at the weekend...

...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.


Lyn said...

Wow, no I didn't guess!
I use to live in Salford near the quays before they were all made posh and shiny, It's a different world now.
Thanks for letting us come along!

elizabethm said...

Thought I recognised something from the water park? Is that right?

Frances said...

Hello Sue,

Of course, you know that I do know where your route lay. What I want to tell you is how absolutely marvelous it was to read what you captured on this bike ride. (I so hope that your injury heals quickly.)

As I sit here in New York tonight and read about your journey and all the variety that a wise pedaler could see with her wise, artistic eye, I thought to myself. I would trade New York for Manchester in a heartbeat.

See how magic is performed! I don't know if I really would be happy with that trade, but based on what you've shown, compared with what it is like here in August, that offer of trade seems wise.

Clearly, you have much around you to insprire your artistry.


Gilly said...

What a beautiful bike ride! You went a long way, too - and I hope your leg is not too bad!

Chrissie said...

how enchanting to be 'taken for a ride' - you've described it so beautifully! more please!

PG said...

...and it didn't rain!!! :) I have to admit, that having lived in the Manchester area, I would never have guessed where you were, though it was a lot more delapidated back in the early 90's. Bad luck on the leg - hope it gets better soon.

Sue said...

Thank you for your good wishes everyone - my injuries are a lot better! I've been putting Bio Oil on - it's amazing stuff.

Lyn, you are right, it's seriously much nicer than 25 years ago when I arrived here!

Frances - you are the queen of descriptive walk posts! If it worked any magic it is because I have learnt from the best!

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

now i'm off to discover if we can get there from the Oldham/ Manchester border!

cocoa and blankets said...

Just the kind of bike rides that I like...on the flat! we havent had the bikes out this summer which is a have inspired me..the photos are lovely. We are back now and my adventures are slowly being documented on my blog...slowly because I cant up load my pictures! and hugs H

Jo said...

A lovely post with fantastic photos, as always. After reading the first section of this blog entry I thought it was the East Anglian coast or Suffolk!

Hens Teeth said...

It is posts like this that inspire, helping to shift negative preconceived ideas of areas of UK?
Really enjoyed your post Sue. x

Lorenza said...

isn't it wonderful the landscape we have at our doorstep? I know the bike ride very well, it is one of our favourites, it's perfect for a day long walk too :) I have moved to Manchester 11 years ago when I was still a teenager and I have grown to love it very much, I feel I am an adopted Mancunian :D I hope you get to enjoy some more bike rides, if the weather would let us have a bit more sunshine!! L xxx

Diane said...

I guessed!!! It looks so interesting. I love rediscovering familiar territory in different ways.

Cottage Garden said...

Thank you Sue for taking us along on your bike ride through 'undiscovered' parts of Manchester. Such a wonderfully descriptive post with a great twist at the end.
Jeanne x
PS Hope you leg has healed.

Sue said...

Thank you everyone for your kind comments. Leg much better now thanks :-)