Following the Lakeside Way
10.09.2010 18 °C
Kielder Forest is located in the county of Northumberland on the southern edge of the Cheviot Hills just a few miles to the English side of the Border. The area is renowned for mountain biking trails of all levels of difficulty and several new routes have been opened recently.
Perhaps the best way to experience what this area has to offer is to ride the Lakeside Way that does the full 26 mile circuit of Kielder Water, the largest man made lake in Europe. The route is suitable for beginners to mountain biking, being a blue grade or moderate difficulty though it is hilly and doing it in 2 sections may be more suitable for family groups. The south shore is easier and has more facilities while the north shore has no motor access and the trail is far from flat. The previous occasion I was here the route had not been finished but this August I set out with my family to complete it.
Beginning at the car park up the hill from Kielder Castle the 4 of us rode down the road and onto the signposted path to the Minotaur Maze past the play area. Both of these are excellent for keeping kids entertained though today one of ours was setting the pace ahead while the other rode in comfort in his seat on the back of my bike.
Pass the maze and turn left at the end where a sign directs over the road to the Lakeside Way down a track that follows the upper reaches of the North Tyne River on the left. Following this dirt track down through the wooded riverbank soon brought us to the Lakeside Way itself which can be followed in either direction from here. We chose to ride in a clockwise direction tackling the North Shore first. This gives more opportunities for tired legs to abandon the ride later on - the north shore of Kielder Water is remote country with no motor access while all facilities and visitor centres are on the southern shore.
The trail was mainly a dirt track type surface which alternately climbed up to open country and descended into the dense woodland along the shore of Kielder Water itself. I really enjoyed riding along here though Jacqui was indignant at the fact that something that described itself as a lakeside route should so resemble an Alpine stage of the Tour de France!
To be fair the route is graded blue which is moderate in terms of mountain bike routes but not so moderate as far as family rides go. The main highlights apart from the spectacular views over Kielder Water and the joy of riding in remote country far from the noise and danger of traffic, are the artworks along the route. These are numerous and are described in the local information leaflets though for some of them you need to leave the trail and ride a short way to see them.
The first of the art works we stopped at were the Janus Chairs; 3 moveable curved giant seats by the lakeside that you climb up into and are surprisingly comfortable vantage points from which to view the unspoilt scenery. Daniel was though more interested in a digger that had been left by a pathway undergoing restoration.
On again to another trackside artwork called Robin's Hut. Someone once said that if an object is made that does not serve a purpose then it must be art yet the Janus Chairs provide comfort and shelter from the rain; while Robin's Hut provided a pleasant sheltered lunch spot with views across Kielder Water to the Leaplish visitor centre on the far shore.
The Lakeside Way did follow the shoreline a little more closely now following it around several indentations meaning that Kielder Dam which was in view ahead was further than it had looked. After another uphill deviation we came all of a sudden to the Hawkhope car park which appeared through the trees following a downhill and an easy flat section.
The Lakeside Way is well signposted around this section and the route is much easier with much smaller hills and a smoother surface to ride on. After crossing the dam we stopped for a drink at the Tower Knowe visitor centre which was surprisingly quiet having ridden about 14 miles. We would continue to Leaplish where Jacqui had decided to call it a day and take Daniel to the play area while me and Josh finished the route to return with the car.
The well marked route to Leaplish follows the lake below the road and is an easier ride than the north shore with the steepest hill encountered on the way up to the Bull Crag Peninsula which also gives the best views. After Bull Crag one passes the ornately carved Freya's Hut which is directly opposite Robin's Hut where we had eaten lunch on the far shore of Kielder Water.
Leaplish is the main visitor centre here and there is a play area, cafe, birds of prey centre - displays are highly recommended - and even a gym and pool though as I was riding 26 miles today I was not in need of a gym. Jacqui tethered her bike to the fence of the play area where Daniel could run around and pretend to be either Thomas the Tank Engine or Sportacus - whichever he favoured today - and Jacqui could watch him. She found this prospect more appealing than the last 7 miles of the trail. Me and Josh set off through the car park and rejoined the Lakeside Way which descended to turn sharply onto a bridge over an inlet. This is where Josh crashed.
There was no serious injury but he could not go on so returned to the play area to await rescue with Daniel and Jacqui. I now set off to collect the car with some urgency.
After Leaplish the route regains some of its wilder qualities that characterise the early part of the ride and while there's a short section on a quiet tarmac road we're soon off on the forest trails again. The way follows the Lewis Burn Inlet to cross the fascinating wooden bridge that spans it at the bottom of a deep wooded valley. I was quite satisfied after the bridge as I ascended the hill on its far side to effortlessly fly past several people with expensive looking bikes and kit who appeared to be struggling with the hill. What made it funnier was that I was on my hybrid bike from Halfords with a child's seat on the back though I may not have been quite so fast had the seat still been occupied!
The last part of this trail was a joy. I saw hardly anyone and I rode on a delightful forest path through patterns of light and shade made by the newly emerged late afternoon sun shining through the trees. Sooner than expected I had arrived at the place we had joined the trail earlier in the day so turned left this time to follow the North Tyne the short distance to Kielder Castle. The last hill to the car park was a fitting challenge to finish with - Jacqui would have hated that - and I was soon on my way back to Leaplish.
Pete Buckley August 2010
Essentials >>> How far? 26 miles >>> What's the route like? Some hills, well marked easy trail >>> Start and finish at Kielder Castle
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