A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about trees

Man-made landscapes

Kielder Water

View of Kielder Water

Set in one of the more remote parts of Northumberland, this lovely stretch of water is surrounded by forest (at over 250 square miles, the largest working forest in England) and is a great place for a day trip or longer visit.

Activities on offer include miles of trails through the forest and beside the water, boat trips on the lake, wildlife spotting (this is one of the few places in England where you can see red squirrels), mountain biking, and even star-gazing.

There is an excellent Birds of Prey Centre and very good Visitor Centres, with lots of information to enhance your visit, as well as several places to eat and to shop.

Or you can simply relax, take in the scenery and appreciate being somewhere so relatively accessible and yet so tranquil.

The dam that Jimmy built

The dam

Kielder Water is a man-made reservoir – the largest artificial lake in the UK (by capacity of water held). It was first conceived of in the 1960s when it was anticipated that the demand for water, especially by heavy industry in the north east region, would put a lot of pressure on the system. The decline in such industries meant that this never happened, and some questioned whether Kielder was necessary at all, but in recent years water shortages in the UK have seen the south of the country experience restrictions on use (such as banning the use of hose-pipes) while the north east, thanks to Kielder, has had plenty of water for all.

Another reason for controversy surrounding Kielder’s construction was the loss of several farms in the valley, and even of a school. So at the time it was a far from universally welcomed project. But today it seems that all controversy is at an end and the project is generally considered a success, both for the water it supplies and the tourism it brings to the region. Certainly we found on our recent visits that it has been very sympathetically and creatively designed, with lots to do for visitors, especially families, but also plenty of unspoiled countryside and “off the beaten track” areas to explore.

Another view of the dam

Construction of the huge dam took place between 1975 and 1981. The Queen officially opened Kielder the following year, and the valley took another two years to fill with water. This water now supplies the region through regular discharges into the North Tyne River, and is also used to generate electricity.

And why ‘The dam that Jimmy built’? Well, it is simply that my husband's Uncle Jim worked on the construction of this dam, so we have a family connection to Kielder!

Elf Kirk

The view from Elf Kirk

The steps up to the viewpoint,
Elf Kirk

If you want to get a great view of Kielder Water from a bit higher up than the lakeshore, take the turning you will see on your left not long after entering the park. A short gravel track (passible with care in any vehicle) winds upwards to a small parking area, from where you need to walk up a few steps to the viewpoint itself. The minimal effort required will be rewarded with one of the most expansive views in the area. You can see a large stretch of the lake including Whickhope Anchorage, Bull Crag and across to the Belling, a spit of land on the north shore. On a clear day you can see right to the Scottish Border.

A display board here explains about the plans for future forestry at Kielder. Most of the trees visible from here were planted in the years following World War II, when the country urgently needed reliable sources of timber. Large areas such as this were quickly planted with fast growing trees such as sitka spruce. The resulting forest is highly productive but not very interesting to look at nor varied enough to support a really wide range of species of flora and fauna. The plan is to gradually replace the spruce, as it is felled, with a wider variety of trees. A drawing shows what the forest should look like when the plans are fulfilled.

Kielder Forest

Although the main focus of activity is the water, the surrounding countryside is also attractive, and there are several forest walks to be had near the shore. One path, the Lakeside Way, encircles the whole reservoir largely among the trees, but you can also make shorter forays into its depths.

The Forest totals over 250 square miles and is the largest working forest in England. Some may bemoan the introduction of these conifers into what was once mostly open moorland, but there is a mysterious quality to their darkness that appeals to me. You might almost imagine Little Red Riding Hood to walk out of their depths!

In Kielder Forest

The trees were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s, with much of the planting work being undertaken by unemployed miners and shipbuilders from the north east’s urban areas. They were housed in a camp on site – a camp which is now under the waters. I wonder what they made of their work in such an alien (to them) environment? The wide open moors must have seemed a long way from the pit and the shipyard. Today the Forest is managed by the Forestry Commission who state as their aim ‘to create and sustain forests and woodlands which are attractive as well as productive, useful to the community and pleasant places for people to visit, rich in wildlife, both plant and animal, and where the natural and cultural heritage is safely conserved.’


In Kielder Forest

In some parts of the Forest, conveniently near the main activity areas, you will find hides where you can wait in the hope of seeing red squirrels. This was something we’d planned to do but ran out of time for; however, I understand the chances of seeing one are good, as this is the largest concentration of these cute creatures in England – over 50% of the population live here. Oh well, something for next time ...

Tower Knowe

Tower Knowe panorama


Tower Knowe is the first visitor area that you come to on arriving at Kielder. This is a good place in which to get your bearings in the park as it has a very good visitor centre with lots of information about everything you can do and see here, and very informative displays about the history of Kielder Water.

Also here is a good shop selling high quality souvenirs, a café and a boarding point for the Osprey Ferry. On a recent day trip we bought a coffee in the café on arriving at Kielder (good cappuccinos) and enjoyed relaxing on the terrace with our drinks, a view of the water and the company of the inquisitive chaffinches. Later we called in again on our way home and enjoyed even more a scoop of the delicious local north-east Spurelli’s ice cream.

Osprey ferry

If you prefer not to drive around Kielder, or if you simply want to get out on the water and see the views from there, you can take the Osprey ferry to travel around, although it only visits three points on the shore – Leaplish Waterside Park, Tower Knowe Visitor Centre and Belvedere on the north shore. Of these, the latter is inaccessible by car so this is a great option for those not able or willing to hike or bike any distance to see another side to Kielder.

The Osprey Ferry

Osprey Ferry approaching Tower Knowe jetty

The jetty at Tower Knowe

You buy your ferry tickets at Tower Knowe or Leaplish and must have a ticket to board (no paying on board). The timetable varies so check at one of those visitor centres for details of this and of the fares. And make sure you note the time of the last ferry, especially if you plan to visit Belvedere, as there’s no possibility of hitching back from there so you could find yourself stranded! Also, note that the ferry only runs from late March to late October so isn’t an option for an off-season visit.

Leaplish Waterside Park

View of Kielder Water from Leaplish

We spent a large part of a recent visit to Kielder here at the busiest of its visitor complexes. There is a lot to do here, although this range of activities means that this is not the most tranquil part of the park.

On the Leaplish site you will find a good visitor centre with lots of information about the park, a shop selling both souvenirs and practical items (such as picnic food, insect repellent and waterproof clothing), a restaurant/pub, children’s play areas, miniature golf, an indoor pool and sauna (for which you need to book in advance according to the website), boats for hire, and a hide from which to look for red squirrels. There's also an old farmhouse, Otterstone Lee, with an interesting and informative sign about life here prior to the flooding of the valley.

Otterstone Lee Farmhouse

And if you tire of the ‘crowds’ (in reality, even in August when we visited, no more than a dozen or so family groups), it is easy to take a short walk into the forest, or to use this as a starting point for a longer hike.

Birds of Prey Centre

The highlight of one of our trips to Kielder was definitely our visit to this small but well-run birds of prey centre near the shore at Leaplish. There are a good variety of birds to see, many of them easy to photograph which we enjoyed a lot. Their enclosures seem small but as they are all tethered I guess that is immaterial and they all get to fly regularly in the various demonstrations. Make sure you time your visit for one of these (every day between March and October, weather permitting, at 1.30pm and 3pm) as you will get to see these magnificent birds as they should be seen and will learn a lot about them.

Harris Hawk, and Peruvian Striped Owl

Peregrine falcon

The demonstration that we saw was led by the man who runs the centre, Ray. He was very knowledgeable and informative, and was also great with the children, allowing them all to have a go at handling all of the birds and encouraging any who were nervous. Luckily for me, any adult who looked keen was singled out for a turn too, which is how I came to find myself with my left hand sheathed in a thick leather glove while first a barn owl, and later a Ural owl, flew towards me and landed there.

With the barn owl

Ural Owl

As well as the two owls we saw a comical ‘performance’ by a young Yellow-headed Caracara who showed us how easy it was to get to a piece of chicken hidden under several plastic pots in the bottom of a dustbin (apparently these intelligent birds are considered a real nuisance by householders in their native South and Central America). We were also persuaded by Ray that a black vulture was beautiful (hmm, I wasn’t convinced) and loveable (well, yes, maybe), and saw a kestrel put through his paces.


Little Owl

Each demonstration involves different birds, so they all get a turn, so if you’re able to stay for both (or return – your ticket is valid all day) do! Unfortunately we had to leave before the second one, as were invited to dinner with friends that evening and had to get back to Newcastle. But we did linger long enough to visit some of the smaller owls on their perches by the keepers’ work rooms, and were able to stroke a little screech owl – very cute and soft!

By the way, all these birds were bred in captivity, none were taken from the wild (which is against the law and would be cruel). The centre aims to educate children in particular about the birds – its website describes its “mission of publicising the plight of many Birds of Prey in the wild, allowing the general public (particularly children) close access to the birds in order that they will learn to appreciate the need for the species to be protected in their natural habitat for future generations.” The centre is licensed by DEFRA, the Department for Farming, the Environment and Rural Affairs.

There is also a paddock with two fallow deer and (somewhat incongruously) some wallabies. As well as regular visits and the demonstrations, you can book a one to one photography experience, an introduction to falconry or even a full bird management course.

Lewis Burn inlet

On our most recent visit to Kielder we stumbled across a really tranquil spot. Taking the track to the parking place at Lewis Burn (just to see what was there) we spotted an opportunity to pull over soon after leaving the main road and did so. We never got to the end of that track, as what we found here was a lovely stretch of the lakeside way which here leaves the shore of the lake to turn for a short distance up the burn, before crossing it via an elegant suspension bridge and returning through forest glades to the water’s edge.

Views from the suspension bridge

On the day we visited this was a magical place. The inlet was almost completely still and reflected the surrounding trees and blue sky perfectly, apart from when on occasion the reflections were disturbed by a leaping trout. There were beautiful wild flowers – foxglove, rosebay willow-herb, thistle and many I couldn’t name.




Flora on the walk

Part of the path

We walked from our parking spot to the large deck among the trees that used to be the site of an art installation, Mirage. Disappointingly this has been removed (one of the staff in the Kielder Castle Visitor Centre later told us that it was proving too expensive to maintain) but it didn’t really matter as the walk had been so enjoyable and packed with great photo opportunities. We then took the side path signposted to the Mirage jetty, where we walked out to the end to get some great views of Kielder Water itself.

Kielder Water from the Mirage jetty
(the photo at the top of the page was also taken here)

We reckoned we had probably walked a little over a mile to this point (hard to estimate when you stop so many times for photos or simply to enjoy the view). We could have returned by the same route but chose instead to climb the low barrier by the road and follow this back to our parking place which at this point was just a couple of hundred metres away – we had come full circle.

An evening at Kielder Observatory

Kielder Observatory

Friends had told us about the evening events at Kielder Observatory and how much they had enjoyed them, so one year on our usual August visit to the North East we decided to spend one night in Kielder (which we normally visit just on a day trip from Newcastle) so we could go along to an event. These take place on most evenings and must be booked in advance – numbers are limited and places fill up fast, especially for the more popular special events. We booked our August ‘Shooting Stars’ one, timed to coincide with the Perseid meteor shower, in February and were told that they could have filled it 20 times over! During the day you are free to drive up to see the observatory, but in the evenings access is only permitted if you have booked, so don’t try to go there on the off-chance.

Kielder Observatory

Of course, booking so far in advance means taking a gamble on the weather. Events go ahead regardless (except when snow makes the track impassable) but if the skies are cloudy you won’t see much. Our friends tell us that the visit is still enjoyable however, as you learn a lot from the talks and from touring the observatory. Nevertheless, we had all our fingers and toes crossed for clear skies as the date of our visit approached, and we were not to be disappointed – it was a beautiful evening, if a little chilly for August.

Evening view from the observatory car park

One of the telescopes

As requested we arrived 15 minutes before the 20.00 start time and were checked in at the gate. We then drove up the rest of the track and parked in the car park just 100 metres or so from the observatory. There we were welcomed into the ‘classroom’ area. There were about 30 people there that evening I think, with quite a lot of children. The latter were mostly about 9-12 and all keen and well-behaved apart from one toddler who was unsurprisingly fractious and disruptive – I couldn’t understand why her parents could have thought she would be anything else! They took her out after the first few minutes and must have missed most of the event they had paid for and travelled to see!

Once everyone had arrived the director, Gary, introduced himself and gave an interesting talk, illustrated with slides. We learned a bit about the observatory which was clearly a labour of love on his part and was created not for research but to introduce people to the wonders of astronomy and enthuse them (judging by the numbers who visit it is definitely succeeding in its aim). We also learned what to expect of the evening, and a little bit about the origin of the meteors we would (hopefully) see. Gary adapted his talk well to the very mixed audience, but later we were split into three groups so that an adults-only group could hear more about the science while the families toured the observatory. We then followed them and got an introduction to the workings of the two main telescopes.

All this took place before it got dark, but eventually we started to see a few stars appearing in the deepening skies. By this point everyone had been left free to wander where they wanted, checking out what the staff and volunteers were focusing on through each telescope, or settling into the chairs out on the deck to look for the first shooting stars. The first excitement for us came when we were able to see Saturn through the telescope, just before it set, with the rings and even one of its moons very clearly visible. We also later saw the Andromeda Galaxy and a few other things.

Sunset in the forest

But the main point of the evening was the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which happens every year in mid-August. Kielder is the third largest protected Dark Sky reserve in the world, and the largest in Europe, so it would be hard to find a better place to watch this spectacle. Sightings are pretty much guaranteed on clear nights anywhere in the park, but the advantage of coming to the observatory is in having experts on hand to guide your viewing and explain the science. I’ve always been interested in astronomy and learned quite a lot that evening.

The observatory at nightfall

Oh, but you want to know if we saw any shooting stars, do you?! OK, I can tell you – the answer is yes, lots! And with the sky so clear and dark here they really stood out, with the tails of the brightest lingering briefly after they shot past. We also saw the International Space Station pass overhead at one point, and a couple of satellites, as well as having various constellations pointed out. It was a fabulous evening and we came away very keen to visit again one day, which I fell we surely will.

Prices for these events vary – check the website for details. As well as the tickets, we paid £1 each for a mug of hot chocolate, and an extra £3 each to be able to keep the mug as a souvenir. The observatory is run as a charity so any money you spend there is ploughed back into developing the facilities – well worth supporting as they’re doing a great job.

Morning at Matthew's Linn

Morning mist on Kielder Water

Any photographer knows that light is everything, and that the best light is often found at the beginning or end of the day. All of our previous visits to Kielder had been day trips from Newcastle, meaning that we had only ever been here during the middle part of the day (it’s pretty much a two hour drive from the city). But on this occasion we had stayed overnight, to visit the observatory, and as we left the village the next morning and started to skirt the lake I spotted that the early morning mist was still drifting among the hills on the far side and the water itself gleamed silver. Luckily I also remembered that we were just coming up to one of the waterside parking areas so I quickly alerted Chris who was driving, and he turned off into the car park at Matthew’s Linn. We grabbed our cameras and hurried down to the jetty.


Morning at Matthew's Linn

Truly a serendipitous moment! The light was perfect, we were on the spot, and what is not always the case, had been able to pull over in the car and capture it. Of course I took far too many photos and had to do a serious weed of them later, but the joy of digital photography is that we can all afford to do that – and the joy of photography itself is being, from time to time, in just the right place at just the right moment.

Morning at Matthew's Linn

Posted by ToonSarah 09:05 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes lakes trees birds night boats water wildlife hiking views national_park stars Comments (12)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]