Kielder Water and Forest

In the uppermost reaches of the River North Tyne, to the east of Bellingham, we find the huge dam of Kielder Water, the largest man-made lake in Europe. The construction of the dam, which is 170 feet high and three quarters of a mile wide was begun in 1976.

Kielder Water
Kielder Water © David Simpson

The lake was opened in 1982 and was built to supply heavy industry, particularly that of Teesside (over 60 miles away) as well as domestic users on Tyneside, Wearside and across the region. It can hold up to 44 billion gallons of water. Kielder stretches along the North Tyne Valley for about seven miles, has 27 miles of shoreline and a surface area of 2,684 acres.

Kielder from the dam.
Kielder from the dam © David Simpson

Water from the reservoir can be released into the North Tyne, where after a journey of two days, it reaches the pumping station at Riding Mill on the Tyne itself near Corbridge. From here it can be pumped through pipelines under the Durham hills and fed into the River Wear or River Tees. Like many reservoirs in North East England it is hard to believe that Kielder Water is man-made.

Kielder © David Simpson

The landscape of Kielder is in fact rich in natural beauty, despite the fact that it is almost entirely made by man. For, not only is the lake man-made, but so too is the countryside around it, because the reservoir is surrounded on three sides by the huge Kielder Forest, the largest man-made forest in Europe.

Kielder Water
Kielder Water Kielder © David Simpson

In truth, wherever you go in Britain or Europe, much of what is considered natural beauty has been created by human management over many centuries and this is only one of many landscapes created by human endeavour. It is certainly a landscape of great beauty.

The area is naturally an important place for recreation, tourism and leisure, with water sport facilities on the reservoir for wind surfers, canoeists, water skiers, anglers and yachtsmen in addition to the visitor facilities provided by the Forestry Commission. Cycling, walking and crazy golf are among the activities on dry land.

Kielder Water © David Simpson
Kielder Water © David Simpson

Kielder: International Dark Sky

The other great natural asset of Kielder is neither the ground nor the water but the skies directly above. Kielder lies within the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park which forms the largest expanse of pure night time sky in Europe.

It is in fact the third largest area of protected dark sky in the world. Its status results from the exceptionally low levels of light pollution, with no major urban centres or even major villages in close proximity.

Kielder © David Simpson

At the heart of this park is Kielder Observatory, a unique visitor attraction set within this almost Scandinavian landscape. The observatory offers an opportunity to observe the universe as it is meant to be seen – with pure dark skies – and it provides a rare opportunity for those members of the public who have a passion for astronomy or who simply have a curiosity to gaze in wonder at worlds far beyond our own.

Kielder © David Simpson

Kielder Castle

This former hunting lodge for the Earls of Nothumberland lies to the north of Kielder Water and is the main visitor centre for the area, close to the white-painted rows of houses that form Kielder village.

The England-Scotland border is only about a mile from the castle although the road north across the border does not enter Scotland for another three miles, where it crosses from Tynedale into Liddesdale to the east of Deadwater Fell.

Kielder Water
Kielder Water © David Simpson

Deadwater Burn runs close to the border on the westerly slopes of Deadwater Fell while the Liddel Water of Liddesdale rises about half a mile away to the west in Scotland.

The Kielder Burn which merges with the Deadwater Burn near Kielder Castle is an important tributary at the source of the River North Tyne and has a Celtic name meaning ‘violent river’. It gives its name to the whole Kielder area. A twelve mile forest drive road begins at the castle, which runs west up the valley of the Kielder Burn towards Redesdale.

On Kielder side, the wind blaws wide,
There sounds nae hunting horn,
That rings sae sweet, as the winds that beat,
Round banks where Tyne is born.

C. A. Swinburne, ‘A Jacobite’s Exile’

The lengthy drive across the wilderness takes us to Blakehopeburnhaugh in Redesdale, through both forested and un-forested sections of these southerly Cheviot Hills. On its way it passes to the south of the hill ridge called Oh Me Edge near Blakehope Nick – perhaps a reminder of an old border feud.

Kielder Water
Kielder Water © David Simpson

The northern tip of Kielder Water is just to the south of Kielder village except that this northern tip is in fact the tiny Bakethin Reservoir which is separated from the main reservoir by a weir and is designed to prevent the northern reaches of Kielder Water from drying up.

The North Tyne valley below the Kielder dam
The North Tyne valley below the Kielder dam © David Simpson

The main road through the Kielder Forest area is on the south and western side of Kielder Water and about half way along the western bank of the reservoir is Leaplish, a central place of activity for the Kielder Water. It was historically one of the homes of the Robsons, one of the primary Border Reiver clans or ‘graynes’ of North Tynedale.

On the north side of the reservoir is an inlet formed by the Plashetts Burn which recalls a place-name that has French roots and refers to a palisaded enclosure of some kind.

In later times Plashetts became a mining settlement and had its own railway station. There is no sign of the village today as it lies at the bottom of Kielder Water as do the sites of numerous farms and cottages including Mounces, Lewisburn, Wellhaugh, Emmethaugh, Otterstone Lee and the Belling.

Kielder dam
Kielder dam © David Simpson

Kielder : A Jewel in the North East’s Crown

Redesdale North Tynedale

Hexham Corbridge South Tynedale | Allendale

Hadrian’s Wall | Hadrian’s Wall Country

Newcastle upon Tyne | North Tyneside | Whitley Bay

Alnwick Morpeth Area | Rothbury and Coquetdale




North East England History and Culture