If you don’t know Jesmond Dene in Newcastle then for me to call this an urban walk is a bit misleading. The Dene is beloved of Newcastle folk as an oasis of calm, green tranquillity in the heart of their big bustling city. It’s a steep sided, tree lined valley of the Ouseburn, that runs into the river Tyne in the suburbs of Newcastle. It’s as urban as it is rural to be honest. Its past is punctuated by small scale industry (a quarry, a water mill and a pit) but in its pomp it was a place for rest and relaxation for Tynesiders.
We met for this walk on Armstrong Bridge on a slightly chilly, slightly grey morning. The iron bridge, opened in 1871, overlooks the Dene from about 20m and is a well-known landmark.
It’s a bit difficult to recount a step by step travelogue of this walk as we meandered leisurely through the Dene using the many footpaths that criss-cross the area. The Dene is well used by local joggers, dog walkers and folks just out for a stroll as it is easy going, mostly dry underfoot and impossible to get lost.
There’s a small but well maintained children’s’ zoo in the Dene that we visited at first, to see the budgies, the rabbits and such like. After that, in drizzly rain, we headed North along the Red Walk that runs alongside the Ouseburn river. The pathways are all well maintained and surfaced – ideal for families and so for us the walking was easy and leisurely.
We visited the site of the old flour mill that is now just a crumbling folly thanks to Lord Armstrong changing the bed of the river so that he could have a waterfall to admire! The Dene was originally his own private park for many years until he allowed public access to it in 1883 but not before he had moulded it to his own tastes.
On the upper level of the Dene is the remains of a fine banqueting house, known as Lord Armstrong’s Banqueting House, and used by the local nobility for balls and fancy dinners. It is long since abandoned and is now a managed shell but inside we met members of the Jesmond Dene Friends who are trying to restore the building to a usable state.
We climbed out of the Dene to nearby Paddy Freeman’s Park for our picnic lunch and enjoyed a spot of brighter, drier weather. After a further foray into the Dene to visit the fascinating ruin of St Mary’s Chapel, a site with a rich religious heritage, we took our leave of the Dene for a cup of tea at a local cafe.