A visit to Northumberland is guaranteed to bring unexpected delights such as this. The county’s ability to keep under the radar – it’s often overlooked in favour of its neighbours, Yorkshire’s Moors and Dales, Cumbria’s Lakes and the Scottish Borders – means its natural splendour is a continued surprise.
Here at Kielder Water & Forest Park the man-made lake laps shores thickly carpeted in ancient woodland. Elsewhere the national park that covers much of the county ranges from the ridges of the Cheviot Hills to patchworked farming country.
To the south Hadrian’s Wall marches its way past the market towns of Haltwhistle, Corbridge and Hexham. And the coast north of Newcastle, punctuated by rugged islands and windswept beaches, offers moody vistas of skeletal castles backdropped by the North Sea.
It’s a place to enjoy the great outdoors. Hike or bike a north-south cross-section on the Pennine Way, or go east-west along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. For more of a challenge go mountain biking in Kielder Forest. The graded trails radiate out from the Kielder Castle Visitor Centre, where you can pick up route maps and hire bikes.
If you prefer a slightly more relaxing way to get your thrills, go horse riding or take to the water instead. The Kielder Water Sailing Club offers dinghy and powerboat courses, while the Hawkhirst Scout Activity Centre rents out kayaks and rowing boats.
And if wildlife spotting is your thing, you’re spoilt for choice. There are birds galore around the lake, including herons, oystercatchers and buzzards. Roe deer can be seen on the Forest Drive, badgers hang out near the Kielder Dam, and a family of otters have made the Bakethin Conservation Area their home.
The Birds of Prey Centre at Leaplish Waterside Park is worth a visit too – and from here it’s a short stroll along a forest path, with glimpses of the dark blue reservoir at every turn, to the squirrel hide, where you’re almost guaranteed a glimpse of the elusive critters.
On the tourist trail
Pop into the Hadrian’s Wall tourist centre at Once Brewed, visit the Roman Army Museum at Vindolanda and check out the excavated forts at Chesters and Housesteads.
See the novel home of Victorian inventor Lord Armstrong. Cragside is crammed with gadgets and has sensational landscaped gardens.
From the ruined abbey on Lindisfarne to the dunes of Druridge Bay, Northumberland’s scenic coastline is worth exploring.
Newcastle is a vibrant city, with plenty to see and do. Check out the exhibits in the Baltic art gallery on Tyneside, snap the Angel of the North at Gateshead, and be sure to join the Geordies at St James’ Park football ground to catch their beloved Magpies in action.
» Claire Goodall travelled with Wicked Campers (0808 234 8461). Van hire starts from £30 per day.