I went to Manchester’s favourite park and this is why we need to cherish our green spaces

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Here’s what we learned after a lovely afternoon at Heaton Park.

Heaton Park is one of Greater Manchester’s greatest assets. The 600-acre park – that includes an 18th century hall, a boating lake, a golf course and more – proudly owns the title of largest municipal park in Europe. And as Manchester and the surrounding areas expand and modernise, the need and demand for green spaces like this is only going to grow. 

In 2022, Manchester opened its first park in 100 years, Mayfield Park, which was heralded as a milestone event and promising example for Manchester developers to follow. Elsewhere in the city centre, the National Trust turned a disused railway bridge into an urban sky garden and there are plans in the works for another city centre new park, Ancoats Green.

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We spent the afternoon exploring all the nooks and crannies of this impressive park to see what Manchester’s new parks can learn from one of its oldest and greatest. 

View from Heaton Hall, overlooking the park. The Manchester skyline is visible on the left-hand side.View from Heaton Hall, overlooking the park. The Manchester skyline is visible on the left-hand side.
View from Heaton Hall, overlooking the park. The Manchester skyline is visible on the left-hand side.

Accessibility

One of the best things about any park is that they are free, and that is definitely the case for Heaton Park. There are some costs to consider if you’re planning a day out, such as transport and getting there. A three-hour stay in the car park cost us £2.50, but there is also a Heaton Park Metrolink stop and buses from the city centre. The only additional costs for us were some ice creams by the boating lake, which cost around £5 for two. 

Heaton Park is also a great free day out for families as there are several things to do there that are free. Once inside, there are multiple playgrounds and it may have been a few decades since I last used one, but these do seem quite impressive. The towering slides alone would make some adults queasy and had it been empty of children, I would have been tempted to have a go myself.

Heaton HallHeaton Hall
Heaton Hall

We also paid a visit to the animal centre, which is also free to enter. There were beautiful roaming peacocks patrolling the walls, an angry-looking turkey, a pair of goats named Bart and Lisa, an alpaca and a very noisy goose. 

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Getting around is also easy enough. It is quite a hilly park, with some steep areas, but all the paths are wide, well maintained and suitable for wheelchair users. There are also disabled parking spots and toilets at various points around the park. 

Heritage

Heaton Park is brimming with history. The hall at the centre of the park was completed in the late 18th century, but it was an estate much longer than that, and finally opened to the public in 1902. For local history nerds like me, there are a few things you need to check out, including the colonnades from the original King Street Town Hall – not the one that is currently concealed under scaffolding.

We also went to the Temple, which apart from making me feel like an extra in Pride and Prejudice, is a great place to admire the Manchester skyline on one side and Rochdale and Oldham on the other. Sadly, the tram museum was temporarily closed as well, much to the disappointment of my tram-obsessed partner. 

The colonnade of the old Manchester Town Hall was moved to Heaton Park in 1912. The colonnade of the old Manchester Town Hall was moved to Heaton Park in 1912.
The colonnade of the old Manchester Town Hall was moved to Heaton Park in 1912.

While new parks in Mayfield and Ancoats won’t have this much history behind them, the land they are built on does and so far it’s great to see some of the newer parks in Manchester city paying respect to the area’s heritage. Castlefield Viaduct is a great example of this as it utilises the now defunct industrial infrastructure that helped build this city. St Michael’s at Angel Meadows is another, good, if not slightly bleak, example. This park on the site of the former Victorian slums has used the weathered grave stones from the church that stood there to line the paths. There is also lots of information on display for anyone who wants to find out more about the area’s dark history. 

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Community

Finally, and most importantly, Heaton Park is a safe and inclusive place for people of all walks of life, which has been enjoyed by generations. When we visited on a quiet Thursday, there were groups of runners, walking groups, families, couples and dog walkers all out enjoying the warm May afternoon. 

During our visit, we made friends with an elderly man who offered to take our picture in front of the lion statues at Heaton Hall – he knew all the best angles to get the perfect picture. A little while later, we spotted him playing with a lively husky dog and overheard the owner say to her friend afterwards that the encounter had “made her day.” We saw him again by the boating lake chatting to a man while his dog paddled in the water, reminiscing about how much he used to enjoy swimming.

This is just one anecdote that illustrates what green spaces like this can mean to a community. They are places where we can go to appreciate nature, exercise, learn about history, but above all, they bring people together. So as the Manchester skyline continues to grow, I hope we don’t underestimate the power and potential of our thriving parks.

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