The Best Things to Do in Kielder Northumberland


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Kielder Water and Forest is home of the largest man-made lake in Europe and the largest forest in England.  It is an oasis of nature, water and outdoor activities and it is also rather spectacular too.  At Kielder, you’ll find great trails that are purpose-built for walking, cycling and horse riding.  There are dedicated tracks for mountain biking and a 26 mile long Lakeside Trail that circles the lake.   You’ll find native red squirrels here, ospreys, deer and water voles.  There’s fishing here, as well as sailing, canoeing and water skiing.  And as if that isn’t enough, once darkness falls Kielder is the best place in England to view the night sky.  There are a huge number and variety of things to do in Kielder, the challenge is fitting it all in!

Stay in and Near Kielder

Whether you choose to stay at the luxury self-catering lodges at Kielder Waterside, which also boast an indoor heated pool and sauna as well as a bar and restaurant, or rent yourself a “get away from it all” cottage or house either within or near the park you’ll have a blast by staying closer to the action.

The Top Things to do in Kielder Northumberland

Kielder is all about the great outdoors and nature.  It’s about activity and the wild world.  Here at Kielder, you can enjoy hiking, biking, archery, crossbow (!), swimming, sailing, waterskiing, fishing, and wildlife spotting.  There’s art and architecture here too at Kielder, with the Art and Architecture Trails.  Go inside for climbing walls, head back out for ziplines and high ropes.  Ready?

Get a Map of Kielder to Start Out

The layout of Kielder can be a little confusing to start with, your best bet is to pick up a Kielder Map and orient yourself.  This downloadable map of Kielder is a great resource.  Click here to download a high-resolution map of Kielder.

things to do in kielder map

Visit Northumberland’s International Dark Sky Park AKA Go Star Spotting in Kielder

The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the best place in England to enjoy the dark skies – it has a gold tier designation from the International Dark Sky Association and is one of the largest areas of protected night sky.  Here on a clear night, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy with your naked eye and that’s’ 2.5 million light-years away!  The Dark Skies Park at Kielder is also a great place to watch meteor showers and also the Aurora!

Map of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park

Northumberland Dark Skys Park Map

You should also visit the Kielder Observatory (check here for event bookings).  Pre-booking is essential for the observatory and the track only opens 1 hour before the start of events, access is ONLY for those with tickets.

things to do in kielder northumberland dark skies

Explore the Tower Knowe Visitor Centre at Kielder

If you arrive at Kielder without a plan, then this is the place to come.  It’s the best place in Kielder to find out what’s open, what you can do and where you can do it.  There is an excellent exhibition on the Kielder Dam as well as some great views over both Kielder Water and the dam itself.  You can access the Osprey Ferry (when it’s open, as its currently not), you can buy fishing gear and outdoor clothes if it’s a little wetter or warmer than you expected.  And its also easy to access the Nature Reserve at Falstone Moss from here – plus there’s easy access to the Kielder Water Sailing Club too.

Visit Kielder Castle

Spoiler, Kielder Castle isn’t actually a Castle.  (for details on the best Northumberland Castles read our guide here) It used to be a hunting lodge for the Duke of Northumberland, but it is rather lovely.  You’ll find a video presentation about Kielder here and a series of changing exhibitions.  There’s also a play area outside, a maze and a café, which has an open fire – Kielder is open ALL YEAR.

Kielder Castle is the centre for all biking at Kielder and there’s a lot of walks here.  You’ll also find the Red Squirrel room and a hide for viewing.  The Castle area is also the centre for cycling within the park and there are numerous trails for all levels from novice to advanced mountain bikers. Bikes can be hired, bought or repaired at the Cycle Centre and all things cycling are there.

Walk the Lakeside Way at Kielder

The Kielder Lakeside Way is 26 miles long.  It’s suitable for walking, cycling, horse riding, wheelchairs and mobility scooters and it lets you get out to and see some of the most beautiful parts of the lake.  You don’t need specialist footwear to hike Kielder’s Lakeside trail, trainers, or even wellies if it’s very wet will suffice.   Why not set out to do the entire circular trail over a series of days?  There are maps and specific route guides in this leaflet on the Kielder Lakeside Way and trails.  Any estimated walking times are based on walking 2.5 miles per hour.

things to do in kielder lakeside trail

Visit Kielder’s Birds of Prey Centre

While you’re at Kielder Waterside head on over to the Birds of Prey Centre, where more than 60 birds are homed.  You’ll find eagle, falcons, hawks, Vultures and owls here.  There are also wallabies and fallow deer as well as Great White Pelicans.  You can just turn up and get a ticket (family tickets for £21) and your ticket lasts all day, but if you want to take a photography course, a walk with the birds of a falconry day course then you need to book at least one day in advance.  More details about the Birds of Prey Centre at Kielder here.

Look out for Wildlife in Kielder

Kielder Water and Forest Park is a haven for wildlife.  You’ll find Osprey’s here, in 2009, they were the first birds in more than 200 years to raise chicks in Northumberland!  There are now 6 breeding pairs of Ospreys within the park! You might spot some of the platforms throughout the forest, which were built to encourage nesting!  Other rare animals include the salmon otter, the pipistrelle bat, water voles and the roe deer.

Visit Bakethin Nature Reserve at Kielder

This conservation area within Kielder is located at Butteryhaugh, Kielder.  The nearest postcode is NE48 1HF.  Bakethin Nature Reserve is found at the northern end of Kielder Water.  There’s a car park here and an information point with shelter and seating.  There are easy walks to the Bakethin hide, Kielder Castle and the Lakeside Way.  Bakethin Nature Reserve is great for spotting wildlife in the woods and the lake from the wildlife hide and you can also explore the “bug hotel” here too!

Find a Red Squirrel in Kielder

About 50% of the English population of native red squirrels are found at Kielder!  These small creatures are threatened by the bigger and more aggressive American grey squirrel, so here at Kielder, you can take a Red Squirrel Safari to explore their home in the forest, look for clues and hopefully spot the squirrels too.  Each safari takes around 2 hours and the minimum is one person per safari at a cost of £40.  Two people cost £40 in total and additional group members are £15 per person.  Book with Nature Holiday by email [email protected] or call 01388 529154.

There’s a Red Squirrel room and viewing hide at Kielder Castle if you don’t want to head on a safari.

Go Fishing at Kielder

There are more than 2,000 acres of water to fish at Kielder and its possible to fish from the bank or from a boat, Kielder Waterside offers 15 full kitted out motorboats that are available for rent.  If you’re fishing from the bank, then there are 20 miles of shoreline to pick your best spot.  Trout fishing is open from March to October.  Fishing hours start at 0600 from Kielder Waterside or 1000 from Tower Knowe Visitor Centre

Day permits cost £25 with an 8 fish limit.  You’ll need to pay an additional £5 for a second rod and there are special permits for couples and families – £39 with a 12 fish limit.  If you want to rent a boat then they start at £12 for a half-day midweek.  More information and booking here.

Watersports at Kielder

As the largest northern European man-made lake, Kielder has a surface area of more than 11 square kilometres. There are a HEAP of water activities that normally take place on Kielder.  Right now you’ll want to check HERE to see what is open.  But usually, there’s

  • Rowing boat rental
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Sailing
  • Windsurfing
  • Waterskiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • The Osprey Ferry

Go Geo-Caching at Kielder

There are six geo-caches at Kielder.   The geo-caches are hidden around the park in waterproof boxes in a camouflage waterproof bag.  You’ll need to sign up at Geocaching.com (it’s free), download the app to your phone or GPS system and then go to Kielder and get started.  GeoCaching is great for the family and for all ages.  As a hint, you’ll find four of the caches hidden by Kielder Castle, the Duchess Trails and the Salmon Centre.  There’s one each on the Tower Knowe peninsula and at the Belling.

Take the Longest Forest Drive in the UK at Kielder

Kielder hosts the longest forest drive in the UK, it’s a toll road and is 12 miles, 19 kilometres long.  All funds go to support the park.   The toll is just £3 – pay with coins at the toll machine at Kielder Castle.  The road is spectacular, but it is unsealed.  There have been recent (2020) repairs and there are loose stones, some areas have a 20 mph speed limit.  If your car has low clearance this is NOT for you.  There is little to NO mobile phone coverage on this road.  Actually, we find there’s little coverage with Three or Vodafone throughout much of the park!

The Kielder Forest Drive goes from Kielder Castle to Blakehopeburnhaugh on the A68.  It reaches more than 450 metres (1500 feet) at Blakehope Nick. The views of Northumberland are breathtaking.

To access the Kielder Forest Drive from within Kielder Forest Park, following the signs for Kielder Village, then the signs for Kielder Castle.  You will pass the Castle on your right and the entrance to the car park on your left.  Carry straight on until you see the start of the drive, pay your £3 in coins into the toll machine and set off.

You can also access the drive from the A68 and drive into the park.  Just follow the signs for Kielder Castle near Byrness.  Pay the toll at the Kielder Castle machine.

Mountain Biking at Kielder and Cycling Around Kielder Reservoir

You’ll find some of the best mountain biking trails in the UK at Kielder, with more than 125 kilometres of trails graded all the way from blue to black.  If you don’t have your own bikes you can rent them from The Bike Place at Kielder Castle.

things to do in kielder mountain biking trails

Some mountain biking trails are all about the views – Lonesome Pine Trails gives you fab views over Kielder Water and the Kielder Observatory and Deadwater Fell is the highest mountain biking trail in England – topping out at 1900 feet and brining stunning views over the Scottish Borders and Northumberland.

Clay Pigeon Shooting at Kielder

Surprisingly you can give Clay Pigeon shooting a go if you’re a group of two or more, although all participants must be at least 14 years of age it’s a great way to try something for a reasonable cost.  You can take an hour and get 25 shots for £40.  You’ll get full instruction and equipment and it’s a great way to try something new when you’re at Kielder.  You can book via email [email protected] or call them on 07960 016192.

Try your hand at Archery at Kielder

Take an archery lesson or two at Kielder Waterside.  Archery is an ancient sport, one of the oldest in the world and originally it was how animals were shot for food.  Today archery is an Olympic sport and it’s a great one to try with friends and family.   You can pick up an archery lesson at Kielder for as little as £15 per person.  Lessons in archery at Kielder take you back to the basics – you’ll learn how to load your arrow, how to stand, how to aim and finally how you can shoot and hit the target.  Under 16’s will need to come with a responsible adult, but otherwise pretty much anyone can take part.  Find out more and book your archery lesson at Kielder here.

Try Crossbows in the Forest at Kielder

If you like archery, then you’ll love Crossbow.   Once one of the world’s deadliest weapons the Crossbow was invented around 4BC.  Today you can try it in Kielder.  Your instructor will teach you the safe way to use it, and how to hit the targets – and nothing you’re not supposed to!  Children over the age of 8 are welcome and all under 16’s must be supervised by an adult.  Each lesson costs £15 per person and lasts about an hour.  You’ll have to prebook here.

Explore Art and Architecture at Kielder

The Art and Architecture Trails at Kielder give you the opportunity to explore three different trails to explore the Kielder Art and Architecture.  Pick a starting point from Kielder Castle Visitor Centre, Leaplish Waterside Park or Hawkhope car park.

things to do in kielder art and architecture trail

There are guided notes for each of the trails and you’ll want to download them and use the maps and read the notes as you walk around (so either print them or open them on a mobile device:

Other Things to do in Northumberland

Why not take a look at our top 10 things to do in Northumberland to see what other great things there are to do in Northumberland?  For a break at the seaside why not head to Seahouses for a traditional break in Northumberland?  Or keep close to the border with Scotland and visit Berwick Upon Tweed?  Or if you’re hunkering down in a cosy cottage and want some reading material then here are our favourite books that are set in Northumberland.

Final Words on the Best Things to Do in Kielder

Kielder Water and Forest Park is an absolute blast.  There is NEVER enough time to fit everything in, which is why we keep going back.  The outdoor activities are great, the fact that it’s open year-round is fabulous and you get to see the Park in all seasons (and weather!).  For such an active place it’s a really relaxing place to stay too!  Some of the cottages here are glorious with fabulous views, great facilities, you really do feel as though you’ve escaped completely from the world!  There are so many things to do in Kielder the only real thing you have to plan is when to come back!

 

 

 

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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