With the clocks going back next weekend, there’s no escaping it – winter is definitely on the way.
But shorter days and ever-darkening evenings have, at least, one saving grace.
The night skies are full of starry wonders, and seeing them has become a tourist industry in its own right.
So, we’ve come to the north-east of England to see why checking out celestial matters can be just heavenly.
This week sees the start of the third annual Stargazing Festival, which runs until November 3.
There are events for all ages and everyone from dedicated astronomers to those who just want a bit of nocturnal fun. Pop-up planetariums, telescope lessons, tutorials on night photography and night-sky runs are just a few of the many activities.
Happily, with a cracking coastline, historic gems and stunning countryside, County Durham has plenty to enjoy during daylight hours, too.
One place that turns out to combine both was the award-winning Killhope Lead Mining Museum.
It’s gloriously located in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with seriously lovely countryside all around. But it was a bleak place of toil for the 19th-Century miners.
At its peak, in the 1870s, this was one of the richest lead mines in the UK, and a tour shows just how hard the graft was for the men whose blood, sweat – and probably a few tears – earned those riches.
The isolated setting makes it a perfect spot to see a rich tapestry unfold above once darkness descends. It has its own observatory and there are glamping pods for those who want to make a full night of it.
We were looking for a bit more cosiness and comfort, though, and our exploration base, the classy Seaton Lane Inn in the prosperous-looking little village of Seaton, fitted the bill more than nicely.
It was handy, too, ideally placed to strike out west to the Durham Heritage Coast, and east to Durham city.
It’s part of the award-winning Inn Collection Group, which has earned such a high reputation in this corner of England and is currently spreading its wings west with two Lake District properties opening in the next few months.
The four-star inn has 24 rooms and a major refurbishment last year saw the opening of new family rooms in a converted cottage in the grounds.
It has a smart and fresh look throughout and the welcome, as in previous Inn Collection properties we’ve visited, was wonderfully warm.
Meals in the evening were cracking and the bright and airy orangery, with its chequerboard floor, was especially classy. The breakfasts were filling and tasty, just the thing to set you up for the day ahead.
Durham city was just 15 minutes away and, as always, the castle and cathedral take some beating. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for more than 30 years now and it’s easy to see why.
One of the finest Norman buildings in the world, the 11th-Century place of worship is massive and retains almost all of its original craftsmanship.
Walks along the river are a highlight of any visit. And if you want to drink in views up to the castle and cathedral with something in your hand, you’ll find great bars and cafes right by the Framwellgate Bridge.
As night falls, stargazers may fancy jumping in the car and heading for Bowlees Visitor Centre and the Hamsterley Forest, both of which give unrivalled panoramas.
The next day, back at Seaton Lane, we headed east to the lovely marina at Seaham, less than 10 minutes away.
The historic harbour area, once the setting for vital industry, has been beautifully restored. And after a coastal walk, we headed inland to let the train take the strain.
Tanfield Railway is the world’s oldest – it goes back to 1725, a whole century before the Stockton and Darlington Railway – and steam locos and Victorian carriages transport you into the past.
Finally, no visit to this neck of the woods would be complete without a visit to the heritage museum, Beamish, where the past is brought magically to life.
Over the Stargazing Festival period and beyond, nights may be the focus in Durham, but the days are very much also star-studded.
Galloway Forest Park is celebrating the 10th anniversary of becoming the world’s fourth – and the UK’s first – Dark Sky Park next month.
Find out about all there is to see at thisisdurham.com.
The Seaton Lane Inn has a new dinner, bed and breakfast offer from November 1-March 31, from £44.95 pp for two sharing a double or twin room.
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