battlesteads Hotel & Restaurant, Wark on Tyne, Hexham, Northumberland NE48 3LS.
Tel. (01434) 230209
Opening Hours: 11–11; 12–10.30 Sunday