We bundled the kids and dogs into the car and set off on a mammoth drive to Kielder Forest. After setting up camp at the beautiful Kielder Village Campsite, we embarked on an epic battle with mud, rain and midges. Here are our top tips for visiting Kielder Forest.
1. Be prepared for the Kielder Forest midges
We thought we were prepared for the midges. We had both cream and spray repellant with us and we knew we’d need to keep the tent doors closed to avoid letting them in at night. But this really wasn’t enough. Our first mistake was that the insect repellant was packed away.
When we arrived in Kielder Forest, my husband put up the tent whilst wearing shorts with no protection against the midges until he found the spray. In the time it took him to put the tent up, his legs were literally covered in bites. Once we’d found the insect repellant, it did the job and we didn’t get bitten whilst wearing it. That said, the midges were still swarming around, particularly in the evenings. We ended up buying face nets to wear if we were outside in the evening.
2. Visit Kielder Castle first
Here’s the first thing you need to know about Kielder Castle: it’s not a castle. It is in fact the former hunting lodge of the Duke of Northumberland. What it does have is a café and a little tourist information centre about Kielder Forest. Here, you can find out everything that’s going on in the area. It is the starting point for the Gruffalo Trail and various mountain bike tracks. There is also a park just around the corner. The café is lovely too.
3. Take a bike
Or if you can’t take one, hire one from The Bike Place. Kielder Forest is just the perfect place for family mountain bike adventures. The tracks are graded like a ski resort, so whatever your level you’ll find the right ride for you. Some of the paths are so easy that Libby (age 5) managed it on her mountain bike and my husband pulled Lia on a trailer.
4. Book in advance for the Kielder observatory
The Kielder Observatory is incredibly popular due to Kielder Forest being so remote. The lack of light pollution results in some of the darkest skies in the UK, perfect for stargazing. By the time I looked at their website, all the after-dark sessions had already sold out for the week we were there. There were a few early evening children’s sessions still available, but we weren’t sure what we’d be doing each day so we didn’t book it. And of course, by the time we tried again, these had sold out as well. It is supposed to be an incredible experience so don’t make the same mistake as us!
5. Plan for bad weather
Much like our plans for the midges, we thought we had it sussed if the weather was bad. We had a good tent, wellies and waterproof coats. That would be fine, wouldn’t it? Erm, no. The first disaster was that the tent awning basically flooded. It remained damp and muddy for the rest of the week. The next issue was that the waterproofing on part of our tent gave up one night. Luckily, it’s a canvas tent so it was easy to re-waterproof. However, we should have done that before we left. We also should have taken extra pairs of wellies. The girls and I had holes in ours by the end of the week.
The next issue was that we hadn’t done our research properly for wet weather activities in Kielder Forest. We didn’t really have days out planned for bad weather. We ended up researching it when we were there and heading to the Roman Army Museum when it was terrible weather. Later in the week we went to Vindolanda, which is both inside and outside. Both were brilliant, educational days out that I would highly recommend whatever the weather!
6. Be prepared to be incommunicado in Kielder Forest
There is absolutely no phone signal in Kielder Forest. This means no sat nav if you’re using the one on your phone. The WiFi at Kielder Campsite was intermittent. When it wasn’t working, we were able to get WiFi in either the Angler’s Arms pub or the Kielder Castle Café. But in general, I spent most of the week resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t manage to blog or post to social media.
7. Look out for wildlife (and gruffalo)
Kielder Forest is a great place to see a variety of wildlife. Approximately half of the red squirrels in England live in Kielder. There are also ospreys, deer, salmon, frogs, water voles, otters – the list goes on. Head to Kielder Castle for directions to the bird hide. In the castle café you can watch the ospreys on their nest via a live camera. The castle is also the best place to find out what wildlife walks and events are happening. While you’re there, you can download the Gruffalo trail app. The app brings the characters to life on your phone as you follow the trail.
8. Visit Scotland
In Kielder, you are just a few minutes from the Scottish border. We headed over into Scotland to visit Traquair House. This is an hour and a half drive from Kielder Forest, but it was a lovely day out. It is Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. The grounds are dog friendly, there is a maze and playground to keep the children entertained and they brew their own beer. Pretty much the perfect day out for us all.
9. Book restaurants in peak season
If you walk along the path through Kielder Campsite, you’ll come to the Angler’s Arms pub. We were very impressed with this place. They allow dogs in the bar area, have a good children’s menu and serve excellent food at reasonable prices. However, it is understandably popular. So if you intend to eat there, do book in advance. On one occasion we didn’t book and they were full. We ended up having a very average, overpriced meal at the Boat Inn on Kielder waterside. This is a smart looking place with a great menu and friendly staff but the food just isn’t up to standard.
10. Visit Kielder Water
Kielder Water is an enormous man-made lake in the middle of Kielder Forest. Despite not having the weather to get into the lake on a boat, it was well worth a visit to the lake. We cycled there from Kielder campsite. The tracks were a little difficult for Libby so it took quite a long time, but the views were spectacular and the lake itself is beautiful.