Does your family have a special holiday destination? A place you return to time after time? A place that’s filled with memory and nostalgia for both you and your family? During the summers of my childhood, my family took many memorable trips to the serenity of Kielder Water in Northumberland, a 2 hour car journey from our home in Berwick-Upon-Tweed.
Since our family stopped visiting the area in the late 90’s, I’ve been desperate to get back there. I often find myself pricing up lakeside cabins, or looking for ways to reunite the family by the lakeside. This year, I bit the bullet a returned to Kielder for the first time in over 20 years. Better still, we were staying in the same accommodation we’d visited back in 1997. I couldn’t wait to get back to the area and to see how things had changed since our last visit.
We weren’t disappointed.
The trip was made all the more poignant eight weeks later when my dad passed away unexpectedly – and I’m only glad that we managed to get back to Kielder for a last holiday together before this happened.
Where is Kielder Forest?
You probably haven’t heard of Kielder. When I told my work colleagues I’d be visiting, no one had heard of the area. I found this strange as I was born and raised an Northumberland and Kielder was a staple of my childhood for that reason.
Kielder Water and it’s surrounding forests are in the uppermost reaches of Northumberland, close to the border with Scotland. The majority of visitors to Northumberland visit the stunning beaches and majestic castles of the Northumbrian coast, spending much less time exploring inland. However, Kielder is one of many places which prove that Northumberland has so much more to offer.
Driving the country roads towards Kielder, there’s a real sense of leaving humanity behind as the surroundings becoming increasingly remote. The gaps between neighboring villages get further and gradually the sheep begin to outnumber the humans. As your phone signal starts to waver, you realise you are more likely to connect with nature than wifi in Kielder.
Kielder Water and Forest
From one end of the Kielder Water, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a place untouched. The remote surrounds and distinct lack of humans here easily lends itself to descriptions of natural beauty. You’d also be forgiven for thinking Kielder Water was a natural lake.
In fact, the lake is a recent addition to the landscape and is a reservoir providing water supplies to the people of north-east England. It is one of the largest man-made lakes in Europe. The surrounding forest is the largest man-made forest in England. The original village of Kielder actually sits at the bottom of the lake as it was flooded to make way for the reservoir.
But don’t be deceived by these origins, the lake is a haven for British wildlife and is an invaluable breeding ground for red squirrels and wild ospreys.
Kielder Water Lodges
Our accommodation was in the cabins at Landal Kielder Waterside. This was our second time here, there first being back in 1997!
I’m pleased to see that the lodges have had a make-over since the late 90’s. The complex has a range of new lodges scattered through the woods as well as the heritage lodges which overlook the lake. Even better, many of the lodges have been upgraded to include hot tubs which adds a splash of luxury when enjoyed with a glass of champagne.
We stayed in a the Hadrian which sleeps 4. I’ll admit that our lodge was a little snug for four adults, but would have been perfect for families with young children. Next time we will look to stay in one of the larger cabins.
The lodges are well equipped with kitchen equipment as well as board games, DVD players and playstations (multiple in our cabin) so are perfect for a quiet nights in the wilderness. We spent a couple of nights relaxing and watching DVDs in the comfort of our cabin. (This is unchanged from my last visit in the 90’s. I remember watching terrifying movies in our cabin on VHS and being too afraid to sleep!)
The Landal Complex is also open to the public so it’s possible to visit here, even if you aren’t staying in the accommodation. The visitor centre, restaurant, bird of prey centre and bike hire are open to everyone as well as the lakeside pathways.
Walking around the lake is an absolute pleasure. It’s so quiet here that it’s easy to lose track of time strolling by the edge of the water. The pathways are easy to navigate and the sections we walked weren’t overly punishing.
The pathway around the lake stretches for over 26 miles so there is opportunity for more avid walkers to explore. And those who explore will be rewarded by discovering the modern art and architecture which sits in and around the edge of the lake.
The pathway leaving from the Landal complex is called the Enchanted Forest which I’ll admit sounds a little corny. However the walkway is beautiful and lives up to this name when the sun breaks through the clouds and slants through the trees.
If you are looking for an outdoor adventure in Kielder, I’d recommend packing your waterproofs. There’s a reservoir up here for a reason. Because it’s wet! Don’t let this discourage you though. Hot tubs are even better in the rain!
Watching the Stars
One benefit of being so far away from large towns is that there is very little light pollution here. This means that Kielder has some of the best conditions in the UK for observing the skies. It’s no coincidence that there’s an observatory here!
Serious stargazers can book their slot at the observatory. However, we decided the watch the stars from the comfort of our hot tub, armed with a glass of prosecco. It’s so dark here, that we could still see the stars clearly. The evening news report told us we may even get a glimpse of the northern lights but we gave up on this as the night grew colder.
It did however give me opportunity to experiment with some night time photography and the results weren’t bad for a first attempt (even if I do say so myself).
Bird of Prey Centre
I absolutely loved my visit to the Kielder Birds of Prey Centre which sits inside the Landal Kielder Waterside complex.
A ticket buys you entry for a full day so visitors can come and go as they please. For most of the day the birds are sat on perches. However the centre really comes to life during the flying demonstrations and feeding sessions. The displays give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the birds …. and I mean up close and personal! I was literally slapped across the face by a passing vulture. (Not in an aggressive way, I was trying to take a picture and got in the way.)
It’s worth chatting to the keepers at the centre if they are available. Their knowledge of the various bird species is second to none which helped us to understand the difference between the birds. They also allowed me to get closer to the baby owls with my camera and made sure I have plenty of opportunities to take photos during the flying demonstration.
Amongst the more ‘typical’ birds of prey, there were a few surprises. This includes a non-flying birds which looks like road runner and survives by killing snakes with it’s legs. This bird put on an impressive show for us, running back and forth during the ‘flying’ demonstration. It was absolutely fascinating to watch.
If you want to take your bird of prey experience to the next level, there are a range of packages available which allow you to spend more time with the birds on a 1-on-1 basis (obviously guided by the keepers). I’ll be booking in for one of these on my next visit!
Kielder Water and Forest Park is a haven for British Wildlife. I was especially keen to spot a Red Squirrel as there are fewer and fewer places where the species survives in the UK. Red Squirrels are shy and less confident than Grey Squirrels which makes them much harder to find.
Unfortunately I didn’t spot any squirrels this time although I will admit that I wasn’t looking very hard. My priority on this trip was relaxation. We did however see some buzzards hovering over the lake alongside lots of more common wildlife living among the lodges.
There aren’t any supermarkets in the Kielder area so you will need any food supplies before you arrive. There are however a few options for eating out.
Before we arrived at Kielder, we were sure to book our table at the Pheasant in Falstone which is a 10 minute drive from Kielder. I advise booking in advance as this restaurant is popular and can get very busy. We really enjoyed our meals here back in the 90s so were keen to return and to see how things had changed. And we were very pleasantly surprised.
As it would happen, the restaurant is owned by the same family as it was three decades ago and is now being managed by the son of the family. The decor also remains unchanged which is a bonus here as the restaurant’s traditional cottage style is growing harder to find in the UK. You can close your eyes here and imagine how the building was being used hundreds of years ago.
The food was hearty and we returned to our cabins with full stomachs. The Pheasant also offers accommodation which was fully booked during our stay. We stayed in the accommodation here back in the 1990’s so again it would be great to go back and see how the rooms have changed (although I must have been 5 years old at the time.)
There is also a restaurant within the Landal Complex which serves a more basic menu and offers views across the Kielder Water as an added bonus.
Getting to Kielder Water…
I love how remote Keilder Water is. It’s literally miles from civilisation. I love feeling like I can completely disconnect from the world. Because of this, it also means that travelling to Kielder isn’t so easy and the transport connections to this beautiful part of the world are limited.
Most visitors will need a car to reach the area. However, Kielder Water is around 40 miles from Newcastle Airport and 1 hour from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne City Centre by car. Car Hire facilities are available at the Airport and Newcastle Central Station. This makes Newcastle a good hub for your onward journeys to Kielder.
Kielder Water Lodges – A Weekend Break
We spent our last night in Kielder strolling by the lakeside, wanting to stay longer and wishing we hadn’t waited 20 years before returning. We won’t be leaving it so long again and hope to return here in the very near future.
Kielder is filled with memories and nostalgia for me and my family. Visiting here again after twenty years, followed by my dad’s death 8 weeks later has helped me to realise that memories are important. But its equally important to keep making these memories as we never know what’s waiting around the next corner.
Kielder now holds even more happy memories for me. I’m only glad that we had the opportunity for this final holiday together and it gives me a reason to return more frequently in the future.
And for that, I will always be thankful.
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