When people have children you often hear them talk about “getting out of the city,” but around here this doesn’t have to mean stifling suburbia. There are plenty of rural delights within (and around) the boundaries of Greater Manchester. Only miles from the city centre, but a world away from it in just about every other respect. So, here’s our guide to five of the best local destinations for a rural (ish) escape.
Here are our picks
Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Greater Manchester, WA14 4SJ - Visit now
A short drive from suburbia or a pleasant cycle along the National Cycle Network, Dunham Massey’s historic house and grounds include a deer park and ancient oak tree. Dunham Massey is lovely all year around, but we especially love an autumnal wander during rutting season when the deer engage in spectacular mating battles.
Lyme Park, Disley, Stockport, Cheshire, SK12 2NR - Visit now
Disley is the sort of village that looks as if it ought to be in the Cotswolds. Past Stockport, where Manchester meets the Peak District, it’s all leafy streets and inviting pubs, with the Ram’s Head probably the pick for a gastro lunch. There’s also a good variety of local shops (many rather upscale). Make a day of it, head to Lyme Park, which you might recognise as the place where Colin Firth dived into the lake in Pride and Prejudice – and as the ‘Big House’ in the more recent, triple BAFTA-nominated hit The Village. It costs £7 per car to get into the grounds, plus entry per person to the gardens, but they’re stunning, and include a great adventure playground. Disley is on the A6, but the train is much faster. It’s on the Piccadilly to Buxton line.
Haigh Hall and Country Park, School Ln, Wigan, WN2 1PE - Visit now
Between Wigan and Bolton, Haigh is a small village with a grand estate house, Haigh Hall, and an adjoining country park. The park is a family-friendly place for a day out, with woodland trails, a playground and plenty of places to have a picnic. There was even enough room in the grounds for local boys The Verve to play a homecoming show back in 1998. There are also expansive views over Wigan, which remind you that parts of Manchester are on surprisingly high ground. Perhaps best of all, the park is free. There’s a snack bar too, but the three pubs back in the village itself are probably a better bet for lunch. To get there it’s easiest to drive.
Lymefield and Broad Mills Heritage Site, Etherow Valley, Lower Market Street, Broadbottom, SK14 6AA - Visit now
Even the most rural parts of Manchester are full of reminders of the cotton industry. Broadbottom, near Stalybridge, is no exception, and it even has a working textile mill to go along with all the old ones. Some of those ruined buildings have been thoughtfully turned into a conservation area by Tameside Council, with trails, information boards and picnic areas dotted around the River Etherow at one end of the village. It’s called the Broad Mills Heritage Site, and there’s a small visitor centre. Inevitably, there’s a good tearoom at the nearby garden centre, as well as a couple of pubs in the village itself. Broadbottom station is on the Piccadilly to Glossop line.
Sale Water Park and Chorlton Ees, Rifle Road, Sale, M33 2LX
The lines between Chorlton Ees and Sale Water Park are a little bit blurry. What people locally refer to as ‘The Water Park’ is a cluster of green made up of Chorlton and Sale Water Parks, Turn Moss Playing Fields, Chorlton Ees Nature Reserve, Sale Ees, Barlow Tip and Hardy Farm. However you want to define them, this expanse of nature on the outskirts of Chorlton and Sale is a haven for cyclists, dog-walkers and picnic seekers – there’s even a pub slap bang in the middle. Need we say more? Get there via Chorlton’s Beech Road area, Sale Water Park tram stop, or the entry to Chorlton Water Park near Southern Cemetery.
Fallowfield Loop, Fallowfield Loop, Manchester, M18 - Visit now
Fallowfield Loop, which runs through to Gorton’s Debdale Park in East Manchester. The route takes advantage of former railway lines to offer a pleasant, traffic-free, paved track, lined by trees and plants – perfect for a spot of fruit and elderflower foraging. Stop off in Levenshulme for the suburb’s independent market every Saturday, or get lost in the maze-like Antiques Village. Then continue east along the loop, with a short detour to Shores Fold Community Farm, before ending in the 130-acre green oasis of Debdale Park, which features a bowling green and two reservoirs for fishing.
Heaton Park, Middleton Road, Higher Blackley, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M25 2SW - Visit now
Heaton Park’s Temple – a small circular structure with a breast-esque dome and Tuscan columns, designed in 1800 – was built on the highest point in Manchester. Scale the hill it sits on and you can see (and be seen) for quite a distance. It gives a unique view of the green fells that surround the city, as well as being an iconic spot: Heaton’s Temple was featured in none other than the 1981 TV series, Brideshead Revisited.
Want more? Here are some of the top spots for wild swimming within driving distance of Manchester.
Even more? Fine! Here are some of the best parks and gardens in Manchester and around.