Kielder Water

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I'll bet if the average household appeared on Family Fortunes and was asked to name a British Lake or Loch, 95% of them would go for Windermere, Ullswater, Lomond or Ness. I've no doubt Kielder would only figure as a second guess or a brain wracking afterthought. Yet it's Northern Europe's largest man-made expanse of water and the forest surrounding it is England's biggest. It's so vast an area in fact it has THREE visitor centres.

Any expanse of water this immense is going to have the usual plethora of pursuits, canoeing, windsurfing, sailing and water skiing. And if you go during a less busy period it's thankfully not as crowded as many places I could name. Kielder offers a bit more than stereotypical mountain biking, hiking and H2O themed activities though. It was here that I first developed an interest an astronomy. And let's face it, not all of us are up to, or even want to be active every minute of every day. Sometimes we want to sit and think and wonder.

Kielder holds another record, it has the largest expanse of truly dark skies in Europe. Light pollution is minimal because the reservoir is so remote. It hosts an observatory and you're free to use several large and powerful telescopes if your own binoculars are more suited to spotting a Wood Pigeon at ten metres. Experienced astronomers are in attendance and as well as fascinating you with the wonders of the Universe they'll also guide you as to how to take photographs of galaxies light years away and how to spot comets and the like. I don't want to insult anyones intelligence here, but the facility opens at night. If you're visiting during the day and walk up the observatory, at least you'll be rewarded by a fine panoramic view.

Totally at the opposite end of the spectrum, no pun intended, Kielder now hosts marathons and ten kilometre races for those with more energy and motivation than myself. This year it's being staged on October 4th and I'm going to quote their own description of this gruelling event: TRANQUIL, PEACEFUL, INVIGORATING, INSPIRING, CHALLENGING, PICTURESQUE, MEMORABLE, REWARDING but just remember it's no bus ride!!

Of course you can do the marathon the easy way, as a spectator !

I first visited Kielder many years ago when it was first 'constructed'. I would describe it back then as eerie. There were relatively few birds in the sky, the fish population was extremely low and of course there weren't that many visitors because there was so little to do. Only those of us who were curious or who wanted peace and quiet bothered to make the difficult trek. Now it's evolved and the wildlife is a big part of the attraction. The Kielder Super Six are the top six species most people are really keen to see. They are: ospreys, red squirrel, pipstrelle bats, roe deer, salmon and otters. The resident experts are always available to tell you the best places, and equally as important, the best times to catch a glimpse of them.

For a more guaranteed sighting of some fantastic birds of prey, the Leaplish centre has Owls, falcons and vultures and you're freely able to interact with these magnificent creatures.

Horse riding is another very popular pastime at Kielder. Many people bring their own mount but Cragside Stables is a horse riding school and equestrian centre near Bardon Mill, in Hexham, Northumberland, offering horse riding lessons suitable for children. Riders are required to provide their ages, heights and riding history in order to match up ponies and requirements. I've known visitors to Kielder fall in love with the idea of cantering round the lake on their own horse, book in for lessons, and within a year be back with a box hitched to the back of their car. You can't beat impulse!

Whether you're on foot, mountain bike or Red Rum, you wont fail to be impressed by the numerous artworks and sculptures around the reservoir. They're in abundance and so wonderfully diverse. From the Salmon Cubes that celebrate the amazing life cycle of this powerful fish to castellations in the blacksmith's workshop. Whether you're artistic by nature or not, I'm sure you'll find something that fascinates you in some hidden or not-so-hidden corner of Kielder. I wont spoil it, but who can resist the mysteries and frustrations of a maze.

I've focused on the slightly less energetic things to do and another way to take in the views without undue exertion is the Kielder ferry. It's not large but it's equipped to take pushchairs, bikes and wheelchairs and covers a large percentage of the lake. Refreshments are available on board and thankfully there are toilets. There's a narration on board and the staff are very knowledgable about Kielder and the surrounding areas. A few of them enjoy the opportunities the lake offers in their spare time and can give expert advice to anglers, novice and experienced.

There are two cafes actually on site as well as a restaurant bar. And there's a farmshop within easy reach if you want your picnic to be as fresh as a daisy. Who wouldn't come prepared with their own lavish spread though when you're going to enjoy it in such splendid surroundings.

There's so much more to do than I've detailed. Especially if you're young-at-heart and energetic. You can even stroll Hadrian's Wall if you haven't exhausted yourself on the 27 mile path around Kielder. But those heart thumping pursuits are for someone else to describe. As for accommodation, you can stay in a caravan, motorhome or lodge in the immediate area and there's plenty of B&B in Northumberland. There aren't any large towns or cities within convenient distance but that's part of the attraction in my eyes.

Definitely one to think about if you love the Lakes District or Scottish Lochs but have done them to the point of familiarity.

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