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News / City Life

Fancy a stroll? Ten lovely parks for when you need to get away from the city

Kersal Dale
Rob Martin

Manchester is a wonderful place to live for so many reasons. We have a wealth of culture, great places to eat and drink, world-class sport, of course, and we have an enviable reputation for being a welcoming, inclusive city. But we don't really spring to mind when people talk about cities with great green spaces. London has them. Edinburgh has them. New York has one too, apparently. 

And yet we aren't short of parks. So here are ten of our best, wonderful places to go to when the stress of the city gets too much, you need to walk the dog, or you just want some peace and quiet.

Heaton Park

Dominating the north of the city is the magnificent Heaton Park. Not only is it the biggest in Manchester but also the largest municipal park in Europe. Taking its name from the Grade 1 listed 18th century house Heaton Hall, it also has an 18 hole golf course, woodland, ornamental gardens, an observatory, its own tram system and plays host to loads of events including outdoor theatre, concerts and funfairs. In addition it has an animal centre with cows, alpacas, goats, sheep, rabbits, peacocks and poultry as well as Highland cows mooching about the park in general. Plus there's a cafe to rest up in and have something to eat after the exhausting work watching the strutting chickens. Many of the ingredients for the cafe produce are locally sourced and there's a deli to pick up a favourite food including honey made by the park's bees.

Boggart Hole Clough
The Clough is 76 hectares of ancient woodland in Blackley north Manchester. 'Clough' is local dialect for a steep sided wooded valley – the name alone gives you an idea of the landscape. In addition to the beautiful forested area there are some unusual park sports facilities, play areas, a cafe, bowling green, a boating lake and a fishing area. But what makes the space particularly special is that it is steeped in history having survived for 1000s of years despite widespread deforestation and the encroaching urban sprawl of the city. Most intriguing is the rumour that it's haunted by a 'boggart' – a mischievous spirit largely found in Lancashire and Yorkshire – that is blamed for any unfortunate event. Various methods were used to keep them out of people's houses such as leaving salt on the doorstep, so there they remain lurking in the Clough...

Clayton Vale
The river Medlock flows through this green space in east Manchester which was, rather charmingly the site of a small pox hospital as well as a dye works and tannery amongst other industrial bits and bobs. However it was transformed in the 1980s with the planting of woodland and thankfully all that remains of the small pox is the foundation stone of the building. Now it's a semi mature forest with nature reserve status as well as, rather excitingly, being home to 12km of mountain bike trails. Head for the nearby National Cycling Centre to hire a decent mountain bike as you'll need it for the four levels of trail from easy to eek! If you'd prefer a bit of practice beforehand there's a mountain bike Skills Zone in the adjacent Philips Park to boost your confidence.

Platt Fields
Platt Fields is an important community park in an urban area with houses that have few gardens. On Oxford Road between Rusholme and Fallowfield, the park serves both the local permanent community as well as the more transient student population. At its centre is the boating lake surrounded by gardens, a skate park and at its north easterly corner Platt Hall and its gallery of costume. The park plays host to local community events such as the Asian Mela, however recent neglect and too many large scale non-community events have damaged the parkland so it's in desperate need of some fundamental repairs. The locals still love it though, let's hope the council put some money to give it the TLC it deserves.

Fletcher Moss
It's no surprise that well-to-do Didsbury would have such a lovely park on its doorstep. Alderman Fletcher Moss bequeathed the 21 acre site to the city in 1919. At its heart is an impressive botanical garden with many unusual plants and ornamental trees, plus drop into the adjacent Alpine Tea Room in the quaint The Croft. Next door is the Old Parsonage with its own gardens and the recently renovated Alpine House. A community hub, the building is used by artists as an exhibition space, there are classes and it is licensed for marriages too so you can even hire it for your wedding. On the other side of the park is a nature reserve with a trail that leads you through Stenner Woods and Millgate Fields an area predominately made up of crack willow trees and wet woodland, don't worry though you don't need your wellies there's a boardwalk to stop you getting damp toes.

Alexandra Park
Designed by Alexander Gordon Hennell in 1868 whose work, combining ornamental features such as the park's raised terrace with sporting facilities, was ground breaking at the time. Intended as a healthy alternative to the pub for the local working classes (as of course we can't be trusted to stay off the ale) there's even a clean drinking water fountain to discourage further beer consumption. Restoration of the park was completed last year returning it to its former glory and included the renovation of the beautiful Chorlton Lodge house on the east side of the park. As well as providing an important community hub it's also the site of Moss Side carnival in August, Manchester's answer to Notting Hill. A park to be proud of.

Wythenshawe Park
On the southern edge of Manchester is 109 hectares of parkland in which sits the three grade 2 listed buildings including Wythenshawe Hall. Home to the Tatton family for 600 years from the late 1300s; a particularly dramatic time was had when it was besieged by Cromwell's forces during the civil war. The area was given to the city in the 1920s when the area was being developed for housing and remained as an important green space. The hall was used as an art gallery and museum until 2010 and they are currently working on reopening it; meanwhile there are open days. Elsewhere there is a community farm with a livestock including a herd of Hereford cattle and plenty of vegetables growing.

Sale Water Park/Chorlton Water Park
In the Mersey Valley sits Sale Water Park and the surrounding green space which seeps down to the south east to merge with Chorlton's own green bit of the Mersey Valley and its own mini version of the water park. Both water parks were formed in the 1970s by the flooding of a gravel pit and Sale's is home to Trafford Watersports centre offering jet skiing, windsurfing and kayacking. Nearby Broad Ees Dole is a designated nature reserve with wetlands that provide sanctuary for both resident and migratory birds. Further down is Jackson's Boat foot bridge, erected in 1816 to replace farmer Jackson's boat method of crossing the river. Stop in the nearby 17th century pub of the same name for a pint while you're at it.

Longford Park
On the Eastern edge of Stretford is Trafford's biggest park, Longford. As well as a residential green area Longford Park has many additional features including an athletics track which is home to Trafford Athletics Club. There's been a long standing Pet's Corner that over the years was residence to a star in Horace the goat, now sadly passed on, as well as a budgie who liked to hitch a ride on the other birds. Saved from closure last year, no doubt there will be further stars to see there amongst the many birds and rabbits. A particular joy is the well run cafe with regular open hours, Caffeine & Co, who offer wide range of edibles. In addition there's co-op Uprising Bakehouse selling their mostly seasonal and organic breads and cakes as well as offering bread making lessons.

Peel Park
Behind Salford's fine red brick art gallery is a wide expanse of landscaped park. Opened in 1846 and named in honour of Sir Robert Peel the former Prime Minister. For 150 years it was the city park for Salford, and is located on the flood plain for the Irwell. As well as the neat flower beds the park is home to two of the sculptures forming a part of the Irwell sculpture trail. It's proved an inspiration for artists on more than one occasion - it was a popular spot for LS Lowry and consequently one of the sites used for American photographer Spencer Tunick's mass nude photo shoot when he visited Manchester and Salford in 2010 for a Lowry inspired series of photographs commissioned by The Lowry arts centre.

WORDS BY MARISSA BURGESS
@MarissaBurgess

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