GM Ringway Stage 2: Sale Water Park to East Didsbury

Published 30 May 2021.

Sale Water Park, not far from the start of the second stage of the GM Ringway

The 186 miles long GM Ringway is Greater Manchester’s very own orbital walking trail. It’s a perfect walk for someone who wants to explore more about the Greater Manchester area. And handily I did… The second stage of the GM Ringway starts from Sale Water Park tram stop, although anyone walking stage one and stage two in the same day will do what I did, and skip the detour to the station.

Sale Water Park features a large lake. It was once a gravel pit that was dug out for motorway building. Gravel for the M60, Manchester’s orbital motorway, came from here. Then the gravel pit was flooded. Now it’s a home to woodland walks, nature reserves, and water based activities. Ever since I’d heard of it some years earlier, I’d wondered if it was worth a visit.

This was not a time to find out. For whatever reason the GM Ringway doesn’t go near the lake itself. Instead it turns its back on it, and heads off down the side of the River Mersey in the opposite direction.

And January – to be honest – wasn’t a month that was going to make this area look particularly nice.

Lots of water in Chorlton Water Park, on the GM Ringway.

It’s not that there was anything particularly bad about the Mersey. It was just that it was a little dull and lifeless. A wide path, grassy banks. Leafless trees and unruly hedges. Maybe in the summer it would be a stunning place to be, but right now I wasn’t really feeling it. Which was unfortunate because most of the second stage is spent in the company of the Mersey.

It’s possible the creator of the GM Ringway noted the monotony. If so, it would explain why the trail would abruptly leave it, go off on somewhere else, before returning it to the river again. Little diversions. The odd shortcut. All to try and keep you interested.

The first was at Chorlton Water Park. Yes, there’s two water parks almost next door to each other. In some respects, they’re rather similar. They both feature woodland walks. Both have a nature reserve. You can do various water based activities on the water of both.

Wooden caterpillar in Chorlton Water Park

Of the two Chorlton Water Park is the smaller. It too was once a gravel pit, providing material for the aforementioned motorway. Now it”s a nature reserve with a big lake. And in the summer you can find northern marsh orchid here. I’d tell you how beautiful their bright purple flowers are. But I was there in January, not June, so I’ve absolutely no idea.

Which of the two water parks had the nicer lake, I couldn’t tell you. Hey, I hadn’t seen Sale’s. But I did get to see Chorlton’s. At a graffiti covered sign, surrounded by brambles, the GM Ringway went on off on the first of its absences from the Mersey. It left the river, did a loop of the lake, concluded near a children’s playground with a giant wooden caterpillar, then rejoined the Mersey again a little way on. It was a pleasant stroll, one being partaken by many dog walkers and families. I could imagine it being brilliant in spring when the daffodils and other flowers are out. Why had I decided to to this section on a gloomy Sunday in January again?

Kenworthy Woods

I say rejoined. It was only a fleeting return for the GM Ringway now decided to cross the river to visit Kenworthy Wood on the other side. It was a pleasant enough patch of woodland, clearly popular with dog walkers, although the noise of the nearby motorway was far from desirable. Especially when I had to join a deserted lane that ran right next to it.

At some point after I walked it, the GM Ringway was re-routed here to be a little less close to the roaring behemoth that is the M60. But no way can an orbital walking route around Greater Manchester ever escape the clutches of the motorway. Greater Manchester has the most extensive motorway network of any county in the country. And the biggest of them all is the Manchester Outer Ring Road, or the M60. Built over 40 years, it runs through eight of the county’s ten boroughs. It was created by combining sections of three existing motorways with some new stretches. It’s 36miles long, and is the UK’s only circular motorway. And before you say it, the M25 isn’t circular. It stops and starts on either side of the Dartford Crossing, which is actually an A-road.


End of Motorway sign passed by the GM Ringway

It thankfully wasn’t too long before the GM Ringway left the motorway. Well, I say left. Got less close to it is more accurate. And once again I was back on the Mersey, this time for a longer walk along muddy riverside paths to Withington.

As the crow flies, the distance wasn’t far. But the crow doesn’t need to follow a meandering river. And the Mersey certainly wasn’t in the mood for going in a straight line. It winded it way round the neighbourhood in a highly meandering loop that at one point saw it flow for about two kilometres only to find itself 200m from where it had started. Had the Mersey been a major river for navigation round these parts, someone surely would have done some major diversion works at one point.

Gerry Marsden didn’t write Ferry Cross the Mersey about this stretch of the river.

Eventually the Ringway seemed to tire of the river once more, taking a path alongside the fields of the curiously named Didsbury Toc H Rugby Club. The curious name obviously has a reason behind it. And a rather convoluted one at that. It can all be traced to a Soldiers Club called Talbot House. Founded in Flanders in the first World War, the name was often abbreviated to TH, and pronounced by the members as TOC H – Toc being the pronunciation of the letter T in the phonetic alphabet until the 1950s. After the war a number of similar operations were opened with the same name, with one opened in Manchester in 1922. Whilst the Manchester house closed in 1983, the rugby club its members set up in 1924 continues to this day.

Just beyond the rugby club, the GM Ringway entered its final section, and perhaps, arguably, the highlight of the day: Fletcher Moss. Part park, with tennis courts and fields, part botanical gardens, Fletcher Moss was named for the man who gave the park to the city, Alderman Fletcher Moss.

Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens, near the end of the second stage of the GM Ringway.

At its core is a walled rock garden first laid out by botanist Robert Wood Williamson, as a garden for his house, The Croft. It was in that building that Williamson’s wife founded the “Plumage League”, one of two groups that merged to become what is now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Williamson sold his house and gardens to Fletcher Moss in 1912, and seven years later Moss gave both to the city and today its a popular destination. With several others I wandered round the walled garden, feeling transported into this oasis of calm on the edge of the city. A stream flowed gently through the rockery. Although clearly the whole site was manmade, it had an endearingly natural feel to it and I mentally added it to my list of “places to properly visit” when I next could. This was a spot where you could easily lose yourself for a few hours and no mistake.

The Croft where one of the two groups that became the RSPB was founded.

At the edge of the park, I entered Didsbury Village, finding myself between two pubs. The second stage ended a short walk down the road at East Didsbury tram stop, but it offered little to the walker than a stretch of legs. I could get the bus home from the bus stop opposite the pubs. Instead I picked a pub at random, ordered a pint and found a seat.

The Didsbury pub was heaving so I perched myself outside and thought about the day. I’d started off at the heart of a city, hand wandered through post-industrial wastelands, seen a major football club, spent a lot of time on a river, and was now apparently in a village. It was quite a contrast. As I supped my pint I wondered what the GM Ringway would offer next, and contemplated ordering a second.

The Didsbury and the Ye Olde Cock Inn. I opted for the Didsbury

Everything was so normal, so peaceful, so wonderful. Good days. What would the GM Ringway offer next, I wondered? I started thinking about when I’d be free to do the next bit. A few weeks time perhaps? Should be doable…

Little did I know that the world was about to change, and that it would take me just a little longer before I’d be able to return to Didsbury.

Next time: more of the Mersey, and a very old hall.

Your Comments