THE all-star MINI-BREAK
Head to the hills for a unique lastminute holiday
THE race is on if you want to book one of the last – and most imaginative – UK holidays of the year. They’re the unique, star-gazing packages put together at Gilsland Hall Hotel, set alongside Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria.
Couples, families and groups of friends are all signing up to see starry nights in late September and early October from the grounds of the classic country-house hotel.
The cleverly designed deals include bed, breakfast and dinner in the hotel. And when the sun goes down, you’re given specially prepared backpacks containing waterproof rugs and blankets, a selection of home-made sausage rolls from the hotel kitchen and a flask filled with your chosen hot drink.
Perhaps most importantly, you also get a telescope and a full, written guide to the night skies.
Staff can suggest the best vantage points for views. And far from the light pollution of any big city, you can expect a treat.
The managers at Gilsland Hall are preparing for a full moon just before midnight on September 20 – it’s when the sun and moon find themselves at the opposite sides of earth and the sun’s beams fully illuminate the face of the month’s Harvest Moon.
From now until the end of the year we can expect to see Venus on clear nights. The most dazzling of planets should be seen sliding south just before darkness fully falls.
In early October the Draconids Meteor Shower should begin, with some ten meteors an hour crossing the sky. Just like Venus, it’s best seen in the early evening and hotel staff will arrange dinner times so star-gazing guests can get in place for the show.
Later in the month a different Orionoids Meteor Shower is due after midnight. Formed by dust grains left behind by Comet Halley, it’s been known about and watched for thousands of years and can produce twice as many meteors an hour as the Draconid event.
Finally, on October 25, night owls with their flasks of hot drinks can look for the planet Mercury shining from the east just before sunrise.
Clouds could, of course, spoil the view of each event. And with meteors you really can blink and miss them as they pass overhead.
But the Gilsland Hall Hotel packages are designed to be great fun, even if the stars don’t quite align. Recent guests say they loved the simple fact of being out in the hills at night, on the hunt for planets, even if they were hard to find.
And Cumbria, just like its neighbouring Northumberland, is a great ‘dark skies’ location to enjoy with a telescope.
In the day, the hotel has some 140 acres of landscaped grounds, gardens and woodlands to explore – dogs are welcome guests alongside their owners.
The UNESCO World Heritage sites along Hadrian’s Wall are there to be discovered as well. Follow in the footsteps of Roman centurions as you go back 2,000 years amid Roman forts, ruined priories, museums, excavations, renovated turrets and temples.
And don’t miss the Sycamore Gap, where one of the most photographed trees in the country rises starkly from a dip in the landscape.
Back at the Hall, afternoon teas are great rewards after long hikes. If the weather allows, teas can be packed up in a picnic hamper to be enjoyed outside, with waterproof rugs, just in case.
Star-gazing packages start at £140 per night for single guests, £220 a night for couples and £250 for families of four. And if you don’t get to try them now, then things are set to be even more exciting next year.
When this year’s final guests and stargazers leave, the hotel will close to be transformed into a luxury five-star property for spring 2022. A screening room, spa and more will be added. But two things will remain the same. Ancient stars will continue to look down from the dark Cumbrian sky. And guests will continue to have unique, brilliantly British holidays in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall.
The hotel has some 140 acres of landscaped grounds, gardens and woodlands to explore >> Quarantine restrictions in the UK and abroad are liable to change – always check Government and local advice before and during your holiday <<