Heaton Park has to be one of the best family days out in Manchester. Many’s the time I will get CJ up in a morning and ask her what she’d like to do today, to which she will immediately reply,
Wel, today we went to see the “manimals” and all the other many things there are to see in this vast and beautiful park. CJ was not feeling very well this morning, so I decided to drag the buggy out from under the stairs, where it has sat gathering dust for the last 6 months. Having spent yesterday in bed myself, I didn’t relish the thought of carrying CJ under one arm and “bigbike” under the other when she felt tired as, inevitably, she would with a cold.
This is a fantastic time of year to visit the largest Manchester park, and one advantage of having CJ in her buggy was being able to take more photos – usually I am trying to quickly snap before she disappears down a hill on her bike. Heaton Park is heaving in summer, when there are queues at the icecream van, children waving from the land train, donkey rides and boats on the lake. I love it in the summer, but I think I love it even more now – quieter, crisp and cool, full of turning leaves and friendly squirrels feasting on nuts.
We followed our usual path around the park – parking in the North carpark, but bypassing the North playground for now. It’s a fantastic play area, with something for all ages, from mini swings and slide to a bouncy chair that reminds me of “Joe 90″, the metal triangles which you push round to make the bells ring, the intriguing series of handles and corkscrews which move water around and all topped off, of course, by the massive slide which always makes me think of “The Wicker Man”. On the left as you follow the path along is the recent addition of a sandpit and picnic area.
We always carry straight on down the hill and make our way to the farmyard centre. Whether or not we linger there depends on CJ’s mood. She varies between loving certain animals and being terrified of them. She has a strange love/hate relationship with “peapocks” – initially adoring their pretty colours, but coming to fear them after an unfortunate incident at Dudley Zoo, when the peacock turned around to reveal his rustling, white, bony back view. Since then, she has insisted on being carried past the peacock, but she will always ask to see a picture of one on google images if we have the laptop out at home. The same thing has happened with the calf who was present earlier this year. We made repeated visits to check on the progress of “baby cow” – that is, until baby cow began to moo loudly, after which she begged not to go into the farmyard. Today, she showed no fear, but there were only a couple of donkeys in the there – the animals here vary, as they are sometimes out roaming the fields.
We carried on to the animal centre. This houses a variety of rabbits, chickens, ducks and guinea pigs. There are also 2 pigs, goats, mountain sheep and alpacas. Also in a corner here, is a mini farm play area with a tractor to climb on and chicken and pig rockers.
We left the animal centre and sat on a bench in the gardens outside to have the worst picnic in the world, consisting of whatever I could find in the fridge – in this case slightly stale pitta breads, half tub of hummus, a banana, a yoghurt and some sultanas. That must be why I’ve lost a bit of weight this summer, it’s the “crap picnic diet.” From here, we headed down the hill on the main path through the park. This is my favourite part of Heaton park. I loving running through it on a Saturday morning. With seemingly nothing around but fields, trees, a few horses and cows, it almost feels like I could be anywhere – except every now and again I get a glimpse of the highrises in Blackley and I know exactly where I am and am reminded how brilliant it is that this oasis exists so near to the city.
The path leads you past fields where you’ll usually find donkeys, Shetland ponies and sometimes horses and cows. Our particular favourite is known as “big, fluffy cow.” I believe this to be a Highland cow – only because I saw a picture of an identical “big, fluffy cow” on the front of a tin of shortbread in Marks and Spencer and it said “Highland cow” on it. Today, our furry friend was chilling out in the field behind the South play area, a small woodland playground where all the play equipment is carved out of wood, including a buzzy bee seesaw, a horse and cart and some crazy flowers for bouncing on.
From here we wandered down to the lake. You can hire a boat at weekends if you wish, it costs £8.50 for 45 minutes. There is a path that goes around the lake which is very pleasant – you’ll actually approach the park from here if you use the lakeside carpark. As you can see in the picture, the geese and ducks came hurtling towards us, clearly used to being spoiled with bread. They got a bit close for CJ’s liking, so we bid a hasty farewell and popped into the Boathouse cafe to go to the loo. This is one of 3 cafes in the park, there’s one by the farm centre and “The Hidden Gem” which is in the horticultural centre and housed in one of the greenhouses. It’s very pleasant, doing a nice quiche and salad. I find the boathouse cafe a bit “canteen” like, but it has a lovely setting by the lake and bargain jacket spuds at less than £2 for some toppings.
We usually take the next left past the boathouse, where the trees form a natural canopy over the path. We went a bit further today before turning left and getting a good view of Heaton Hall as we struggled up the hill. If it’s open when you’re there it’s well worth a look inside, with many restored rooms to see - although from outside it looks like there’s still a lot of restoration to do.
There’s loads in Heaton Park that I’ve not mentioned – pitch and putt, the golf course, the old trams which sometimes run, the various restored buildings. There’s also many events e.g. nordic walking, health walks, film screenings, theatre. Click at the top of the page to see the excellent website. If you haven’t been to Heaton Park, you really should pencil in a visit. Take the time to have a good wander round and discover your own favourite areas. It really is fantastic and in summer we cheerfully spend most of the day here – with a higher standard of picnic to keep us going! Quite simply, it’s one of the best places to visit in Manchester.