I’m a sloth. A short fat hairy one.

It’s early January. I peer out of the cave expecting the usual grim, damp cold wintry weather only to be blinded by bright sunshine and a blue sky!Rear view of Failsworth Town Hall, library and Wholesome Cafe

Damn. So much for hibernating. I’ll have to get up and do something now. But what though?

I shuffle through the cave garbage for ideas, got some leaflets somewhere.

  • A walk: short, about an hour around Moston Brook
  • Nordic Walking: interesting, sticks provided, starting point the local park
  • Cycling: around the track at Boggart Hole Clough, an ‘inclusive‘ activity
  • Pilates: gentle exercise, over 50’s class in Blackley
  • Running: organised Park Run in Chadderton

Running was that? Don’t make me laugh. With all this fur? Nope, a walk’s more my thing, the shorter the better.

The Wholesome Cafe at Failsworth Town Hall was warm, comfy and bustling. I could have stayed all day but the group set off with a spring. Ann Bates led the way and I mooched along at the rear.Lots of variety packed into just one hour and we were back before I knew it. Taking a route alongside the canal, we went over bridges, through open fields and wooded areas, picked out the brook, up and down paths and steps. We paused now and then to chill out and listen to titbits of local history, courtesy of Alan Hampson.

You couldn’t get a finer group of gas-bags. I hardly got a word in edge-ways.Ann Bates (pictured) said “I’m planning regular, monthly, walks and some will be themed too. Covering different aspects of the brook through the seasons. Anyone’s welcome.”

Pooches seemed welcome too, on a lead, plus a brew at the end if you fancied it. I had a blast and it blew a few cobwebs away.

I was so inspired I went for a bike ride a few days later, courtesy of Simply Cycling.

The word ‘bike’ is a bit loose. I chose a tricycle. Don’t laugh. Broke my leg a while back so my balance is a bit skewed. To prove a point, I veered straight down a path and crashed into the gate before wobbling out onto the track.My pride was dented but the gate and ‘bike’ were undamaged, thank God, or I’d have disappeared into the distance never to be seen again.

The sports track at Boggart Hole Clough wasn’t too busy. I shared it with a gentleman rider keeping a good pace, a couple of youngsters trying out a tandem, a mother with younger child on a two-seater. Plenty of others came and went and no-one was disappointed.A bargain at just £2 a session, Simply Cycling have lots of different cycles to choose from, some curious looking. It’s ‘inclusive’ because anyone, any age, any ability or disability can have a go. There’s parking nearby, toilets on site and a cafe next to the boating lake further in the park.

Volunteers are on hand to help you chose a carriage and, in my case, get on the damn thing. I whizzed round and round the track until my legs were tired but it was good fun and I’ll definitely go again.Boggart Hole Clough boating lake and cafe

Details of upcoming events around Moston Brook are posted on the Moston Brook Friends facebook page. Simply Cycling run sessions at three parks across Manchester, including Boggart Hole Clough, just check out their website.

As well as pilates classes, North Manchester Fitness run a range of activities for all ages and abilities throughout the week in Blackley, Harpurhey and Prestwich. Visit their website for details and pick what suits you best.

So, is this short fat hairy sloth ready for spring? Mmmm…maybe but I’ll give my cave a sweep first and take a nap before I decide what to do next…don’t want to overdo it after all?

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Christmas markets a la Moston: The Christmas Event

I’m a Christmas humbug at heart. A bespectacled ‘Grinch’. Winter’s for hibernating, staying in and keeping warm.  So I ask you: Christmas markets? What the hell are they all about? I don’t get it, never have.

To be fair it’s been a while since I went to one but this sums up my memory – drizzle, standing in muddy sludge, overpriced overheated wine, over loud people with overcoats on and over large feet, shoving and pushing, and me, tip-toeing away when everyone had their backs turned.I tried to swerve neatly past the Moston version. Maybe it’s not as busy or as much of a phaf to get to but you can’t turn up to these things in your PJ’s, slippers and fluffy dressing gown and expect to stay warm.

But the adverts kept coming. They looked really bright and colourful. “Mmmm, maybe.” I thought. “If I go to Asda I’ll just drop by for half an hour on my way back. Maybe.” At worst I could write a blog.

So, this is it….and never mind half an hour, I stayed half a day.

The weather was dull and overcast. It could have been brighter but at least it was fairly dry. Parking was easy, just over the road off Kenyon Lane. So far, so good.

There was plenty of food on offer, hot drinks, various stalls selling Christmassy things like cakes, home-made sweets, scented candles and other gifts, a tombola, a DJ and Father Christmas in a grotto. You get the picture.The hot chocolate was wonderful, not like the magma they serve in some well-known establishments. My dad will adore his rum truffles and I might just keep the vanilla scented soap for myself.

I didn’t win the raffle because I didn’t buy a ticket. Not on purpose, I’m just a bit dozy and missed them. I didn’t miss the glass of mulled wine and mince pie however. I was first in the queue for those. The children were giddy and polite; all the rubbish went in the bin and if there was any queuing to be done it was without everyone jostling for position.The singing group, or to be more accurate, young vocalists from North West Theatre Arts Company (NWTAC) were absolutely brilliant. The DJ picked just the right stuff and everyone was in a good mood.What was lovely about it all, more to the point what kept me there so long, was the atmosphere. It was delightful. I spotted a few faces I knew and chatted to a few people I didn’t.

We all cheered when the tree lights came on. We cheered louder when the organisers stood together and we raised our glasses to them. They’d worked hard for months to make it happen and well deserved the applause.It was dark when I tip-toed away. The volunteers were working hard taking all the gazebos down and packing equipment up. If they’d turned and looked towards Kenyon Lane they might have seen a bespectacled Grinch grinning, clutching a bag of Christmas goodies and a free mince pie.

Cameras, caterpillars and cake

We met up at the Little Lavender Community Hub and kicked off the event with a brew and a slice of cake. I went for the vegetarian option. It was the best carrot cake I’d EVER tasted.

The ‘we’ is a small group of people on a Nature Photography Walk with photographer Rich Bunce. No-one’s met before but we have two things in common, we like walking and we like taking photos.Our route starts at Wrigley Head Bridge, takes us along the Rochdale canal near Failsworth, under the Metrolink bridge, over the lock and down on to Moston Brook. Then we pick up the path through the undergrowth and follow it along the edge of the brook until we’re back at Wrigley Head.

“Just before you take a shot, pause a moment and think. Would it be better from a different angle or is this the best? Does that make sense?” We nod at Rich and each other.

“Do you just delete photos that haven’t worked out as well as you’d thought? Instead take a moment to work out why and next time they might be better.” We nod at Rich and each other.

“Ever taken what you thought was the perfect scene but didn’t notice the plastic bag flapping in the tree in the background?” I nearly shouted “I know what they are. They’re witches knickers!” but nodded instead.Our cameras range from a top of the range digital SLR, to handy compacts to mobile phones. You don’t need anything fancy; it’s what you do with it that matters.

As we stroll along Rich stops now and then to explain something and the group gathers round to peer at laminated examples from his rucksack. He talks about making the most of nature’s shapes, lighting, reflections, backgrounds, colour and the impact of simplistic views. We hang on his every word. He sets us challenges along the way.

It all makes perfect sense and we get busy, clicking our cameras at everything, literally everything we see, trees, plants, spiders webs, paths, bridges, caterpillars and each other.Now and then other walkers go by in groups, nodding and exchanging a smile as they pass. I wondered who they were and wondered if they wondered what we were doing. I found out they were Co-op employees on a charity walk (the Hope Challenge). They were cheerful and made a good day even better.

Back at the Little Lavender Community Hub Cafe Rich got a well-deserved round of applause and we had a quick chat before he had to leave. I’d assumed he was one of a team.

“No it’s just me” he said. “I get about though. Do various photography sessions, walks and workshops in Yorkshire, Manchester, Leeds and even London. I held one once while I was on a family holiday. Once was enough!”

When I asked him what his biggest challenge was his answer surprised me. “Marketing” he said. “It’s so important but takes up a lot of time.” I’ve seen his website and I reckon he’s spent that time pretty well.As for time, we’d had a brilliant one, loved every minute and learnt loads. The weather was kind, we’d taken hundreds of photos…and not one with ‘witches knickers’ in the background.

A big thank you to the Moston Brook Project for organising the event and the Manchester Festival of Ageing for the grant to make it possible.

To find out about other events around Moston Brook check out their Facebook page.

Details of other activities and photo walks with Rich Bunce can be found on his website.