Posts tagged ‘signs’

In which they go searching for a ditch

By Liam, because Marie has been working for 125 hours and isn’t up to typing

Running across a big stretch of South Manchester is a very, very long ditch. Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that the Nico Ditch, or Mickle Ditch, was dug in one night, by men who were forced to dig it at swordpoint. They were protecting Manchester from the Danes, who apparently lived in Stockport. South of Manchester. Vikings. Don’t ask us, it’s a legend. Each man had to dig a ditch and build a wall his own height. Marie reckons this must have made the wall pretty wonky in places. Then they had a whacking big fight, which apparently gave the areas of Gorton and Reddish their names (Gore-town and Red-ditch, geddit?)

Spoilsports – sorry, archaeologists – suggest that it’s highly unlikely that it was built in one night, given that Manchester didn’t have so many people in it then and it’s a very long ditch. And Gorton means ‘dirty farmstead’ and Reddish means ‘reedy ditch’, nothing to do with blood or killing. And the ditch isn’t V-shaped like a fortification, but U-shaped like a boundary ditch. Which still begs the question – why did they need such a definite six-mile boundary? They must really not have liked those Stockport Vikings.

We have become so knowledgeable about ditches, fighting and etymology because at the Word of Mouth storytelling event recently, Marie heard the story of the ditch. So obviously, she came back and asked me if I wanted to go looking for a really old ditch. And obviously, I agreed.

Some of the ditch is now under our old friends the Audenshaw Reservoirs. Some of it runs through Denton golf course, which might have been a bit of fun trespassing but a bit dull otherwise. So we decided to visit the bit that’s in Platt Fields Park.

Now, I’ve gone running in Platt Fields Park in all weathers, and never seen anything resembling a millennium-old ditch. Admittedly I hadn’t been searching for one, but still. So we set off to explore the park as thoroughly as we could.

We realise that this is a bit cheaty, since the ditch actually isn’t shown in the A to Z – although we knew it had to be in squares G5 or G6 on page 109. We did a bit of soul-searching about whether this was a proper zedding, and decided that we’re the Manchester Zedders, dammit, the trespassers extraordinaire, and we make the rules.

We did intent to navigate the park using the A to Z – it shows the paths and the lake and everything. But when we got there, we found the park had such abundant signage and mappage that we didn’t need the A to Z at all. Naughty!

The first thing we saw was some roses and a fountain that belonged to the Queen. Something to do with the Jubilee. The Queen doesn’t seem to care about her fountain much, as it’s run dry. The roses were nice though:

The Queen's roses

Then I insisted that we go and see the ‘Veterans’ Pavilion’. We imagined this would be some phallic war memorial thing. Instead, it was a grubby hut/church hall which appeared to have lost its bowling green. Dusty, neglected and locked up. With plaques on the wall inside proclaiming former victories of the bowling club.

I have to say this confirmed my pacifism. I don’t want to risk my life for Queen and country if that’s all you get when you get home.

I’m afraid we didn’t get any photos of the Pavilion because there were some boys smoking just outside and we didn’t want to make them nervous. Or angry or violent. We do seem to spend a certain amount of our zedding time worrying about the risk of violence from teenage boys. Probably unnecessarily.

After the Pavilion we found a load of strange berries. I had a vague recollection of doing something gross with similar berries as a child, and felt compelled to investigate them. We can report that whatever these berries are, they do burst almost exactly like zits. Eewwwww.

weird disgusting berries

Then there was a pretty avenue. Very Victorian/Edwardian feeling. We wanted to promenade down it wearing bustles and top hats.

nice avenue

As we progressed, we found a series of bright yellow arrows. They were very cheerful and they were clearly encouraging us to go somewhere, but we weren’t sure how. Or where.

arrow Where? more confusing arrows
The mind is willing, but the flesh is earthbound.

Later on, we discovered that the arrows were indeed cheerful and inspirational. They mark the Sri Chinmoy Peace Mile. Later research establishes that Sri Chinmoy was a guru who died in 2007, and he was a dude. As well as preaching world peace and spiritual enlightenment, he lifted light aeroplanes, and practised long-distance running as a form of meditation. One of his followers went up and down Mount Fujiyama on a pogo-stick (and up and down, and up and down). So there are Peace Miles in his memory for people to run or walk on, in cities all over the world. We walked most of this one in our search for the elusive ditch.

peace mile

There were signs telling us not to feed the geese and ducks, because then they would poo too much and algae would make the lake all disgusting and poisonous. But we were more concerned about the frankly terrifying goose in the sign:

sinister goose

We are a bit afraid of geese.

Beyond the lake there was a nice, but sadly neglected, eco-garden for kids. This was a good excuse for me to arse about a bit:

the sensory gardens scary bird garden a nice path Marie on a sofa mini beasties

We particularly liked Wigglit the Worm:

wigglit the worm wigglit

There was a well-intentioned oven meant for baking pizzas. It had, of course, been used to burn Pepsi cans and crisp packets:

an oven for making pizza in

This plant had spikes on its spikes:

liam contemplates a spikey thing spikey thing

Next. we went off on a side-quest. We saw a sign saying that somewhere, we should be able to find a ‘teenage village’. I was keen to see what this could mean, although Marie insisted it would be like something out of Lord of the Flies. It turned out that the clever park people had noticed how teenagers like to hang around kids’ playgrounds in the evenings, perching on the roundabouts and drinking cider and copping off with one another. So they’d built the teenagers their own special climbing frame thingy, with little huts to gossip and flirt in, and platforms to show off on and impress girls.

Ironically, when we got there, the only user of the teenage village was a dad, playing on it with a little toddler. A kind of revenge/reversal?

Then, finally, we located the Mickle Ditch. Hurray! The bit in Platt Fields is not only a very old hole in the ground. Oh no. It’s a Scheduled Ancient Monument:

Mickle Ditch

It was fenced in, and I was all geared up for some trespassing. But then we found there was a gate to get in, and it was unlocked! This was a bit disappointing, but I dived in regardless. And got a nasty surprise. While Marie tried to photograph me standing in the old ditch, I discovered I was sinking rather rapidly, and had to scramble free in a rather blurry fashion:

the ditch Liam in the ditch

I can report that thousand-year-old ditches are full of really sticky mud:

ditch mud on Liam's shoes.
This never happens to Doctor Who when he wears these shoes.

Next, we went to the Shakespearean gardens, where there were some boys smoking weed:


Not sure why these gardens are Shakespearean rather than Elizabethan. Maybe something dramatic happened here. Actually, according to the A to Z, there should have been a bowling green here. Perhaps there was some high drama or tragedy involving the gardens, the veterans and their pavilion?

Just past the gardens was something described by the signs as a ‘cathedral arch’. It was indeed impressive:

mystery arch

We liked the fact that we couldn’t get past the fence to go through the arch, so whatever lies beyond remains a mystery. Even more of a mystery because the little sign, that should have told us what a cathedral arch is doing in the middle of a park, had been pretty comprehensively burned and vandalised. Post-zedding web searches haven’t helped a great deal, but it appears some wealthy toff pinched or bought a spare bit of Manchester Cathedral, perhaps in the 1870s, to display as a folly on his land.

Before leaving, we had hoped to drop in on the squatters who occupied Platt Chapel earlier this year, and see what leftfield/anarchist/artistic stuff might be going on. Unfortunately, it appears they’ve moved on or been evicted, taking their T-shirt factory with them:

neglected squat out of business

There was a last, dry, bit of Mickle Ditch for me to stand in, though, so I was happy:

Liam in a ditch

Vital statistics

Location: Platt Fields Park, Fallowfield

Date zedded: 12 August 2009

A to Z: Page 109 squares F5, G5, F6, G6, H6

Target square: G6

Getting there: Catch one of the multitude of 42, 142 or 143 buses down the Oxford Road. But be prepared for a long, bumpy, slow ride down the Curry Mile.

Squares this expedition: 5

Running total: 126

September 10, 2009 at 9:37 pm 1 comment

In which they look at a hidden church, a library and an office block

by liam

This is a slightly different zedding – we’re not sure what purists would make of it – because we went to see some sights that we’d both wanted to see for a while, and which might even be described as ‘attractions’. By some people.

Anyway. I wanted to see the John Rylands Library, Marie wanted to see a church called the Hidden Gem (largely because, well, it was hidden), and I fancied walking by the river Irwell.

So we headed for Deansgate. We found that the people who hid the Hidden Gem had obviously missed out on one or two lessons in How Not To Be Seen:

However, they started trying harder after that. We had to go up a secret passage:

secret passage

It was marked only as:


Anyone know what a private posting station is? Prize for the best answer.

The passage was named after some scientist or engineer whose name escapes us both now. But in his honour, the pipes in the passage were arranged into decorative patterns:

pipes in secret passage

Eventually we emerged by the Hidden Gem. Marie’s research informs us that it was the first purpose-built Catholic church in any English city since the Reformation. It’s not very fancy on the outside:

the hidden gem

This is because ‘Bells, steeples, and any other ornate “popeish” touches were banned until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which restored people’s rights to worship as they chose.’ And their right to have popeish frills too. Nowadays, it’s also dwarfed by office blocks on all sides, which were apparently built on top of the graveyard.

By contrast, inside, one is confronted by a glorious eyeache-inducing riot of popery. Gold and icons and candles and everything, it made me quite nostalgic. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside so you’ll have to take our word for it, or look at the photo someone else took here.

The threshold between austere-lack-of-steeples and riot-of-popery was marked by writing on the ground:

ave maria

And also by a sign warning you not to give money to beggars because they clutter the place up, or words to that effect. Nice.


So, next on the list was the library. Much more our sort of cathedral. It has its own share of frills, which originally drew me to it. In fact, it looks like a high-church Hogwarts. There were more gargoyles – this could become a zedding theme for us – but it was dark and the little beggars won’t stay still so we could only get blurry photos of them. Marie is too proud to post such blurry photos so you’ll have to go and see for yourself.

The library was exciting in a way that we expect most people won’t understand at all. It is beautiful. We got lost in great long corridors with stone arches. There were quiet rooms with balconies, bookcases up to the ceiling, and leatherbound books in cages. Marie says that all places books are kept should look like cathedrals.

There was also an interactive display about design and book production. A whole room to appeal to the font nerd inside me that I’m normally not allowed to let out. (Except when I’m going to see 2-hour films about Helvetica, like I did last week, but that’s another story.) There was a great long video interview with Stephen Raw, the man who did the lettering on the maps in Lord of the Rings. That was very very exciting for some reason, even though we’d both met him in person before. Speaking about his work on Middle Earth, he said something that should have resonance for Zedders everywhere:

‘Maps hold it all together in a way thousands of words can’t. At a glance.’

Either that, or it’s an indictment of this rambling blog. Anyway, we liked it.

All in all, a book-lover’s wet dream. We didn’t get to explore it all because it was about to close, so we’ll be going back in there to find the cathedralesque reading room that we understand is in there somewhere in the labyrinthine maze of corridors.

Near some old handpresses and lead type (which also had me wiping drool form the floor), we found something almost as good. Specially signposted ‘Historic Toilets’. They weren’t kidding. Marie crept past the sign expressly forbidding photography in the toilets (cos it’s only polite) and documented these archaic bits of plumbing:

historic toilets historic plumbing

In between the Ladies and the Gents, where boys lurk if they’re waiting for someone to finish taking photographs in the Ladies, was an imposing but rather baffling statue:


We had a long conversation in front of it, trying to piece together what was going on. Is it classical? Biblical? Is he Joseph of Arimathea? Why does she want that football? What’s that chalice for? It took Google, later on, to clear things up. Apparently, that’s ‘Theology instructing the Arts and the Sciences’. Still no wiser about the football though.

Having been booted out by some polite library guards, we went in search of a river. Manchester doesn’t make much of its river, using it mainly as a way to have a clear border with Salford. Which is a bit of a shame, because it’s a nice enough river. We found it in the end. I wanted to walk along the path on the bank. But it was getting dark, and when we started down the steps form the road, we heard someone or something scuttling in the bushes. One of the main attractions of zedding being the lack of personal danger (as sports go, it’s pretty low risk – the worst we’ve faced so far is getting lost in some woods 200 yards from a housing estate), we retreated.

So we headed into Salford instead, where there was a big imposing office complex which looked like it might have access to the waterfront. I was wondering if we could find a way in past the security guards, but Marie just marched in bold as brass, looking as if she belonged there, and we had no trouble. A useful life lesson from Doctor Who. Although I always thought I’d be the Doctor, not the assistant trailing along behind looking confused.

It was a funny old office complex. It was landscaped using Astroturf and gravel.

astro turf

There were strange statues of gambolling imps, which seemed to be there mainly to mock the sterile and tedious existence of the poor office drones we saw escaping as fast as they could:

blue imp against sky blue imp blue imp2 yellow imp

Another statue seemed to depict an office worker who’d been driven mad by all the Astroturf:

office worker driven mad

The buildings had radically inappropriate names, also no doubt intended to subtly mock the inmates and drive them to despair:

cloister luxury

Unsurprisingly, the place turned out to be a dead end, with no way out except back past the security guards. So we left and searched for another way out of Salford. As, no doubt, many have before us.

Eventually, we found a bridge. One of those Millennium Bridges that everyone decided they needed to have after London built one. It was very pretty in the moonlight:

bridge in salford

Then we gathered provisions and went home. A short but fruitful zedding.

Vital statistics
Location: Central Manchester and Salford
A to Z: page 5 (large-scale city centre insert) or page 94, squares D4 and C4
Getting there: It’s within walking distance from all major stations and bus or Metro stops in Manchester city centre and Salford
Running total: 13 squares

December 9, 2007 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

Running Total

135 squares

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July 2020