After getting up this morning and having cheesecake for breakfast (we’d ran out of milk and Neil assured me it was totally acceptable) I felt as though I should probably do something vaguely healthy with the rest of my day.. You know, like going outside, taking a walk.. Anything but staying inside, watching Love Island, and trying to stop myself from eating Jaffa cakes.
A little list consulting later and I was headed to Jesmond Dene. Jesmond Dene is a large public park which occupies a narrow wooded valley by the river Ouseburn. It was donated to the people of Newcastle by that nice chap I’ve mentioned before; Lord Armstrong. Armstrong and his wife moved to a mansion in Jesmond Dene in 1857 and in doing so accumulated a lot of land. Being both wealthy and an engineer, Armstrong, with the help of his wife, was able to transform the area; planting trees, building paths and bridges, and even creating waterfalls. I have been to Jesmond Dene before, but only ever to the Pet’s Corner and I was eager to see what else it had to offer.
When I set out today my intentions were to follow this route: http://www.activenewcastle.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/jesmond_dene_city_walks.pdf
However, after a fairly short amount of time (and one or two internal tantrums), I came to the long suspected realisation that I am just absolutely incapable of following a map. Seriously, I just cannot do it. Fortunately, I can just about read a signpost and walk in the direction it points and so I did that instead. Four places had jumped out at me from the map as looking particularly interesting so I made my way to each of those.
First up was arguably Armstrong’s greatest creation in the park: the Jesmond Dene waterfall.
A handy plaque informed me that Armstrong used explosives to blast out rock and then used the rock to build up the sides of the waterfall. He wanted the waterfall and stream to seem natural and, in my humble opinion, he did a great job. Above all else, it is just an incredibly pretty spot; a stone bridge overlooks the waterfall and there’s a nearby bench where a person could easily sit and feel as though they were in the middle of the countryside rather than the middle of a city.
Right next to the waterfall was my second place of interest: the Old Mill.
Again there was a handy plaque enabling me to now seem knowledgeable. I can tell you therefore that the Old Mill was once one of at least four water mills in Jesmond Dene and that they were used for numerous reasons until the Industrial Revolution when almost all water mills became redundant. This particular mill was once occupied by the Freeman family; a name likely to be familiar to anyone who knows Newcastle thanks to places such as Freeman Hospital, Freeman Road and Paddy Freeman Park, all of which were named after this farming and milling family.
After seeing the waterfall and the Old Mill, I headed across the stone bridge, got a bit lost (obviously), but eventually stumbled upon a sign pointing me towards the next place I wanted to visit: the Banqueting Hall.
The Banqueting Hall was designed for Lord Armstrong by famous Newcastle architect, John Dobson. Armstrong used the hall to entertain guests; holding events for everyone from members of the royal family to his own workers.
Behind the Banqueting Hall and up a few narrow paths was my last port of call: St. Mary’s Chapel.
St. Mary’s Chapel dates back to the 12th century, making it the oldest church building in Newcastle. It once housed a holy relic, thought to be linked to the Virgin Mary, and so attracted a great number of pilgrims. I expected to find St. Mary’s Chapel historically interesting, but what I didn’t expect was for people to still be using it today. Although I didn’t bump into anyone else when I was there, within the chapel were a number of photographs, candles and flowers left in memory of people’s loved ones. That, for me, somehow made the significance of the chapel feel a lot more real and the whole experience a lot more moving.