Arthur Chappell

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Walked on Monday 7th December 2009.

As my mate Tom Clark was visiting the area anyway, he kindly invited me along for a walk through the very scenic and impressive Botanical Gardens close to Didsbury village, and easily reached from the Wilmslow Road bus route.  Weather wise, we were lucky as though cold in the morning, it got warm by early afternoon and only started raining as we prepared to leave Didsbury.

There are actually two connected sets of gardens side by side here, the Parsonage Gardens and the much larger Botanical Gardens, close to The Didsbury pub, in South Manchester.

Alderman Fletcher Moss was an important botanist, and a South Manchester local history author. His home, The Croft, now more commonly known as The Parsonage, was the first meeting place for the Royal Society For The protection Of Birds (RSPB). The gardens, later bequeathed to Manchester by Fletcher Moss in 1919, were designed by landscape architect Robert Wood Williamson, who’s wife, Emily, was an ardent campaigner against the widespread culling of birds in order to use their feathers for making hats. The RSPB owes its origins to her cause, which Fletcher Moss supported.  Fletcher Moss was also responsible for the establishment of Didsbury’s public library, giving free access to books and research materials to the area for all.

Many features of the twin gardens are unchanged from the original, including the rockery and the orchards.

The Parsonage gardens have a peaceful, slightly spooky feel. There is a gothic atmosphere that leaves many convinced that the gardens are haunted. One gardener was invited to live in a lodge in the gardens but he refused to take it up – happy to be there only during daylight hours.

There are several faded grave markers underfoot, slowly being reclaimed by the soil,  actually for the various animals owned by Fletcher Moss. The variety of tree, vine and flowers are astonishing. Even in Winter the Parsonage is quite a lovely place to walk round.

Across the road outside the Parsonage grounds is the church and crumbling graveyard of St. James’s parish church. The old graves bear markers associated with the families whose names are associated with many areas of Manchester – Chorlton, Radcliffe, etc.

The Main Botanical Gardens are equally fascinating.  The first sight to engage me was the most imaginative park bench I’ve ever seen. With one side supported by a large cast iron gargoyle and the other by a giant bat perched on a branch, the bench is decorated by engraved figures from popular literature and culture, including the polar bears from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels, the robot Bender from the Futurism cartoons and  there are chocolate bars carved into the bench too. The bench, along with a nearby and very detailed sundial, were lovingly designed in tribute to the late Rory Potter, who’s parents must have thought very highly of her indeed.

The Sundial overlooks a grotto containing a large shallow pond, with marshy surrounds, but with good footpaths enabling close access. Tom assured me that terrapins are kept in the pond in the summer months. 

From here, we followed the well-marked paths through the Stenner Woods towards the Mersey flood plains, purposely kept as fen-like wetlands to allow the river to drain out before it can flood the village itself. Raised and well kept wooden footpaths go on for quite a way through the plain over muddy glistening pools that would look even more impressive in the early morning mists.

We went to the banks of the fast flowing Mersey itself, stopping there for a break surrounded by ducks, crows and magpies. 

We headed back through the woods, past the old Barn and got lunch & beer in The Didsbury pub, which was very friendly, with a real fire blazing in the hearth.

From there, we walked through to Didsbury Village itself, browsing in several charity shops, and looking at the library building founded by Fletcher Moss. My English Civil War fixation was satisfied by plaques here pointing out that Prince Rupert Of The Rhine, a leading Royalist general, camped here on route to defeat at Marston Moor in 1644. Didsbury village also has a lovely war memorial and clock tower.

We called in another pub, The Hogshead, for a  quick drink and an apple crumble. Overall, we probably only walked about four miles at a very gentle pace.

The gardens are full of places and site for photography assignments, and certainly worth many a future visit. 

Thanks to Tom Clark for arranging this walk and inviting me along. .



Copyright. Arthur Chappell