I've been holding off writing this post up for the last week for a number of reasons, but it was mainly because I wanted to give myself the time to actually sit and write about it properly instead of just rushing through a post. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram will already have heard updates from my Epic Kielder blogger weekend, but I thought it was about time to share properly!
Anyone who knows me pretty well, will know that I am by no means a sporty person. It's not that I'm not active (although now I come to think about I'm not really that active right now..), I've just never been into sports. Sure when I was younger, we went on the odd few camping trips here and there. But to be honest, my family's idea of a holiday was spending two weeks on a Grecian beach, reading books and eating good food. We've never been the kind of family who would visit places like Kielder for adventure weekends. So when Kari, the owner of OPR got in touch to ask how I'd like to take part in an Epic Kielder blogger challenge, I thought maybe it was about time to see what these adventure weekends entailed! With a two day itinerary of bike rides, archery, crossbow, ferry trips and close encounters with birds of prey, the answer in short is a rainbow of bruises, bloodied knees, pink cheeks, aching limbs and the kind of laughing fits that make your belly hurt.
After convincing Lucy to come along with me, we arrived quite late after work on Friday night. With two full itineraries for Saturday and Sunday, we decided to take it easy and settle into our new digs with a bottle of wine and tapas, before our early(ish) start on Saturday. Despite there being just the pair of us, we were put up in a cabin for four at Leaplish Waterside Park. With a bathroom (and a sofa) each, not to mention the spare room, we had plenty of space to chill out in a nice cosy setting. Since we arrived after 9pm the site was pretty dark, so we didn't have much of an opportunity to explore but we figured it was probably best to save our energy for the next day!
According to our schedule, we were set to pick up some bikes in the morning, cycle to The Head and back, then stop off for lunch at Kielder Castle. Starting our day with a huge full English, we filled my backpack with warm clothing and the camera, and headed off to find the bikes. Luckily it wasn't too far away so the loss of phone signal (and subsequent loss of our map), didn't make too much of a difference! The views around the lake are amazing, so with the excuse of 'finding our bearings' we decided to pull over and take some snaps in the sunshine. Before jumping back in the car to The Bike Place, where we picked up our bikes and helmets and headed for Lakeside Way.
Now is probably as good a time as any to tell you that I've managed to avoid getting on a bike for at least the past TEN YEARS. When I first discovered we'd be going on a bike ride I didn't really think anything of it. People are always saying, 'it's like riding a bike..' But the fear kicked in a little when I realised the first part of our journey was downhill to get to Lakeside Way, the trail we were following. And as predicted (possibly caused by my irrational panic), I managed to fall of said bike within the first 10 minutes of getting on it. And of course bled through my trousers. Standard. Other than a few bumps though (and the little bit of aforementioned blood), I was fine and jumped back on my bike tried to focus on not panicking and unbalancing myself again for the remainder of the morning, which seemed to work out well.
We'd been told to follow Lakeside Way to The Head but neither of us had wanted to do too much research because it seemed to spoil part of the adventure. So when we reached the giant wooden sculpture after 3 miles of biking, it was naturally a bit of a surprise. Set in a small clearing in the forest, The Head or Silvas Capitalis as it's actually known, was constructed by members of SIMPARCH throughout February and May 2009. It's made from around 3000 specially shaped pieces of European Larch that have been glued and pegged together without the use of any screws or nails.
Setting our bikes down for a little while, we stopped for a break to have a wander around the head. As well of course to investigate my injuries and explore the waterline. One of the things I couldn't get over was how larger than life everything seemed. Taking just a little detour from Lakeside Way took us right down to the water's edge, where we found a lovely quiet little spot to sit and rest.
After the first 3 miles of cycling, I'd suddenly become all too aware of my legs and bum (seriously, why are bike seats so uncomfortable?), so naturally was a little reluctant at first to get back on it. Speaking to Diane (our main point of contact on site at Leaplish) that morning, she'd told us how riding up to The Head and back was a nice easy ride. Props to her for her cycling abilities if that's the case. Although maybe I'm just out of practice.. However, with the promise of a packed lunch and the early morning exercise making our bellies grumble, we jumped back on our bikes and headed up to Kielder Castle.
We tucked into packed lunches in the courtyard of the castle, enjoying the sunshine and groaning a bit about our aching legs before heading back to Leaplish Waterside Park. Since we had a couple of hours until our next activities, we decided to make the most of the chance to rest and curled up on a sofa each to read our books.
Usually I'm one of these people that need to be constantly connected. Whether I'm texting, tweeting or just scrolling through photos on instagram, I'm never off my phone. Being away in the countryside though, we both had limited (and intermittent) signal, which at first was frustrating but actually was kind of a blessing in disguise. Because we were shut off from the rest of the world, we had time to disconnect properly and unwind. I thought it might be the case, so I was pleased I'd packed my Kindle and a couple of the September issues to flip through in our spare time! Even though we'd had a brilliant, very active morning, there was nothing better than coming back to our cabin to snuggle up and chill for a couple of hours. Kielder is such a picturesque place, it's easy to see how you could waste your time away just relaxing. But there's far too much to do to just sit around reading! So at about half 3, we dragged ourselves up and headed for three hours of archery and crossbow lessons.
Although I was pretty excited to try my hand at archery, I didn't for one moment think I'd be any good! When we first arrived we were a little late, (sorry Jonny!), so our trainer was a little annoyed at us. However, we quickly got on his good side when we turned out to be naturals! After being instructed on how to load the bow, we were set away firing at the target and competing with each other and the other guys in our class for the highest score. As we got better and our aim improved, Jonny made it harder by reducing the size of the target. I loved archery but since my elbow slopes inwards slightly, I found the string twanged off my arm every time I pulled it so I needed two guards to give my arm extra protection.
Straight after the archery lessons, we started on crossbow and after being top of the archery class, we thought we'd find crossbow easy too. Well, I did anyway. Lucy seemed to get the hang quickly, but I struggled a little with the crossbow. Since it fires higher than your aim, it took me a while to figure out where my target actually was, so I quickly fell behind on points. All the while though, Jonny kept on pushing us to improve our aim, eventually bringing out a teeny target of a guy with an apple on his head. If you shot the apple you got 5 points, if you shot the man's face then you lost 3. Thinking I was going to be walking away with severely minus points, I wasn't feeling overly confident. That was until I stepped up and hit 6 apples in a row... meaning I walked away with the highest score in the class! Not bad for a first attempt!
After finishing our lessons, we headed back to the cabin to get ready for our meal at The Boathouse Inn. We were pretty famished after a busy day and quickly tucked into homemade thai curry with sweet potato and butternut squash, which was delicious. (Feeling shattered and too hungry to think, I did the bad blogger thing and forgot to take photos. Sorry!)
Waking up the next day with a multitude of bruises and aching EVERYWHERE, we were relieved that Sunday had a slightly more relaxed schedule, beginning with a ferry trip to Tower Knowe. Although the weather had held out Saturday, Sunday was a bit grey and dreary when we headed out to the dock. Since the weather had changed, it felt a lot colder but it was great to be out on the lake and appreciating the sheer size of the reservoir. When we got to Tower Knowe, the first thing we did was head over to the cafe for two steaming mugs of coffee and some brunch. I opted for a lovely homemade leek and potato soup served with crusty bread, and Lucy chose the carmelised onion and cheese panini. After we'd warmed up a little over food, we had a little stroll around the visitor centre to learn more about Kielder reservoir and why the water was there. It was an interesting centre, although not somewhere you could spend a great deal of time, (unless of course you have kids - in which case there's some nice interactive parts to the exhibit). I learned a lot about the area and what life had been like before the reservoir. It's amazing to think that it's the largest man made lake in Northern Europe. From the landscape, you'd think it had always been there.
To finish off Sunday, when we got back the ferry back from Tower Knowe, we headed over to the Birds of Prey centre to watch some flying demonstrations. By this point, it was freezing but since the Birds of Prey Centre was based in Leaplish (like the archery and crossbow lessons), we didn't have far to trek.
The perfect way to round off the weekend, at the Birds of Prey Centre we got introduced to a number of different birds from teeny tiny tropical screech owls to barn owls, kestrals and falcons. I instantly fell in love with a little South American screech owl called Tilly and was dying to stroke her. After speaking to the trainers and checking it was ok, I went to gave her a little stroke and she lifted up her head and cooed at me! Turns out she loves being petted! Afterwards, we were lead out ready for the flight demonstration. Seated on rows of wooden benches, we took it in turns to take the trainers' glove and receive the birds as they flew between the trainers. It was a brilliant experience and I was really surprised at how light the owls were! As we watched the demonstration of owls, vultures, kestrels, and others birds, we learned more about each species and how they differed from one another.
After the flying demonstration was over, we headed back to the cabin to enjoy a hot chocolate before packing up our belongings. Although we'd only been in Kielder a couple of days, because we'd had such an action packed weekend, it felt as though we'd been there ages! I knew it would be a fun weekend and that we'd leave with a few aches and pains, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy myself so much! Especially the archery - I really need to find somewhere nearby that offers lessons... now that the bruises are finally beginning to fade.
As part of my Epic Blogger Challenge though I need as many comments and shares as possible. If I'm chosen as the winner then I get to send away a couple of you lot to enjoy the same Epic Kielder adventure weekend as me! So please get sharing and let me know what you thought of my weekend away in Kielder!