...we went for a bike ride.
We set off down this disused railway in the warm sun, completely cocooned by the high banks which were like ski-slope meadows full of grasses, flowers, bees and butterflies. There was a wonderful warm, still silence except for the sound of our tyres and the buzzing of the insects.
After a few miles of lovely easy cycling and saying 'hello' to joggers, cycling families, roller-skiers and dog-walkers, we popped up onto a wide cobbled alleyway, passing little houses all tastefully painted and with beautifully kept but tiny gardens full of lush climbers. Then past bijou shops and delis, the best wholefood cooperative in the world, people sitting out on the pavement drinking good coffee and reading the Sunday papers, watching the world (and us) go by.
We made our way along wide, quiet roads, little back alleys and canal towpaths, over and under bridges large and small, marvelling at intricate, towering Victorian architecture, and stopping to feast on juicy blackberries.
After an hour or so of steady riding we found ourselves blinking at the sparkling light on a great expanse of clear water. Cormorants, gulls and herons fished for their lunch and we paused to marvel at the sheer size and scale of this major sea port, once the UK's fifth largest and busiest and thronging with people and activity, now a quiet haven for wildlife.
The boats here now are much smaller and their cargo is plants, flowers and the domestic clutter of those living inside.
Not everyone lives on boats though. Most people live in smart little houses clustered on the quays with an uninterrupted view of the water and all its comings and goings.
We wound our way along the waterside paths, ducking to avoid the low-hanging willows, swerving to miss the feet of the crowds watching the viking boat races, and slowing to read the stories, poems and reminiscences set into the pavement at the water's edge. As always, they gave me a huge lump in the throat, thinking of all the people affected by the life - and death - of these once-busy quays.
By this time we were ready for our lunch and a lovely cool drink. We locked up our bikes and found a table in the sun overlooking some sparkly, spanking new architecture and watching the river traffic.
Chips were definitely called for, and after a leisurely scoff which probably replaced several-fold the calories we had burned off on the way, we set off again on our return journey. Across the smart new pedestrian bridge and into the wide, light, leafy avenues of the world's first planned industrial estate, supported and served by the busy docks and now clean and gleaming, boasting an ecology park and diverse wildlife as well as the sleek modern factories that make bread, breakfast cornflakes, and many of the goods you see on your supermarket shelves. It has a really fascinating history* if you are interested to learn more.
It wasn't long though before we were heading off through bushes and trees and bumbling along in the peace and tranquility of a canal towpath again, looping over humpbacked bridges and skirting moorings and wharves, dodging fishermen and waving at beautiful old barges as they passed by.
After a while we turned eastwards on the final stretch of the ride, but we still had several bumpy miles to go high up on the banks of a fast-flowing river, overlooking beautiful woods, fields and watermeadows.
This is an important wildlife habitat - but not only that, the subtle, soft, late-summer colours were utterly gorgeous
On the river it was busier and people were enjoying the summer sun, lazing in pub gardens, strolling, riding, stopping to read, and making the most of the current.
It wasn't long before we turned away from the riverbank and started off zigzagging through quiet streets and parks to complete our journey - but not before I'd managed to rip my leg to shreds on the pedal and ride smack into a garden fence! No day out with me is without incident, I'm afraid.
Now then, to misquote dear old Rolf Harris, 'can you tell where it is yet?' I know that most of you will have guessed already, and it's not hard since you probably all know where I live... but I am hoping that a few of you will have 'discovered' some secret parts of Manchester that you didn't know before, and perhaps be surprised to find that the world's first industrial city is really quite a nice place now! We saw so much on our ride that we hadn't seen before and so much wildlife and beauty, although we were never more than five miles from the city centre. We often find new and surprising things to see and do, which is pretty good considering that both of us have lived here or near here for our entire adult lives. We have some more bike rides planned in the near future so watch this space!
*Read more here if you like.