The Kielder Water and Forest Park on the England-Scotland border is the most remote area in Europe. So remote that the 580 square miles of the region’s dark sky zone has been compared with those in Death Valley and the Big Bend Dark Sky Parks on the U.S.-Mexico border. Partly due to its remoteness, but also because of its rugged terrain, Kielder’s extensive network of gravel roads is prized by the most adventurous British cyclists.
Until 100 years ago, the area was mostly barren moorland used for grouse shooting and grazing sheep. It was then acquired by Great Britain’s Forestry Commission, which over the next few decades planted hundreds of acres of trees, mostly spruce and other conifers. Today, more than half a million cubic yards of timber is annually extracted for sawmilling, pulp and wood fuel—the timber being accessed on the gravel roads constructed by the commission.
Historically, Kielder Forest’s roads and dirt tracks have been used for special stages in motor rallies, gaining a reputation as “Killer Kielder” because of the high number of rally cars that have crashed or had mechanical failures on the rough road surfaces and deceptive bends—many of the vehicles ending up in the roads’ deep drainage ditches. Those forest roads, along with the trails and sections of single-track more recently created are now graded in the park’s extensive list of challenges, from the easy “green” routes to the severe “black” category.
At one end of the spectrum is the Cross Border Trail, an easy 30-mile forest road that links the visitor center at Kielder Castle in England with Castleton in Scotland. At the “severe” end is the Deadwater Up and Over Trail, which climbs to the top of Deadwater Fell, at 1,900 feet above sea level, with panoramic views to the Irish Sea in the west and North Sea coast to the east. The descent back to Kielder Castle is on a long section of specially constructed single track.
Mountain bikes are recommended for most of the trails, but today’s gravel bikes and even cyclo-cross machines can be used by experts. The organizers of the Dirty Reiver gravel grinder, held on these roads and trails, recommend a more compliant tire to iron out the small bumps and sharp stones. “Our ideal tire for the Reiver would be something in the 38mm–42mm range,” says their tech support team. “The go-to tire for many years has been the Panaracer GravelKing SK.”
For riders visiting from North America, the closest international airports are Glasgow in Scotland and Manchester in England, both of which are about a three-hour drive to Kielder. The village doesn’t have any shops, other than a gas station, a pub and a couple of lakeside restaurants. The nearest convenience stores are about 45 minutes’ drive away, so it’s recommended that you stock up with food and supplies on your way to Kielder. You want to be well-prepared for what is one of the best gravel-riding experiences in Europe.
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