By Hilary Norton
I still catch my breath in awe when I drive round the Shilling Pot corner and get the first sight of Kielder Water and Forest Park. Magnificent.
Tower Knowe visitor centre is an excellent first stop with toilets, a brand new Wafflemeister café, a well-stocked shop and a very informative and interactive (and free!) exhibition.
The wildlife themed exhibition incorporates an interactive map showing the all of the Park’s attractions; two iPads – one with details of all the Art & Architecture installations; the second - a forest management game aimed at 10-12 year olds but good fun for all ages! Colourful wall panels detail all the wonderful wildlife to be found Park wide, encouraging visitors to get out and explore. There are interactive pods featuring wildlife related activities one example being the “Home” pod includes matching the animal, insect, bird to its home and a feely box with nesting materials. And a theatre space showing a range of videos- including the creation of Kielder Forest, the dam and history of Kielder Water, wildlife and Dark Skies.
A very special experience to share as a family, how about spotting one of the magnificent Kielder ospreys? Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Kielder “Osprey Watch” has knowledgeable guides and powerful telescopes to allow visitors to observe these magnificent birds unobtrusively.It’s open 10.30am – 5:00pm every Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holiday Monday and Wednesdays in July and August until Sunday 18th August – so just a week to go. It’s free but all donations most welcome!
Wildlife fun on the Bakethin Hide wild walk – this new wild walk is around 2.2km (1½ miles) long (there and back) on even-surfaced paths. It is accessible to wheelchair users and buggies. It is clearly signposted from Bakethin Nature Reserve car park and leads under Kielder Viaduct, past the dipping pond and along the Lakeside Way to Bakethin Hide. There are beautiful views, interesting wildlife, curious habitats and new interpretive features.
Kielder Viaduct is home to bats and birds and a favourite spot for wildlife to take a drink at the water’s edge. The dipping pond is a peaceful place to get close up to watery wildlife and the walk then winds its way through conifers, mossy woods and secret spaces. There is a series of brass rubbing plaques on the rail. The welcome panel explains that the pond is a watery jungle teeming with animal and plant life. The plaques feature some of the creatures you may see here throughout the year. Take along some paper and crayons and bring home rubbings of the minibeasts in the pond.
A little further along the route, you might be in need of a short rest. Perch a while on a beautiful wildlife themed bench carved by award-winning wood carver Tommy Craggs. Four very real-looking otters provide the arms and shoulder rests, while salmon swim along beneath, and an osprey with outstretched wings, alights from the rear.
Shortly after the bench, you can enjoy a unique outdoor space known as the “Wild it Up Clearing”. Suitable for all ages the clearing providing multi-sensory interaction combining sight, sound and touch in the forest environment. It includes a mirrored disk to “look up by looking down” and an artist’s pallet to match items you can find on the forest floor with the colours. Here is my 2 year old grandson enjoying the bug periscope
Not too much further on you reach Bakethin Hide itself. A lovely, peaceful viewing spot for wildlife, where all manner of flora, fauna and feathered creatures can be spied. It was designed and built in partnership with University of Newcastle Master of Architecture students and is accessible for wheelchair users and pushchairs.
The hide’s lake view pod is slightly elevated and offers great views of a ducks, geese and other birds. An osprey pole has been installed on an island to encourage ospreys to rest there. The forest pod has tall windows which give dramatic views of the close-up forest floor to its high canopy. Wood piles on the ground harbour all sorts of small forest creatures from toads, frogs and adders to hedgehogs, while red squirrels can sometimes be seen darting higher in the branches.
A few new additions to enhance any visit include an app which is like having a virtual tour guide with you. There are now 8 Kielder walks on the ViewRanger app. Install the free app and search for Kielder Water & Forest Park Wild Walks. You can then easily download the route and information on a smartphone before you visit. The app not only gives directions, route map and photographs, it also suggests what to look out for and offers fascinating wildlife information at each waypoint. Visitors can also listen to audio clips of Kielder wildlife experts talking about all the varied species who live here and how they are cared for.
Families will love to go wild treasure hunting! The six “Wild at Kielder” geocaches hidden around the park allow you to enjoy fabulous scenery, learn more about wildlife and discover hidden treasure. Sign up at www.geocaching.com and download the VisitKielder caches on to a smart phone or GPS system for free. Then head to Kielder and start searching. Four geocaches are hidden around Kielder Castle, the Duchess Trail and the Salmon Centre; one is on Tower Knowe peninsula and one at the Belling.
Two final suggestions for visits to add to your wildlife experience, the Salmon Centre close to Kielder Castle (free) has a natural North East river environment aquarium showcasing salmon and other local river species. Open daily 10am to 4pm until end of September, enjoy watching the videos revealing the behind the scenes work at the centre, a prehistoric salmon fossil dig, a quiz and brass rubbings to unveil interesting information about the salmon.
You can see one of the largest collections of birds of prey in the North of England at the Birds of Prey Centre at Kielder Waterside. Home to over 60 birds including eagles, owls, falcons, hawks and vultures – and even a family of wallabies. The Birds of Prey Centre is open daily from 10.30am to 4pm watch flying demonstrations and interact with the birds (daily at 1.30pm and 3pm in summer) and book an owl experience, falconry course, hawk walk or photography day.
Have a wild summer!