Friday, 15 December 2017

Fallowfield Loop damson gin

In the 1960s, Dr Beeching paved the way for the reduction of the British rail network, closing small village stations and branch lines and catalysing the ascendancy of the motorcar as the dominant mode of transport in Britain*.

Some of long-closed lines are now reopening, after decades dormant. Others, their tracks removed permanently and their station buildings now converted into shops and supermarket cafes (as is the case with the former suburban Manchester stations of Levenshulme and Fallowfield), offer cyclists miles of dedicated bike path free from the traffic and aggressive motoring that increasingly chokes our towns and cities.

Manchester’s Fallowfield Loop stretches around eight miles, looping around the south and east of the city. Beginning in inner-city Openshaw in east Manchester and ending in leafy Chorlton in south Manchester, it undulates through the former industrial dormitories of Gorton and Levenshulme, passes picturesque Debdale Reservoir, skirts the boundary of Stockport at Reddish, and cuts through studenty Fallowfield and leafy Whalley Range.
The Loop has the feel of a linear park, offering a backdoor view of the city and its patchwork of official and unofficial green spaces. The Loop itself is an underacknowledged green space. In spring and summer it’s overgrown with branches forming a green tunnel, although in autumn the slipperiness of the accumulated layers of leaves can be treacherous. In winter, the foliage drops right back to reveal numerous back gardens, allotments, recreation grounds, school playing fields, overgrown brownfield sites and industrial land reclaimed as country parks. It links up with other traffic-free routes, too, from the Ashton Canal, with its miles of recently resurfaced towpath, to former branch canals such as the Stockport canal.
The Fallowfield Loop has become a place of community activism and communal litter-picks. It’s also a place of memorial, to young people who have killed themselves. Recently, it’s become a site of protest, with large EU flags unfurled unmissably from road and railway bridges; when removed, they reappear again soon afterwards, imported en masse from China. Pro-EU graffiti sprayed along the path places the UK at the heart of the EU, and the Manchester bee motif is placed centrally within the circle of stars that represent the EU member states; it’s a reminder that Manchester, along with the neighbouring local authorities of Stockport and Trafford, which the Loop passes close-by, voted remain in the EU referendum, in common with several other northern cities. It’s also a place for creativity, from street art murals celebrating the city’s architecture, to hand-written personal declarations (and accusations – ‘Louis K has a tiny penis’). It’s a place to encounter culture, from bicycle theatre troupes offering outdoor Shakespeare performances to public artworks sponsored by the cycle charity Sustrans, which document and draw attention to the flora and fauna of the route. It’s a place of learning and instruction, for small children to gain confidence and practise their bike skills away from the road. It’s also a place for family time: on father’s day, it’s noticeable how the number of men with small children increases.
Not all is benign – once or twice a year the ambush of women or opportunistic robberies make the deadlines, and mounted police undertake regular patrols. However, generally it’s a place of conviviality and sharing: if a cyclist stops at the side of the path, the next to pass will stop to see if all’s okay, and offer help fixing a chain or a spare inner tube.

Although cyclists benefit the most from a safe cycling environment uninterrupted by the frequent stops and starts of traffic lights, the Fallowfield Loop is also well-used by walkers, joggers, dogwalkers, students, and schoolchildren on their way to and from school, as well as shoppers just getting from A to B. It’s a meeting place, too, particularly for groups of teenagers.
These looplines are also fruitful places for the urban forager. Depending on the season, edible mushrooms, horseradish, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, plums, damsons, sloes and apples can all be found along the Loop, whilst in late-summer individuals and groups of people of all ages gather with an assortment of receptacles, from large yoghurt tubs to seaside buckets, Tupperware tubs and carrier bags, to gather blackberries, and offer hints on the best spots.

This year’s damsons were picked along the Fallowfield Loop, in a year that was unusually fallow for apples, yet plums and damsons of varying hues were in abundance.

* For a more detailed account of cuts to train services in Manchester see

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