Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

The not so small boy and I love going on bat walks. Our first one was a few years ago, with the nice people from Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall. Since then we’ve been on a bat walk at Platt Fields in Manchester and last week, we booked an early evening bat walk in Heaton Mersey in Stockport with Sustainable Living in the Heatons.

If you’ve never been on a bat walk before, but fancy having going on one, then we really recommend it. They usually take place just as the sun is starting to set, when the bats are coming out to feast on insects while the light fades. Usually you’re given a bat detector to share with a friend or two, and you’re led by a guide who will help you find an active bat spot.

Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

On our bat walk with Sustainable Living in the Heatons, we met Fiona and a group of other keen bat fans near Heaton Mersey Park. We were issued with fluorescent jackets and a bat detector, and we quietly walked to the nearby fishing pond.

The bat detectors have a dial which you tune in to try and hear the bats echolocating. We were told that we were most likely to encounter three different bats on our walk, if we were lucky.

What bats could you find?

The common pipistrelle is a tiny bat, about the size of a thumb. It is one of the most common bat species in the British Isles, so probably the one you’re most likely to meet on a bat walk. The common pipistrelle echolocates at around 45 kHz, so if you turn the dial on your bat detector to there, you should hear them clicking as they fly around you. If you are lucky and the sky is clear, you might even catch a speedy glimpse of them silhouetted against the darkening sky.

Other bats we might catch sight of on our bat walk would be the soprano pipistrelle. This bat is very similar to the common pipistrelle, but it echolocates at a higher frequency – 55 kHz.

The third kind of bat we could encounter is the Daubenton’s bat, which is slightly larger in size than the pipistrelles. The Daubenton’s bat echolocates at frequencies between 32 and 85 kHz; though typically it is mostly commonly found at 45 to 50 kHz.

The bats emerge at twilight to hunt for insects over the water. Their main diets consist mainly of non-biting midges and other midges; as well as small flies, mayflies, and moths. Bat detecting over a pond or river is a great place to find them, as these insects are drawn to the water.

Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

What did we find on our bat walk?

On our bat hunt, we found lots of common pipistrelles flying around over the pond. We stayed there for quite a while listening to them on the bat detector and occasionally spying them darting over the water and into the trees above. After a while, we walked through the trees to the Heaton Mersey Bowl. The Bowl is a large, steep-sided field, and somewhere I remember sledging as a child. Apparently in the early 1800s, cloth from the nearby bleachworks would be pinned out here. Today the Heaton Mersey Bowl has a football pitch in one corner, and footpaths and benches around the edges. It’s a popular spot with the locals and bats alike.

We had some luck finding bats flying about in the trees surrounding the Bowl. The sky was darkening quickly, so they were harder to spot.

We had a lovely couple of hours watching and listening. It was our third bat walk and each time we’ve had a really different experience. We’ve learned new things about these fascinating creatures and we have developed a fairly deep affection for them. For my birthday earlier this month, I was given a bat detector of my own. I’m really looking forward to building it and seeing if I can find a bat population in my back garden.

If you’re interested in taking part in a bat walk, Facebook is a good place to find events listed. Join local wildlife groups or contact your local bat group. It’s a lovely thing to do on a fine evening with the family.

Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

We were invited guests of Wagamama, and we were given a contribution towards our meal in exchange for our visit. All images and opinions are our own.

My son loves Wagamama and it’s somewhere I’ve been taking him since he was old enough to clutch a set of chopsticks in his little hand. He loves the food and would choose to go for a yakisoba at Wagamama over pretty much anything else in the world. Because of this, we are frequent flyers at our local Wagamama in Didsbury. When I was invited to visit the new Wagamama restaurant at Ashton Moss, I was excited to go, not least because it stands almost in the shadow of IKEA, and a trip there meant I could also legitimately fill my boots with tealights on my way home.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

We arrived at early tea-time on a Friday. Ashton Moss is a leisure park dominated by a cinema, but with a good amount of mostly chain restaurants around it. The Wagamama is the latest addition and was already busy and bustling. There’s plenty of free parking outside, though if you’re car free, then there’s a tram stop a few minutes walk away.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

We were shown to our table and given some menus to look over. Being a regular, I already had a pretty solid idea of what I’d like, but as I was visiting, I decided to try something new. But first, drinks! It was a warm day, and as I’d toiled over a hot laptop for the previous 8 hours, I opted for a cherry blossom lemonade – a cherry blossom and cloudy lemon syrup, with sparkling water and a sprinkle of dried rose petals. The prettiest drink on the menu, refreshing too, with a satisfying sherbety finish.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

To start, my companion and I opted to share the Bang Bang Cauliflower and the tempeh ssambap, which was a delicious heap of vegan tempeh with pickled Asian slaw. spicy kimchee sauce, nestled in a baby gem lettuce leaf. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was blown away by the fresh and zingy flavours. It’s definitely something I’ll be ordering again. I’m not sure I’m that much of a fan of putting the calorie counts on menus, but this was 266 calories well eaten. The Bang Bang Cauliflower was well cooked; soft but still with some bite, and coated in a nicely spicy sauce.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

The mains came quickly and I ordered the teriyaki vegan ‘chicken’ ramen. This has been my favourite thing at Wagamama this year. I’m a veggie and I can’t eat mushrooms, which can occasionally make things tricky. The teriyaki vegan ‘chicken’ ramen is a belting dish. It’s a steaming bowl of seasoned soya protein in a spicy teriyaki sauce, thick udon noodles, sweetcorn, bok choi and chilli sambal paste. The sambal is very hot, so I always ask them to go a bit easy with this. The broth is divine and really makes the dish sing, it’s exactly how good ramen should be, it’s comforting and delicious and very much the kind of thing you crave when you’re in need of comfort. It’s so good, it’s turned the head of many a meat-loving dining companion of mine.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

Speaking of companions, mine opted for the tantanmen beef brisket ramen, with Korean barbecue beef, half a tea-stained egg and kimchee. It was a fine looking dish, fragrant in all the right ways. The meat was good quality, the egg just a nudge runny in the middle (otherwise known as perfect) and the kimchee had all the crunch and spicy bite you’d expect. It was another winner.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

The service was friendly and knowledgable. Any questions we had about the food were answered cheerfully. The restaurant was busy, but at no point did we feel neglected as it can sometimes do if you’re somewhere busy.

We were fit to burst, but after a small break, I was ready to order dessert. Pudding is not something I usually think of getting from Wagamama, but I’ve since decided that was a mistake and something I need to rectify in the future. My companion opted for the chocolate and cherry kefir ice cream, a classic combination and one that didn’t disappoint. If I hadn’t have ordered my pudding, then I would probably have given the ice cream a good going over.

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

I’d very much enjoyed my meal thus far, but my pudding was about to change everything, but in a good way. I was intrigued by the smoked chocolate caramel cake, so I had to have it. I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but I was presented with a delicious vision of smoked chocolate mousse, salted caramel, crushed biscuits, chocolate fudge brownie, chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream. It was a serious pudding, and a seriously good pudding at that.

Next time you’re at Wagamama, I implore you to leave enough room for the smoked chocolate caramel cake. In fact, I’m tempted to return just for one, or maybe two of those to myself!

Restaurant Review: Wagamama Ashton Moss

Although Manchester is well served by Wagamama, and I’m spoilt having one just a mile from my front door, it’s lovely to see a new restaurant popping up at Ashton Moss. Ashton is perhaps best known for being the home of Manchester’s only IKEA, but now the tram network has stretched outwards into Ashton, it feels very much accessible, and with the cinema there, it does feel like a destination family night out for those living thereabouts.

When we arrived, Wagamama Ashton Moss was filling up, but the time we left, three courses later, it was packed and with a fast moving queue outside. It’s clearly a popular place for Ashton locals to visit already – and they’ve only been open for one month! If you love Wagamama, then you know what to expect in terms of good food and service, if anything, I hope if you’ve read this far, that you might be tempted to try one of the three sublime courses I had that night. Go on, I dare you to try something new, I know I did and I didn’t regret it.

If you want to find out more about Wagamama Ashton Moss, or check out their menu, it’s all on their website.

16 Farm days out in and around Manchester

One of my favourite kind of day out with my boy is visiting a farm or petting zoo. We’ve been visiting them since he was a toddler and they really are fun for all the family. Going on a day out to a farm is both a fun and learning experience. It doesn’t have to be an expensive trip out either. There are many community farms which are free to visit, or have a minimal admission fee.

Our local farm is Wythenshawe Community Farm and we love visiting. It’s small but has lots of animals to see and learn about. Plus it’s next door to a huge and very fun playground; there’s a nearby café and the farm shop is well worth a visit.

15 Farm days out in and around Manchester

I’ve come up with a list of 15 Farm Days out in and around Manchester for you to explore this summer.

16 Farm days out in and around Manchester

Apple Jacks Adventure Farm, Warrington – More of an adventure playground with a maze than a farm or petting zoo. Lots of fun all the same.

Blaze Farm, Ice Cream Farm, Macclesfield – Famous for their homemade ice cream, Blaze Farm also has nature trails and a tea room on site. It is free to visit.

Canalside Farm, Adlington, Cheshire – A new petting farm in Cheshire. No booking required and only £4 per person to visit.

Cockfields Farm Park, Ashton-under-Lyne – Popular petting zoo with indoor and outdoor play areas, reptile shows and small animal handling sessions.

Heaton Park Animal Centre, Heaton Park, Manchester – The Animal Centre, set in the old stables, is a great free place to take the kids. You can meet many common farmyard animals; including chickens, goats, pigs, guinea pigs, rabbits as well as more exotic species such as alpacas.

15 Farm days out in and around Manchester

Kenyon Hall Farm, Warrington – Kenyon Hall Farm is a farm shop, café, plant centre and pick your own experience near Warrington. It has a summer trail and pumpkin picking in the autumn.

Lancaster Park & Animal Farm, Oldham – Lancaster Park is a family run petting farm near Oldham which has farm animals to pet and feed, along with activities for all the family.

Matlock Farm Park, Derbyshire – Matlock Farm is a family-friendly day out with play areas, go-karting and a petting zoo with Highland cattle, llamas and more.

Mrs Dowsons Farm Park, Blackburn – This is a family-run dairy farm with a children’s play area, talks and activities and homemade ice cream!

Reddish Vale Farm, Stockport – Popular farm with horse riding and animals to meet and pet from cows to alpacas, plus a tearoom on site. Read about our visit here.

Smithills Open Farm, Bolton – The popular farm in Bolton has tractor rides, a pets’ corner where you can meet guinea pigs, chick, rabbits, lambs, deer, goats and many more animals. You can also enjoy ice cream and super-fun play areas.

15 Farm days out in and around Manchester

Tatton Park Farm, Tatton, Cheshire – This 40 acre working farm is set in a corner of the park known as Tatton Dale. The farm is fun for all the family, meet some of the rare breeds; explore the farm and learn about some of the history of farming at Tatton.

The Donkey Sanctuary, Manchester – A seven-acre oasis of calm and peace in Manchester, the donkey sanctuary offers donkey-assisted learning services.

The Garden House, Marple, Stockport – The Garden House is a registered charity and community farm in Marple, Cheshire. They have a variety of animals, including pygmy goats, alpacas, Shetland ponies and pigs. Check out their website to see what’s on throughout the year.

Wythenshawe Community Farm, Wythenshawe – is a community farm based in Wythenshawe Park. The farm is a registered charity, and it is open all days of the week. It has a selection of farm animals including pigs, sheep, goats, cows and horses; and it often has baby animals on site due to its breeding programme. The farm’s walled garden grows fruit and vegetables which are available in the farm shop.

If you enjoyed this, then you might want to read about these 11 dinosaur days out in the North West.

15 Farm days out in and around Manchester

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester – NINJAGO Event

We were invited by LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester to their Ninjago event. All images and opinions are our own.

It’s hard to believe, but Lego Ninjago is 10 years old this year! To celebrate this, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester have launched an amazing themed event which runs from 17th July to 5th September 2021.

Throughout the summer holidays, Ninjago fans can visit and enjoy a whole host of Ninjago themed activities. For my smallest ninja, this was a Lego dream come true. Literally, returning to LDC Manchester was a huge and exciting event for my boy, he’s really missed the place during lockdown.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester - NINJAGO Event

Master Wu and his team of ninja have been searching for their missing Golden Amulet for a very long time. Without it, and the secrets it holds, NINJAGO is in trouble! Visitors to LDC Manchester can help Master Wu and the team, and maybe go home with their own Golden Amulet!

To attend this summer long event, you book your tickets to LDC Manchester as normal and when you are there, you can get involved in all the Ninjago fun. As well as the Ninjago event, there are all the usual rides, activities and things to do. But for Ninjago fans. once you’re through to Miniland, then the fun begins.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester - NINJAGO Event

LDC Manchester – NINJAGO Event

Miniland is where some of the most famous attractions in the North West are depicted in Lego. Using your excellent ninja eyesight, you need to spot all of the gold Ninjago figures (Kai, Cole, Zane, Jay, Lloyd and Master Wu) which are hidden around Miniland, once you’ve done this, you can go on to build a Ninjago mask or write your name in Lego with one of the Master Builders.

Once you’ve done that, you can build a Ninja creation for the Pride of Creation Shelves for a chance to win a rare Golden Amulet! We had a go at building a simple group of Ninja, we didn’t win, but we had fun trying!

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester - NINJAGO Event

As well as lots of chances to build your own creations, there is a Studio Cinema where you can watch a 10 minute long 3D Ninjago film. There’s also a Ninjago training area, where you can test your skills, including reaction times and practicing your ninja poses. Beside this, there is also a soft play area and a climbing wall you can tackle.

There’s a newly launched AR Ninjago experience which you need a phone for. You scan the QR code and follow the instructions. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite get it to work (I think it’s time to upgrade my phone); but it did look pretty cool.

We had a really fun evening at LDC Manchester. We got stuck into all the Ninjago activities, tested our skills, rode the rides, had cold drinks and cupcakes and just generally enjoyed a few hours doing things we’ve not been able to do for a year and a half. The boy absolutely loved being back there and he loved the Ninjago event.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester - NINJAGO Event

If you’ve got a Ninjago fan or two in your family, then this event is going to tick lots of boxes for them. In terms of Covid, there were lots of safeguards in place; you’re asked to wear a mask if you can; sanitise your hands and to maintain social distancing. It felt as safe as it could be.

Celebrate 10 years of LEGO NINJAGO with an exclusive AR digital experience when you visit LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester this summer! The event runs from 17th July – 5th September. Tickets cost from £21.95 (included with all standard entry tickets). For more information, visit the LDC Manchester website.

Pub Crawls: The Didsbury Dozen

It’s become something of a tradition on any birthday ending in a 0 or a 5 for me to do the Didsbury Dozen – a famous, or infamous pub crawl involving 12 pints in 12 Didsbury pubs!

I’ve done the Didsbury Dozen a couple of times before – firstly on my 30th birthday, and then ten years later when I turned 40. This year my birthday ends in a 5, so it’s time to put my drinking boots on again and prove I’ve still got what it takes (which I have, I totally have).

If the weather is nice there will be some excellent beer gardening opportunities and I’m hoping some of my oldest, newest, bestest and nicest friends will join me along the way. I’m hoping it’ll be a good day to remember and a nice way to celebrate my birthday.

Pub Crawls: The Didsbury Dozen

To make the most of the Didsbury Dozen, it’s really important to be disciplined with yourself and your pub crawl team mates. It’s easy to find a sunny spot in a beer garden and not want to leave, or to spend too much time in one place. Someone needs to marshal the troops, check no one is cheating and that you’ve visited 12 establishments before last orders.

My tip is to start early, get three or four pubs or bars under your belt fairly quickly, and then have a slow hour in a pub with a good beer garden. Then crank up the pace again, remembering to stop for a hearty bite to eat to soak up some of the booze and then power through to the end.

Of course Didsbury has lost some good pubs over the last few years, so each time I do the dozen I need to plot a new course. Each time I need to cross off an old favourite and add a new bar or two. It’s not the end of the world, just a sign of changing times.

This year the course I’ve plotted looks like this…

  1. The Woodstock
  2. The Railway
  3. The Metropolitan
  4. Slug & Lettuce
  5. The Station
  6. The Dockyard
  7. The Dog & Partridge
  8. The Nelson
  9. The Fletcher Moss
  10. The Royal Oak
  11. Ye Olde Cock
  12. The Didsbury

*With the option to swap one of these out for food and a beer at Expo Lounge.

Ten years ago Didsbury was quite a different looking place, pubs and bars have come and gone, some remain and will always be here, I hope.

This was the order I did the Didsbury Dozen in 2006…

  1. The Didsbury
  2. Ye Olde Cock
  3. The Famous Crown
  4. The Royal Oak
  5. The Fletcher Moss
  6. The Pitcher & Piano
  7. The Dog & Partridge
  8. O’Neills
  9. Saints & Scholars
  10. Cafe Rouge
  11. Hog’s Head
  12. Slug & Lettuce

And this is the Didsbury Dozen I did in 2016 –

  1. The Railway
  2. The Metropolitan
  3. The Greenfinch
  4. Slug & Lettuce
  5. The Station
  6. The Stokers Arms
  7. The Dog & Partridge
  8. The Milson Rhodes
  9. The Fletcher Moss
  10. The Royal Oak
  11. The Famous Crown
  12. Bourbon & Black

If you fancy having a go at the Didsbury Dozen, I wish you well with your challenge. The most important thing is to have fun, and a very good breakfast before you start.

Didsbury Dozen
This post was originally published in September 2016, but really needed updating, so I did.

Purezza Manchester – Vegan pizza in the NQ

We were invited guests of Purezza Manchester. All opinions and images are our own.

Over the weekend, the boy and I went to the soft opening of Purezza Manchester; a new vegan pizza restaurant on the corner of High Street and Thomas Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The boy was excited because it was pizza and I was excited because I’m lactose intolerant and I normally can’t eat pizza without a generous side of lactase pills.

Purezza Manchester - Vegan pizza in the NQ

This new restaurant is part of a small chain of vegan pizza joints up and down the country. Purezza suits its spot in the NQ; it’s smart but quirky, with a set of swings and a cow seat available downstairs for Instagram posing.

On its soft opening Saturday night, the restaurant was buzzing, and there was a small smattering of families, as well as groups of friends and couples on dates. Something for everyone! For those with under 10’s in tow, there is a kids (under 10) menu where they can eat for free. Again this is all vegan and my boy (a confirmed carnivore) opted for the vegan pepperoni. The kids’ drinks were a choice of lemonade or cola, he opted for cola. I’d have welcomed some juice options on there, but that’s just a niggle.

Purezza Manchester - Vegan pizza in the NQ

I chose The One and Only, Parmigiana Party – a generously topped pizza with a red tomato base with smoked mozzarella, aubergine parmigiana, crumbled sausages, topped with a dusting of nutritional yeast. On the side I had a rocket and sundried tomato salad and we shared a portion of giant cheese filled doughballs. The doughballs were the best I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something!

Purezza Manchester - Vegan pizza in the NQ

The pizzas come with a choice of bases; wholemeal, hemp or gluten free. We went for the wholemeal and it was a good choice. Not a single bite of our pizzas felt like we were taking the healthy high road. It was just very good pizza made vegan. Even the boy gobbled down his vegan pepperoni and said he’d have it again; always a good sign from my slightly particular son.

Purezza has an interesting drinks menu. It’s been a while since I went out and showed myself a good time, so I treated myself to a Ginger Amaretto Sour; a lively mix of amaretto, ginger juice, lemon and agave. It was so good I had to have a second one just to be sure.

For pudding we just had to share the chocolate pizza. This is definitely a sharing dish and one only the brave or the very hungry could tackle alone. It’s essentially a huge puddle of melted chocolate on a pizza base, topped with some vegan ice cream. It was excellent, if a bit much on top of our slightly greedy main courses.

Purezza Manchester - Vegan pizza in the NQ

Would we go again? Yes, it’s a treat and a half for me to eat good pizza and not fret about taking my lactase pills. It’s also very good pizza. With the kids eat free option, my bill came to just £34; which for dinner, cocktails and a giant chocolate pudding (plus pizza leftovers to take home), made for a very reasonable night out.

Purezza Manchester can be found at 75-77 High St, Manchester M4 1FS for more information or to book, visit their website.

Pubs, Bars and Restaurants open in Didsbury – April 2021

Whilst some people will be cautious about returning to the pub for a pint or two, many more are keen to get back to the bar. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of which pubs and bars are open in Didsbury (East, West and the Village) and if you need to book in advance.

My favourite pub, The Fletcher Moss closed for lockdown at the end of October 2020 and finally reopened on Monday 12th April 2021. The Fletcher isn’t alone in having a prolonged lockdown, and some pubs and bars (notably The Stokers Arms) haven’t managed to survive the ups and the many downs the Covid 19 pandemic has unleashed upon them.

Pubs, Bars and Restaurants open in Didsbury - April 2021

Things change all the time, so if I’ve missed someone out who is open in Didsbury, or if the walk in or booking requirements change, please do let me know!

Pubs & bars open in Didsbury…

Cove on Burton Road – Book or walk in

Folk Cafe Bar – Reopening 26th April, booking advised

Head of Steam – Opening 16th April at 4pm

Saison – West Didsbury – Walk in

Slug & Lettuce – Not opening until May

The Cheshire Line Tavern – You’ll need to book

The Didsbury – Need to book

The Dog & Partridge – Closed, no outside seating

The Drawing Room – Walk in

The Famous Crown – Still closed

The Fletcher Moss – Walk in, no need to book

The Gateway – Walk in

The George Charles – Walk in

The Metropolitan – Bookings only for now

The Nelson – Closed, no outside seating

The Parrs Wood – Walk in

The Railway – Closed, no outside seating

The Red Lion (Withington) – Walk in until 17th May 2021

The Royal Oak – Still closed

The Station – Still closed

The Woodstock – You’ll need to book

Wine and Wallop – Walk in, book if you can

Ye Olde Cock – You’ll need to book

Pubs, Bars and Restaurants open in Didsbury - April 2021

Cafes & Restaurants open in Didsbury…

Alberts – You’ll need to book

Alpine Tea Room, Fletcher Moss – Walk in

Azzuro Didsbury – Open Thu/Fri/Sat for takeaways (delivery sometimes available) check website

Caramello – Take away only for now

Croma – Open, bookings only

Dhoom Dhaam – You can walk in

Didsbury Park Café – Walk in

Expo Lounge – Open, no need to book

Fog Lane Café – Walk in

Great British Pizza – Book in advance

Greens – Book in advance

Hispi – Book in advance

Home Community Café – Walk in

Jajoo Indian Street Food and Craft Beer – You’ll need to book

Mary & Archie – Currently being renovated, hope to open 23rd April

Nagoya Sushi & Noodle Bar – Bookings welcome

Piccolino – You’ll need to book

Proove Pizza – You’ll need to book

Rustik Café Bar – Walk in only, tables will be subject to a time limit

The Art of Tea – Open, no need to book

The Botanist – Open from 17th May, booking advised

The Deli (rebranded as Seven 54 Cafe Bar) – Still closed but due to open soon

The Lime Tree – Opening 23rd April, booking advised

Thyme Out Food Co – Walk in only

Volta – You’ll need to book

Zumu Sushi – Walk in or book ahead

PS. It goes without saying that if you make a booking and you can no longer make it, please contact the bar or restaurant and cancel. Times are hard and no shows will cost them money. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read about the Didsbury Dozen.

Taking a Zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

I was invited on a zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in exchange for a review. All images and opinions are my own.

In just 12 short months, Covid-19 has changed the way we live in so many ways. Previously I’d been entirely unable to work from home, I was fairly allergic to Zoom calls and wearing a mask was only something bank robbers ever considered.

Whilst it has been the most horrific year in living memory, the rise in the popularity of Zoom has meant that we’ve been able to explore places and do things we may never have thought of doing before.

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, Manchester

One evening last week I took a virtual tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, and because we could Zoom in from anywhere, I was joined by people from far-flung places like New Mexico and Missouri in the USA, Australia, the Netherlands; as well as Sheffield, Sale and Stockport.

Elizabeth Gaskell was one of the UK’s most important Victorian authors. She wrote a number of novels including Mary Barton, North and South, Cranford and Ruth. In 1850, she and her husband William and surviving children moved to this beautiful villa on Plymouth Grove in Manchester. In this house she continued to write and play host to some of the most famous literary names in the Victorian age.

Taking a Zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

After Elizabeth died in 1865, the house on Plymouth Grove remained in the Gaskell family until 1913. It then stood empty for many years and fell into disrepair. The University of Manchester bought it in 1969 for use by international students; and in 2004 it was acquired by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust for the princely sum of £1. They then raised the money needed to restore it. Exterior renovations were completed in 2011 and the house is now open to the public. Except there’s a pandemic on, so its doors are closed for now.

Thankfully the good people who run Elizabeth Gaskell’s House have taken things online and they’ve fully embraced the Zoom meeting. Over the last few months they’ve put on a busy programme of online events, ranging from book groups and readings; to recitals and online talks. I joined them last week to take a virtual tour of the house.

Taking a Zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The tour was run by two incredibly knowledgeable volunteers; Diane Duffy, a researcher and tour guide, and volunteer, Anne. It was very well done. We all Zoomed in at 7pm and we were welcomed by Anne who asked us all to mute ourselves and turn out cameras off before we began. We were urged to use the chat function to ask any questions and there were lots of opportunities to do so.

Using a PowerPoint and a range of photos, Diane took us on an hour long tour of the ground floor of this Grade II listed house. We explored the Morning Room, William’s study, the Drawing Room and the Dining Room which was also where Elizabeth used to write her novels and letters. Diane told us all about the house and the family; with lots of anecdotes and little details about them all. I felt almost as I knew them by the end of the tour.

Taking a Zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Whilst the house is closed to the public, they are taking to opportunity to restore Elizabeth’s bedroom. We had a quick glimpse of this, but it’s made me keen to visit in person when I can to see it in all its glory.

The online tour was a fantastic way to visit the house; especially if you don’t live in Manchester or plan to visit soon. It cost just £10 which is excellent value; the amount of information and detail we were given has made me want to delve deeper into her life and read more of her books.

The online tours are a great way to support this historic house. We are living through trying times and their income from visitors has been very much reduced. The £10 gets you an hour long tour with a very knowledgable tour guide and  10% off purchases in the online shop.

Taking a Zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

I’ve visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House before for a craft afternoon, which was fantastic. I’d been meaning to come back and take the tour again. This has whetted my appetite to return and take the tour in person. I fully recommend these online tours, they’re a fabulous thing to do on a rainy lockdown evening.

For more information about Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and their online tours and events, visit their website.

*apologies for the not great photos which were taken of my laptop screen. The house is stunning in real life and not at all blurry.

Review: RNCM Young Explorers – Pictures at an Exhibition

On Sunday, the boy and I had a pair of tickets to go and see Young Explorers – Pictures at an Exhibition at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester. Storm Ciara was doing her worst, but we braved the tempests and we were very glad we did.

RNCM Young Explorers is a series of concerts designed to introduce young people to music. They’re generally relaxed performances and no one minds if babies cry or children giggle. It’s a great, unstuffy way to get the kids into classical music. We’ve been to similar things before and my boy has always enjoyed them, so I had a feeling he would like this too.

Review: RNCM Young Explorers - Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition is a piece of music by Russian 19th Century composer, Modest Mussorgsky. He wrote it in honour of his friend, the artist Vikto Hartman. The music is written so you can imagine you are walking around an art gallery, looking at all of the beautiful painting in it. 

Pictures at an Exhibition was a little bit extra special because not only did it feature the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, but artist and author James Mayhew was painting scenes from the music live on stage.

We arrived early, had our RNCM Young Explorers Passport stamped (you get a free family ticket when you have 6 stamps) and took our seats. We had a great view of the stage and the easel where James would be painting. There was also a big screen which had the painting projected onto it, so you could watch every brushstroke in huge detail.

Conductor, Tom Newall introduced the orchestra and got a few children in the audience on stage to help him conduct. It set the tone for the afternoon very nicely; friendly, hands on, lots of fun and with a few giggles. Tom introduced the orchestra and then welcomed James on stage.

Review: RNCM Young Explorers - Pictures at an Exhibition

The performance began and James deftly threw some paint on a board and created the most incredible, beautiful paintings. Half way through the first painting, my 9 year old son turned to me and whispered “this is really incredible”. I knew then when we got home I’d be needing to get the paints out for him.

The music was beautiful and provided the perfect backdrop to the painting. The whole audience was entranced by James and during the hour long performance he produced 10 beautiful paintings. It was over all too soon; but in keeping with the hands-on vibe of the day, the orchestra invited the audience to come and have a closer look at the instruments and learn a bit more.

James was thronged with people, we had brought along one of his books to sign so we hung back a little. James very kindly gave us one of his practice paintings and chatted with my boy a bit. He was thrilled and that night went to bed clutching his signed book.

The RNCM Young Explorers series is aimed at children aged 3+. but younger ones are welcome too. My 9 year old was transfixed by the whole thing and I would absolutely take him back to another performance. I think it’s fed his imagination and sparked a few creative thoughts in his (currently Minecraft obsessed) head. I loved it and will be keeping my eyes peeled for similar performances in the future.

Tickets cost from £6 and you can find details of future concerts here.

11 places for Outdoor Adventure in Manchester

Now that spring has sprung, the fine weather is making us want to go outside and be in the great outdoors a little more. We don’t mind getting a little adventurous either, so I’ve put together a list of some of the most exciting places for outdoor adventure in Manchester.

10 places for Outdoor Adventure in Manchester

11 places for Outdoor Adventure in Manchester

Debdale Outdoor Centre, Gorton is a huge outdoor activity centre run by Manchester City Council. It has an exciting range of activities to try, and something for almost everyone. There’s everything from dinghy sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking; power-boating, rock climbing, abseiling, hill walking, gorge scrambling and orienteering.

Venture Out are based in the grounds of Burnage Rugby Club, on the banks of the Mersey in Heaton Mersey, this adventurous holiday club really makes the most if its location. With activities each week that are a mixture of team building, nature handicrafts, outdoor sports, bushcraft, forest school, nature games, canoe trips, there are lots to do for adventurous kids to get stuck into.

Adventure Now is based in Worsley Woods, not far from the Trafford Centre. They offer a range of different outdoor adventure sessions. From axe throwing to archery; quad biking to air rifle shooting; throwing angels, crossbows and bushcraft; there’s something for every adventurous type! Read about our archery adventure here!

Carrington Riding Centre is based just a few miles south west of Manchester in the Mersey valley green belt. Their facilities include one indoor school and four, all-weather, rubber surfaced outdoor floodlit menages with viewing facilities and fully stocked café. During school holidays they offer a range of activities for both children and adults 

Go Ape! Rivington near Bolton is just the place to explore the forest canopy on an exciting treetop rope course. There’s also a thrilling 200 metre long zip wire over the edge of the Rivington reservoir.

Helly Hansen Watersports Centre in Salford Quays is the ultimate urban watersports venue. Choose from a wide range of activities and courses including; sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, climbing, raft-building, bell-boating, wake-boarding, Open Water Swimming, power-boating. It’s a cracking venue and great for all the family!

Treasure Trails – for outdoor adventures as a more sedate pace, Treasure Trails maps are available to download. There are all kinds of trails and a large number around Manchester. It’s a great way to find hidden gems wherever you are.

10 places for Outdoor Adventure in Manchester

Treetop Trek is in Heaton Park, Manchester and is an aerial adventure completely encased in nets. Visitors aged 3+ can bounce, run, jump and slide in complete safety without the need for a harness. You can read a review here.

We Are Adventurers! Chorlton is a forest school where you can go for holiday clubs or parties. We’ve been several times for parties and woodland adventures. It’s brilliant fun and we all absolutely loved it. You can read our write up here.

Trafford Watersports Centre in Sale Water Park, offers water sports taster sessions where you can try kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing or sailing. Book for lessons or hire kayaks, canoes and katakanus. If you don’t fancy getting wet, there are lovely walks around Sale Water park to be had, as well as fishing, bird watching or other activities.

Geocaching is where a container holding a number of items is hidden at a particular location for GPS users to find. Coordinates are posted on the Internet and geocachers have to seek out the item. It’s great fun and great for all the family. If you want to get involved, google Geocaching in your area.

Those are eleven great places to go outdoors in Greater Manchester, lots of different things to do for people of all abilities and fitness levels. What are you waiting for? Go forth and adventure!

If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out these 20 family walks in Manchester.

11 places for Outdoor Adventure in Manchester