On The Road With Ewing School: Midweek Minibus Trips

A look at the weekly environmental excursions that were part and parcel of life at Ewing School in the 1980s

With the start of a fresh school year and an online reunion with a former fellow pupil, I too have ‘returned to school’ with this post.

At this time of writing, I would have begun my final year at Ewing School exactly 30 years ago. During my last year, I was in the Middle Group. A few more pupils moved up from the First Group to the Middle Group. This time, both Matthews (Hough from New Springs near Wigan, and Wood from Ladybridge near Bolton) joined the class. Also Victoria Allday and Tom Gaylor. Starting their first day at Ewing School in the Middle Group were Philip Bogart and Eleanor Mansfield.

Whether you were a Reception, First, Middle, or Upper Group pupil, Ewing School’s environmental trips were a key part of the timetable. Ultimately they gave pupils a greater awareness of their surroundings. Also in learning the social cues that are vital to daily living. Whereas the First Group trips focused on sensory experiences and exercise, the Middle Group trips tied in with that week’s subject area. A trip to Pennington Flash would complement a project on the mining industry. A ‘reward’ for walking around Roman Lakes would have been half an hour on the swings off Oldknow Road.

In most cases, each environmental trip meant the school’s red minibus. Pupils would also be given a chance to ride in the teacher’s car, as the minibus only had room for fourteen passengers. Sometimes we would all catch a 143 to Manchester city centre or the 44 to Wythenshawe. When I started in 1987, we went out on Thursdays in the First Group. This was changed to Fridays in September 1988. In the Middle Group, we went out on Wednesdays.

After more than three years at Ewing School, there were several things that I got out of the trips. Firstly, I begun to appreciate my natural surroundings and enjoy walking. Though this gentleman likes the hustle and bustle of urban settings, Ewing School owes a debt to my love of the Scottish Highland scenery and photographic work. Secondly, my interest in central Manchester wouldn’t be quite as intense if my experience of the city was limited to catching the odd 220 bus there and back. Thirdly, and also due to my journeys to and from West Didsbury, I gained greater interest in architecture and the other bits in between like street furniture.

As the title suggests, this blog post will give you a flavour of the weekly outings that yours truly, and a few others from Ewing School, enjoyed during the late 1980s. So, before you read on, don’t forget to pick up your wellies in the metal crate beside the Home Corner, and make your way to the minibus. Unless you are travelling in Marjorie’s or Brenda’s car.

Local Outings

Many of the trips were less than an hour’s drive from West Didsbury and planned so that everyone could be back for 3.30pm or earlier. Ewing School was in an ideal position for exploring Cheshire and the whole of Greater Manchester thanks to the motorways.

Hatchett’s Wood

There is little to Hatchett’s Wood, other than the fact it is a small pocket of woodland in Wythenshawe. This was the first Ewing School trip I remember going on at the close of January 1987. What was more memorable, at least for me, was that we came back to Ewing School on a Bee Line Buzz Company minibus – only days after they began operations. Today, Virgin Media’s customer service centre is next to the woods, as is Robinswood Road Metrolink stop.

The Manchester Museum

Any Greater Mancunian child cannot claim to have lived a full life before visiting The Manchester Museum in Chorlton-on-Medlock. Slap bang in the centre of the University of Manchester campus, it is noted for its dinosaur display and Egyptology collections. My first visit with Ewing School in February 1987 came around when the discovery of Lindow Man made the Manchester Evening News.

I was awestruck its collection. Needless to say, there were further visits to the museum with Ewing School as well as under my own steam.

Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

With Ewing School, the oldest railway station in the world along with the Power Hall and its other galleries was a fairly regular trip. During our many visits, these included the Electricity Gallery (which I think still has that CEGB video narrated by Robert Powell), the Air and Space Museum and the Manchester Underground Museum.

During one visit, we ate our sandwiches in a former train carriage. As it had a long-disused micro buffet section, it was a former centre carriage of a BR Class 120 Swindon DMU. The carriage used to be hired out to schools and it was next to Chuffers (another old carriage, though open as a café at the time).

The last museum was the subject of a First Group trip on the 16 June 1988. It had only been open for a few weeks prior to then. The one thing which got up our noses (literally) was the simulated sewer complete with smell effects. As the Middle Group had first dibs on the minibus due to their holiday, GM Buses chauffeured us to Piccadilly Gardens and back.

Lyme Park

Another regular haunt was Lyme Park, mainly for the gardens and country walks along part of the Millstone Grit trail. The real icing on the cake besides the hall (which I had visited in a non-Ewing excursion) was the play area. It was better than anything I was used to in the Tameside area.

Chadkirk Farm Trail

If you ever visit Marple and Romiley, the Chadkirk Farm Trail is a wonderful way of exploring the two places. It also takes in the Peak Forest Canal, the Marple Aqueduct and Chadkirk Chapel. There was also a fringe benefit with the café in Wyevale Garden Centre being part of the route. In October 1989, the trail was used as part of a six-mile sponsored walk for the Middle Group.

Brabyns Park

I remember my first Ewing School trip to Brabyns Park. With a promising weather forecast I wore shorts, and that turned out to be a bad mistake. The weather was overcast and things were going well till I tripped up. On getting back to the minibus, yours truly had a face like a slapped behind. By Compstall, I sulked to a point that one of the teachers (Brenda) lost her patience. Yours truly nearly had to wear The Baby Reins of Doom till getting back on the bus. Then again, as I didn’t have 12p for a 389 back to the Listons, back in the red minibus it was.

Etherow Country Park

Once the scene of a S.V. Sulk in April 1987 (see above), there were more fruitful visits to the Etherow Country Park. Out of those subsequent visits, the café facing the former mill pond was a favourite spot. Most memorably in July 1990, on the way back from Crowden camp site with a few other soon-to-be-leaving Middle Group peers.

Roman Lakes

Another First Group favourite was Roman Lakes. Our walk around the rural setting near Marple shadowed part of the Chadkirk Farm Trail. Each walk was planned to finish at the play park off Oldknow Road prior to returning to our minibus.

Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens

Thanks to Ewing School, Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens remains one of my favourite haunts. What is all the more magical is that the gardens are easy to get to on public transport thanks to its position on the Wilmslow Road corridor. In my first visit with the First Group, I fell in love with the alpine gardens and the walk along Stenner Lane to the River Mersey footbridge. We also called in the art gallery.

Heaton Park

Partly due to the M66 not being completed in 1989, there weren’t many trips in and around North Manchester. That year, a trip to Heaton Park was one exception to the rule. We explored the park’s rural pockets, facing the Backbone repeater beacon and its reservoir. We also called at the Pets’ Corner before taking a breather outside the hall. On the way back, we had just made it back to West Didsbury for 3.30pm. With the taxi driver waiting, I wasn’t too impressed.

Dunham Massey

Still one of my favourite National Trust properties anywhere in the cosmos. That it happens to be on Warrington’s Own Buses’ CAT5 route from Altrincham is a real bonus. My first Ewing School visit there was July 1987, and I loved the solitude of its deer park. In later trips with Ewing School, we visited the café.

Hollingworth Lake

My first trip to Hollingworth Lake with Ewing School was in April 1987. We also took a boat to the other side of the lake. What was also memorable was the warm weather. For a Thursday in April it felt like July.

Manchester Jewish Museum

As part of the First Group’s exploration of Judaism, the former synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road, Strangeways was a fascinating trip. As well as looking at Manchester’s Jewish communities, there were plenty of features left from the building’s previous use. This followed on from a previous trip to the Manchester Reform Synagogue on Jackson Row, a fantastic example of post-1945 architecture.

Healey Dell Nature Reserve

Though the weather was awful, the 28 June 1989 marked my first trip with the Middle Group. This time, a fairly rare northern jolly to Healey Dell Country Park. What was most interesting were the waterfalls and the disused viaduct which formed part of the Bacup branch line.

Lancashire Mining Museum

The Lancashire Mining Museum in Buile Hill Park is a museum I would love to see reopened. On the 20 June 1990, a Middle Group trip to the museum gave me some interest in the mining industry. Thereafter, I wanted to know more about the industry, particularly in terms of labour history. At the time I had vague memories of seeing the Battle of Orgreave on BBC and ITV.

Following on from that trip we went to Pennington Flash and Bickershaw the following week. Our main interest was its geology, the shale and lunar landscapes that came with coal extraction.

New Mills

On a First Group jolly to New Mills in 1988, we took a train for part of our journey. The minibus (and Marjorie’s blue Austin Maestro) were parked at Stockport railway station. Thereafter, we boarded our train to New Mills Newtown station and made our way towards the Sett Valley Trail. The first thing which hit us was the whiff of Swizzels Matlow’s works.

On the way back from our walk on part of the Sett Valley Trail, we had a brew. I insisted that I wanted coffee, but Marjorie recommended the tea. She was right; the tea was in tip-top condition. Nice and strong with a neat balance of tea and milk.

For the rail enthusiasts, one of Longsight Depot’s Class 108 DMUs ferried us to and from Newtown.

Granada Studios Tour

Whereas most trips with the Middle Group took place on Wednesdays, there was one exception to the rule with this one. This was a Monday trip on the 05 March 1990. The reason for this Brucie Bonus? Granada Studios Tour only opened its doors to the public from Wednesday to Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays were allocated for private parties.

The Middle Group went as part of a special free event. We got the bus from Palatine Road up to Piccadilly Gardens then walked to Quay Street and Water Street. Our butties were eaten in the 1st and Ten Diner as part of the tour’s New York style street scene. It was also the first place where I heard Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U.

As for the tour, we didn’t get chance to do the House of Commons set. We did the full guided tour, visited the Coronation Street museum (which in 1990 had been The Graffiti Club), and got stopped by Checkpoint Charlie on a restored tram in Baker Street.

Other honourable mentions

  • Chorlton Water Park: usually up to the Jacksons Boat footbridge. On one occasion we went to the pavilion of Manchester Polytechnic Football Club for a brew/chat before getting the minibus back to Ewing School. This is now the home of West Didsbury and Chorlton FC.
  • Sale Water Park: not quite as often as Chorlton Water Park, just a little further along the River Mersey and created by the construction of the M63 motorway.
  • Wythenshawe Park: fantastic Tudor hall, brilliant playground with a long slide ‘back-in-the-day’ to use today’s vernacular.
  • Fog Lane Park: on some occasions, a useful the-minibus-is-engaged-at-least-we-could-walk-there outing. The quickest way from Central Road is through a footpath off Danesmoor Road which leads to Mayville Drive. Then Wilmslow Road and Westholme Road (or Old Broadway).
  • Platt Fields Park: on one occasion for the Gallery of Costume. Also for its play park which had a view of Manchester City’s Platt Lane training ground.
  • Longford Park, Stretford: during the last week of June, Longford Park played host to a travelling fair. During 1987’s trip with the First Group, it bounced down (no fun fair rides alas). On the 23 June 1988, gorgeous sunny weather (and a great time at the fair).

Not-So Local Outings

Rostherne

Within the space of a year, yours truly went on two trips to the Cheshire village with Ewing School. Both of which in 1989, once with the First Group and once with the Middle Group. The first trip, more than anything, was a most infamous one.

On the 17 March 1989, the First Group began their walk through Rostherne village. We took a path through a field and all was going well until we climbed over a stile. Within inches away from the stile was a huge muddy patch. The whole of the First Group – Marjorie, Ada, Paula, and Brenda as well as the pupils – were stuck in the mud and some of us fell over. Our clothes were dirty and mud went over our wellington boots.

Ten minutes later, despite looking like the Withington Bog Snorkelling Club, we managed to get to Rostherne Lane and the church before getting back to the minibus. Shortly after returning to Ewing School, we made use of the showers beside the dining room. Our clothes were washed in the laundry that backed onto the kitchen.

Tatton Park

One of the most popular not-so-local outings was Tatton Park. On one occasion in 1988 we got to visit the hall, which made for a most interesting trip. Especially the miners’ style railway in the basement. Other highlights included the Japanese Garden.

Castleton

I have been to Castleton with both the First Group and the Middle Group. On two out of three occasions, our biggest nemesis was the sheep poo along the zig-zag path to Peveril Castle. On both occasions the path was a bit slippy. Yours truly almost slipped on the woolly ones’ detritus on the way back in 1987 (but trod in it).

Apart from the castle, the 1987 trip included a walk through Peak Cavern. This, and a previous trip to Poole’s Cavern in Buxton, inspired a temporary conversion of the Wendy House (well, the Home Corner as we called it) into a cave. With a battery torch and a tissue paper fire.

Tegg’s Nose Country Park

For some odd reason, your truly always came down with the sniffles after visiting this corner of Macclesfield. Situated around former quarry workings, it is in a part of Cheshire that is close to the White Peak of the Peak National Park. The run was scenic, taking in farmland and reservoirs with some steep climbs. One thing I do remember on my first visit in September 1987 was how cold and misty it was.

Other honourable mentions

  • Beeston Castle: those Grammar UKIPers would say ‘Beeston Castles’ as there are two castles in that part of Cheshire. With a mix of hilly terrain and history, this made for a fascinating First Group walk in 1989.
  • Delamere Forest: trees, trees, everywhere. Twice with the First Group.
  • Whitegate Way: an enchanting walk along a former railway line on the outskirts of Winsford.
  • Arley: never got to doing the hall which doubled as Arlington Grange in Richard Madeley’s Cluedo quiz show. A lovely hamlet, visited with both First and Middle groups.
  • Cheshire Workshops: near-Christmas outings with Ewing School either meant seeing Father Christmas at Kendal Milne’s department store or a trip to Burwardsley for the Cheshire Workshops. Two visits were made, for the sole purpose of making candles or buying Christmas presents. If you like your candles, it is still going strong with prices starting from £3.50 per candle.

The World of Work

Some of the Ewing School’s weekly outings took in urban settings. In some cases, seeing people at work.

Hyde Road Bus Depot

Long before East of the M60 troubled cyberspace with its writings on bus routes, January 1988 saw the First Group being whisked away to sunny Ardwick. This time for a guided tour around GM Buses’ Hyde Road depot. Instead of our usual red minibus, an Iveco LittleGem minibus (with its indicator set to 007) whisked us to Hyde Road depot.

Our guided tour included looking at the driver’s cab of a GMT Standard double decker bus. We also went through a bus wash and negotiated an artificial hill outside their then state-of-the-art training centre off Bennett Street.

On the way back, we came away with some souvenirs and returned to Ewing School on a Dennis Domino midibus. Back in January 1988, the sight of a Centreline bus in West Didsbury was unusual. Seven years on, they were seen on the (now withdrawn) 168 and 169 routes, operated by GMS Buses.

Manchester Airport

With the First Group, I made two visits to Manchester Airport. Having been used to the spectator gallery, it seemed like a novelty for me to go into the terminal. There we were guided towards the check-in desks, the domestic pier, the shopping centre with its iconic chandeliers.

ASDA, Stockport

Our fellows at Ewing School weren’t clutching at straws for exciting trips. The premise of this First Group outing in 1988 was a trip to the store’s in store bakery. There, we were shown how ASDA’s freshly baked products were made. Well, made as far as bake-off and Chorleywood techniques are concerned.

The trip ended with a free sampling session of ASDA’s bakery products. Yours truly didn’t see the need to have his dinner, due to the edible products that was on show. The person who guided us around went by the name of Mr. Piggin.

Short Breaks

Each of the four groups that made up Ewing School either had a class holiday or four to five day trips in a row in place of one. On some occasions, the holiday may have required a modest parental contribution. One year, the Upper Group went on a skiing holiday. A week before yours truly joined the Middle Group, the Middle Group went to Whitby.

Elsewhere on East of the M60, we have covered the Middle Group’s trip to Farmcraft which was a most memorable five days. Instead, we are covering the other short breaks that I made with Ewing School.

Summer 1987

  • Monday: Poole’s Cavern, Buxton;
  • Tuesday: The Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port;
  • Wednesday: Edale;
  • Friday: Freshfield beach.

Our first trip during the First Group’s ‘Summer Run’ was a straightforward one to Poole’s Cavern. We entered the spa town via Macclesfield before reaching the cave. Then we moved on to the Pavilion Gardens which had a fantastic play park.

The most interesting trip was Tuesday’s trip to The Boat Museum. For me, I was most interested in the narrowboats, the social history and its industrial setting. I was also fascinated by the Manchester Ship Canal a few yards away. We also had a narrowboat ride alongside the Shropshire Union Canal.

Apart from that, I was at my most hyper, being boisterous around some of the buildings and running like a mad Jack Russell Terrier. Before we left for West Didsbury, I was reined in by my superior and warned about the dangers of water with a couple of other friends. Then on the M56, I chucked a crisp bag through the window. Therefore I was last to leave the bus following my reprimand.

Wednesday’s trip to Edale was nothing out of the ordinary: butties in The Old Nag’s Head, then a walk towards The Nab and back. The crowning glory of that week was a trip to Freshfield on the Friday. On the way there we had a toilet stop at a Safeway supermarket, then ate our butties in Freshfield Nature Reserve.

Shortly afterwards, we were allowed over the dunes to Freshfield beach. A good hour or so of being able to let off steam in the sands.

Summer 1988

  • Monday: Tatton Park, Knutsford;
  • Tuesday: Nether Alderley Mill, Nether Alderley;
  • Wednesday: Edale;
  • Friday: Ainsdale beach.

First off the blocks was a trip to Tatton Park. This time for the hall as well as the gardens which was a nice change. Tuesday’s trip was a more modest affair: a trip to the beautiful Nether Alderley Mill. The National Trust property is a fine example of an Elizabethan corn mill.

As with the previous year, we went to Edale and (you’ve guessed it), more of the same. A walk to The Nab and back, but butties al fresco instead of a pub dining room.

Our final trip of the week was Ainsdale Beach. Once again, the same premise as last year: a chance to let off steam on the sands. Only in full view of a Pontins holiday camp and a toilet block with a five pence charge for using the sink.

Ashley Activity Centre and Campsite, 06 – 08 June 1989

My first holiday with Ewing School was a two-day break with the First Group. This was situated at the Ashley Activity Centre, a popular place for Scouts and Guides. There is also a campsite as well as dormitory bunks.

During our visit, we stayed in the brick building which has a communal hall, kitchen, and a small dormitory block with bathroom. At the time it had a small shop and payphone. On our first night, we had a walk around Mobberley before teatime. Most of the fields we walked around are probably swallowed up by Manchester Airport’s second runway.

On the second day we went to Chester Zoo, spending most of the day there. Since my previous visit in 1984, it had grown again with the addition of a monorail, play area, and a few more eateries. On the way back, Paula Nott’s daughters made the short trip over from Altrincham. After teatime, we spent our evenings doing crafty type things before retiring to bed.

And so, back to 2019…

If you went to Ewing School like this gentleman and have any memories of their weekly environmental trips, feel free to comment. We particularly welcome comments and anecdotes of your experiences outside my time at this noble institution. If you have met this ratbag along the way, ‘hello’ again.

S.V., 04 September 2019.

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