However much I love the city, I do also really enjoy time in the trees and space of the countryside. I grew up on the Wirral, which has a plethora of countryside greenery, seaside and easy access to cities. It was pretty much a lovely amalgamation of everything. Although, I am sure my teenage self living there at the time would beg to differ. Living in Manchester might sound like all tarmac and concrete. But it’s not. It really, really, is not. I live two miles east of the city centre and we have an abundance of green space. Clayton Vale is one of them. And a very special place it is too.
When you think of city parks, I would imagine that you think of somewhere pretty flat. Play equipment dotted around and some specialist areas perhaps for dogs or fitness equipment. Maybe you imagine pretty flower beds and a fountain. Although Clayton Vale does have some of the manufactured stuff, it has more than you could imagine. Hilly walks, long-distance views into the city and plenty of trees, wildflowers and nature to keep you wandering for hours. In fact, it is becoming a popular place for people from all parts of Manchester, as well as locals like me.
Not always a park
In the past few days, since the heavy deluge of rain from the spring storms, I have noticed red brick beneath the gravel paths. Gorges have been created from the fast flow of water down the hills, which has revealed many fragments of red brick. The kind you would find in the ground along the canal. Remnants of the industrial history and fragments parts of the old mills. I did, I’ll admit, simply shrug off the idea that Clayton Vale would have housed anything but a mill. Seeing as we have them every hundred metres or so (or at least it feels that way). I was surprised when I began doing some research for this post that Clayton Vale is a new park. Redeveloped in 1986 is was previously home to some rather surprising places.
The land around Clayton Vale was home to a tannery, the Old print works, a dye factory and most unexpectedly, as Smallpox Hospital! Learning that, I realised that those fragments of brick had more of a story to tell than I had imagined.
The reason behind the Smallpox Hospital, which possibly explains the location too, was that after opening the Manchester Ship Canal there was a need for somewhere to isolate unwell sailors. With Manchester becoming a world-leading inland port, there were many people coming in with Smallpox and other infectious diseases. Having a hospital, distance from the main city population, was an ideal way to prevent further spread. It was originally known as Clayton Infectious Diseases Hospital in 1909 and had become the Smallpox Hospital by 1933. I tried to find a photograph of the hospital online, but feel that it might be a day at the Manchester Library archives kind of adventure.
Landfills and Dereliction
As with many of the parks around Manchester, the past life was somewhat less attractive or poetic. After many years of neglect, the site was used as a landfill. The remaining buildings succumbed to vandalism or were simply demolished, leaving a rather void space in the east of the city. After becoming part of the Medlock Valley Scheme, it was renovated and rejuvenated to provide a much needed green space in the area. East Manchester has been a hive of industry through the years and not only associated with the canals. I was surprised when I learned about the Bradford Colliery, which only ceased working in the late 1960s!
Since the redevelopment, the area has been described as a shining example of urban country parkland and is also highly known for being a haven for wildlife. I often stop to record the wonderful chorus of birds singing as I do my morning reverse commute. If you want to experience more of Clayton Vale, I recommend you check out my Instagram Stories.
Countryside in the City
I have often enjoyed wandering around Clayton Vale and have enjoyed discovering new paths on almost every visit. Listening to the cacophony of bird sounds, rabbits leaping in the long grass and so many insects doing their thing, you can easily see how it has Local Nature Reserve status. The busiest part of the vale is definitely around the flat parts. Perfectly hard landscaped to make it a pleaseant walk for the whole family. Play areas, picnic tables and benches line the walkway to provide some additional enjoyment along the wander. Even though it is more bustling here, you might still get the chance to see the resident Kingfisher who darts from side to side over the water. I am yet to get a photograph it. I am thankful to the friendly fella with his beautiful grey Staffie for shouting me across to see!
Walk and Bike
Whether you adventre on foot or bike, you can spend a fantastic coupld of hours in Clayton Vale. It is fantastic that they have a combination of paths, from the flat laid ones along the water edge to the more rugged trails up in the hillier parts. And if your bike is more robust, you can get weaving through the trees on the mountain bike trails. There are a few different levels and trails, so you can give them all a go. I won’t be trying them as I think it would be a disaster for both me and my Brompton!
My Reverse Commute
During the lockdown, Jit has been joining me on my reverse commute. (If you are new to my site, do check out my post explaining more about it) Making sure that we kept things more interesting during the weeks and months of doing a circular route, I decided we should give Clayton Vale a try. With plenty of routes and a pleasant mile walk from hour house, it turned out to be an excellent addition.
In fact, it has become the most regular walk we do in the mornings. My favourite thing about doing the same route (or similar) is that you really get to experience the place. You begin to observe the minute changes in the natural world. The subtle differences in bird songs from a warm day to a rainy one. I might not know the reasons behind it, but I can enjoy it all the same. I have seen the barron verges explode with nettles, cow parsley, wild geraniums and the hellishly invasive (and sadly very pretty) Himilayan Balsam. I’ll share more about that weed another day.
Each week, the colours flow through the spectrum of greens. Pops of colour from the dandelions, cornflower, daisies, dog roses and now poppies, breaking up the view.
Whether you live in East Manchester, the city centre or further afield, I would really recommend you take a trip up here. By far one of the most beautiful spaces in the city – even with my obvious bias. We are all going to be travelling locally for a while yet, so it is a great opportunity for you to explore your city more than ever before. Jump on your bike, pop on your trainers for a walk and get out there for some active days. In times of uncertainty, getting active, enjoying something new and outdoors and meeting new people will do you the world of good. It removes you from sitting around at home thinking about it all and building things up and helps you to see the bigger picture. That there is more to the world than what is happening in the news.
With plenty of pockets of green space and local parks in our city, you’re never too far from some trees. Whether you visit Clayton Vale or somewhere closet to home in Manchester, you will thank yourself for the mini adventure and break from the settee.