If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre, stroll alongside the River Mersey, or shop in some of Manchester’s most stylish independent shops, head south to Chorlton and Didsbury
"Manchester's got everything except a beach."
Not my words but those of Ian Brown from the Stone Roses. And, while the statement probably isn’t factually correct, I agree with the sentiment. Manchester is a diverse and buzzing city that can amuse and impress even the fussiest of visitor. If you are in Manchester for longer than a day, why not head south of the city centre to Chorlton and Didsbury to see where Brown (and I) grew up and experience creative Manchester at its finest.
South Manchester has always been a creative hub – Chorlton was the stomping ground of the Bee Gees and the Stone Roses and the current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has moved between Chorlton and Didsbury. If you are a cartoon fan, Chorlton and the Wheelies, Danger Mouse and Count Duckula were created in Chorlton in Cosgrove Hall.
Today, Chorlton and Didsbury vie for the title of most stylish/most creative/most boho south Manchester suburb and love to hate each other. However, a little healthy competition only improves the areas for residents and visitors alike. If you want to enjoy an interesting part of the city, here is how I would spend a day.
Morning - surprising shopping
Whether you are looking for the perfect gift or an outfit to impress, head to Beech Road in Chorlton. Here trendy shops rub shoulders with gastro-pubs, boutiques and some of my favourite restaurants in Manchester. But don’t worry, the Manchester street is not pretentious or intimidating and hasn’t forgotten its roots – you can still pop into the launderette at number 32 or the traditional local pub The Trevor.
Start your retail therapy session in Loop (66 Beech Road, Chorlton, M21 9EG; 0161 882 0801; www.loop66.net) if you are looking for a gift to take home with you. Contemporary pieces of jewellery share the shelves with framed photographs of Manchester taken by local artist Neil Roland (www.neilroland.co.uk). And children’s gifts – think Very Hungry Caterpillar tea sets or puppets - sit next to quirky cards. It is worth a look even if you are just window shopping - I always head here for gift inspiration.
A few doors down at number 40 Beech Road is Creative Recycling (0161 881 4422; www.40beechroad.co.uk) – an airy studio, gallery and shop selling beautiful collages and artworks made out of waste materials. I always make a beeline for the pieces made of glass – framed artworks, coasters and ornaments. They are not cheap (pictures start at £27) but are a unique gift and, if they inspire you to get creative yourself, courses are run at the weekend from glass fusing to felt making – take a look at the website (www.40beechroad.co.uk) for dates and to book.
For clothes, Jazz (105 Beech Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 9EQ; 0161 881 0721) is Beech Road’s longstanding favourite and sells a selection of trendy clothing from jeans to dresses to scarves for south Manchester’s stylish residents. If you want some quirky shoes to match your new outfit, Jazz also sells unusual and vintage shoes that you won’t find on the high street.
Other clothes shops worth a peek are Nood (36 Beech Road, Manchester, Lancashire. M21 9EL; 0161 8600461) which sells jewellery, clothes and handbags that are slightly cheaper than those in Jazz, and Jean Genie (97 Beech Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 9EQ; 0161 860 4976) which stocks jeans and quirky sloganed tee-shirts by both big names and up-and-coming labels.
After you have worked up an appetite shopping, lunch will be on your mind. If it is a sunny day – yes, the sun does shine in Manchester – visit Chorlton’s independent food shops to build up a picnic. The Barbakan Delicatessen (67-71 Manchester Rd, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 9PW; 0161 881 7053; www.barbakan-deli.co.uk; closed Sundays) sells over 50 types of bread – including Chorlton Sourdough and, my favourite, Norlander Rye Bread which is rich and nutty without being heavy. They also sell a tempting selection of cheeses, meat, cakes and olives to fill your basket. If you are in Chorlton on a Saturday, the Barbakan also has a BBQ outside selling hotdogs with a selection of chutneys but these are extremely popular and, if you turn up between midday and 2pm, expect to queue!
Across the road is another south Manchester institution, Unicorn Grocery (89 Albany Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 0BN; www.unicorn-grocery.co.uk). The Unicorn co-operative sells organic and seasonal fruit and vegetables as well as an eclectic range of vegetarian meals such as vegetarian haggis (surprisingly nice). The deli counter is worth a visit for a picnic with olives, vegetarian calzone and vegetarian sausage rolls on offer.
With your picnic made up, head to Chorlton Meadows – you can access the meadows from Brookburn Road as marked on the map of the day below (follow Beech Road until you reach the village green and take a left; if you follow this road, you will see the car park and entrance to the meadows on your right). You can then choose whether you want a long stroll – you can pick up the Trans Pennine Trail www.transpenninetrail.org.uk – or a brief walk down to the River Mersey to enjoy a spot of people-watching and your picnic.
If you aren’t so lucky with the weather, or would simply like to be cooked for, the Lead Station (99 Beech Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 9EQ; 0161 881 5559; www.theleadstation.co.uk) never fails to impress with its menu of well-cooked classics – steaks, salads, dip selections and eggs benedict – as well as more imaginative dishes such as squid ink ravioli. The food is reasonably priced with only a few of the mains being over £10 and, if the sticky toffee pudding (£4.50) contained any of my five a day, I would happily survive on it.
The Lead Station is housed in an ex-police station – hence the name – but, apart from bars on the windows (now stylish wrought iron bars might I add), the spacious interior with a light conservatory extension at the rear and a small walled beer garden is welcoming. One of the best things about the Lead Station is the range of people it attracts. I would be just as happy taking my mum here (in fact she often goes without me) as visiting for Sunday brunch with friends and it is child-friendly.
Afternoon and evening - delightful Didsbury
If you are feeling energetic, you can walk from Chorlton to the nearby suburb of Didsbury by following the River Mersey. This takes around two and a half hours - but there are plenty of public transport options too. When you arrive, and before you reach the centre of Didsbury, take a left down Burton Road in West Didsbury to discover more independent shops and cafés.
You could happily spend a whole day in Didsbury itself – moseying in and out of the clothes shops such as Steranko (172 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester, M20 1LH; 0161 448 0108; www.steranko.co.uk), sipping coffee and people-watching in one of several cafés and walking in Fletcher Moss while admiring the botanical gardens. For me, though, the highlight of Didsbury is the range of dining options in the evening.
A delicious dinner
Simon Rimmer’s vegetarian restaurant, Greens, is just off Burton Road on Lapwing Lane (43 Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2NT; 0161 434 4259; www.greensdidsbury.co.uk/index.html) and is worth a visit for vegetarians and carnivores alike. There are no stodgy “wholefoods” on Greens’ menu. Instead diners are faced with choosing from imaginative dishes such as spinach, pistachio and feta filo pie with cinnamon tomato sauce and honey (£11.95), and griddled aubergine and red Thai curry with sticky rice (£10.95). I have sampled both and they come highly recommended. The interior, like the food, is stylish – think stripped wood floors, wooden panelling and statement wallpaper and a recent extension into the shop next door now allows up to 90 covers. You are unlikely to see Simon himself in the restaurant but, if you want to try and recreate some of the dishes, signed copies of his book The Accidental Vegetarian are on sale. See Simon’s Simonseeks guide here.
Where to stay
If you want to stay in the heart of the south Manchester action and stick with the independent theme of the day, Didsbury House Hotel is a good option. Guests are greeted by the sight of an impressive stained glass window as they enter the listed Victorian villa and have a choice of rooms from smaller classic bedrooms to suites with roll top cast iron baths and monsoon showers. Expect to pay from £95 per night, per room.
Or, if you want to stay in Manchester city centre and take your goodies from The Barbakan and Unicorn back with you to cook, why not hire a room in Roomzzz Manchester City? Called a "boutique aparthotel", Roomzzz Manchester has all of the luxuries of a hotel but with the freedom of an apartment and the "grab and go" breakfast area and fully fitted kitchen mean that you can eat what and when you fancy. Expect to pay from £89 a night for an apartment - the suites are ideal for groups as the larger ones have two bedrooms as well as a sofabed.
See a map of the day here.
Chorlton and Didsbury are well served by bus routes from Manchester city centre and the number 23 runs between the two. To see timetable information go to www.gmpte.com.