Cycling the Lakeside Way at Kielder Water and Forest Park

Stuart Forster goes cycling the Lakeside Way at Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland, England.

The Lakeside Way loops for 26 miles around Kielder Water, the reservoir which Queen Elizabeth II opened on 26 May 1982. The trail is popular with cyclists and completing it makes for an enjoyable, in places challenging, day out.

Hiring mountain bikes

I’d long wanted to cycle the Lakeside Way, which skirts the shore of Britain’s biggest artificial lake by volume; Kielder Water holds up to 200 billion litres of water. Myself and my partner Helen decided to hire a couple of mountain bikes to circumnavigate the lake.

We reasoned that hiring bicycles would be easier than faffing about trying to cram our own bikes into the car. It also meant we wouldn’t need to worry about cleaning them down afterwards.

After checking that the weekend weather forecast looked reasonable, I phoned The Bike Place — at Kielder Waterside — to reserve a couple of mountain bikes two days in advance of our adventure. At 6’4” I wanted to ensure I had a bicycle with a suitably large frame.

A signpost on the Lakeside Way at Kielder Water and Forest Park
A signpost on the Lakeside Way.

Northumberland International Dark Sky Park

This was our first visit to the area since a springtime visit to Kielder Observatory. During that trip we spent an evening listening to informative talks by astronomers then viewed stars and planets using the observatory’s telescopes.

With an area of 572 square miles, Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the largest expanse of its type in Europe. Subject to the night sky being clear and adequate geomagnetic activity, the Northern Lights can be viewed around Kielder.

We signed up for aurora alerts with the intention of heading back when conditions are ideal. When the Kp-index reaches seven the prospect of seeing the aurora borealis in northern England is good. (In case you’re wondering, the index’s name is derived from a German term, Planetarische Kennziffer, which is usually translated as ‘planetary index’.)

The art trail at Kielder

Our intention was to cycle steadily along the trail and pause to view the art installations dotted alongside the Lakeside Way.

Freya’s Cabin, on the southern shore of the lake, was our first stop. A creation of Studio Weave, it stands opposite Robin’s Hut, which overlooks Kielder’s northern waterfront.

A view out onto the placid surface of Kielder in Northumberland.
A view out onto the lake’s placid surface.

Observing Kielder’s flora and fauna

Previous trips to Kielder yielded sightings of roe deer and ospreys, a species which was reintroduced to the region in 2009. Pine martens were spotted for the first time in Kielder Forest during 2018.

About half of England’s population of red squirrels live in the area. Woodland hides present opportunities to view the rare mammals along with bird species such as chiffchaffs and coal tits.

An inquisitive red-breasted robin came within a couple of metres of us as we readied ourselves by the car. Sedge warblers and whitethroats darted by as we cycled. A grey heron studied the water for prey close to where the Lewis Burn flows into the reservoir.

Adders, the only native venomous snake native to the United Kingdom, give birth to live young during August and September. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any as we pedalled around the lake.

Kielder Castle
Kielder Castle.

Kielder’s mushrooms and toadstools

Cycling the Lakeside Way in autumn presents opportunities to see the wide variety of fungi that thrives from August into November. The mushrooms and toadstools varied in colour from pale blue to vibrant orange. Their forms reminded me of clusters of open umbrellas, discarded bowls and pointing fingers.

Arguably the most photogenic toadstool was the fly agaric. Red with white spots resembling a sprinkling of little chunks of marshmallow, they look like something from the pages of a fairy tale.

A fly agaric toadstool in Kielder Forest.
A fly agaric toadstool in Kielder Forest.

Cycling the Lakeside Way

We followed an anti-clockwise route around the lake. In places the Lakeside Way is quite a few metres inland, running through woodland; it doesn’t hug the shoreline.

It follows an undulating course, particularly on the north side of the water. Be prepared for a workout. In places the gravel track is steep and winding.

Kielder Dam, at the eastern end of the reservoir, represents one of the longest stretches of flat cycling along the 26-mile route. A control tower rises from the water close to the dam; known as the Valve Tower, the austere-looking concrete structure is 70 metres tall but most is beneath the lake’s surface.

Aiming to cycle around Kielder inside of four hours while pausing along the way to view the landscape, birdlife and artworks proved a challenge. We underestimated. With the benefit of hindsight — now that I’ve climbed those hills on the northern shore — I’d pack a picnic and make a day of it.

Kielder Castle plus the area’s various hides and art installations mean there are plenty of places to pause while cycling the Lakeside Way at Kielder Water and Forest Park.

Dusk at Kielder Water in Northumberland, England.
Dusk at Kielder Water in Northumberland, England.

Getting to Kielder Water and Forest Park

Kielder Water and Forest Park is 52 miles northwest of Newcastle. It is about an 80-minute drive on the route that includes the A69, A68 and B6320.

Further information

I hired bicycles from The Bike Place (Kielder Waterside; tel. 01434 250144). Each Hardtail MTB cost £20 for four hours.

Get hold of information about Kielder Water and Forest Park in the visitor centres at Kielder Castle, Kielder Waterside and Tower Knowe. The Visit Northumberland website also has information about things to do.

Enjoy this article? Take a look at my post Reasons to visit Northumberland, England’s most northerly county for more ideas on things to do.

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12 Comments

  • Paul Healy

    September 15, 2019 at 06:57 Reply

    Sounds like a lovely day out and that toadstool looks like something straight out of a cartoon – its perfect.

    • Stuart Forster

      September 20, 2019 at 09:20 Reply

      It was great to spot it in the sunlight. You’re right, like something from a fairy tale.

  • Janis

    September 16, 2019 at 16:56 Reply

    What a beautiful part of the country, it sounds like you had fun. The toadstool looks incredible; although probably looks better than how it tastes.

    • Stuart Forster

      September 20, 2019 at 08:54 Reply

      It’s photogenic but I wouldn’t fancy eating it!

  • Kathryn Burrington

    September 16, 2019 at 18:14 Reply

    Looks so beautiful! Not sure how I’d get on along the uphill sections. Have to admit I’d probably walk but I’d still love to do this one day. Thanks for the inspiration. When I’m halfway round and completely knackered I’ll be blaming you! 😉

  • Anna

    September 20, 2019 at 05:42 Reply

    I recently went to Northumberland for a weekend and fell in love with this beautiful part of the country! We stayed mainly by the coast but I know next time we will head into Kielder Forest Park. Exploring this area by bike sounds like a great way to get around!

    • Stuart Forster

      September 20, 2019 at 08:53 Reply

      We had a lovely day at Kielder. You picked what I also consider a beautiful area. The beaches of Northumberland are great for walks. Hopefully you got to the one at Alnmouth, which is among my favourites.

  • Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)

    September 20, 2019 at 13:00 Reply

    I’ve always wanted to to visit this Dark Skies Park. It’s just a short-ish hop from the one we spend time in regularly, in the Galloway Forest. Perhaps I should do a Dark Skies tour of the north next time I’m up!

    • Stuart Forster

      September 20, 2019 at 14:10 Reply

      It’s worth booking up in advance if you want to attend any of the special evenings at the observatory. It makes for a popular night out!

  • Suzanne Jones

    September 23, 2019 at 15:02 Reply

    Looks like a fabulous way to spend and outdoorsy weekend in one of my favourite parts of the UK. Not sure about the toadstool though….

    • Stuart Forster

      October 7, 2019 at 10:16 Reply

      It’s a great part of the country to spend time in. Maybe anytime other than autumn is for you?

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