The start of a new series that looks at Greater Manchester’s parks and gardens

At this moment in time, this pandemic is (hopefully) coming to an end. We are still encouraged to practice social distancing and try not to use public transport for non-essential travel. The message of “Hands, Faces, Space, and Fresh Air” and the lighter nights make trips to the park most favourable.

For most Greater Mancunians, the first park that springs to mind is Heaton Park – probably the greatest of all parks in our City Region. It is a massive green lung that provides a border with Prestwich and Blackley. Our answer to Hampstead Heath, only with a preserved tramway and museum. At the southern end of Manchester City Council’s boundary is Wythenshawe Park, plus iconic medium-sized parks in Fog Lane, Alexandra, Platt Fields, and Debdale parks.

Not a million miles away from central Manchester is Sale. Back in the 1970s, its higher than average telephone usage rate inspired the Godfrey Abbott/Greater Manchester Transport Dial-a-Ride scheme. The town doesn’t do too badly for parks: Sale Water Park, Worthington Park, Walton Park, and Ashton Park in Ashton-upon-Mersey.

Often overlooked in the town’s parks and gardens is Walkden Gardens. In spite of its name, it is nowhere near Walkden (which was noted for having Britain’s largest TESCO store) nor Little Hulton. It is actually 20 minutes on foot from the centre of Sale, or ten minutes on foot from Brooklands tram stop.

Walkden Gardens

Compared with more famous parks in Greater Manchester, Walkden Gardens is a mere whippersnapper, with the story starting in 1949. Before assuming its present guise, Walkden Gardens was a plant nursery called Moorside Nurseries. It was owned by Harry Walkden who lived in a red brick house called The Raft. After Mr Walkden’s death in 1949, he left the land to Sale Borough Council – on one condition that it would be used for the public good.

The size of the gardens is only five acres, which makes that a fifth of the size of Manor Park in Glossop or Dukinfield Park in (guess where, of course). It is inspired by the gardens at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire and its features include a Japanese Garden, and an iconic dovecote. The dovecote itself has a history of its own.

After surviving demolition (due to Sale Girls Grammar School’s plans to extend its grounds), a Friends of Walkden Gardens group was set up. The gardens have gone from strength to strength and has been regarded as a Hidden Gem. It is maintained by Amey, owned by Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, the The Friends of Walkden Gardens with Trafford MBC.

Dovecote garden

On entering Walkden Garden from Marsland Road or Derbyshire Road, the first thing you notice is the Dovecote. Before its erection in 2003, it used to be stood in the grounds of Sale Old Hall and outlived the hall’s existence for over 70 years. It is a Grade 2 Listed Building that escaped demolition at the last minute, thanks to petitions by the Sale Civic Society.

To date, it has been used as a ticket office, a refreshments kiosk and a bijou art gallery. Before being rebuilt brick by brick at Walkden Gardens, it was stored at a builders’ yard in Rochdale.

Theatre Lawn

As live performance slowly returns after the pandemic, the Theatre Lawn comes into its own for open air shows and concerts. It can hold up to 500 people and has seen packed houses. It was first used as a performance space in 2001.

Wisteria Arch

This arch marks an enchanting path from the Beech Circle to the Fuchsia Garden and Memories Garden. It was opened on the 25 May 2006 by HRH, The Duke of Kent. The best time to the arch in its full glory is in May.

The Cherry Walk

If you like bluebells, The Cherry Walk comes into its own. Especially in May when I went, and you couldn’t move for them (which is no bad thing).

The Japanese Garden

My favourite garden within the Walkden Gardens due to its Zen style calmness. It has three areas with characteristics of their own, which makes for interesting perambulation.

Miss Cordingley’s Garden

Miss Cordingley’s Garden is a nice shady area that would come into its own during warmer weather. Its circular layout makes for a good storytelling area. Adding to its paving is a plaque which thanks its main sponsors Greening Greater Manchester.

Memories Garden

The centrepiece of the Memories Garden is the spruce tree in the middle. As seen here, it is surrounded by Willow trees. In Latin, the willow tree is known as Salix, which is where the name Sale comes from, in relation to the Cheshire town we are writing about.

Tranquil Garden

Right next to the Theatre Garden is the Tranquil Garden, which has raised beds and benches.

Fuchsia Garden

Right next to the Wisteria Arch is the Fuchsia Garden. With notes of Capability Brown in its design leanings, it is a real centrepiece and a stunning spot for wedding photos.

Owl Sculpture

This owl by the Dovecote Gardens is one of eight wooden sculptures by Andy Burgess. Other sculptures in the series include a ladybird, and a bee – all of which part of a sculpture trail.

Food and drink options

The gardens are a fantastic place for picnicking, so you may be more inclined to carry some sandwiches with you on a warmer day. Alternatively, the Moorfield public house (Greene King ales and the usual pub grub) is a good call opposite Walkden Gardens. It is also a short walk from other nearby pubs on Marsland Road, or any of the eateries on Northenden Road.

Our verdict

Walkden Gardens is a truly splendid place that packs a lot into its five acres. If you are looking for swings and slides, this open space hasn’t got any. For dog walks and a quiet place to chill out after a tough week, it is a perfect place to unwind.

As I visited Walkden Gardens in May, I probably chose one of the best months to go. Especially for the bluebells on The Cherry Walk. The Tranquil Gardens and Theatre Gardens come into their own in hot summer months. For photographers, it is a superb place to visit, as seen from our images.

Will I be making another visit? Most definitely. It is certainly one for my Must-See Gardens list in Trafford MBC boundaries like the magnificent Dunham Massey.

Getting there

From Oldham and Rochdale

  • Tram: Sale or Brooklands stations will do. From Rochdale or Oldham you need to change at Deansgate-Castlefield for an Altrincham tram. Alternatively, you can change at St. Peter’s Square or Cornbrook for the same tram.
  • Train: from Littleborough, Smithy Bridge, Rochdale, Castleton and Mills Hill stations, a train to Manchester Victoria, then a tram from Victoria to St. Peter’s Square and another one to Altrincham. Also Greenfield trains to Manchester Piccadilly, then a tram to Altrincham for Sale or Brooklands.
  • Bus: 17 to Middleton, then the 41 to Sale [Metrolink Stop]. Also the 59 or 415 routes to Middleton then the 41 to Sale.

From Tameside and Glossop

  • Tram: Ashton-under-Lyne to Piccadilly, then change at Piccadilly for Altrincham tram for Sale or Brooklands stops.
  • Train: Mossley and Stalybridge trains to Manchester Piccadilly then take tram to Altrincham for Sale or Brooklands stops. With all Hadfield and Rose Hill line trains, please alight at Manchester Piccadilly for tram to Altrincham (again, alighting at either Sale or Brooklands).
  • Bus: any Manchester bound bus from Ashton-under-Lyne, Hyde, Denton, Droylsden and Audenshaw to Piccadilly Gardens (201, 202, 205, 216, 217, 219) then 41 or 263 to Sale.

Please note that a change of bus could mean a change of operator. Unless you have a System One or GetMeThere ticket, it may cost you more to use another company’s buses if you have a single operator season ticket or day rover for your usual journeys.

References

  • The Friends of Walkden Gardens website: an excellent site on the development and maintenance of the gardens. If you want to find out more about its history or forthcoming events, this is the first place to visit.

S.V., 24 May 2021.

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