Walk This Way: Kielder
We continue our walk series by wandering through the world-renowned surroundings of Kielder Castle, Skyspace and Observatory
Starting/Finishing Point: Kielder Castle Café.
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 3 1/2 hours.
Difficulty: Medium. There are several long uphill drags in this walk, although none are particularly steep. Some sections are very uneven underfoot and the nature of the surface of some tracks and forest trails makes this walk slightly more tiring than at first anticipated.
Footwear: Walking boots or robust trainers if the weather has been dry. Much of the walking is excellent on un-metalled forest trails, however there are sections that are very uneven underfoot, prone to being very muddy and as a result slippery.
OS Map: OL42
OS Reference: NY632934
Other: The path regularly crosses the many excellent mountain bike trails and cyclists do have priority so be aware. There is a short section along the C200 road towards the end of the walk which can be busy as it is the main road to and from Kielder. Apart from this section, this is an excellent route for dog walkers. There are public toilets at the car park and the café (open all year round). The site of the Observatory is very exposed and there can be strong, cold winds even on what appears at the castle to be the mildest of days, so appropriate clothing is essential.
Kielder Castle was built on the site of an earlier settlement by architect William Newton as a hunting lodge for Hugh Percy, the first Duke of Northumberland. The site itself is thought to be an ancient burial ground dating back to 3,000BC. Entirely in keeping with its Gothic styling, the castle is reputed to be haunted by ghosts including a ‘grey lady’ and a servant girl called ‘Emma’, although little is known about their ties to the castle or historical significance. In the mid-1950s the Forestry Commission constructed much of the current housing that exists around the Castle to accommodate the workers engaged in the planting of the forest. Originally envisioned to create a strategic timber reserve for the whole country Kielder now has over 230 square miles of forest managed by the Forestry Commission, and is home to more than 50 percent of the England’s remaining Red Squirrel population. The Castle is now the tourist information point for Kielder and is open from 10am–4pm daily (except Christmas and New Year). It also houses the Kielder Castle Café which is open from 9.30am–5.30pm daily throughout the summer and 11am–4pm throughout the winter (excepting the same dates as the information centre). Bike hire is available throughout the year from Kielder Cycle Centre who can be contacted on 01434 250457.
Leaving the castle via the arched coaching entrance, we turn left and follow the red trails marker down across the gardens and past the Minotaur Maze (1), which is well worth a slight diversion to explore. This basalt rock and glass maze was built in 2003 by Nick Coombe and Shona Kitchen and is part of Kielder Art and Architecture. From here we join the road and turning right at the T junction, follow the curve up and around to the left past the village shop. We cross the C200 diagonally to our left and enter the forest again, following the red waymarked arrow onto a narrow trail. From here we climb steadily through the forest. Despite the criss-crossing of mountain bike trails and paths it is clear that wildlife in the forest itself is thriving, with evidence of large number of roe deer and even a herd of feral goats. The ground is blanketed with moss and lichen and as the day moved to evening we saw several barn owls swooping through the trees.
Emerging from the woodland we join a forestry road that is again well signed with red arrows towards Skyspace and the observatory. To our right as we gently climb the trees occasionally open out with views across the valley and north towards Deadwater Fell (2), crowned by its distinctive military radar station, and below it the Specere shelter, another element of Kielder Art and Architecture, designed in 2009 by renowned architect David Adjaye. Next we approach Skyspace, which has settled into its environment considerably since it was first installed in 2000. This sculpture by famed American artist James Turrell consists of ‘a short tunnel that leads to a partially buried circular room, a ceiling containing a central circular oculus or opening, and a ring of seats forming the lower part of the inner wall.’ It is a great place to pause and sit for a while. Watching the silent sky float by directly above you is both a hypnotic and extraordinarily relaxing experience.
Suitably rejuvenated, we now press on for the extra half-mile of forestry road up Black Fell to the observatory, taking in as we go increasingly expansive views as the forest thins. From the observatory we see a dramatic panorama across the valley and Kielder water itself. With minimal light pollution, Kielder Forest is famed for having the darkest night skies in England and the Observatory (3), built by Charles Barclay Associates in 2008, has developed an excellent access program to allow anyone with sufficient interest to learn about astronomy, visit the site and use its astronomical equipment. It is run by Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society (KOAS); to find out more about their events visit the website at www.kielderobservatory.org.
Retracing our footsteps back down the forestry track we take the third track on the right after we pass Skyspace, taking us in an almost directly southerly direction. This gently descends, giving open views across the forest. At the fork we take the left hand track downwards and into open woodland of slightly more mixed character before heading into an older and more mature area of forest (4). At the next fork we again take the left track that drops us down to meet the C200. Here we turn left for a short burst along the road before turning right, signposted Bakethin Nature Reserve. We continue on the road down to join ‘Lakeside Way’ and from here follow signs for Kielder Castle, keeping Kielder Burn to our right. We re-join the road by which we left the castle earlier and – crossing the bridge – complete the short climb back up to Kielder Castle.