As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Northumberland National Park, Jackie King picks out a selection of outdoor adventure activities in this glorious protected area of northeast England.
Kielder Water and the surrounding Forest Park present a rare and fascinating blend of natural and man-made landscapes. Here, you’ll find Northumberland’s ‘big six’: ospreys, pipistrelle bats, roe deer, otters and 50% of England’s native red squirrel population.
Cycle routes abound. The rugged hills around Kielder are a mountain biker’s dream with trails exploring the areas’s bloody reiver history on exhilarating singletrack trails; the Sandstone Way passes pink coastal cliffs at Spittal, St Cuthbert’s Cave, and the mystical Simonside Hills, while the Hadrian’s cycleway meanders close to the wall and lets you dip into Roman history.
Above it all, Northumberland’s Dark Sky Zone awaits. Book onto an event at Kielder Observatory or Battlesteads to learn more about deep sky observing, or simply take a flask of hot tea and a blanket to a nearby hillside and view galaxies, planets and (if you’re lucky) the aurora borealis.
Kielder Water & Forest Park Kielder Water and the surrounding Forest Park present a rare and beautiful blend of natural and man-made landscapes. Amid Northern Europe's largest reservoir and England's biggest working forest, you'll find Northumberland's 'big six' species: breeding ospreys, 50% of England's native red squirrel population, pipistrelle bats, roe deer, salmon and otters. The damp conifer woodlands are also home to a rich wealth of mosses and lichens and an impressive bird population including barn owls, fieldfares, lapwings, redwings, goosanders and goldeneyes. The three visitors centres at Tower Knowe, Leaplish or Kielder Castle are a great base from which to explore and learn more about the area's history and rich biodiversity. visitkielder.com Leaplish Waterside Park Considering the vast scale of Kielder Water, it's can be hard to know where to start. Leaplish Waterside Park offers a great base from which to plan an adventure, especially for families, as everything is within easy reach. Start by enjoying a coffee with panoramic views of the lake at the Boat Inn restaurant and bar; board the Osprey Ferry for a tour of the reservoir; visit the Birds of Prey centre, which has one of the largest collections of owls, eagles, hawks, falcons and vultures in the north of England; or set out to walk or cycle along the Lakeside Way. The Park is also home to 50% of England's native red squirrel population and is the species last remaining stronghold. leaplish.co.uk Calvert Trust Kielder John Fryer Spedding founded The Calvert Trust in 1978, with a vision to help people with disabilities and their families get the most from the great outdoors. Kielder Water offers an exceptional array of activities, including an exhilarating high ropes course, archery, kayaking, climbing and abseiling, zip-wire and king-swing. A drop-in taster day is one of the best ways to experience everything on offer. They also have a hydrotherapy swimming pool, sauna and sensory room, which is open all year round. calvert-trust.org.uk/kielder Barnacre Alpacas In 2005 insurance broker Debbie Ribbon watched Full Circle, a documentary with Michael Palin, and fell in love with the idea of owning alpacas. Two years later, Debbie and her husband Paul left their office jobs to set up a Northumberland farm from scratch and are now the happy, hard-working owners of 140 alpacas. Buy soft alpaca wool mittens, cable knit baby booties and hand-felted jewellery from their onsite shop; or join a walk, where a you can meet and feed the alpacas with a member of the team and even take them on a memorable walk. Visit by appointment only. barnacre-alpacas.co.uk Northern Wilds Food Foraging The wild uplands and rich forests in the Northumberland National Park offer a wealth of opportunities for the keen-eyed forager. Take a half or full day foraging course with Linus and Louise from Northern Wilds – both passionate about embracing sustainable living and exploring the natural landscape – and you could find yourself munching on tree leaves, gathering wild garlic or sweet hawthorn buds, seeking out mushrooms on the forest floor or picking autumnal berries and nuts. After your foray, return to the Wild Food Wagon, a converted 4x4 military truck with a wood-fired rayburn, to feast on your finds. northernwilds.co.uk Fishing at Kielder and Fontburn The largest man-made lake in the UK, Kielder Water offers some 20 miles of shoreline and over 2,000 acres of open water to explore by boat, so it's an exhilarating place for both fly fishers and bait anglers to try their luck with the wild brown trout and resident rainbows. Nearby Fontburn Reservoir offers a smaller, family-friendly fishery as well as a well-stocked shop. The season runs from mid-March to mid-November and the waters are managed and stocked by Northumbrian Water; pick up your permit from Tower Knowe or Leaplish Visitor Centre. nwl.co.uk/your-home/leisure/go-fishing Northumbrian Earth “Something large and boring happened on the coast at Seahouses, and this is an opportunity to find out what and why”. So starts one of the imaginative introductions to a family geowalk with Dr Ian Kille, expert and enthusiast on all things geological in Northumberland. Take a walk “to investigate a pavement which has been sprinkled with fossilised sea-urchins-up-a-stick and mint humbugs” and find fossil zip-fasteners and polo mints, looking for pebble stories and taking massive steps of thousands of grandmothers each. Along with local providers Dr Kille can also help you plan an entire landscape-themed holiday. You could find yourself exploring the Whin Sill, a great slug of igneous rock on which Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne and Hadrian's Wall were strategically placed, investigating the area's industrial archaeology and finding out why the rich biodiversity of the area is linked to the rocks underlying it. northumbrianearth.co.uk
For more information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby visitor attractions, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland National Park