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Kielder Water and Forest Park – A Revisit After 25 Years

Kielder Water and Forest Park – A Revisit After 25 Years

Kielder Water and Forest Park, the best place in Northumberland for a day walking outdoors and to enjoy being in nature.

Kielder Water and Forest Park was top of the list of places to spend some time on our trip over from Spain, in fact we enjoyed the first day so much we went back a second time not because there is too much to cram into one day but because is was so different to Andalucia. [this post is image heavy]

Kielder Water and Forest Park
Enjoying Kielder water and forest park

Myself and Gayle have both been to Kielder several times in the past but our youngest son Nico had never experienced this type of thing before so for him it was all very, very different with spongy moss to walk on, wet weather, a huge variation in trees and foliage and the smell of rural Northumberland. A big change from the arrid landscape of Andalucia.

Home to England’s largest forest and the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe, Kielder Water & Forest Park is a playground for cyclists, walkers and outdoor enthusiasts. A haven for wildlife, the best dark skies in England and award-winning art & architecture… Kielder will inspire, surprise and enthral you.

Less than an hour in the car Kielder was within easy access from where we were staying, it was also quiet with it being early March [well out of tourist season], this meant that not all of the facilities were open but it was the woodland experience and hiking we were more interested in.

My History with Kielder

My history with Kielder began in the early 80’s when my Dad took me camping and fishing at the reservoir, it was one of the best times and a cherished memory. I was bitten to bits by the notorious Kielder midgies while somehow my Dad didn’t get bitten at all. Going to school after our weekend they nearly sent me home as they thought I had chickenpox.

Kielder Water and Forest Park
Kielder – some things haven’t changed since the 80’s

A few years later I went camping with the lads, a bit of a wild weekend back when camping was still under a fiver per night then camping again with my girlfriend Gayle. My last visit to Kielder was in the mid 1990’s to stay in a log cabin and I have not been back since then until now nearly 26 years later and to be honest not that much has changed.

Preparing for Kielder

There is no doubt that Kielder Water and Forest Park is more than just a day out as there is simply too much to see and do if you want to get the most from it. We would highly recommend staying at Kielder, the campsite is well rated and offers a base from which you can explore the area over a few days instead of trying to cram everything in into a shorter space of time.

how wet is kielder?
blown over trees at Kielder

Weather is changeable so take the right clothing especially if you are going out of season like we did in March. In general Kielder is damp and wet, it can rain on one side of the water and be sunshine on the other at the same time so it pays to be prepared for all weathers.

Planning the day is good idea, knowing where you want to go and which areas you’d like to see will make the exploration more productive and save wasting time. There are several car parks around the water, the visitor center and numerous trails from the castle and other places too most of which involve passing a landmark or attraction of some description.

Get a map before you go or pick one up from the visitor center, it will make a big difference.

Parking at Kielder

We were very surprised at the parking in Kielder and paid just £5,00 for a day pass. Parking for 1 hour or under is £2,00 so the day pass makes perfect sense. Kielder also offers a yearly membership for £40,00 which includes free parking and for camper vans/motorhomes you have permission to park overnight for a £10,00 charge which to be honest is very reasonable compared to offical campsites plus you have the peace of mind you’re not going to get moved on as well as natural surroundings.

The Experience

After nearly 20 years living out in the sticks in Andalucia, Kielder was a long awaited change of scenery even if it was just a couple of days. In Spain you can find green areas for sure but its not the same as the green of England… Kielder is way more than a just a visual experience, you have the smell of the wet moss and woodland, the wildlife calls, textures of the forest floor plus a whole lot more and did I say it was wet?

It might seem like a novelty but when you live in a country with relentless hot dusty summers and dry cold winters a walk around Kielder makes you feel like you are in an Avatar movie.

Over the two days we were there we saw only a fraction of what was on offer, starting at Kielder Castle you have the castle itself, the Minotaur maze, salmon center, a pub and numerous trails which we set off on directly from the car park which sits on two levels surrounding by woodland.

Trails are designed for walkers/hikers and mountain biking so it’s best not to get them confused. Our only complaint about the signage at Kielder is that as far as hiking was concerned the routes could have been made clearer although there may well be a dedicated map available from the visitor center.

kielder viaduct
viaduct at Kielder

A short drive down to Bakethin car park which is a small car park in the wood there are more walks, one of which follows the river and under the Kielder viaduct then circles back on itself to cross over the viaduct. Along the way you have ponds, the Bakethin hide where you can watch over the lake for wildlife and some stunning woodland walking.

A hike up to the observatory was a moderate workout, past the skyspace and reaching the observatory itself you have some fantastic views over the woodland and you can imagine this place at nightime for star gazing and spot of astro photography.

Across the dam which is 1.2km long you have Hawkhope car park, it is from here that you can explore the north side of the water, the hiking trail is pretty spectacular following closely to the waters edge through large pines.

Kielder Water and Forest Park
stunning woodland at Kielder forest

The first attraction you will come across is the wave chamber, a construction built using the same technique for dry stone walling, the chamber is a ‘camera obscura’ where by a mirror and lense project an image of the waves onto a round disc on the floor of the chamber. You can get three people in there and the best time to see it working is on a windy but sunny day.

Sadly we ran out of time so had to head back but we did make a point of passing by the old mine on the way back to the car.

It is estimated that Kielder has more than 250 million trees and you can well believe it, some of them are pretty big and old too. The woodland environment is something we love and you can’t go wrong walking around the trails of Kielder to get that outdoor experience.

kielder trails
Kielder trails

Kielder water and forest park has not changed that much since my first visit there back in the 80’s, it was a great place for us to spend some time and show our youngest some of Northumberland where I grew up. With only five days to work with on our flying visit to the UK from Spain we didn’t see as much of the area as we would like but it’s not going anywhere and next time we’ll be in the 4×4 for a extended road trip – can’t wait for that one.

Kielder Facts

  • Kielder Water is the largest man-made lake in Northern Europe
  • Kielder reservoir is capable of holding 44,000 million gallons of water
  • The reservoir took two years to fill with water after it was completed
  • Kielder has a shore length of 27.5 miles [44.3km]
  • Kielder is home to Ospreys having returned to the area after 150 years
  • Kielder attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year
  • Kielder was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth ll in 1981
  • Kielder forest is the largest working forest in Britain
  • The forest area boasts the darkest skies in England

Concluding our trip

We spent the last full day of our short week in the UK at Kielder, from then on it was a trip up the Northumberland coastline heading to Edinburgh. We left Kielder wishing that we’d had more time to explore the area as well as villages on the way such as Wark, Chollerford and Bellingham, not this time perhaps but that longer road trip is certainly something to look forward to…

Have you been to Kielder recently and have you done the Northumberland 250 which includes the Kielder drive? Let us know how you found it in the comments below.


1600 900 Mac


K90overland is Mac and Gayle, they lived in Andalucia for 19 years before moving back to the UK. Overlanding since 2019 the pair have built up a 'budget rig' and now enjoy a relaxed approach to discovering Scotland and the north of England.


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