Chorlton Water Park to Dunham Massey along the Bridgewater Canal

“We were lucky this year – summer fell on a bank holiday”.

(someone on Twitter)

I was going to write an elaborate blog post about how we cycled down to Dunham Massey (a large country park south of Manchester) where we had a picnic in the gardens and saw deer and baby rabbits, but all you need to know is this: Start at Chorlton Water Park, carry on to Sale Water Park, keep going until you’re at the point where it says “Overflow River Channel” on the map snippet below. You’ll be going under a bridge, follow the bend of the path just up onto the “bridge” which turns out to be the canal. Then follow along the canal for about an hour or so until you get to the exit off the tow path that’s closest to Dunham Massey (GPS/Google Maps is your friend). The surface is quite good in most places except for some bumpy bits when you get closer to Dunham Massey, but I managed well with my fairly thin hybrid wheels. If you get off at the right spot, you’ll go under a bridge again and end up almost outside the park. Say hi to the baby rabbits.

http://www.bridgewatercanal.co.uk/bww.html

[Photo by David Jones]

South Manchester to Macclesfield cycle, via Lyme Park and the Middlewood Way

Middlewood Way

Awesome weather = time to get on yer bikes! I’ve been meaning to visit Lyme Park for ages, so we used the opportunity last weekend and set off south towards the park. From our front door to the station in Macclesfield the ride took us about 6 hours, which included quite a few stops for map reading and route changes, and a couple of longer breaks for food and drinks. The route is mostly flat, with very few hills. Regarding the road surface, I managed well with my 7 gear hybrid bike with tyres that are on the thin side, although I did push on some paths that might be manageable with mountain bike tyres. We used a Cycle GM cycle map number 7 (Stockport).

We started our trip in South Manchester and followed the 62 cycle route down to Stockport. This part is a bit tricky and depending on where you’re coming from, it’s probably best to just read the map and aim for Vernon Park to get through Stockport city centre.

Our initial plan was to simply follow New Bridge Lane/Stockport Road/Osborne Street until we got to the 55 cycle route, but when we cycled past Vernon Park we decided to have a quick wander round the park (which is lovely, by the way!). We had a look at the park map and figured we could hit the 55 if we just went along the footpath by the River Goyt until we got to Jim Fearnley bridge which is marked on the cycle map. This plan turned out to be rather adventurous, as for the first stretch along the river we had to carry our bikes up and down steps, planks, and over a few fallen trees. However, once the initial climbing was done, the footpath along the river was wide and suitable for cycling, and the views were marvellous.

Once we got closer to the bridge, there were a few more steps up and down, but again nothing too bad. We went past a cricket club (which appeared to be in the middle of the woods, with no access roads…), crossed over the bridge (dodging the kids racing their bmx bikes down the steep hill) and turned left onto the path to finally get onto the 55. Just shortly after that the 55 leads to a main road, where we did not follow the 55 signs pointing to the left but took a short cut, turning right onto the main road which wasn’t too busy and had a off-road cycle path for a short bit as well. The road took us directly to the Railway pub in Marple, where we had a short pit stop before getting back onto our bikes.

The 55 cycle route starts again just next to the Railway pub, so from there on it was plain sailing/cycling, as we only had to follow the path and signposts down the Middlewood Way. We left the path when we got to the “Nelson Pit Visitor Centre” signs, crossed over the cycle path and the canal, down Lyme Road (a private road that is marked as a public footpath) which took us up a bumpy hill (more pushing) to the gates of Lyme Park. A little further up the hill (past some overheated sheep) the views were brilliant, as we could see all the way down to Manchester. We followed down the path to get onto a paved road, which took us directly to the Lyme Park car park. The hall and gardens close quite early, so we decided to save the visit for another day and have lunch/tea at the pond instead.

The White Nancy near Bollington

Originally, our plan was a round trip to Lyme Park and back up to Manchester, but since it was already quite late and the sun had worn us out, we decided to cycle on down to Macclesfield and take the train back instead. We left Lyme Park the same way we came and went back onto the Middlewood Way (55) cycle path. The ride to Macclesfield was easygoing, taking us past the White Nancy near Bollington and some rather interesting solutions for bridging height differences. The Middlewood Way seems to lead directly to Macclesfield train station, although I think we took the wrong turn somewhere and had to do a few right-left combos past a Tesco’s to get to the station. The trains to Manchester run every 15 to 20 minutes, and finding a train that would take our bikes wasn’t a problem.

The trip was absolutely brilliant, and there’s plenty to see – lush woodland, a river, wild flowers, old mills, a cricket club in the middle of the woods, quite a few pubs… Get on your bikes!

[Photos: Middlewood Way by Terry Wha. White Nancy by Alice Rosen]

Donkeys in Debdale

Does anyone remember b3ta.com? I mean, it still exists, but I just assume that, like myself, most people must have stopped hanging out there to make way for a new generation of kids who were into photoshopping puns and making Buffy swear. Oh man. I miss the noughties.

AnywhatdidIwanttosayagainway, b3ta.com once had a photoshopping misheard lyrics contest and one of the entries that really stuck with me (along with the aforementioned Buffy swear keyboard which taught me the correct – albeit Southern – pronunciation of the word cunt, the zebras in Kenya song, and badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom… Oh man, I MISS the noughties) was an animation of the famous Beatles lyrics

“She’s got a chicken to ride, she’s got a chicken to ri-hi-hide, she’s got a chicken to ride, but she donkey”

Next thing I remember is going on a trip to Debdale Park and the nearby donkey sanctuary, cycling down the Fallowfield Loop (we all agreed on calling it the floop right?) and singing this song. The donkey sanctuary is located close to the reservoir and Debdale Park where we happened to gatecrash some local parade (that for some reason reminded me of The Prisoner). It currently houses around 20 or so rescue-donkeys (there’s a list with photos and names of all donkeys along a wall inside) and a couple of rabbits. If you ask nicely (or if you’re a kid) the volunteers even bring out a donkey for close up donkey viewing and maybe even a donkey nose rub. So you’ve got water at the reservoir, donkey noses, and dozens of blackberry bushes on the sides of the floop, which results in a pretty good day out. Go!

Kids and donkeys welcome.

Asleep on a Sunbeam: Manchest-arrr is boiling.

Woah. I mean, seriously, like, totally, woah. Manchester, what the hell is that super bright white and yellow ball in the sky that makes everything go really hot?

The end of the world must be near, because the unspeakable has happened: For the second time this year already, Manchester has seen a spell of sunny weather. And by that I mean not just the usual sunny and grey and humid half-arsed Mancunian “meh” attempt at summer, but scorching hot sun, upper 20ish temperatures, bright blue skies, and not a single cloud, in best continental end-of-May-beginning-of-outdoor-swimming-season tradition. It’s taken four years in this city for me to witness this kind of weather, and my mind is genuinely blown.

Scorchio!

In search of some cooling on this particularly hot weekend, we went on a little excursion down to Chorlton Water Park. I wasn’t expecting to find any particularly nice spots (location is everything for me!), but after we had cycled round the lake a couple of times, we did indeed find a nice shady bit of grass, right next to the water on the southern side of the lake. I never thought I would say this, but for the first time in years, I didn’t actually miss the continental European summer – sun, water, ducks and trees made me feel like I had just stepped out my parent’s front door*. After a failed attempt to complete the Big Issue sudoku, I decided to not bother doing anything and promptly fell asleep in the grass, while my companion was taking fancy macro pictures of fireflies.

An hour and a mildly sunburned shoulder later, I awoke from my comatose sleep. We could no longer resist the call of the one sunny day staple we had yet to devour: Ice cream. Thanks to impressive Twitter research skills, my companion had already found out that Ginger’s Comfort Emporium had parked up on Beech Road that day – only a short bike ride away from us. I had sadly missed out on Ginger’s tasty treats at the Ancoat’s Ice Cream Festival mess last year due to massive queues, but we were much luckier this time and found the van calmly waiting for our arrival. What happened next is all a little blurry, but it involves rhubarb crumble ice cream, rum, lime & ginger ice cream, extreme deliciousness, and an owl, and culminated in me spending my last £3 on quintuple chocolate caramel banoffee brownies. Or so.

What a day.

* Well, and walked around 30 minutes up that bloody hill to get to a lake, but let’s just stick with the short version for the purpose of nostalgia, yes?

Cherub Rock: A trip to Kinder Scout

Just like every year around this time, the past few weeks have been pretty effing glorious up here. Sun sun sun, blue skies, and almost no clouds; a rare sight in Manchester. Newcomers, don’t be fooled – this was not the beginning of spring or summer, it *was* spring and summer combined into two fantastically warm and summery weeks. It’s only going downhill from now on, trust me.

Given the weather conditions, it would have been foolish not to get out of the city for a spot of walking and heat strokes. I’ve been hearing a lot about The Globe pub in Glossop lately, and I’m quite fond of veggie food stuffs as you might have noticed, so it didn’t take us long to plot a little round trip from Glossop to, uhm, Glossop, via Kinder Downfall and the Kinder reservoir.

Having been walking around Kinder Scout before (on a pretty ridiculous 9 hour march from Glossop to Edale with huge rucksacks through the wet snow a few years* ago – I never felt so much hate and love for nature at the same time), I was curious to see what was underneath the snow and ice covered fields of mud I experienced the last time.

The walk up to Mill Hill which leads to Kinder Scout was… bleak. Brownish grass. Heather. A few rocks. Sheep. Streams. The usual. But as soon we had climbed up the rocky path of doom up to Sandy Heys I couldn’t stop talking about THE ROCKS. Rocks. Everywhere. Wind, rain, and thousands of years of the earth moving had shaped the gritstone into magnificent marshmallow-like layers and fascinating rock formations, some silently sitting on top of the hills in solitude, others gathering in large groups like crowds around the buskers on Market Street. I was stunned and amazed. Imagine Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks pointing out the impressive trees at his arrival to the town… but with rocks.

After a quick lunch near Kinder Downfall (speaking of which, you might know that “Kinder” means “children” in German, which always leads me to think of “Kinder Downfall” as a place where children were tossed down the rocks in ancient times… I know, I know.), we took the route down the hill towards the reservoir and over the moors back into Glossop. Thanks to my unsurpassed navigational skills (“yeah this only like, an inch on the map, I’m sure it’s really close”) the walk back along the main road wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it led us in a straight line to our final destination: The Globe. Just in time for dinner we fell into the pub and found it absolutely crammed. I was a little surprised that vegan food would be so popular, but as soon as my walking companion returned from the bar with a broad smile I found out what may contribute to the Globe’s popularity: pints of ale for £1.80.

The next pleasant surprise was the food menu – the meals were only marginally more expensive than the drinks. This encouraged us to assemble a balanced meal based on all the major food groups (rice, curly fries, chips, bread), including some delicious parsnip chips and the much talked about chick pea curry, which managed to live up to its reputation. Several pints, lemonades, and starchy foods later, we returned to Manchester with full bellies and bright red faces. Hey, Peak District – we’ll be back in you soon!

Rocks
Rocks
Rocks
Rocks
Rocks

* Bloody ‘ell. A few years ago. Come May I will celebrate my 4 year anniversary in Manchester. Bit of a detour from my original “I’ll just do my MSc here and then go back to Germany” plans.

The Coast is Always Changing: A trip to Somerset & Devon

HUuuuauaaaaaaaahhhhRRrrrrrrrggggghhzzzzz.

That’s the sound of me stretching my hands, positioning my chair, neatly arranging that cup of tea in front of me, stretching again, trying to remember the URL of my blog, checking Twitter first, having another biscuit, and finally logging in to WordPress to write… a blog post! It’s been a while, bah bah bah, the usual. But hey, I’ve brought something back from the many trips I made in the past couple of months: Stories. And piktchas. That’s what you’re here for, right?

Now, let’s start in non-chronological order with my short visit darn sarf. We went to the wonderful Butlin’s holiday park in Minehead for the Nightmare Before Christmas ATP (curated by Les Savy Fav, which I ended up missing twice in one day, Battles, and Caribou, just in case you’re wondering) at the beginning of December, and, being the ueber nerds we are, somehow did not spend the  whole weekend getting drunk and chasing seagulls (and by that I mean making out with Dutch girls) like my German friends. In fact, we got up early every morning and went on excursions around Somerset and Devon to see some more of the South than just the inside of the chain restaurant and arcade games lined Butlins pavilion.

On the first day, we tried to explore the rather magnificent looking Dunster Castle near Minehead, only to find that it is closed to the public over the winter months (it’s okay, I only cried a little). A short walk around the ‘medieval’ (for some meaning of medieval) village did not bring up any more interesting sights and so we returned just in time to watch the first set of Battles.

The next day, we stretched a little further and simply drove as far west as we could, finally landing in Lynton/Lynmouth on the north coast of Devon. As expected, the town had already gone into winter hibernation – except for the big and cold Arts & Craft centre, where we interrupted the reading pleasures of a lady in a thick winter coat. Back outside in the pouring rain, we followed signs to the Cliff Railway, just out of curiosity. Much to our surprise* the cafe at the top of the cliff was open for business, and we did our best to support the local economy by purchasing coffee and stale apricot cake.

And this was my breathtaking account of a spectacular holiday. The highlight of the weekend was when I got a text of my ex-housemate, who kindly agreed to look after the rabbit: I had dropped the wrong set of keys into his letterbox, leaving the rabbit locked into our flat for the entire weekend with quickly dwindling supplies of hay and water in his cage. Images of the rabbit doing this while trying to survive on a diet of newspaper cropped up in my head. Thanks to our landlord however, the situation was quickly resolved, the ex-housemate got into the flat to feed the rabbit, and all three of them (including the rabbit) just sigh and roll their eyes a little bit whenever my name is mentioned.

* I must apologise for the number of clichés I’ve used in this blog post. This is what happens when you only write scientific papers for months. You lose all ability to communicate and default to clichéd language. Just like all those scientists that write for the Daily Mail. Q.E.D.

Slow, Slowly, Sloes*: Sloe picking in Chorlton

First things first: You want sloes? Go and get sloes! Check out my carefully drawn map of Chorlton Water Park (jelly-bean-shaped area marks the spot) and go sloe picking while they’re still there.

We’ve been wondering for a while where to find sloes from in and around Manchester. Due to lack of a vehicle, the tip-off about the sloe bushes at junction 19 of the M60 wasn’t exactly helpful. We were just about to head down to Stockport and wander around the parks there, looking for prickly bushes, as the mighty @robotswanking received a Twitter message from sloe expert Cormac. Plans were changed quickly and mission: sloes headed south-west instead, to Chorlton Water Park.

Just by accident (we did actually get lost on the way to the orchard, taking a right turn after the bridge rather than just heading straight on) we wandered down a small path in a field that seemed completely overlooked by the many visitors. And there it was: a sloe bush. Not very big, not many fruit, but it was what we were looking for. As we had picked what would have been enough for at least a glass full of sloe gin, we moved on further down the path – and discovered what can only be described as (drum roll) sloe valley (ta-dah!). Dozens of sloe bushes, easily accessible by the side of the path, just waiting to be picked. As we got closer to the gate that was leading back to the main path, the sloes got bigger and bigger, until we finally found one bush that kept us busy for almost an hour.

We returned home with scratched hands, muddy boots, black dirt under our nails and a small blue Ikea bag filled to the brim with big round sloes. Several hours of pricking and several bottles of booze later, we had these beauties in our kitchen:

So – if you fancy picking some sloes around South Manchester, Chorlton Water Park is the place to go! Don’t worry, there’s enough for everyone. Just make sure you’re careful and don’t trample down everything, yes?

* And I do apologize to Liam Frost for the sloe-pun in the title.

All Across the Sands: And then, then we went to Wales.

Escape, escape.

I don’t know what happened in Wales during the last few ice ages, but it must have been pretty intense. The west coast of Wales pretty much consists of hills, mountains, mountain-like hills, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and sheep. I presume the sheep came after the ice age (who knows…), but everything else looks like it has been scrunched up and folded and squeezed and punched by incredibly powerful giant ice masses. This is also what I imagine the Welsh did with their language – scrunch the words, fold and squeeze them, add a few ls and ys and ds here and there to make it completely illegible.

I went to Snowdon last year, which, while certainly offering a decent walk in surprisingly nice weather, was rather unimpressive. This time we staying for a weekend, exploring the area around Barmouth (Abermaw in Welsh) and climbing Cadair Idris, which is Wales’ second most popular mountain. Well, ‘mountain’. To summarise the weekend: I ate honey ice cream, and saw sheep, and drank ale, and saw sheep, and went up on a hill, and saw sheep, and watched the sun set over the sea while drinking cider, and saw sheep, and learned Welsh, and saw sheep, and had pie and chips, and saw sheep, and went to Happy Valley, and saw sheep, and played with frog spawn, and saw sheep. I loved it!

I’ve been putting off this post for a week because I’ve not been feeling particularly chatty, but the pictures are really nice, so please enjoy the ensuing silence and look at some pretty photos while I’m gathering strength for a first class rant. Or a rabbit post. Or a ranty rabbit post.

You Ride, We Ride: This is not the Manchester I know.

Have I actually mentioned my bike? I’ve got a bike. The best bike in the world, to be precise. I got it from one of my favourite people, almost a year ago, and the first time I was riding it down a quiet and leafy street in Didsbury I started to cry, which was followed by a celebratory bottle or two glass of wine. A glorious day.

Anythatwasthemotherofallhangoversway, last week marked the beginning of my favourite time of the year in Manchester – the 6 months of “oh it’s getting warm…nope, not quite yet…but now!! No… no, still not warm enough to wear short sleeves. OH there it is, that must be it, Summer! No, no…false alarm. Whoops, it’s November again. Well that was that then, I guess. Better luck next year.” Highly determined to make the best of the few hours of sunshine I can get here every year, I put on a floral print dress – my official summer uniform – got on my bike and cycled down to Levy for some food at POD and a visit to the superawesome Laurie Pink, but more about that later.

The excitement had me as soon as I had caught a glimpse of the magnificent trees blooming on Fog Lane that stood bright and colourful in the Sunday sun. I cycled faster. We crossed Kingsway into Burnage. I gasped: My first visit to Burnage. BURN. AGE. Famous for being the home of the Gallagher brothers, Dave Rowbotham of the Durutti Column being murdered in his flat, and… uhm… yeah. That record shop, I guess. I excpected tumbleweeds, gunmen and saloon doors, but I only saw a wide tree lined road, a country pub-ish looking pub with the poetic name ‘The Sun in September‘ and several parks, including the rather vast Cringle Park, luring us in with the promise of seeing an ‘Indian Bean Tree’ that couldn’t be spotted – if anyone has managed to find the location of the ‘Indian Bean Tree’, please do let me know. The bike ride, the greens, the country pub-ish pub and the sun had made me so enthusiastic however, I even came up with a marketing slogan for letting agents who would like to advertise properties in the area: “Burnage – it could be worse.”

Having crossed Cringle park, we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of Levenshulme, only two minutes away from POD, which, once again, didn’t fail to amaze me with the tastiness of its food as well as the slowness of the ordering and food preparing process. But to be completely honest, I actually prefer anticipation up to the point of self-torture to the finished product – this is exactly the right place for me.

On the way back, we paid a visit to the wonderful Laurie Pink who I had met on my first trip to Levenshulme last year. The crazy lady had put herself through a 24 hour drawing marathon to create dozens of drawings for everyone who donated for Comic Relief – raising over £1300 pounds in one day. I had commissioned a royal portrait for my cycling companion, the mighty Robot Swan King (yeah… don’t ask), which we had come to pick up that afternoon. We were welcomed by Arthur and Smith, two incredibly lovely whippets, a pouting cat, actor/singer/comedian Mitch Benn, who was sat in the kitchen watching roller derby videos, and a room with walls covered in drawings as a proof of Laurie’s hard work*. Having swapped cake for drawings, we hopped onto our bikes and cycled back down south – not without stopping by at the ‘Sun in September’ for a cheeky half of fizzy apple juice. I’m living life on the edge.

* madness

Stolen Mountains: the Lakes, Derwentwater, Catbells & icy rain.

While I’m still not the biggest fan of Manchester (cue ORLY owl here), I have started to fall in love with this country, or at least, some parts of it. Mainly the green ones. Pair beautiful nature, lakes, some woods and breathtaking views with a slightly pathological passion for outdoor activities* and you’re guaranteed some amazing weekends walking up and down hills, almost necessarily followed by yet another popular activity: pub.

For exactly this purpose, and to escape the only mildly appealing February weather in Manchester, I went on a rather spontaneous trip to the north western part of the Lake District. Due to a BBC documentary on Wainwright walks, I was intrigued by a fell named Catbells, situated on the shores of Derwentwater near Keswick, which the presenter was walking up in her perfectly shiny and neat hiking outfit. I only ever managed to watch that one episode, so I wasn’t particularly adventurous when planning the trip and decided to go for the obvious: up Catbells. Conveniently, there’s a YHA situated just on the opposite site of Derwentwater, which promised charming bunk beds, a waterfall at the rear of the building, and local ales. I booked instantly.

Highlights of the drive to Keswick included me gradually realising I had left walking boots, compass, spare socks, the camera battery as well as the SD card, and my phone charger at home, stumbling across a tiny little red book with  walks ‘from the easy to the adventurous’ in the Northern Lakes, buying Kendal mint cake (novelty!) and Borrowdale tea cake, and listening to Therapy. After a short detour to one of the many hiking shops in Keswick to replace equipment, we found the YHA and walked back along the lake into town for Saturday night entertainment: pies and pints. Veggie for me and giant ‘cow pie’ for my companion. Awesome!

8.30 on Sunday morning, pies and pints suddenly didn’t seem like such an awesome idea anymore. My head was hosting a samba party, the rain was pouring down outside, and the sofas in the lounge had actually been very comfortable the previous night. Nonetheless, we were there for walking, so we did what we had to do: walk. The little red book from the service station had told us about an ‘alternative Catbells‘ that promised a ‘satisfying’ 4 hour walk from the south west shores of Derwentwater, over Maiden Moor and Bull Crag up to Catbells.

Thanks to my excellent map reading skills, the missing compass and zero visibility we only got lost twice on the route, which caused me to first panic quite a bit, then feel like kissing the path once we found it after an hour of dragging ourselves up a hill. As we got to the top at Maiden Moor, the clouds cleared all of a sudden and we got some amazing views over the valley west of the fells. The last part of the walk was downhill apart from the short ascend to Catbells, which offered some good views over the lake, but felt much less spectacular and heroic than our previous odyssey through the mist.

On the drive home, we took the scenic route down the A road to Windermere rather than the motorway, past majestic fells, flooded lakes and through adorable little towns. Back in Manchester, it was raining.

When in doubt, eat. (Ancient German proverb.)

* I have observed that every British citizen needs to have a minimum of three pairs of special occasion shoes in their possession: wellies (for festivals, farming or simply crap weather), football boots (because everyone plays football… or ultimate frisbee), and a pair of hiking boots (for the odd trip to Wales, the Peaks or the Lakes).