by Polly Checkland

A good picnic spot should fulfill the following set of requirements: easily reachable with a relatively heavy hamper or rucksack; loos within walking distance; enough room to spread out; some shelter if the weather turns. So although many people think of making a beeline for the countryside, picturing an idyllic spread on the top of a hill, it’s not actually ideal for what we’d call a ‘proper’ picnic: essentially a convincing amount of food, rather than a hastily grabbed supermarket sandwich and packet of crisps. This is why we’ve dedicated a whole feature to the Manchester’s best places to buy picnic supplies, and why this roundup focuses exclusively on places that meet our strict, picnic criteria.

The first is Whitworth Park. Right next to Europe’s busiest bus route, and the excellent cycle lanes along Oxford Road, this medium-sized park is shielded from traffic by rows of blossoming trees and benefits from a children’s play area in one corner. It’s also home to The Whitworth art gallery; in fact, sculptures populate the park itself, and an art garden by Sarah Price seamlessly integrates the building with its leafy setting. There are publicly-accessible loos in the gallery, while mature trees provide either shade or shelter for picnics in the park.

More off the beaten track (quite literally) is Vimto Park, a small, secluded spot behind The University of Manchester’s Sackville Street Building. So named because of the monument to Vimto it’s home to, Vimto Park is a rather lovely green space that was saved by a public backlash to development plans in 2017. Though right in the city centre, it’s sheltered from traffic, dotted with bins and benches, and only a four minute walk from the public loos at Manchester Piccadilly Station. There’s also a massive fir tree that offers excellent shelter from the rain.

Also very central are St John’s Gardens and Cathedral Gardens. The site of a former church and graveyard, St John’s is tucked away behind Deansgate and a two minute walk from the Science and Industry Museum; a visit here is the ideal accompaniment to an alfresco lunch. Cathedral Gardens is also surrounded by visitor attractions, including Manchester Cathedral itself, Chetham’s Library and the National Football Museum, while Victoria Station nearby has public toilets. Cathedral Gardens is bordered by a gently flowing water feature, and populated with sunken benches and silver birches.

North of the city is the grand expanse of Heaton Park – 600 acres of Grade II listed parkland that’s also home to Heaton Hall, a garden centre, the Tramway museum, rowing boats for hire and much more. Right next to a tram stop and with two sets of toilets for visitors, the park is perfect picnic territory. Also home to loos and a café, Boggart Hole Clough is a delightfully woody urban country park best reached on the bus, with hilly paths, a number of amenities and a rich history – while further still to the North East is Daisy Nook Country Park, where there’s a winning combination of dedicated picnic sites with advantages including two play areas, canal tow paths and a café. Admittedly a little more difficult to get to from town, the most direct route is by bike.

Manchester southern suburbs are another good area to head to with your plentiful picnic pack: try the lakeside delights of Sale Water Park, which has its own water sports centre, or local nature reserve Chorlton Water Park to the South West. Alternatively there’s Reddish Vale Country Park to the South East, close to both Brinnington and Reddish South stations; crossed by a monumental viaduct, this sprawling area of land includes flat grass expanses and sandy slopes on the banks of the River Tame that are ideal for spreading a picnic blanket. Linked to the wider countryside by cycle paths, Reddish Vale has its own visitor centre with toilets, and is frequently visited by ice cream trucks in the sunshine.

So concludes our roundup of the best places to have a picnic in Manchester. Please honour these glorious spots by being mindful of the local greenery and wildlife – and always binning or taking your litter with you.