Week in Northumberland Part 1: Dark Skies and Crossing the Border
Updated: Feb 25
As a space geek and, after reading that Europe's largest dark sky reserve was in our very own country and, north enough to see the northern lights, I knew I had to go here at some point. In fact it is so sought after and unpopulated that the Kielder Forest campsite is booked up more than one year ahead! So I searched around to find the nearest one. This was called Border Forest Holiday Park near Otterburn. The site itself had all the amenities you need but seemed to be popular with more adults. However I think we got to realise why soon enough...
Before we got to camp to set up I had a treat in store for the kids (and well, me). We had a session booked at the Kielder Observatory to look at space specimens and to use the telescopes that are housed there. Admittedly this was a children's session that ran in the day, so we got to see the Sun and Mercury and Venus, but that was cool enough, and gives us another reason to return here one day to the late night sessions (sadly not suitable for 5 year olds). The kids got to touch meteors, rocks from Mars and view and operate the massive telscopes there. One telescope is connected to the computer so you can type in what you want to focus on and it moves to that place in the sky for you to view it, so cool.
Back at camp we set up and just about to make tea when the dreaded midgies hit. Now I was prepared for midgies, had spray, wrist bands and a exterminator zapper lamp (sorry that makes me sound ever so non-animal friendly, however I have the blood they love!). But even as prepared as I was I didn't realise the sheer volume of them. They made my youngest cry. I doggedly continued to cook tea, all the while being bitten to blazes. That was the first and last night we ate tea at our campsite. (Luckily we found possibly the best pub I have been to in a decade, so all pain all gain in this instance).
Now this did change the vibe of our camping holiday but we quickly found a new one. Days out, pub tea, get back, changed for bed, then embark on sky watching under the best sky I have ever seen in the UK. The Midgies are back indoors again come 9pm so with our youngest sleeping we three would creep out and lay back in loungers wrapped in blankets and gaze at the sky. We saw countless satellites, more than enough shooting stars, the band of the Milky Way, planets, more constellations than I have ever seen before, plus on one night a greeny tinge on the horizon, to which we found out later could well have been the Northern Lights, as they were spotted on that night. It was truly breathtakingly awesome, so the Midgies were worth it! However we did note that it would be really quite special coming back here in Winter.
I should have added when we got to camp an emergency helicopter was moving water in flight to douse a fire that had occurred in the heat wave prior to us arriving and today was another scorching day. To keep cool we decided on a short walk around Kielder Water so we could shade ourselves with the trees. On driving there I noticed Elf Kirk viewpoint, so quickly made a detour to see what that was about. The veiw of Kielder Water was amazing. Plus in keeping with the dark skies theme, this was an astrological viewpoint, that gave you four ways to see the skies in each season.
Kielder Water itself is the largest man made reservoir in Northumberland amongst the largest man-made forest in Europe, so it does feel quite magnificent when you walk around it. We didn't do a big walk today as the heat was oppressive and sticky, instead opting to go down to the waterfront to soak up the views.
Later that night the storm hit. Luckily shaving past us by a whisker but still awesome enough to watch the lightning forks. However the weather forecast the next day was looking like rain, which was much needed after this huge heatwave. So as it was a wet day, we decided to cross the border into Scotland. We went to nearby Jedburgh, which has lots of historical delights, like a well preserved Augustinian Abbey, Mary Queen of Scots house and the Castle Jail. I found Mary Queen of Scots house fascinating. It depicts all her life but focuses quite a lot of the detail leading up to her execution, with her final letter and even the death mask that was made from her severed head; The castle jail too was interesting and the boys loved it, its a role-players dream, the toy hand-cuffs bought at the dreaded gift shop have also been a firm favourite ever since.