The most northerly county in England, this sparsely populated swathe of wild moorland, deserted beaches and vast forests sits adjacent to the Scottish border and was once plagued by attacks from Border Rievers – raiders of both nationalities that pillaged their wealth from local homesteads.
But now, protected by the Angel of the North, all is peaceful throughout the landscape.
And believe me…it is SO quiet!
We stayed for a few days in the village of Bellingham, on the edge of Kielder Forest, in a gorgeous little Airbnb cottage, a converted former workshop. The village itself was fairly small but had enough amenities for our needs: butchers, bakers, well stocked convenience store, outdoor supply shop and (most importantly), several pubs and eateries.
Although the weather was not on our side, we still made the most of the multitude of walking routes, (many of which started from the village: the Pennine Way runs behind the cottage) and set forth, armed with our backpacks and emergency ponchos!
Kielder Forest itself is a working forest and the largest in Britain. It also has the largest man-made lake in the country, a distance of 27 miles around its perimeter. We only walked a third of that, going in search of the hidden sculptures that have been placed along the route.
If you didn’t know it was there, it would be pretty creepy to find this head among the trees!
What struck me about the place was the tranquility. At night, it was completely still, and we slept better than we often do at home. But that is nothing unusual about the countryside. Yet, during the day, it was blissfully quiet too. Until we stopped in the cathedral city of Durham on the way home, we could honestly say we saw less than a hundred people the entire trip.
And most of those were in Co-op!
Although the Kielder has several boating and watersport areas, oodles of cycling and walking routes, plus wildlife rarely seen elsewhere in the UK (it’s home to ospreys and 50% of the dwindling red squirrel population), I was surprised that not a single person was out on the lake. Granted, we had very changeable weather, but go to somewhere like Windermere in the Lake District and it would seem like you were in the middle of a major city compared to Kielder!
One of the main reasons for visiting this area was the dark skies. Due to very low light pollution, much of the county has been granted Gold Tier Dark Sky status and holds regular stargazing events. We booked into one of these at the fantastic Kielder Observatory, high above the tree canopy, with me being eager to try out some astro-photography.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided the heavens were a little chilly, so wrapped them in a thick blanket of cloud! 😦
Nevertheless, the three-hour event was fascinating, and humbling, being taken on a trip around our cosmos and examining meteorites, pieces of the Moon and Mars, looking at some stunning images they had taken of nebulae and the Milky Way (with a camera that had a lower spec than ours – jealous much!) and having our minds blown by time travel. Did you know that if there was life on a planet or star that was, say 70 million light years away, they would be looking back at Earth and seeing dinosaurs?
We were also told that the entire annual budget for NASA is spent every 17 minutes on defense. I don’t know how true that is, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I also learned that I’m not an Aries – a great (free) piece of software called Stellarium, allows you to view the night sky on any given date. Well, on my birthdate, the Sun was nowhere near the ram, instead being so far into the waters of Pisces, it was nearly being poured out of Aquarius’ jug!
But Astrology is totally accurate…
Anyway, Northumberland is also famous for being home to Hadrian’s Wall. The largest Roman artefact anywhere, it runs across England for 73 miles, roughly coast to coast and once marked the northen-most boundary of the Roman Empire.
I’m so mad I chopped the egde of the fort off here – in my defense, I almost blew off the top of the wall!
Large parts of the wall and attached forts still exist, although not quite as high as the original – even my stumpy legs could scale it now in one…maybe two leaps!
We walked a popular section, near Steel Rigg, clambouring down rocky outcroppings until we reached Sycamore Gap – so named because of the single tree that sits between the steep hillsides. Do you recognise it?
Apparently, it’s the most photographed tree in the UK and appeared in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (as this grainy YouTube clip shows!)
So, by six degrees of separation, I’m now claiming I know Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman! 😉
On the way home, we stopped for lunch and a wander around Durham. It’s both a cathedral and university city, the layout of which reminded me of a cross between York and Lincoln.
We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch in an artisan cafe called Flat White – you can’t go somewhere like that and not order something quintessentially Hipster. So I had smashed avocado and poached eggs. I couldn’t go too overboard though, so scaled back any pretentiousness by having a proper English cuppa!
Although we had a mootle around the cathedral, the castle was unfortunately closed for a private function, but it’s a city I’d definitely go back to (parking was cheap too – only £1.70 for 4 hours), as is the county as a whole.
We didn’t make it to the coast this time, but when we return, this is somewhere I’ll aim for. The wildlife havens of Lindisfarne, plus the castles of Bamburgh and Alnwick (Hogwarts!) are all on the list for next time.
So thank you Northumberland, ‘wuh had a canny time’! 🙂
Have you visited the county or been to any Dark Sky areas? Let me know in the comments. Bye for now! 🙂
Image Credits: All mine (or taken by Sam), so please be sweet and ask before sharing. 🙂 Video clip courtesy of YouTube.