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Above Kielder's Dam

Capture the essence of two of Britain's biggest man-made creations.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mostly rubble-surfaced tracks

Landscape Lake surrounded by forested hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL42 Kielder Water & Forest

Start/finish NY 706883

Dog friendliness Dogs can be off lead

Parking Large car park at Hawkhope

Public toilets At car park

1 From the western end of Hawkhope car park, take the north shore footpath through the trees and on to the rubble-covered forest road. Follow this to the left. After 100yds (91m), go down the track on the left to the lake shore. This track zig-zags, generally parallel to the shoreline, over a small footbridge and past the remains of a bastle (fortified farm building). Follow the wooden waymarkers round an inlet of the lake and over two footbridges to the furthest reach of the inlet.

2 Follow the track on the left, which leads across a narrow isthmus on to the Belling peninsula. At a fork in the track, go right and continue around the shore of The Belling. There are excellent views across the lake from several points and at one viewpoint there is a reconstruction of a corbelled beehive hut.

3 After re-crossing the isthmus, you come to a fork in the track. Follow the left fork uphill to a junction with a larger track and turn left at a ruined sheep pen. This track leads, in 110yds (100m) back on to the main forest road. Follow this to the left, gently uphill. From the upper levels of the road, where the forest has been cleared, there are views of the lake and one of its larger inlets.

4 At the highest point, turn right on to a partly overgrown track. Follow this for 1½ miles (2.4km) until you come to a rubble track at High Hawkhope. Turn right and, after a few hundred paces, right again. Continue to the dam, which is now clearly visible in front of you. The car park lies just beyond the dam.

The most westerly limits of Northumbria are defined by the tortuous meanderings of the Scottish border. Here, where the population, already thin, reaches its lowest density, is the largest non-natural forest in Britain. And within this forest is northern Europe's largest non-natural lake.

The Percy and Swinburne families owned much of the land around the valley of the River North Tyne and the Percys built Kielder Castle as a shooting lodge in 1775. During the 19th century, coal was mined on land now submerged by the reservoir. Some was used locally, while a good proportion was carried, by packhorse and later by railway, for sale across the border.

By the mid-1930s, mining had come to an end, but was set to be replaced by a new industry. In 1919, the Forestry Commission was formed to cater for Britain's timber needs. In 1924 it bought 2,000 acres (810ha) near Falstone and, in 1932, a further 47,000 acres (19,035ha). Following World War Two, more land was acquired and planting extended. To house the workers needed for this rapidly expanding enterprise, forestry villages were built at Kielder, in the centre of the forest, and at Byrness and Stonehaugh near its eastern edges.

The various plantations that are now linked together to make up Kielder Forest cover a total area of 100,000 acres (40,500ha). The trees are made up almost entirely of five conifer species: Norway and sitka spruce, Scots and lodgepole pine and Japanese larch. Kielder Castle is now the administrative headquarters of Forest Enterprise, and also houses a visitors' information centre.

In 1974, the order was made authorising the construction of Kielder Reservoir, to provide water for the cities and industries of the north east. Work began in 1975 and was completed five years later. In December 1980, Kielder Water began to fill up, and the scheme was officially opened in May 1982.

The dam is ¾ mile (1.2km) long and 170ft (52m) high. The shoreline encloses a lake 7 miles (11.3km) in length and has a capacity of 44 billion gallons (200 billion litres). Water is released through the valve tower, which rises from the lake 190yds (174m) from the dam. It flows into the North Tyne and from there to the Tyne. Some of the water is extracted at Riding Mill and pumped through a tunnel under the Durham moors into the Wear and the Tees.

Controversy generated by the building of the reservoir has been silenced by the lake's recreational value and its undoubted enhancement of the scenery of the North Tyne Valley.

What to look for

The best viewpoint on this walk is from the top of the Belling Crag, which juts out over the lake shore. The crag is made of fell sandstone and was once an important rock climbing venue, with about two dozen routes on its steep faces. However, because of the construction of the reservoir, climbing is no longer possible here.

Where to eat and drink

A good selection of meals is available at the Watersedge Restaurant at Tower Knowe Visitors' Centre. You can dine while enjoying a mesmerising view of the lake and forest through picture windows.

While you're there

Near the southern end of the dam, a track of ½ mile (800m) leads uphill to Falstone Moss. This is a small nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, and is the most accessible of a number of similar sites in Kielder Forest, known as the Border Mires.


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