On a clear day you can see forever when you reach the top of the Kielder Forest Drive in Northumberland with its mix of beautiful panoramas and woodland scenery.
It’s like being on the top of the world with its big skies and majestic landscapes.
The Forest Drive is a 12 mile stretch of gravel road which takes you through the coniferous forest and over the top of the moors and back down into farmland near Kielder Castle.
Fasten your seat belts, you’re in for a thrilling scenic drive!
Deep in the forest
We started our drive from the main entrance to the Kielder Forest Drive off the A68 at Blakehopeburnhaugh in the east.
There were very few cars around so for the early part of the route we had no company or crowds. We felt like adventurers as we drove through the dense conifer plantations interspersed with the occasional piece of open land.
A short way into the drive we pulled into a lay-by to have a look at a ‘stell’, an old sheepfold used by farmers for herding their flocks.
Look out for deer and wild goats on the wilder sections of the route. Sadly we saw neither on this trip but if you’re lucky, you can spot these wild mammals lurking in the woods or ‘edge’ habitats.
Also gaze to the skies for a glimpse of an interesting selection of birds from buzzards to woodland specialists like siskin.
Look out over the pasture areas and moorland for meadow pipits, skylarks and swooping summer swallows zipping around.
The forest drive takes you across one of England’s highest roads, peaking at over 1,500 feet at the barren moorland landscape of Blakehope Nick.
It’s here that you can pull in and take a look at the remarkable landscape. There are carpets of wildflowers at this time of year including the pink cuckooflower (commonly called ‘ladies’ smock’).
There was once an old wives’ tale that this flower should never be brought indoors because it can induce lightning strikes! Thankfully, there were no thunderstorms on our trip.
We took a look at the interpretation board which gives you a sense of the wider locality. It suggests looking for cloudberry and bilberry although I didn’t spot either of these plants.
Cloudberry is a bush which likes mountainous and hilly habitats – it can survive extreme conditions and low temperatures. It can get pretty bleak in the winter up on the top of Kielder so it’s little wonder that it thrives here.
Top of the world
On the highest section of the moors it’s a bit like being on the top of the world, looking down on creation.
OK, this isn’t the Himalayas or even the Cairngorms but there is a certain wild pleasure from driving across this windswept landscape.
I love the local ridge names – Oh Me Edge is my favourite. Its bizarre name is thought to be a reminder of an old border feud between warring clans.
I can also recommend Blakehope Nick as a brilliant picnic spot. We parked up with stunning views in all directions and ate our bacon and eggs in the camper van.
Here’s Tony after his lunch feast wishing that he’d brought a bike to work off those calories on one of the park’s cycle tracks later in the day.
But it’s not all pretty-pretty scenery. There are beautiful vistas but this is very much a working forest with logging and tree felling.
We came across an unusual, lunar landscape which came as a surprise but it’s a reminder that this isn’t just a pristine environment. The strange lumps and bumps are the result of quarrying as well as deforestation.
It’s a part of the ever evolving landscape of this forest. This isn’t just a place for tourists. It’s a living, breathing space.
Birds and wildlife
After our picnic stop we drove on over the moors looking for the elusive red grouse which live on the tops of the hills.
But this bird is also a master of camouflage so none were spotted despite our eagle eyes and binoculars.
The final section of forest thins out slightly as a result of new tree planting and there are large swathes of small ‘Christmas’ tree’ sized conifers.
Finally, we were back out of the woods and into a gentler, more rounded landscape with farms and domesticated animals like cattle and sheep.
One word of warning – look out for sheep sitting in the middle of the road!
As you descend towards the Kielder Castle visitor centre, there’s a feeling of returning back to the comfort of the lower lakeside and forest tracks.
But this trip does feel a bit like a mini adventure. I love an excursion in the hills and Kielder is one of the UK”s best kept wilderness secrets.
Northumberland National Park is amongst the quietest of all Britain’s protected landscapes. So why not take a drive on the wild side?
Tammy’s Kielder fact file
The Kielder Forest Drive is an unsurfaced 12 mile long road through remote countryside. It is located in northern Northumberland near to the English border with Scotland.
The Forest Drive is a toll road with a £3 fee which is payable at the toll machine at the Kielder Castle end of the route.
The Forestry Commission recommends driving carefully and keeping to the 20mph speed limit. So don’t even think about becoming a rally cross driver for the day!
There is little or no mobile phone coverage during the course of the drive.
Watch out for logging trucks during the working week. Remember this is a working forest.
The exposed section of the drive can be affected by extreme conditions but it’s generally OK in spring and summer.
Also worth seeing
Kielder Water and Forest Park is a massive recreation area with activities to suit everyone from sporty types to casual walkers and scenic ‘car tripsters’.
There are great days out for water sports lovers from sailing and canoeing to water skiing and fishing.
Don’t forget to strap your bikes on the back of your car or van as this is ideal cycling country. There are over 100 miles of traffic-free trails radiating from the trail hub at Kielder Castle. The trails cater for everyone from inexperienced cyclists to hardcore mountain bikers.
Kielder is renowned for its public art trails and art installations. I can recommend a walk up to James Turrell’s Skyscape.
The Skyspace is a circular room with a hole in the roof where the artist plays with the visitor’s perceptions of light and space.
The light changes as the sky above responds to the time of day, seasonal variations and different weather conditions.
James Turrell’s Skyspace is a one and half mile walk each way from the car park to the north of Kielder Reservoir.
Nearby is the Kielder Observatory with its programme of astronomy events. It boasts some of the best dark skies in Britain.
Another must for art lovers is the Maze at Kielder Castle… go inside this art work and see if you can find your way out!
Related posts – Tammy at Kielder Reservoir.