Top places to go rural (without going too far from Manchester)

Creative Tourist

When people have children you often hear them talk about “getting out of the city,” but that doesn’t have to mean shifting heaven and earth to get there. There are plenty of rural delights within (and around) the boundaries of Greater Manchester. Only a few miles from the city, but a world away from it in just about every other respect. So, here’s our guide to our favourite local destinations for a rural (ish) escape, from water parks to national trust properties with some wild swimming thrown in for good measure.

Our top picks

Quarry Bank

Quarry Bank, Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 4HP - Visit now

A visit to Quarry Bank in Cheshire is a must for anyone wishing to gain a deeper understanding of the North West. One of Britain’s greatest industrial heritage sites, the still functioning cotton mill and surrounding estate have been perfectly preserved to provide a rare insight into how a complete industrial community once lived. Positioned on the banks of the River Bollin and surrounded by ancient woods, the Quarry Bank estate also provides an abundance of picturesque walks with rare varieties of plants and historic sites.

Quarry Bank Mill / National Trust

Dunham Massey

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 ancient oak trees dating as far back as the 17th century, making this a site of national importance. With plenty of space to explore and run free, accessible paths, beautiful gardens and a herd of fallow deer who happily gambol around, it’s perfect for family walks. It’s also a place filled with history – for example Dunham Massey Hall offered itself up as the Stamford Military Hospital during the First World War. Lots to discover here!

Dunham Massey
National Trust

Lyme

Lyme, 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.

Julie Anne Workman via Wikimedia Commons

Haigh Hall and Country Park

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.

Plucas58 via Wikimedia Commons

Lymefield and Broad Mills Heritage Site

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.

Clem Rutter via Wikimedia Commons

Sale Water Park and Chorlton Ees

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.

BW

Fallowfield Loop

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.

Geof Sheppard via Wikimedia Commons

Heaton Park

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.

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