44. Visit Ouseburn Farm

Ouseburn Farm is undoubtedly one of Newcastle’s gems. It began life as Byker City Farm in 1976 when local people developed it so that city children had the opportunity to spend time with animals. It closed in 2002 for seven years due to a problem with its soil, but thankfully was able to reopen in 2009 when it became Ouseburn Farm.

A not-for-profit charity, the farm is free to visit, but relies on donations and volunteers to survive. Sometimes extra events are available for a small fee – as was the case on this beautiful day when my sister and I took three of my nieces and nephews there for a lamb petting session!

We arrived and spent a little time enjoying the sunshine in the garden area, finding all sorts of pretty spots for the kids to explore.

Next we went to meet some of the farm’s many animals. As well as those shown below, the farm is also home to a number of smaller creatures including lizards, snakes, rabbits and tortoises.

Soon enough it was time for our main event – petting the lambs! This was such a lovely chilled out experience – you were just let into the pen to sit and pet the lambs with no real time pressure. The lambs were between one and three weeks old and were just adorable. My two nieces would have stayed in there for hours if we had let them and for £3 each it was definitely worth it!

We ended our visit with a trip to the cafe which sells a range of food, made with local ingredients – lots coming straight from the farm itself! We were a little too early for lunch so opted instead for an ice cream – taking advantage of a rare sunny day – before finally heading off home!

There’s something really lovely about visiting somewhere local and particularly a place which makes such an effort to support its local community and therefore definitely deserves our support in return.


43. See the animals at the Great North Museum: Hancock

The Great North Museum: Hancock (formerly – and still frequently referred to as simply – the Hancock) was established in Newcastle in 1884. It was originally named after John Hancock, a local ornithologist and naturalist who was considered to be the father of modern taxidermy, and his brother Albany; a naturalist and biologist.

A tribute to the brothers is on the wall inside the museum entrance.

The museum merged with the Hatton Gallery of Newcastle University in 2006 and, after a period of closure, reopened as the Great North Museum: Hancock in 2009.

I have slightly mixed feelings about the GNM, which I think is why it’s taken me so long to write this blog. I remember some enjoyable trips there as a child, but my more recent experiences there were with my last job and so largely involved trying to keep bored teenagers in check.

It seemed only fair to give the museum another chance and so, after having enjoyed lunch and tea at Quilliam Brothers, Neil and I headed there.

The GNM has permanent exhibitions on Hadrian’s Wall, Ancient Egypt, Ice Age to Iron Age, World Cultures and the Shefton Collection as well as a planetarium, an interactive zone and an area for the under 5s. There’s a lot to see there, but the reason I go (as you might have guessed from this blog’s title…) is to see the models of the animals and dinosaurs.

I always feel a little guilty when I visit a museum if I don’t try to see every part of it, but I kind of think that attitude might only be setting me up for failure. On this occasion therefore, although we wandered through all areas, stopping at anything that caught our eye…

We spent the majority of our time just admiring the different animals and dinosaurs. I love seeing all of the life size models and using the interactive information points to find out more about them. My favourite facts from this trip include:

Zebras stripes supposedly break up the outlines of each animal in the herd so that it’s harder for predators to single out one individual zebra to attack.

The spray from skunks can temporarily blind predators.

Meerkats live in groups with up to 30 members and take turns to do different chores, including being on sentry duty.

It was genuinely really nice to spend a day doing something a little different and definitely helped to bring back my good memories of the GNM, rather than the recent angry adolescent filled ones. Although we didn’t make it to the planetarium this time, I have been on past trips and fully recommend it – it even managed to keep the aforementioned adolescents quiet!

32. Take a walk in Rising Sun Country Park

I had such a WHOLESOME Sunday morning last weekend. I got up early and went climbing with my friend Emily at Climb Newcastle in Byker and then returned home to do some of my jigsaw. Absolutely living the dream.

Anyway, the sky was blue for what felt like the first time in forever and so Neil suggested we headed out on a walk. My friend, Rachel, had mentioned Rising Sun to me a while ago because she occasionally does a Park Run there and so we decided to try it out.

Rising Sun Country Park is located just off Whitley Road in Benton and is a huge green space (162 hectares to be precise) which boasts, amongst other things, a nature reserve, a lake, a farm, vast grassy and woodland areas, and a countryside centre with a park, shop and café.

The café provides training and employment for adults with learning difficulties and the farm, which is organic, also provides a day service for people with learning difficulties. Maybe it was my awareness of this great work or maybe it was the blue sky and green scenery, but somehow all of Rising Sun Park just seemed to give off really lovely vibes.

There are various trails around the park, none of which seemed to be particularly long – though no doubt you could extend them – Neil and I took the red trail, which was around a forty minute walk and took us up a hill…

Through some woods…

And eventually back to the café where we had a slice of cake and enjoyed these views… 

Sadly, through no fault of the Rising Sun Park, our wholesome Sunday ended there. We headed home and prepared some vegetables to make a cottage pie for tea. At this point, however, Neil suggested we went to the pub “just for one” to watch the end of the Manchester United, Blackburn match.

Just the one drink turned, predictably, into several. Having lost all inclination to cook, we ordered a pizza and, rather sheepishly, popped our beautifully prepared vegetables into the fridge. We then settled down with our Dominos in front of (at my request) a YouTube compilation of Shola Ameobi’s Newcastle goals. What a guy. What a Sunday!

7. Jesmond Dene

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.

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