When my (now) husband Chris and I were much, much younger, we used to love going to Kielder Forest for a long weekend. We’d pack up our tent and the mountain bikes, and spend several days camping and cycling. Depending on how late we’d stayed in the local pub the night before, we’d either ride the easy(ish) routes around the stunning reservoir, or one of the more challenging rides that head up into the forest.
I even spent my 30th birthday there, and so it was natural that we’d want to return with our boys to share this special place with them (not something I ever imagined I’d be doing during those carefree, childless days!)
When we ended up booking a last minute autumn family cycling holiday in the Scottish Borders, it was great to look at the map and see that we weren’t far from Kielder Forest, and so off we set.
Family cycling at Kielder Forest
After parking at the car park near Kielder Castle, our first port of call was The Bike Place, who hire out both adult and kids bikes, and bike seats and trailers for the day if you need them (phone in advance as it gets very busy).
I needed advice on which route would be suitable for a 7 year old riding his own bike and a 5 year old being pulled behind his Dad’s bike. The Lakeside Route which goes all the way round Kielder Water, is ideal for families, but at 26 miles it was far too late in the day to set off on the entire route. Being late October we needed to be certain we’d be back at the car before darkness fell.
The friendly and helpful guy in The Bike Place advised that while the south side of Kielder Water is easier to cycle on, there is not so much to see. He suggested an exciting sounding destination along the north shore called Silvas Capitalis, aka The Forest Head . We took his expert advice and headed off to find the route.
After a fun descent downhill and a gentle ride alongside the River North Tyne, we accidently took the old path to the north shore, rather than the new route across the viaduct. We ended up in the same place, but managed to get in a steep climb and descent at the start, which got us all well and truly prepared for the route ahead!
The Lakeside path is wide and sweeping, but is far from flat, so it proved a great chance for 7 year old N to really get to grips with what the gears on his Frog 55 are for. After a number of times declaring he was going to climb a hill in 6th gear he finally got bored of having to get off and push, and started to use them properly.
The downhills were great fun, with both boys loving getting up some serious speed. As it was autumn rather than the height of summer, there were very few other cyclists around, so there we didn’t have to worry about N failing to stop in time for other cyclists, which made for some really stress free cycling. Here’s a little video clip to show the type of cycling we enjoyed:
This was, however, the day that N learnt a valuable life lesson – you don’t take both your hands off the handlebars to scratch an itchy head when going at speed downhill. The Frog wobbled and skidded, but thankfully he managed to regain control just in time – phew!
Kielder Forest and Kielder Water (which is northern Europe’s largest man-made lake) are stunning all year round, but on a sunny autumn day there can’t be many places to rival their beauty. I had to keep on stopping to take photos en route, but they really don’t do justice to the majesty of the location.
After about 5km of cycling I noticed we’d just zoomed past a sign to Silvas Capitalis. We quickly retraced our steps and headed into the forest where we were all stunned to find this incredible sculpture.
We all had a brilliant time climbing up inside the giant timber head , which was made by an American artist’s collective called SIMPARCH, and is named after a play on the Latin for “forest head”.
Again, because of the time of year, we were the only people enjoying Silvas Capitalis, and were able to appreciate the sculpture as it was intended – as a giant presence which watches over, and listens to, the forest.
Once the boys had finished playing inside the Forest Head, they decided to invent a cyclo-cross course through the woods. Riding around and over tree stumps kept them busy for over half an hour, while Chris and I were able to relax and take in the beauty of Kielder Water.
Eventually it was time to retrace our route back to Kielder Castle, and this time we picked up the route across the viaduct, which gave us the final, breathtaking views of the day.
But the adventure wasn’t over, because we then came upon a little roundabout in the woods. At this point, 5 year old T, who’d been happy to be pulled along with the FollowMe Tandem behind his Dad all afternoon, suddenly demanded to be let loose on his Islabike.
Round, and round he went, like a cyclist possessed! His elder brother eventually realised he was missing out on the fun, and suddenly we had an Olympic sprint race on our hands.
As the light started to fade and the temperature dropped, there was no stopping them. Eventually we managed to declare the race a draw, and tempt them back to the car with the promise of sweet treats!
So, after 10 years away, Chris and I had returned to Kielder Forest. It was more beautiful than we’d remembered, and it meant so much when both the boys said they’d had a brilliant time. We’ve been made to promise that we’ll take them back again soon, so they can cycle all the way round Kielder Water. Something tells me they won’t let us get away with leaving it so long until our next visit!
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Further information on Family Cycling at Kielder Forest
For more information on cycling at Kielder Forest visit http://www.visitkielder.com/play/adventure/cycling
Further details of the Silvas Capitalis and 19 other art installations along the Lakeside Way visit http://kielderartandarchitecture.com
We used to camp at Kielder Campsite – http://www.kieldercampsite.co.uk/
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This article was first published 5th November 2013 and updated in October 2016