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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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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