Monday, 20 April 2015

George Clarke's Sky Den

After watching the TV programme, George Clarke's Amazing Spaces, and knowing of my wife Nicola's fascination with the stars (astrological not Hello Magazine) booking the Sky Den at the Calvert Trust site was a must.

Arriving into the Kielder Water/Forest park is stunning enough, an enhanced expanse of water lapping the beautiful and under rated kingdom of Northumberland since 1982. Add in the fact that this is a designated Dark Sky area gives further reason to want to visit. 

The Calvert Trust caters mainly, but not exclusively, for mentally and physically challenged people of all ages giving a chance to experience such pleasures as the climbing wall, zip wire or to blast Clay Pigeon from the Sky (via lasers). All the staff we meet are wonderful and the first is Jackie who checks us in by delivering our keys and a common sense set of rules as our dog Scooby becomes the centre of attention. 

The Sky Den is amazing. The concept of triangle (bedroom), square (living) and circle (outside space) are cleverly shoe-horned between trees and suspended over a river putting you as close into nature as physically possible. Crossing the bridge is the only way to the wooden construction that blends the den into the surroundings and takes no attention away from the natural beauty of the area. Entering the 'square' gives you every thing you need to survive, don't get me wrong this isn't the Hilton but neither is it roughing it in the wild.

The wooden furniture that is 'jigsawed' into the wall gives the first task as you have to pop it all out and assemble before sitting down to dinner; great fun and very clever. Although, be warned, while concentrating on a game of Scrabble (no TV or Wi-Fi) later that night it became most uncomfortable and probably cost me the game........twice.

Now the reason for our journey is upon us and with the doors to the balcony open we step out and look up to a blanket of stars brilliant and bright against a jet black sky and with no light pollution to spoil our enjoyment we see why Kielder is designated an official Dark Sky area. Even for people like us who don't really have a clue what we are looking at and spent most of the night trying to work out which way was North, it is a display not to be missed but it isn't long with the temperature dropping rapidly towards freezing. I'm reminded of why I had left the North some 35 years ago (well it was for work really) as it is now bloody cold and I'm off to bed. So up to the Triangle and the piece de resistance, for with the simple push of a button the roof splits and separates leaving nothing between you and the stars but the cold air. At least now I'm snuggled under a duvet. Stunning.

The morning is no less spectacular as the mating birds and bubbling river make for the perfect alarm call. Down to the bathroom, where you can if so desired, multi-task by shaving and showering while sitting on the toilet (I'll spare you that photograph).

Breakfast is taken by the wood burning stove in the circle which, while small, is big enough and hot enough to boil our kettle on. This sets us up perfectly for a day fishing in the lake, another first for us, starter rod and kit can be purchased at the Leaplish Centre (who then send you to Tower Knowe Centre) for £70, with an extra £3.75 for the mandatory fishing license and we are off. 

We are blessed with the weather over the two days we are in Northumberland, cold nights but summer days makes all the difference to the mood and success of our visit. 

The Calvert Trust look to do some amazing work, but what they have in endeavour is equalled by a lack of flair and marketing on the business side. Their website is amateurish and does nothing to sell their incredible products and service. It told us to bring absolutely everything with us but as it turned out, the den had everything supplied, even the Scrabble. This means I now resent the 3 hours I spent finding torches and plastic cups to bring. For those wanting a bit more luxury the Straker Lodge is the one for you as it gives a hot tub, flat screen TV and intrusive WiFi - and probably a more sophisticated telescope than the you one the Sky Den had. That said we didn't even know which easy was north never mind how to find Uranus.

Support the Calvert Trust, visit Northumberland and see the stars