Christmas is for spending time with loved ones, giving gifts and, most importantly, eating copious amounts of food and drinking an unholy amount.
Most Mancunians will have completely smashed the latter so, today, could possibly be feeling a little worse for wear.
But luckily for them, Manchester is within close proximity to a number of beautiful nature spots and walking trails, all of which are ideal for blowing away the cobwebs and shifting some of the calories gained from all those roast potatoes.
Here are some of our favourite spots…
The crossing between Glossop and Sheffield across the Peaks is mostly open moorland but, on one side of Snake Road, walkers will find stunning pine forest that makes for the perfect winter stroll.
The Snake Wood Circular is an extremely picturesque walk ideal for all the family, and boasts a magical river, moss-lined undergrowth and creeks with forty-foot high pines.
This trail is pet friendly, and offers the perfect opportunity to escape from the city and reconnect with nature – though it is worth noting it will be closed in the event of icy weather.
Found in the south of Disley in the Peak District is Lyme Park, a sprawling 1,400 acre National Trust estate boasting stunning landscapes and an abundance of wildlife.
The estate – once home to the Legh family – offers a number of fantastic walks at the Rose Garden, Ravine Garden or the reflecting lake, where Mr. Darcy met Miss Bennet in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation.
Guests can even head inside the historic mansion to step back in time to the Regency era.
The large Y-shaped body of water with giant ‘plugholes’ that most Mancunians will recognise is the Ladybower Reservoir, and it makes for the most scenic of winter walks.
Around an hour’s drive from Manchester city centre, it was built due to the large demand for water from nearby industrial towns and was officially opened by King George VI on September 24th 1945.
The reservoir itself is nestled within some stunning countryside, and the breathtaking views of water, woodland and moorland have long been a big draw for outdoor-enthusiasts – you’ll find loads of circular walking and cycling routes in the area, plus viewpoints.
Located near Buxton, Lud’s Church is a deep chasm full of history, myths and lots of greenery, with stone steps leading into another world.
The eighteen-metre deep chasm was created by a huge landslip, and has consequently been covered in moss and other plant-life over the years. It’s only 100-metres long, but you walkers can spend days taking in the outstanding natural wonders in all its nooks and crannies.
Lud’s Church became a secret worship place for people who faced persecution in the 15th Century. It was used as a church by the ‘Lollards’, followers of the reformer and ‘heretic’ John Wycliffe.
Lancashire’s Japanese Lake
Tucked away around halfway up Rivington Pike is one of Britain’s lost gardens, according to Countryfile in 2014.
The Japanese Lake is part of the Rivington Terraced Gardens, and was built by the founder of the former Lever Brothers company – now known as Unilever – Lord Leverhulme, inspired by one of his many trips to Japan.
Thor’s Cave, also known as Thor’s House Cavern and Thyrsis’s Cave, is a gigantic natural cavern found in the Manifold Valley of the White Peak in Staffordshire, and it offers some dazzling views.
The cave entrance comprises a huge symmetrical arch 7.5 metres wide and 10 metres high, and can be seen from the valley bottom around 80 metres below.
Walkers can reach the cave via an easy stepped path from the Manifold Way, with a 7.5km circular walk from Wetton village taking them along the River Manifold before passing by Thor’s Cave and other caverns.
Thousands of teachers take to the streets of Manchester in mass strike action
‘We have a massive retention crisis because people are quitting teaching within five years out of extreme stress.’
Thousands of teachers gathered on a blustery, grey-skied and rainy afternoon in Manchester city centre to march through the streets as part of a national day of mass scale strikes across the country.
Dubbed ‘Walk-out Wednesday’, February 1st has seen huge disruption to services all over the UK as workers take ‘last resort’ action over pay, conditions and budgets.
The National Education Union (NEU) is one of seven unions on strike today. Around 500,000 workers are expected to walk out, including university staff who are members of the University and College union (UCU), such as those at the University of Manchester. Also on strike are rail workers and border control.
Many classrooms across the region are closed for the day while NEU members strike, with some year groups told to stay at home. Students with upcoming exams and vulnerable children have been prioritised for a limited place inside their school today, following guidance from the Department for Education (DfE).
The NEU says today’s action follows a series of real-terms pay cuts over the past decade, while this year’s pay rise offer of 5% falls well below inflation. The union insists that pay and conditions are seeing significant numbers of teachers quit the profession.
Talks took place earlier this week between the NEU and the DfE in an attempt to avert today’s strike action but proved unsuccessful, as the union claim education secretary Gillian Keegan had ‘squandered’ the opportunity. The DfE says today’s strike action is ‘highly damaging to children’s education’ especially following the pandemic.
Still going ahead, crowds flocked to a very wet St Peter’s Square, with the meet-up time of 12.30pm. In typical teacher fashion, the city centre was already bustling with those working in education, as they showed up early to ensure a prompt start and express their passion for their jobs, their rights, and the rights of their pupils.
Also with them were union representatives, some children and general supporters of their cause. Horns were sounding, drums were banging and cheers could be heard just about everywhere. In contrast to the miserable weather, many teaching staff wore bright colours including knitted hats and bold coats, and were seemingly cheerful. Upon speaking to them, it became clear that they’d had enough and that it was time to take a stand.
Amongst the noise and sea of people, Cath D, a primary school teacher spoke about why she felt she had to take strike action, saying: “I really did not want to be here today, I really wanted to be in my classroom having a normal day with my kids. But, things have become so difficult recently. It’s not just that we want more money, education is under-funded massively.”
Cath attended the rally with a group of teachers from her school based in Salford. She went on to describe how school funding cuts had affected the classroom: “The poor children. I’ve literally seen children fighting over pencils, can you believe that in 2023?
“I wish I could say ‘here’s 100 pencils, it doesn’t matter’, but this is where we are at the moment. We are doing this for us; our wages have come down in real terms over the years, but I’ll leave all the statistics for the unions.”
On why changes were also necessary for children in education, she said: “For some children, school is the one constant that they have in their life and we’ve got to come in refreshed and remunerated. For some children, we’re the one constant that they have, and we need to be there for them.”
After speakers talked to the crowds and people cheered in agreement, they started off on their march around the city. Among the marchers, a retired GMB union member stomped the streets in solidarity, he said: “We support the TA’s, the kitchen staff and all the support staff, managers and office workers around Tameside.
“We’re here to show we support the lowering of the pensionable age and to pay workers a proper wage that they need.”
Three English teachers from a school in Cheetham Hill spoke about the reasons they took strike action today, as one said: “It feels like the last resort, where we’ve had to come together and join all these people to make a point that we’ve been trying to for years and years, but no one’s listening.”
Another said: “Our children will not get the results that they need and deserve and want, if we have to put up with these conditions.” The third added: “It’s not just about our salaries, it’s all of the funding and resources that have been cut too.”
A Greater Manchester teacher for children with English as their second language, called Ali, said: “I’m striking because of the unacceptable situation that teachers and the education system are being put under.
“We have a massive retention crisis because people are quitting teaching within five years out of extreme stress.
“What we need are more teachers and better pay. And, we can do that if we tax the people with more money, rather than what this government has been doing, which is tax rates for the rich and spending money in very unwise and corrupt ways.”
Despite what workers and unions are asking, the Education minister Gillian Keegan told the BBC that the government would not budge, and that giving in to demands for large wage increases would only fuel inflation.
“What we cannot do is give inflation-busting pay rises to one part of the workforce and make inflation worse for everybody. That’s not an economically sensible thing to do,” she said.
The Manchester charity pairing young people with the elderly to combat loneliness at Christmas
Manchester Cares is doubling down its efforts to prevent loneliness among communities over the festive period
For most, Christmas is a time for family and friends, but for others it is instead a time of isolation and loneliness.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, around 45% of adults in the UK experience some form of loneliness, a feeling that intensifies over the festive period.
So this is why local charity Manchester Cares is doubling down on its efforts to combat the issue of loneliness among communities across Manchester this Christmas.
Founded five years ago, Manchester Cares brings younger and older generations together through group activities and one-on-one friendships, giving them the opportunity to build genuine and meaningful connections.
Manchester Cares hosts and organises a whole variety of Social Clubs for its community members to enjoy together, including pub quizzes, wine tasting, documentary clubs and even trips to Manchester Art Gallery.
All free for those wanting to join them in their mission of bringing younger and older people together to build community and connection across our wonderful city.
The charity relies heavily on the help of its members and volunteers to keep loneliness and isolation at bay. But as the cost-of-living crisis plunges the UK further into a loneliness epidemic, Manchester Cares needs your help more than ever before.
Manchester Cares’ Head of Programmes Vicky Harrold says the charity will be organising and hosting a whole array of neighbour meet-ups and activity sessions for those struggling with both loneliness and financial pressures this Christmas.
Vicky told Proper Manchester: “This Christmas we will be continuing to do what we do best, curate spaces that bring younger and older people together to share time, stories, and laughter. We want to be the place that provides emotional respite to all the challenging things that are happening in the world right now.”
Vicky also said that the charity will also be extending the length of its clubs this winter in order for neighbours to have somewhere warm to spend their time at no extra cost.
She added: “We’ll be offering food and refreshments along with festive films, parties, wreath making and most importantly the opportunity to have a chat with someone you wouldn’t ordinarily meet.”
In addition to the Festive Clubs, Manchester Cares members will also be paying visits to anyone who they think will be spending the Christmas period alone in the week leading up to the big day.
Vicky explained: “Initially, we would give out little gifts, but we now recognise that it’s sharing time that means the most.”
But Manchester Cares recognises that community and connection don’t just matter at Christmas; they matter all year round.
That’s why the charity is always welcoming new members to join its community network in its fight against loneliness in Manchester, regardless of the time of year.
People are now being urged to sign up through the Manchester Cares website and come along to one of its general inductions. Vicky stressed that there’s no expectation for anyone to get involved, and that it’s simply an opportunity to hear a bit more about what Manchester Cares does and how people can get involved.
Offering a final bit of advice for anyone struggling with any of these issues, Vicky said: “Try stepping away from social media and investing that time into creating meaningful interactions every day.
“This can be anything from making that call to a friend you’ve been meaning to for a while, to saying hello to the bus driver on your way to work.
“And if you’re lucky enough to still have older family members, we really encourage you to go and chat to them, pick up the phone or have a brew – we hear the best stories every day just from starting that conversation.
“And finally, there are so many amazing charities like ours doing such great work- volunteering your time can be such a fun and rewarding way to meet new people.
“We’ve seen over our first five years, sharing time is the best gift you can ever give.”
From November 29th to December 6th 2022, Manchester Cares is taking part in The Big Give Christmas Challenge to help bring our neighbours together to stay warm, active and connected. Donations made during that week are doubled, meaning your gift will make twice the difference this winter. Find out how you can support here.
Manchester Cares is always on the look out for new volunteers, community members and neighbours to join them in their fight against loneliness.
People can join the community, or can alternatively make a referral for anyone over 65 they think will benefit from the clubs and programmes.
All of this can be done via the Manchester Cares website.
Chester Zoo has a paid apprenticeship scheme that doesn’t require qualifications
We spoke to Rachel McCann, who is helping Chester Zoo with its mission to save Eastern black rhinos from extinction
When news first arose of Chester Zoo’s apprenticeship scheme earlier this year, many people couldn’t help but ponder the possibility of a swift career change.
For the first time, the UK’s leading conservation zoo was giving people the chance to embark upon a career in conservation without the need for any qualifications.
The scheme opened up opportunities in a variety of roles, including zookeepers, aquarists and horticulturalists, as well as positions in animal and plant logistics.
But a role at Chester Zoo isn’t for the faint of heart, which is something rhino keeper Rachel McCann can most certainly vouch for.
Rachel joined the zoo’s team three years ago as a giraffe keeper, but was later transferred to the rhino team thanks to her specific skill set and past experience.
Yet while many might assume her day consists mainly of spending quality time with Chester Zoo’s eight Eastern black rhino inhabitants – Kitani, Malindi, Ema-elsa, Kasulu, Ike, Jumaane, Zuri and Gabe – Rachel actually plays a huge part in the conservation and repopulation of this critically endangered species.
Thanks to human conflict, poaching threats and habitat destruction, there are only 5,000 Eastern black rhinos left in the wild and a mere ninety in zoos around the world – something Chester Zoo is working tirelessly to change.
Rachel told Proper Manchester that her role as a keeper takes a predominant focus on reintroducing black rhinos back into the wild and boosting birth numbers among the animals not only at Chester, but at a variety of zoos across Europe and in the wild in Africa.
And this all starts in one place; the faeces.
Several times a week, Rachel is tasked with collecting faecal samples from the female rhinos, which are then sent off to the zoo’s on-site conservation lab for testing and analysis.
Thanks to these samples, the zoo’s conservation team are able to track the rhino’s ovulation cycles and determine when to pair them with males to breed.
Rachel explained: “Through this testing, we’re able to see which pairs work best for breeding going off their cycles, their weight and their personalities. The rhinos are now matched up going by the best genetic compatibility.
“This research is also applied to how we can help rhinos out in the wild – any of our research, for that matter, can be applied for helping wild animals too.”
And a higher number of births at the zoo equates for a better chance of the black rhinos’ population being increased out in the wild, which is part of Chester Zoo’s mission to prevent extinction.
However, the process of reintroducing rhinos back into the wild is a lengthy one. Rachel explained: “The main bulk of the reintroduction process is reducing human contact, because we don’t want them approaching people once they’re back in the wild.
“Keeper contact is gradually fazed out, so they don’t see us hardly ever, whether it be putting food out or tidying up the paddock. Once they’re ready, they’ll be released into a secured area with zero human contact.
“They are then released into protected areas with rangers on duty for their safety. Without all of that, we wouldn’t be able to save the species.”
And Chester Zoo’s conservation work isn’t just restricted to breeding; the zoo has a dedicated team out in Kenya that educates local communities about the animals in a bid to allow them to co-exist peacefully, ultimately reducing conflict.
Rachel said: “We fund rangers out in Africa to protect wild black rhinos and also work with local communities and schools to reduce wildlife conflict.
“Poaching is their biggest threat alongside habitat loss, so it’s important when working with communities to reduce this conflict. Local people struggle because rhinos destroy their crops, so it’s about finding solutions for them to coexist and live alongside each other.”
Though Rachel’s responsibilities don’t end there, as the role of zoo keeper certainly isn’t without its graft – and many cups of tea, something she says is ‘definitely the most important part of the day’.
Her day typically begins at 8am, where she begins the laborious jobs of cleaning up the paddocks, tidying up any left over food and droppings from the previous day and replenishing the rhino’s food and water.
Keepers also use this time in the mornings to give the animals a quick once-over to ensure they’re of good health. This can involve checking their eyes, ears and even the insides of their mouths for any sign of infection or decay.
A zoo keeper’s afternoon tends to consist of a lot of prep for the following day. Rachel explained: “We have really busy days, so prepping the day before helps a lot so we can make the most of our time.
“We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed! We sometimes switch up the feeding times to reduce the rhinos anticipating us coming. Switching up the routine keeps them on their toes.
“They’re very smart and switched on, so it’s good to give them a challenge and ensure their days are different. We don’t want their days to be too repetitive.
“We give out our last feeds during the afternoons and carry out the final checks. And then, we go home, go to bed and start it all again the next day.”
Yet while the role may be laborious, challenging, and even testing at times, Rachel wouldn’t change any of it.
She said: “I love working with the rhinos, they’re magnificent but have a soft and sensitive side too. That makes working with them every day very different, no day is the same.
“They’re always getting up to mischief.
“My favourite part of the job though is getting to work with such a rare species every single day. While it is sad to see how endangered their species are, for me it’s actually a motivation each day to get out of bed and come to work to help get them back into the wild.
“The rhinos at Chester Zoo are ambassadors for their species, they show the public and visitors how amazing they are and why we should be saving them.”
For more information on Chester Zoo’s family of black rhinos and what they’re doing to save the species, visit the official website here.